Monday, June 7, 2010

Denali - First Attempt

I came back to the Bay Area over a week ago from Denali. To go straight to the answer, I did not make it to the summit. In fact, and unfortunately, I only made it to near camp 2. There are 5 camps on Mt McKinley, 4 of which climbers can haul their sleds to. I was sad and disappointed not to be able to proceed to further due to my knee injury condition.

I have had meniscus tear, probably since last year when I did Mt Whitney. It probably so minor that I did not realize. Then came the training sessions for Denali where I carried really heavy backpack while hiking. I have been really careful with my knees, always use trekking poles and never ever run down on the descents. In late March, I started to experience pain on my left knees. At first I thought it was muscle tear and a week of rest would be enough. It never went away and only got worse. Every step up and down (more so on traversing down) any stairs caused some pain on the left knee. I sensed something not right and went see doctors and got MRI scan and X-ray. The doctors could see the tear right away. So before going to Ecuador, I already knew to the full extent of my knee injury, but I decided to continue my training and acclimatization process, in hope the injury would not get worse. I told Pepe about it and we were quite careful about my condition.

After returning from Ecuador, I met my surgeon and scheduled a date for operation. I would be June 17. My surgeon recommended me not to go but I told him I really wanted to do it. So he prescribed me pain killer. At that time, I felt that the pain did not get worse, so hopefully I would not aggravate it. My thinking was since I was going to have a surgery, and have the tear removed, it would not make any difference if I push forward or call off the expedition. You never know until you try.

Air taxi dropped us at the base camp

Jump to the expedition, the hike from base camp to camp 1 wasn’t too bad, despite our super heavy weight of gears, food and fuel (total about 105 lbs each person). However, I got digestive problem. Pepe also had it but his stomach was strong enough to deal with it while I had to take diarrhea medication to stop it. This and the knee injury definitely did not help me on the mountain at all.

Near camp 2, about to descent back to base camp

There was this pretty big slope that we had to hike from camp 1 to camp 2. We started the day at 10am. It was a beautiful day but no wind. On the glacier, with the sun fully blasted its heat and the snow reflected single light ray back at you, this was not so good of a time to hike. All these added up. About half way to camp 2, the knee started to feel more painful and the back of the knee was so stiff. Each step was a huge effort. I did not have a good balance because I would shift all the weight to right leg. When we reached near camp 2, I decided it was not a good idea for me to pursue the climb further up, it became too dangerous. I did not want to get into any accident due to this knee problem. We camped for the night and started to go down the following morning. On the way down, it was more painful than going up, even with the help of the pain killer. Some climbers could even tell I have issue with my knee! At the base camp, Lisa, who helped arranged with flights back to Talkeetna said she had similar issue and that it was the right decision. No one wants an evacuation by helicopter.

The surgery will be a small one, but it’ll take at least 6 to 8 weeks to go back to normal. I do have a plan for the summer and the rest of the year, but the injury has pushed some, if not most of them out, depending on the healing process. Sometimes you can’t proceed with your plan due to unexpected reasons. The mountains are still there, that I know.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Acclimatization Begins

Today Pepe picked me up at my hostel at 8am. It was supposed to be 7:30 but he was stuck in traffic. Haven't seen him for two years, the guy looked the same. We left the city and into the suburb of Quito. The ride was not smooth, with lots bumps. The roads were not paved at all. In fact, they were all muddy after a few weeks of rain. I have been unlucky. Since I arrived, it rains everyday, down pouring. Pepe told me the are floods everywhere in low lands. I didn't know there is national emergency going on in Ecuador. Only if I speak Spanish to know this!

He drove me to the the trail of the mountain. It was so muddy that the car wouldn't move. We ended up walking twice the distance to the top. The hike was wet and obviously very dirty. We had to be super careful with each step as it was very slick. My pants were covered in mud and my shoes soaking. However, I didn't realize the wet socks until later. The wool socks are amazing. I felt warm in even they were completely dampened.

At the top, which is about 13000 ft (3900m), the view was okay, most covered in thick clouds and no sun. We chilled there for 20 minutes and took off.

Needless to say, the way down wasn't easier with slippery earth. Once we reach to the car which he parked in the middle of the road where we couldn't move further, Pepe took 0ut his soil digger and started to plant trees. We planted about 8 trees there. It was nice to be part of tree planting program that he's in for the Ecuadorian Red Cross.

