Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tentative Itinerary

So I bite the bullet and and buy the darn Air Canada ticket, the last leg from Toronto to San Francisco on the return trip from the South Pole exped. Been checking the price but they're not on sale, not as much I would like to pay.

Here's the latest itinerary with lots of flying and waiting time in between. Not sure if I am looking forward to lots of layovers in between.

Dec 8: San Jose - Denver
- Cross country skiing
Dec 12: Denver - Dallas - Miami
- Stop over in Miami
Dec 13: Miami - Santiago
- Stop over in Santiago
Dec 14: Santiago - Punta Arenas

Dec 16: expedition officially starts
- Lots of things happen from this point
- Fly to Patriot Hills base camp
- Skiing the last degree
- Fly back to base camp
Dec 29:
- Fly from base camnp to Punta Arenas

Jan 3: Punta Arenas - Santiago
- Lay over in Santiago
Jan 4: Santiago - Mexico City
- Stopver in Mexico City
Jan 5: Mexico City - Toronto
- Real rest in Toronto
Jan 7: Toronto - San Francisco

Friday, October 23, 2009

Custom Made Gears

This week I emailed Eric Larsen on the training we were supposed to be doing by the end of Oct or early Nov. Unfortunately he could not spare much time as he's going to depart for his Save The Poles project on Nov 5. That leaves him virtually no time with all the preparation he has to do. Apparently he's going to lead a team to ski from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole (730 miles or 1,175km). This will be the first leg of his quest to complete the 3 poles within 365 days. Amazing guy. Too bad I don't have the chance to work with him and learn from him. But hey, who knows if our paths cross in Antarctica this time. His trip will last about 60 days, by the time I start skiing, he's about 40-45 days into his expedition.

One thing I asked him was the nose beak. I wished I had this when I was in the North Pole. The balaclava did not work so well, it was almost impossible to breathe. The ice would form outside where you want the air coming in. I found myself pulling the thing off my nose to gape for air and pulled it back up to protect my face from the cold wind. The nose beak would hopefully block some wind and leave enough gap at the bottom for me to respire.

The nose beak is not available anywhere. I have done search online and found none that serves the purpose. So it'll be custom made. I did buy some fabric for this but not sure how it would work in cold and windy condition. I asked him some tips on the material. It is nylon and fleece. So this weekend or next I will be making this nose beak for my goggles. And extra ones, just in case I need a replacement. That also means this time I have bring along repair kit (needles and threads) and be a good mother when little things break :). By the way, this is the standard kit any explorer must bring along, for fixing the tent or ripped clothes.

Another item I need to sew is the fur for my jacket hood. I bought a jacket for the trip recently but was too cheap on spending another $160 to have fur attached on the hood. Instead I am going to re-use the fur from the jacket I wore in the North Pole trip, but some customization needs to be done.

And the last big one is the VBL for my sleeping bag. My down bag is rated at -40F (also -40C). Down bag works well when it's dry. When you sleep, unless you are really cold, you will sweat and it gets into the bag. To prevent the bag from getting wet, people use a VBL, vapor barrier liner, made from nylon or plastic, to stop the sweat from vaporize from the skin and gets into the bag. As a result, sleeper may feel dammed but this problem is easier to deal with.

All of this I will have to make by myself. People who are in this kind of trip have to be able to do everything from cooking, sewing to a lot of hard work.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Two Months To Go

60 days before the expedition starts. I am excited about it but I can't say that I was in the same excitement and nervousness level as I was for the North Pole. I think mostly because having been to the North Pole help and also I have been preparing for this since the beginning of the year.

Having said that, I do have a lot of things to prep for this trip, strangely. From additional gear acquisition to technology, everything is still not yet in place.

I bought a new anorak 3 days ago (and on its way to me). The one I used in the North Pole is goretex which is not suitable for South Pole apparently. Goretex is waterproof and breathable. But since South Pole is going to be super dry and breathability of goretex stops working under -20C, there is little use. The new anorak is made of nylon and been tested (as it was said and recommended by ANI) so I have no option but trust it.

On the technology front, it was unfortunate that I cannot rent a tracker. The only place I found on the internet that (used to) rent out this device is in Australia but they no longer do so. They only sell the device along with monitoring packages. If I was richer, I probably would purchase it and use away. But even if that's the case, I still have to improvise the battery or recharge it somehow because the battery life only lasts 8 hours.

So instead, I will use my satellite phone and GPS to do it manually. I will dispatch my GPS location every night. This was part of the plan anyway but the plot will not look as smooth and web followers will not be able to see my movement every hour or two.

Speaking of this, I still have to develop my own Java application to handle the messages I'm going to send and plot the traverse path on Google Earth or Google Map. It'll be some work too. Hopefully two months is enough to write and test the app before I go. I also have my brother in law to host this app for me so in that sense I have someone to take care of any outages or hiccups with the program while I am on the ice.

