J-1 (still) – From Punta Arenas to Union Glacier

November 13, 2014
S 79°45′ , O 82°51′
Distance: 0 km
T° : -15°C (windchill: -20°C)

From Punta Arenas to Union Glacier

It has now been two weeks since we left France.
We flew first to Punta Arenas (South of Chili) through Santiago (with our polar boots and jackets on, to be sure we would get there with them at least) and spent seven days out there preparing for the expedition.
Many tasks had to be done in Punta, including notably :
  • buying some expedition food (due notably to Chilean import regulations, not all the food could be sent by Cargo from Europe) including app. 20 kgs of nuts/dry fruits and as much chocolate
  • repacking all food to make daily rations (and that takes a very long time)
  • starting to prepare depot bags with clothes / medicines / food resupplies
  • meetings with Antarctic Logistics Expedition (ALE) people in charge of flights, logistics and back-up in Antarctica
  • checking again all communication equipment
  • checking up the pulks (sledges) and customizing them.
Then of course we were hoping for a flight from Punta Arenas to Union Glacier in Antarctica as soon as possible. As this is the very beginning of the operating season at Union Glacier and early summer in Antarctica, weather conditions are not so good – and they must be perfect for at least 12 hours in a row to allow for the first flight (Ilyushin 76) of the season to Union Glacier and back to Punta.
First flight of the Ilyushin is usually for some ALE staff to get down to Union Glacier and help setting up the camp. A small group of ALE staff (6 to 8 people) already flew there a few days ago with the Twin Otters and started setting up the camp. While the first Ilyushin flight was ‘scheduled’ on October 27th, this was delayed until November 7th due to weather conditions. Decision was therefore taken to put us on second flight – the next day – although this was a cargo flight with no passenger.
We enjoyed, as much as possible, food in Punta Arenas up to almost last minute at the airport when the captain finally took the decision to take off on November 8. We had been waiting there for hours hoping that weather conditions would allow for this second flight so this was great news when flight was confirmed.
The flight takes 4,5 hours – unique flight especially amongst big polar trucks and other cargo equipment. The landing in itself was also unique, wondering when that plane would finally slow down a bit over the blue ice ! There we were in Antarctica – Union Glacier !
Another preparation and waiting period started there. We had the sledges prepared and ready to go the next day, hoping for a flight to our departure point on November 10. Start of the expedition is at a location referred to as Messner Start and Twin Otter can fly us there from Union Glacier within 2-3 hours. Weather conditions however, and again, were not good enough to allow for this flight until later in the week.
We therefore took this opportunity to check again our communication equipment, solar panels, etc. while enjoying the very good food (and calories) at Union Glacier and life out there. We also took some rest – which is actually good preparation for the expedition as we had not so much sleeping over the past weeks.
And here we are now, November 13, waiting for Twin Otter flight to Messner Start, possibly later today and more likely tomorrow (fingers crossed). Then only will the expedition start – with more than 2.000 kms to ski, down to South Pole and then up to Union Glacier to achieve the Antarctica traverse…
More to come…

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