He drove me back to his place in a very nice neighborhood of Cumbaya, outside of Quito. It's almost like Saratoga in the South Bay with lots of nice boutique shops and seclusive houses. He and his wife Monique and their children, 5 years old Jose and a girl (11) who I didn't get to meet, live in a beautiful house, very buddhistish with lots of Asian traces such as bamboo trees and paper lanterns. Apparently, Monique is a big fan of India. She's a great cook too, as she served us excellent lunch with pasta sopa and prime ribs.

It was a great first day although the weather sucked (and continue to).

Saturday, May 1, 2010

New Journeys

If you noticed, I have appended the word "peaks" to the tittle of the blog. You guessed it right, peaks are the new journeys I am going to take.

As recent as early last year, I did not even think about getting into mountaineering, let alone trying big mountains. Because South Pole is at high altitude, I needed to train for it. So my first climb was Mt Shasta. The trip went well, and all of the sudden I found myself falling in love with mountaineering. It almost like once you are in love, you never have enough.

I always love mountains and nature and did quite bit of hiking, but all of these are not serious climbing. So last year, I contacted a friend of mine who I met before and after my North Pole trip. His name is Pepe Jijon from Ecuador. He and I stayed in the same hostel in Longyearbyen. We talked a bit while waiting for our flight to Barneo basecamp for a few days. He was off to a last two degree expedition while mine is last degree. He said he had done 7 summits, all solo. This is one of the amazing feat that only a few have done so far. So I asked him if I got into mountaineering, I would like to work with him. We exchanged emails after our trips.

Fast forward to 2009. I decided to try out the big ones, even before my departure for the South Pole. I contacted him again and discussed the project. The first one I am aiming for is Mt McKinley. He did this back in 2006. It was a tough trip for him, but he made it. After Denali, he did Everest and the remaining of the 7 summits. So he's such an experienced mountaineer. In fact, he's quite famous in Ecuador. I asked a few people here in Quito, they knew about him, and talked about him with some respect. It's always nice to know your partner is a professional and well respect person, even in such a small country like Ecuador.

He has been super busy. Recently he was on a climbing tour around Ecuador with Red Cross to promote a youth program to inspire them to be more active and also planting trees in each province. At the end of the tour, he climbed a peak that was never been ascended before and baptized it as Mt Red Cross.

So with the depth of expertise on mountaineering, I am really happy and looking forward to partnering with him on mountaineering.

I am now in Quito (been here since Monday) to go on a training program before Denali. In this trip, he and I will be climbing a few volcano peaks near Quito, ranging from 16000 ft (5000 m) to 19000 ft (6000m). We have a list of peaks we wanted to attempt but the weather has been pretty wet (lots of rain) so the list we're going to climb will change a bit. I will update when I know exactly which one we climb. We will start on Monday and finish by Sunday or Monday the following week. Once that done, we have one week to rest before Denali.

This is going to be very intense climbing but Ecuador will definitely help me acclimatize. In fact. Quito is already at 9350 ft (2850m), quite high for those who live near sea level.

Lots of training, preparation and of course luck are needed in this new endeavor.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Resolute People

I wish I met and interacted more with Inuit or local people of Resolute. Unfortunately I was there in the deep winter and that means everyone was hibernating in their homes. The hotel was empty, and the very few guests came and went quickly as they were passing through for one night. So this post was not about them because I do not have much to tell. The people I wanted to talk about are those on the expeditions to the North Pole this year.

I was very fortunate to have met/seen majority of those who set out for North Pole quests this year. A lot of them are big names in polar world too. Being explorers, they are very determined. Even those who did not have extensive polar experience were not less strong willed. This year, the ice along Cape Discovery and Ward Hunt looked thin, according to satellite image. That did create some slight unnerving thought but all of them took it as a challenge.

These people, as I have been following them through their blogs and website give me such an inspirational and motivational effect. This year, probably due to the climate change, the ice condition was so bad, lots of wide open leads, pressure ridges and whiteouts. I experienced all these conditions in my trip to the North Pole but in over a week while theirs last 40-60 days. I cannot image how I would deal with these conditions in such a long time.

So far only one team has reached the pole. Richard Weber, the best guy out there for polar travel, the master with epic expeditions did it again, almost in record time with his team of 4. They, like every team on the ice this year, have gone through a lot. Wet clothes due to accidental fall in the water or leaking dry suit, frostbites, southward drifts, cold, storms, etc... He did it 7 times! Simply incredible.