Lots of more things to do but not sure it's its too little time. It remains to be seen.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mt Whitney - Photos

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Sign the log book

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Next to the plaque

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One view from the top

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Stand before the stone house

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mt Whitney - Second Attempt

We got back to LA on Monday and to the Bay the following day. Rest was what we needed. I then talked to my coworker about our trip. She told me her husband was going to do Mt Whitney day hike on the weekend with a bunch of friends. They had one extra permit (one person in the group dropped out). Mind you, obtain permits to hike Mt Whitney requires luck. They have the whole lottery system going on. However, permits in Oct are pretty to get.

So I was really tempting to do the hike even while I was not fully recovered. It would be 3 days apart to the next trip to the same mountain! I talked to my work and finally decided to take this opportunity to "redeem" myself. The weather was going to be excellent, even better than the time I was on the mountain. It would be cold but sunny and not windy.

Friday came and 5 guys and I happily hopped on the freeways aiming at the direction to the same mountain I failed to scale a few days ago. These guys are young and motivated as some of them had attempted this feast before (some failed and one succeeded).

We did not get to the campground right outside of the trail head until 6pm. We pitched the huge tent that would fit all of us and organize our summit-packs for the early hike in the morning. We went to bed at 8pm.

At a 2:30 wake up call, we got out and prepare our breakfast to start our hike. By the time we finish eating, drinking hot cocoa, last min preps and be at the trail head, it was 4:30.

It was still very dark at this time. Everyone had their headlamp shooting the powerful rays on the trail, helping us maneuvering over the rocks and other obstacles. This was my first time hike in a the dark. It wasn't bad as the trail was very well marked and it was almost impossible to get lost.

After almost 4 hours and 45 min with a few breaks in between, we reached to the Trail camp where I camped for the night 4 days back. I was happy to see the lake ice free. I refilled half a liter and treat it with iodine table. Needed to have enough fluid for the summit and back. I had 3 liters of water with me. From Trail camp on, there is no other source of water.

The section right after Trail camp has the (in)famous 97 switchbacks. These are known to be the killer. These would lead hikers to ascend very quickly. A lot of people would turn back during or after these switchbacks.

After recharging myself with lots of water and food at the Trail camp, I headed out the to the first of the zigzags. I was surprised that I could take on these guys with ease. I kept on walking up and up and did not stop much. I found myself finished about 80 of them before I really needed a rest.

At the end of the switchbacks is the Trail Crest (13777 feet or 4199m). This is the section where the trail drop 500f and the rest would be up hill battle. Why dropping 500f seems nice to let the muscles recover from the brutal climb, this means on the way back, hikers must climb this much. Not a good idea.

At this point I already had headache, due to altitude. I was not out of breath but breathing heavily. Good thing it did not worsen as I did my breathing technique I learned from Mt Shasta and Rainier climb.

I met this couple who were on the way back from the summit. They told me it would be only about an hour or so away. It was 11:30 and I would beat my own goal to reach the top by 2pm the latest. I was excited. It turned out not true. The trail winds behind the east face of the summit, looking west. It is very rocky and would go up and down. Also the real peak is not visible that means there is a long way to go from there.

It took me 2 hours and 10 mins to reach to the summit at 1:40pm. The stone house is such a small shelter but seeing it from the bottom of the peak was such a relief. I finally reached to the top of the highest mountain in lower 48!

I took a few photos and signed my name in the log book and descending the peak. Reaching the summit is just half way as I have learned.

The way down is uneventful except that the sky turned dark so quickly. Half of the descend was in total darkness. My headlamp now came to rescue. One frustrating thing about going down in the dark my perception of distance deceived me. I saw car light, especially red break light, and would think i was so close to the trail head and gave me hope. I found myself disappointed so many times to learn that I had hours to get down!

I reached to the portal at 9:30pm. A total of 17 hours in this marathon hike. 22 miles round trip with 6100+ feet (1860m) elevation gain. Few days apart of the the first attempt. It was quite a bit of work there. All I think of was a bowl of hot soupy noodles and a nice warm bed.

I expect to be this tired in the South Pole. Everyday.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mt Whitney - First Attempt

Mt Whitney (14,505 feet or 4,421 m - the highest peak in the mainland US) is the last mountain I climbed as part of my training before my departure to the South Pole.

The weekend of Oct 3, my friend and I made our attempt to scale the mountain. Unlike most people, we did not plan this trip for a long time (some planned a year ahead). We got our multiday hiking permits in August. The plan was to do backpacking style. We were going to backpack to the the Trail Camp and spend the night there and ascend to the summit the next day. We did exactly that. Our backpacks were quite heavy. Hers was about 30 lbs and mine was almost 40 cuz I volunteered to carry our tent and cooking stuffs. My friend had not been training as much so it made sense for me to carry more.

