Sunday, December 19, 2010


Hello USAF 7 Summits supporters!!  It's great to be back in the ol' USA.  After several hot showers/baths, our bodies are ready to relax to the idea we are going to be frostbitten for not wearing gloves or covering our faces up!  What an amazing experience the trip to Antarctica was.  We've said many times that it was the closest we'll ever come to setting foot on Mars or the Moon.... the landscape and overall environment was otherworldly, to say the least.  Of course, the adjective "beautiful" also sums things up nicely.


On Dec 9th, 2010, team members of the USAF 7 Summits Challenge reached the summit of Antarctica's highest peak, Mt. Vinson. They were lucky to fly onto the Antarctic continent as scheduled, riding a Russian IL-76 cargo aircraft from Punta Arenas, Chile to the new blue-ice runway of Union Glacier. Upon stepping off the airplane, it was clear to the climbers this continent was as close to visiting another planet as they would get. Only three colors ruled the visible images: blue (ice and sky), white (snow), and a blackish/brown (rocks, depths of crevasses, shadows). After one night in a semi-permanent tent near the runway, the team flew onto Vinson Base Camp (~7,500ft) via a Twin Otter aircraft. The flight out was one of the most beautiful and inspiring- a serious claim for pilots that have flown throughout the world.

Upon landing on the Branscombe Glacier, the climb truly began. Camp was established and preparations for the movement up the mountain began. The following morning, the first 'carry' (transporting supplies to a cache higher on the mountain) was accomplished to Camp 1, aka Low Camp. Traveling up and down the Branscombe Glacier there were several open and very deep glaciers, but excellent weather made the carry go smoothly. Luckily temperatures throughout the climb were not as cold as they could have been. Between Union Glacier and Vinson Base Camp, temps were roughly in the 10F to 20F range. However, the 24hr sun baked everyone on the mountain, requiring dozens of sunscreen applications and the covering of as much skin as possible. While sunburn became an issue, it was a far better problem to face than frostbite!

The following day, the camp at Vinson Base was taken apart and the team moved to Low Camp, where they had established the beginnings of a camp earlier. Little did they know they would spend the next week there due to bad weather. This camp is just below 10,000ft, at the base of a steep icefall and face that leads directly to High Camp. Blocks of snow and ice were cut from around camp to build a protective wall around the tents. The following day, the team ascended the steep face using fixed ropes to reach High Camp at ~12,500ft. Views from the steep face were arguably the best of the trip.

A cache of gear was left at High Camp, with the plans to return in 36hrs on the way to the summit. However, a low-pressure system moved over the entire Ellsworth Mountain Range, bringing low visibility and high winds. Weather at Low Camp wasn't bad at first, but the two teams pinned at High Camp experienced winds in excess of 50mph and low temperatures. At Low Camp, ambient temperatures averaged around 10F, with temps dipping below -0F on occasion. Of course, any small wind made the windchill significant. After several days of waiting, a return to Vinson Base Camp was necessary to replenish food and fuel supplies from a cache left below. Upon return, the resupply team found Low Camp immersed in a powerful storm blowing snow at 30mph and reducing visibility to 20ft. Over the next 18hrs, climbers on the mountain reinforced snow walls and hunkered down in tents. Two tents in our climbing team's group had poles break, but they were repaired the following morning. As hoped, the strong wind storm disrupted the stagnant weather system and soon after the weather began to improve.

Two days later, after six days of poor weather, the team moved to High Camp. The window for reaching the summit was closing on the team due to diminishing supplies and return flights to Union Glacier and then Chile. However, the weather was perfect for a summit attempt, so on the 9th of Dec, the team struck out from High Camp for the summit of Antarctica. Temps were -8F leaving High Camp and there was only light wind on the ascent. Approx 1000ft short of the summit, the team decided to turn off the main approach route in favor of a more challenging variation to the summit. It took them up part of the Vinson headwall to a rocky ridgeline, offering amazing views of Low Camp, the Branscombe Glacier leading to Base, and all the rugged peaks in the area. Finally, after roughly 8hrs of work, the team reached the 16,077ft summit at the bottom of the world. Temps were approx -15F with very little wind- perfect for summit high fives, photos, and of course pushups.

After 40 minutes of celebration on the summit, the team made a quick return to Camp 2, slept, then packed up and high-tailed it in one long day to Vinson Base. Weather was quickly rolling in and the opportunity for the Twin Otter to land on the snow was soon to be gone. Carrying loaded backpacks and later dragging laden sleds, the team descended the steep face via ropes, dug out gear at Low Camp, and then wound back through the crevasse fields just in time to catch the last Twin Otter. The next three days were spent awaiting better weather at the semi-permanent Union Glacier camp. Finally, the weather broke and the IL-76 landed on the long blue-ice sheet, ready to return the climbers to civilization.