Eric, Darcy and AJ are some superhuman too. Having spent time with them, I know how much resolute they are, especially Eric. He's such a great leader. He has the most experience in the team but yet he would listen to suggestion from his team members. They just crossed 89N, the last degree (same distance as my trip when I started mine). It's just out of this world what they have accomplished so far.

There are two people that I also met in Resolute are Michele Pontrandolfo and Christina Franco. They both decided to end their expeditions but they are not less strong willed. I talked to Christina more when I was there helping Eric's team. She's amazing woman. Very strong personality but yet very sweet. She taught us how to do blanket stitching. AJ and Darcy were not very skillful in sewing, so she was very patient teaching them and would repeat the lesson. Somehow I know these people will attempt the North Pole again in the future. They don't just quit without trying and giving their best.

This morning CNN ran an article about Tom Smitheringale rescue, who almost died in the Arctic water. I did not meet him in Resolute because he left for the ice the day we arrived there. Early in his solo expedition, he already got frostbite on his fingers, but kept on pushing until last week when he was so much in pain that he called his team to arrange an evacuation. But he later decided to keep going. I thought to myself, this guy is a fool. His will power is so strong that it would mask everything, including the worsen fingers that they could endanger his own life or he might have to cut them once he reaches the Pole. Only a fall in the icy water for 10 minutes (which most people would die already) and the suffer from hypothermia would deter him and forced him cease his expedition. Madly amazing.

Other teams such as Sarah McNair's (who I met) and Dan and Amelia (they left before I got to Resolute) are marching hard, racing against the clock, sometimes their own clock (Sarah's team adopted 27 hour day) to reach the Pole in time before Barneo camp close down or have to shell out a stash of money, an astronomical figure 100k, for a pick up from Canada.

Absolutely resolute.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

In Rez and Missing Expedition Life

I finally come to Rez (short for Resolute) tonight. I have been on the run the last few days, except for the time being stuck in Iqaluit. It's pretty cold outside with the temperature about -30C, but feels much colder due to wind, probably below -4oC (according to the weather network it feels like -44C, not that I can tell the difference between the two).

So tonight I am staying at the Co-op, a hotel owned by Inuits. It's completely empty. I am the only guest in this hotel while the other one owned by Ozzy, a business man in Resolute, is quite packed with expedition groups to such as Eric Larsen's Save The Poles , Sarah McNair-Landry's, Catlin Arctic Survey to name a few. In a way it's good because the internet will be faster for one :) But looks like I'm going to switch hotel tomorrow. Not only I miss the expedition life and this would be a place to pseudo-live it, but I want to help out the Save The Poles team if they need me.

Past couple days have been great fun, sharing a room with Eric, Darcy and AJ in Iqaluit. It was not what I envisioned to do when I booked this trip, but it's was a nice alternative. So I have helped them with miscellaneous things like weighing and packing the food. They still have a lot to do before March 2, but from my perspective, having been with them for the last 48 hours, I see the team spirit is high and they are ready for and excited about the trip. And that's a great thing.

I wish I were part of the team. I thank them for letting me live the pre-expedition life again, with all the excitement and some nervousness about the unknowns. Also I appreciate Eric to include me in his update.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


I did not plan to go Iqaluit. It was supposed to be just a stopover enroute to Resolute. I planned Resolute trip almost a year ago, even before ALE accepted me for the South Pole expedition.

Why Resolute you may ask. Well, this is the furthest point a commercial airplane can fly to in the North America. I used my Aeroplan points, for 25k miles you can fly anywhere in North America. That means it costs the same for flying from SFO to LAX or San Francisco to Resolute. Obviously I chose the furthest point to maximize my points. The ticket to go there is well over 5k from the US. But to get the ticket, you must book so far in advance, 350 days ahead to grab one of very few (if not only one) mileage tickets.

Money aside, I always wanted to visit Resolute, some of the most northern community in Canada, as you already know how much I am interested in these places. So voila, I'm on my way to the town at the tip of Canada.

So this morning I went to Ottawa airport after a night of not sleeping well because of the noise and the bad bunkbed in Ottawa Backpacker's Inn. When I was at the gate, and check out who I saw. It was Eric Larsen. That's right, the person who I was supposed to train with for my South Pole but didn't happen and we met in Patriot Hills. Well, I knew he was going to the North Pole as the second leg of his 3 poles quest for his Save the Poles project. But I did not know he might be on the same flight with me until a couple days ago when I read his blog. It was very cool to see him there, with his team mates AJ of UK and French Canadian Darcy who lives in Winnipeg.