We started out from Los Angeles at 5:30am on Sunday (10/4) and drove to Whitney Portal where the trail head starts. The drive was about 4 hours and mostly smooth except for one almost-a-misery event.

As we we passing along the freeways, we found so many gas stations so we figured there was no need to worry about the half full (or empty) gas tank. Little did we know, as we entered the stretch of the desert land on highway CA 395, there was no gas station when the gas tank light was on. There was no sign saying that there would be no gas for the next so ad so miles, at least not that both of us could see.

We were pretty much driving very conservatively, turning off everything, no fan, radio, AC and put on neutral on downhill and even on one small uphill section. We were driving in such stressful mode and I was so ready to push our car should it stop running. The highway was empty too. It was Sunday morning in a desert land after all.

After more than 20 miles of driving on warning- light-on, we thought to ourselves that it was it, we could not last any longer and there was a blue sign with some sort of a structure standing alone on the left of the road in the distance.

Expecting for a disappointment (as we passed a few building structures earlier and they turned out to be ghost or abandoned farm house), we found a savior as the sign growing bigger with the word Mobil. This gotta be one of most happiest moments in our lives, at least mine. We pulled over and filled the tank as full as possible. It could have been a disaster if we didn't find this little station. It's interesting that this tiny place carried free postcards of its own. I guess a lot of people had been in similar situation. We collected the cards as our souvenir for the trip.

We reached to the Whitney Portal before 10 and prepared our hike. It was a beautiful day, quite cold, about mid 40's F (7C). We donned our backpacks and put away all extra food and scented items in a bear locker (turned out it was a trash bin I didn't realized later!). We started our hike at 10:50.

The hike was very nice as the weather was cool but sunny. I was impressed with my friend as she didn't train for this hike, at least not with heavy backpack. She set the pace for the hike and it was a pretty good pace.

As we winding our way up the mountain, we met a lot of people who were descending. All of them could not make it to the top due to pretty bad weather the night before and the wind gust at the top. Apparently the wind was so strong it went at 70 miles/hr. It would definitely blow people off the trail. This was not a good news for us. Another bad news was we were told there was no water at the Trail Camp where we were going to spend the night. The lake at the camp was frozen. Despite the news, we kept going because the sun has been out all morning and hoped some of the ice were melting.

After a long 5h 30 mins we finally reached to the camp site. Carrying heavy backpack on a 6 miles long hike was no easy task. Now time to pitch the tent and prepare dinner. My friend job was to get water and I build the tent. This was not my first time pitching this tent but did it in the cold (in 30s or 0C) is no fun nor easy.

With some small struggles with the poles, I managed to erect the tent, just in time my friend came back with water. It turned out she had to hack the ice to get water by the edge of the pond. Her filter didn't worked as the water would freeze inside the tube. So I told her to forget about the clean water. We just had to boil it to kill bacteria and or things. Both of us were pretty much freezing but I think she was colder as she dealt with water while I was fighting with the tent.

Finally we started our stove and begin to boil some precious water. The tiny portable stove didn't mean act as camp fire but traces of heatwave on top of the kettle helped our blood to circulate in our hands. By the time the water boiled and gave off some steam, we poured it into our freeze dried food packages for our dinner. Boiling water on a high altitude (the Trail camp is at 12000f or 3657m) in cold temperature did take forever. I managed to boil some more of the water that I myself got from the lake. By the time we finish our dinner, the sky pretty much dark and time to retreat in our tent.

That night was cold. I had 0 degree (-18C) sleeping bag and was in two layers of clothes. So did my friend. Actually she put more on, pretty all she had. We were both cold in our bags and could not sleep well. I started to develop headache, first symptoms of AMS. I was not sleeping the whole night until my alarm went off at 5am. We "woke" up and exchanged our idea for the day. Turned out she had headache too and was not able to sleep. So I decided stay in until 7 and would make up our mind whether we should ascend.

By 7, the sun was out completely. The air was crisp and cold but fresh. The headache did not go away as I had hope for. We both decided not to take the risk and push ourselves. So down was the way to go. We broke the tent and packed up. It took almost an hour before we could descend.

On the way down, the sun shined brilliantly. Such a beautiful day for hiking. I did have a little regret that I could not go further up, but that thought was quickly dismissed. There was only two of us, we had to go up or down together. The mountain is here to stay and there will always be another time.

Also while zigzag-ing our way down the mountain, I realized that my refilled lake water was full of algae and dirt I could not detect last night. What could one do but drink it while the untreated water off the stream was more susceptible with problem. At least I had extra protein and fibre in my drink :)

We got down to Portal shortly before noon and called it a hike.