We'd like to thank the companies that donated to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation on behalf of the USAF 7 Summits Challenge: Antarctica. Click on the link to learn more about them, or check out our charity page (currently updating).

Additionally, a special thanks to Capt. H.H. for the impressive push-up challenge pledge. This individual pledged over $2000 to the Special Ops Warrior Foundation on her own.

--==Climb High, Fly Low==--

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ready for Exfil!

Rob just called and said the weather has improved and the airplane is on its way from Chile.  They planned on departing Union Glacier at 2300 which will hopefully put them back in Punta Arenas at 0300.  They've been playing cards, reading, and eating backup rations to help pass the time and can't wait to get back.  They plan to continue on to Santiago, Miami and home as soon as possible. -Mark

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Stuck at Union Glacier

Rob and Graydon are stuck in Antarctica, despite their valiant efforts yesterday to make it back to Union Glacier in time for their flight back to Chile.  The forecast is keeping the IL76 from leaving Chile to come get them.  Our guys are first in line though, so as soon as the weather is good enough, they'll be heading home. -Mark

Friday, December 10, 2010

All the Way to Union Glacier

Our team woke up early today, broke camp and descended the fixed ropes before the sun was out.  They recovered their cache, loaded up their sleds and moved as fast as they could back to base camp.  They were racing the weather, but made it in time to get the twin otter flight back to the Union Glacier.  The weather caught up with them there though, and now they've got to wait for the IL76 to be able to make it in.  -Mark

Thursday, December 9, 2010

USAF7Summits Team Reaches Summit of Mt. Vinson!

Our team made an 8-hour push to the summit of Mt. Vinson at 1720 today, December 9th.  Rob said the weather could not have been better.  Temps were approximately -10F to -15F, and the wind was calm.  Our team completed a variation of the regular route and climbed the Vinson headwall to a great ridge that took them to the top.  The climbing was "phenomenal," and at the summit, the team flew Old Glory, the USAF flag and the Special Operations Warrior Foundation banner.  Rob wants to thank all of the donors who supported them on this epic journey.  The legendary climbing guide Phil Ershler and Rob teamed up and cranked out 110 push-ups on the summit!

When I spoke to the guys, they were getting ready to rack out at Camp 2.  They plan on getting a brief rest tonight and then they are going to pack up and haul ass down the fixed ropes to base camp. From there they will catch the twin otter to Union Glacier and then fly off the ice.  Rob said he's ready for a hot shower, and Graydon said today was awesome; he really loved the Ershler variation they climbed to the summit. 

Biggest hurdle left for our guys is getting back to base camp before the next storm roles in.  Let's hope they don't have any extra tent time! -Mark

Going For It!

Rob and Graydon moved up to high camp today.  Rob said its beautiful at the 12,500' camp but cold (-10F).  They plan on making a summit attempt tomorrow (9 Dec) and hope to be on top around 2pm Eastern time.  If all goes well, they'll make a hasty retreat and attempt to catch a flight off the ice on 10 Dec! -Mark

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ready to Move

Our team had to stay put at Camp 1 today due to high winds persisting higher up on the mountain.  They plan on moving to high camp tomorrow and the forecast looks good for a summit push the next day. -Mark

Monday, December 6, 2010

Survived the Storm

Strong winds and blowing snow slammed our team. "Heinous" blasts of Antarctic air broke poles in two separate tents despite the thick snow walls the team built to protect them.  The wind was strong, and the tents flexed almost touching Rob and Graydon's faces.  Rob thinks the storm may have blown itself out tonight though.  He said it was calm now but very cold.  The forecast is calling for better weather, and the team may push up the mountain tomorrow. -Mark

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Getting Nuked

Rob said high winds and blowing snow have moved in on the team.  They're still holding at Camp 1, but they did complete a resupply run down to base camp today.  They'll be staying put now until the weather breaks. -Mark

Weather Hold

Rob and Graydon are staying put at Camp 1 until the weather outlook improves.  They are enjoying light winds and mild temperatures, but there are strong winds higher up the mountain.  They've taken the opportunity to practice their mountaineering skills such as cramponing, rope travel, anchors and belays.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Rest Day

Graydon reported that December 2nd was a rest day. The weather was great again and the team took the opportunity to improve the snow walls protecting their tents.  They'll stay put at Camp 1 tomorrow and wait for a good weather window before they move to the upper mountain.  Graydon and Rob are both feeling better.  Graydon also said the views descending the fixed ropes yesterday were "spectacular." -Mark

Carry to Camp 2 Complete

Rob did actually call last night; it was 2am his time and he said the sun was still very intense.  The team completed the carry to Camp 2, which they said was long and tiring.  He and Graydon are fighting colds, but are looking forward to a rest day tomorrow. -Mark

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

No News is Good News

Well, sorry, but I didn't hear from Rob today.  Don't worry though, because when it comes to expeditions, we always say no news is good news.  I'll let you know as soon as I hear anything. -Mark