Eric was exhausted from the long road trip from Colorado to Minnesota crossing the border to Canada and across Ontario on less traveled roads in the winter. Not a fun road trip according to him. In fact the whole team looked tired as they didn't have much sleep and lots and lots of things to take care of in short amount of time. Even AJ was the last addition to the team as Ryan Waters (who made history with Cicillie to cross Antarctica unsupported -- I had a chance to talk to them at the South Pole when our expeditions converged) decided not to come. It's amazing how they come this far, ready to hop out on the ice and start their expedition to the North Pole for 50 days (estimated).


Even before we boarded the plane, First Air personnel advised us that the plane to Resolute was cancelled and we have the choice to stay in Ottawa or fly to Iqaluit and find our own accommodation. We chose to fly.

At their Iqaluit airport, I ran into Marlin, a girl who worked at Patriot Hills. Again, I knew she was going to go to Resolute but did not expect she would be in Iqaluit, also waiting for fly to Resolute. She is a cook for the British's Catlin Arctic Survey expedition at a base camp they are going to set up just outside of Resolute. I also met Martin Hartley who is a member of this expedition.

It was a nice surprise to meet these people here. Since we're stuck here for two days (next flight out to Res scheduled for Sat at 1:30pm), I am sharing a room with Eric's team. Interestingly enough, right after our South Pole trips, I also shared the room with Eric's team (Bill and Dong) in Punta Arenas.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Treasuring Antarctica

Antarctica is a truly magical place. It has the power to change or has deep effects on most people who set foot there, in many different ways.

After our return to Punta Arenas, I pretty much hung out with Dong from Eric Larsen's team, a young Chinese Canadian business man, all the way to Toronto. He told me his journey to the South Pole has changed him a lot, to be a better person.

Before coming to Antarctica this time, I am proud to say I am pretty much environmental conscious. But I am also not so proud to say it is not all about the environment, but more about my own pocket.

For the last two years since I moved into my current place, no heat or air conditioning has been used, be it in the middle of the winter (albeit winter in the bay area is not that cold) or summer (we do have some super hot days). Every night after work, only one light bulb (CFL - I wanted to change to LED but they are not bright enough) is on in my place. Besides the energy star fridge, nothing else in the house sucks electricity on a regular basis. My PG&E bills are usually less than $25/month.

As far as trash is concerned, obviously we do recycling here. I go one small little step further - only bring out recycle bin when it is really full (and that's like two or 3 months worth of recycle-able materials). Each lift from the trash truck uses some gas!

The one thing I hate to say is I am driving my car daily. California's car culture is almost impossible to get rid of. Also it would take way too long and impractical for commuting using public transportation, at least 1 hour an a half one way. I did carpool before but schedules wouldn't allow it easily. Next car I get will definitely be more environmental friendly.

Back to Antarctica, I was really glad to witness ALE's efforts to protect and impact the least to Antarctic environment. All waste, including human waste in both forms, were brought back to Chile to dump at proper place. It is very difficult just to deal with these kind of issues, let alone others such as safety for the crew and clients. Kudos to ALE.

As for us, we happily carried our faeces in the skiing journey. I never knew I could produce that much. The weight of the sleds practically didn't change much, if not slightly heavier due to the moisture in the bodily waste matter. They only changed when Tanya and John left and we got to dump all of our un-wanted onto theirs.

So I brought along with me my version of environmental message: "Treasure the Beautiful Gift from Mother Nature". As much as I treasure the place, not because I have set foot there, but also because I want to impact the least on my bank account. I hope you share the view and if not already, start to practice ways to make less dents on your own wallet, and hence environment.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

New Year's Eves

I would never dream about celebrating my New Year's Eve at the South Pole, even in my wildest dream, before coming to Antarctica this time. On the departure day for Patriot Hills, I asked Nick Luis, one of the owners of ALE, what would be the chance of us being stuck at the South Pole until New Year. He was not too amused, "Are you hoping for bad weather?". Of course not but I want to know the odds and my chance to be at the South pole for New Year celebration. To be clear, my goal was anything but a celebration at the pole.

Anyway, as you all know, we reached to the South Pole on New Year's eve New Zealand timezone (Dec 30 Chilean time).

That "night", it was so cold, -40 with windchill. Despite the bitter cold, a few of us, some women from the Commonwealth group, Andy and I went to the ceremonial pole. There were about 8 people already there. Those were the people who work at the station. We joined them, making a circle around the steel ball. This is no Time Square so no ball dropping at the strike of midnight. It is a steel ball that is attached to a pole permanently.

We mingled and chatted in the cold. The guys from stations were really impressed at our expeditions, especially the women team. We did not have a countdown, for some reason. We were busy chatting and forgot to do the countdown. Bummer. But when we realized it was midnight, we all said Happy New Year" and shook hands, with our gloves and mittens on. Some hugging too. After about 10 mins, we dispersed and back to our tents.

That was our New Year celebration at the South Pole - ubercold, no party, sans alcohol, very few people, and no countdown. Yet it was special. Not too many people have been at the South Pole, few of them have been at the South pole at the turn of the year, and among that, even fewer skied there in time for the midnight. I felt very privileged.

The new year did not end there. The Twin Otters came picked us up at the pole on Dec 31 Chilean time (New Year day New Zealand). By the time we got to Thiels for refueling, it was "midnight" again. As the aircraft took off, we had our champagne with the wish for a happy new year yet again. Celebrate twice has always a dream, and twice in Antarctica is even more surreal. And I was in that surrealism.

Today is Lunar New Year's day. Happy the Year of the Tiger, to those to celebrate it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Coke Ad

I am not a hardcore coke drinker. I do have crave, however, of coke once in a while mostly for its caffeine content. Especially with those greasy fast food and pizza. In my trip to the North Pole, I got this crave of cola and I blogged about it. Well, in this trip, the same thing happened again.

It’s strange that such environment, cold and all, one can think of a cold can of coke. It could have been I was overheated while skiing and hence I wanted something to cool me down. Or because I couldn’t sleep well the night before and needed some sort of jolt to keep me awake. Or it simply it was the taste of carbonated sugary brownish drink. Whatever it was, all I knew was I wanted a coke while on the ice.

And I wasn’t the only one. Andy too. He was telling me he felt like to have some of cola drink.

When we knew the plane would come to pick up John and Tanya, we actually plotted out a plan how to achieve our goal – obtain some of the magic drink! The plan was I would nicely ask the air crew if they could give us a bottle. If they refuse, we would sneak on the plane while helping load the sleds. And since we know where the food and drink area was (we flew in the same plane to the last degree), we could steal a bottle or two.

And the plane came. I executed our plan A. I asked Shaun, an ALE staff, who was flying to the South Pole to help out those groups who already reached the pole, “Hi Shaun, can I have a coke?”. He did not answered. I thought he did not hear me. He did. I was doing the loading with Andy. We both looked at each other. Time to do move on to plan B.

We did not have much time. Loading the sleds and saying good bye to Tanya and John did not take too long. Just when I thought of climbing into the plane, someone passed out one bottle of light coke. We were joyous. I turned to Andy, asking him if he wanted to drink right away as I couldn’t wait. He said let’s save it and enjoy it gradually. Great idea! After thanking Shaun and the crew for the coke, and saying good bye to the couple, we were off to ski for another few hours.

That night, after meal, we took out the bottle. As if it was precious (it was!) Luis XIII Remy Martin cognac , I carefully poured a little into our cups. We did not even drink the way we drink coke at home. We sipped it. Sip by sip. Talked over coke. For God’s sake, it wasn’t even regular coke, I thought. We made sure we did not drink all and have some for the next day, while we ski.

Before we went to bed, we strategically put the bottle on the side we knew there would be sun when we wake up. That way the drink wouldn’t be frozen.

All went well as planned. The next morning, the coke was in liquid state. We had some more of the taste-bud-pleaser fluid, and put it away in my sled and hoping it wouldn’t freeze away while we ski. Shortly before the break at noon, I took it out. Still good to drink. We again shared it and enjoyed to the last drop.

It’s only in these kind of situation that you know you take a lot of things for granted. A simple bottle of soft drink is nothing but in my trip, it was such a joy and we ridiculously treasured it. The bottle certainly had sentimental value to it now.

Not sure if this is enough to get Coca Cola to sponsor my next trip, but that’s my coke story. It’s real.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Unexpected Birthday Present

I normally do not celebrate my birthday. It's the day I officially age one more year. I don't care much about the aging part, and to me, it's just another day. In fact I almost forgot it was my birthday today until people sending me birthday wishes on Facebook and private messages.

Last week BBC Vietnamese asked me to write an article about my trip to the South Pole. I have been very busy at work as we were about to ship a new product, so I procrastinated the writing. Actually, it was more like I wrote it slowly. Not only because I didn't have much time, but also the writing was in Vietnamese. As I mentioned in some post before, I could write in Vietnamese pretty well, but it's not what I do often, and a lot of vocabulary and the writing style I have lost over the years.

So the process of writing was very slow. I had to use an online dictionary to get the exact meaning of some English words . And in a few cases, I almost gave up as I couldn't find the equivalent terms, for example, the word expose as in "expose my skin to the cold". You would think all languages should have that, right? Yes, but depends on how you use it too, at least in Vietnamese. I couldn't choose the right word for it because it would sound strange in Vietnamese, something to the extend of "display", "show" or even "strip off" which may have some negative connotation in Vietnamese, while what I was looking for was contact or tiếp xúc in Vietnamese.

Anyway, I sent them the article last night. And by this afternoon, some Vietnamese people at work forwarded me the article on BBC Vietnamese. I was surprised they would publish it so quickly. It was a sweet surprise though. I'm sure they did not know it was my birthday and I did not expect any gift. It was unexpected for both sides. And a nice one too!

Thanks for the gift and birthday wishes, everyone.

Click here for the article (if you read Vietnamese).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

More Images

The following images were taken by David Hamilton, our guide. Thanks David :)

We skied like this everyday (I'm the last in this picture)

I guess the fur really loved my respiration eh.

The team in 10 minute break


Saturday, January 23, 2010


California has been battered by powerful storms. It rained all week, flooded, toppled trees and did other damages. But there was a break today. It was sunny when I woke up. It's nice to see some blue sky after a whole week of gray. I took advantage of the weather and did my usual hiking to Mission Peak. This week I have returned to my work out routines to start my training for my next challenge: climb Mt McKinley or Denali (which appropriately means "The Great One").

I donned my backpack which was pre-loaded before my trip to the South Pole, and brought one liter of water and of course some snacks. The backpack felt really heavy. I was a little concerned. I used to be able to carry my 40 lbs backpack to hike. I thought it could have been I did not carry heavy backpack for a while. I took it easy on my first trip back on the hill.

The trail was muddy but I was surprised to see it wasn't bad at all. Half of the trail was added gravel before the rain season. That helped a lot. I almost did not recognize the lush green grass covered hills. The hike was very pleasant, the weather was cool and the trail is green. On the way to the top, some people asked how heavy my backpack was. I said about 40 lbs as I remembered adding about that much weight before my trip. When I reached to the top, after munching on my snacks, I dumped 3 gallons of water to lighten up my load for descending.

I started to suspect something not right. My backpack was little larger than what I remembered. I checked the bottom compartment. It turned out I had two gallons of water there. It was a sweet surprise. I carried 5 gallons of water and other stuffs to Mission Peak without knowing it. No wonder it was heavier than usual. But I made it to the top without issue nor feeling exhausted. When I got back home and added back the same weight and step on the scale. It was 53 lbs! That is only a few pounds short to my target for Denali (57-60 lbs - roughly half of my weight!). Not too bad for the first day.

This is the benefit to go on such a hard core trip such as the ski to the South Pole. And I think I can get use to this new "normalcy", and must maintain it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Video Clips from the Expedition

A break before the South Pole

The very moment of reaching the South Pole (I'm the 3rd from left - obviously :))

South Pole vs. North Pole

Everyone asked me the difference between the expedition to the North Pole and South Pole. Well, the answer is the two expeditions I did are similar but each has its unique challenges.

As for similarities, they both called Ski the Last Degree, just plug in the destination :). In each program, I attempted to get to the axis of the Earth rotation, or 90 degrees north or south by skis. Both regions of the world are known to have the harshest weather, even both trips were conducted in spring/early summer of the respective hemisphere. The similarities stop there :)

North Pole locates in the middle of Arctic Ocean. We skied on the floating ice that is formed during the winter to reach to 90 degrees north. Because the ice floats on the water, it drift along with water current in Arctic Ocean. Drifting ice can be a great help or deep frustration while skiing depends on direction it moves.

South Pole positions in the middle of Antarctica, which is a continent. The ice has been formed for millions of years. The ice that caps the whole Antarctica does move, but only several meters year so the drifting effect is very insignificant. Since the distance to the South Pole does not change constantly by ice movement, accomplish a goal is definitely less frustrating.

This fact may make skiing to the South Pole relatively easy compared to the North Pole. However, South Pole does pose some big challenges of its own.

South Pole sits on Antarctic Plateau, which rises to over 9000 feet (near 3000 m) and the last degree is well position in this plateau. Because this is at the axis of the Earth rotation, the air pressure the plateau is less than that at the same altitude elsewhere on Earth. In fact it would feel like 4000m instead of 3000m.

So from a sea level, skiers get dropped to very high altitude (at which most people will exhibit some AMS symptoms) and start to pull a heavy sled for a long time, in extreme cold weather. This is a very difficult task.

Also, the snow formation near and at the South Pole is different than that at the North Pole. South Pole is very dry and windy. There is no virtually no precipitation or falling snow. The snow here are formed from of any traces moisture exist in the air, therefore, they do not bind together like the snow found in the North Pole or elsewhere. They are powdery and sand-like and creates a lot of drag. Pulling a sled on hard snow (North Pole) is much easier than soft sand-like snow in the South Pole.

To be fair, North Pole has a lot of its own difficulties too. Since the ice formed during the winter, some surface is extremely slippery and dangerous as the ice may break and creates open leads. Also, when two ice sheets collide, they create pressure ridges which most of the time very difficult to maneuver.

Skiing the North Pole has peaks and slumps in term of physical work. When climb over pressure ridges, it is very physically demanding but rewarding when done.

Skiing the last degree South Pole requires a constant endurance and performance as the plateau is quite flat which can be very demanding as well.

As far as weather is concerned, North Pole seems to be colder, even though the temperature tent to be higher than that at the South Pole. The reason for this is North Pole is on an ocean, therefore, humidity is much higher and the sun tents to be covered by clouds while Antarctica is so dry. Meteorologists will give us a better answer but according to my tiny sample, there seems to be more sunny days on Antarctic plateau.

My experience is definitely I felt colder in my North Pole trip, even though the temperature was ranging from -17 to -30C, which is "warmer" than what we experienced some days in Antarctica. I could not dry my clothes as well as in the South Pole trip in which we were very lucky to get beautiful weather most of the time.

So there, that is my answer.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


I should have known better once home, I will get sucked in the daily life routine and reality, but still it's difficult to adjust to.

I got to the Bay Area on Monday and went straight to work. Good thing I had enough rest along the way home so coming to work right after landing was not an issue. What is an issue was the traffic. My friend Vinh picked me up at the airport in my car but I made him drive me to work. I was a little hesitant to deal with traffic on 101. But I couldn't dodge it forever. Driving home on 880 at night gave me a few heart pounding moments, but thank god all was well.

There are a million things I need to take care of and of course everyone at work was looking forward for my return out of good will, I'm sure of ;) I still haven't had too much time to reflect on the trip. But one thing I must say, this journey was an amazing experience and I learned a lot from it. I will have to post more, gradually :)

This probably is going to be my tradition: after a big trip, one of the first things I do when I get home is having some home made sweet. This time, I had the yummy cookies my sister baked and sent to me from Canada for my trip.

Home is always sweet.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

First Few Images from the Expedition

On the way skiing to the South Pole

Same character, different day

Nubo, Andy, David and I at the South Pole

At the exact 90 degrees

On the Way Home

I have been on the road, more like in the air a lot the past few days, making my way home. Being stuck in Patriot Hills for 5 days screwed up all traveling schedule. To be fair, we missed our schedule flight on Dec 29 because our journey took longer than expected. The following Ulyushyn flight was scheduled to come on the 4th but the weather turned bad and we could only fly out the next 30 hours in a small window of opportunity.

I had given myself one week extra in case of delay but this delay was beyond it. All my tickets expired. As soon as I settled in the hostel in Punta Arenas with Bill and Dong (from Eric Larsen team), I hopped online and checked for tickets. Andreas, my team mate, decided to stayed in the airport to sort out his ticket but apparently, he had to come to town to purchase his. LAN airline was fully booked. No seat available until Jan 11th. I knew there was another cheap domestic airline that serves Punta and Santiago. I found a few good last minutes tickets online in range of $1500s, but first I had to get out of Punta. Dong, having checked with LAN and was offered a business class upgrade to his ticket from Punta Arenas to Shanghai for $7666, was very happy to hear my news. He and I rushed to the SkyAirline office to get our tickets to Santiago. We were lucky enough to get them.

Now that we had our flight to the gateway, the next step was to get the tickets home. On the same site, all the ticket went up to $2000 range, less than an hour. We were disappointed, but kept on searching. In one query, suddenly an amazing price popped up, for Aeromexico. It was 1/3 of what we had seen earlier. I couldn't believe my eyes :). Obviously, we quickly made our purchase before the price went up. There was a catch though. For the tickets we bought, we stopped everywhere. One day and a half in Santiago, one day in Mexico City (where we are currently), then Toronto. Good thing Dong and I had the same destination, so I have been travelling with him since we got back from Antarctica. After Toronto, Dong will fly to Vancouver to renew his Chinese visa then off to Shanghai. I'm going to jet back to the Bay area on Monday after visiting my family in Toronto.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Back to the Real World

This morning when the Ulyushyn aircraft (that plays as the shuttle between Punta Arenas and Antarctica) landed on the blue ice run way of Patriot Hills, we were all so happy. Having stuck in Antarctica since Jan 1, although the ANI staff fed us well with their stunning dishes, we, at least myself, do miss the scene and smell daily human life. With a mixed feeling, we left the white continent, not knowing when we can come back. I did not spend too long time (3 weeks) compared to many others, but I come to appreciate Antarctica even more than before.

Having said that, it must be a cliche to say seeing green patches of grass, yellow flowers in front of the houses and espescially morning rainbow over Punta Arenas this morning as we left the airport was a joy.

Again, this trip was an amazining experience. The trip is longer than the North Pole, not less of challenges, and in a different way. All in all, it's another life time experience I personally think it's worth all my effort to come and make it reality.

Also, as expected, I met so many amazing people. This time around, I had a chance to talk to and interact with them, from the Commom Wealth Women team who I admire so much , the two Danes who became the second fastest team for the route they took, Eric Larsen team who I felt like I knew everything about their expedition, the amazing (and crazy :)) trans-Antarctic journey of Cicillie and Ryan, the staff at ANI including Mike Sharp, Nick Luis, Rob Jarvis, Ronnie, Shawn (and many more), and of course my own team mates Nubo Huang, Andreas Meyers and my guide David Hamilton.

Now that I left Antarctica and back the real world, but deep inside I know I will come back to the white desert. Some day.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Update from Antarctica - Jan 05 2010 20:51:02 GMT

Finally we're able to fly back to Punta Arenas 2nite. It's been a long wait 4 us.

The above was translated by Kbot.


Đây là bản dịch sang tiếng Việt bởi Google Language Tools (còn hạn chế và không chính xác):

Cuối cùng chúng tôi có thể bay trở lại 2nite Punta Arenas. Nó được một chờ đợi lâu dài 4 chúng tôi.


The following is the original message sent by Khai via satellite on Jan 05 2010:

finally we're able 2 fly back 2 pa's been a lng wait 4 us

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Update from Antarctica - Jan 03 2010 13:35:33 GMT

Weather getting better @ Patriot Hills Basecamp. Hope it stays this way til our flight back to Punta Arenas. Going to hike da hills around here 4 few hrs.

The above was translated by Kbot.


Đây là bản dịch sang tiếng Việt bởi Google Language Tools (còn hạn chế và không chính xác):

Thời tiết nhận được tốt hơn @ Patriot Hills Basecamp. Hy vọng nó vẫn theo cách này til chuyến bay của chúng tôi trở về Punta Arenas. Đi đồi da đi lang thang quanh đây 4 vài giờ.


The following is the original message sent by Khai via satellite on Jan 03 2010:

wthr gett_i betr @ ph.hope it stays this way til our flt back 2 pa.go_i 2 hike da hills around here 4 few hrs

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Update from Antarctica - Jan 02 2010 21:46:07 GMT

Weather has been bad @ Patriot Hills Basecamp , no flight any where. Our scheduled flight back to Punta Arenas is @ jan 4. Hope weather is going to be good then. In da mean time we just relax & recuperate.

The above was translated by Kbot.


Đây là bản dịch sang tiếng Việt bởi Google Language Tools (còn hạn chế và không chính xác):

Thời tiết xấu đã được @ Patriot Hills Basecamp, không có chuyến bay nào đó. Chuyến bay theo lịch trình của chúng tôi trở lại Punta Arenas là @ 4 Tháng 1. Hy vọng thời tiết là có được tốt sau đó. Trong thời gian có nghĩa là da chúng ta chỉ cần thư giãn & làm cho mạnh lại.


The following is the original message sent by Khai via satellite on Jan 02 2010:

wthr has been bad @ ph,no flt ne whe.our sked_d flt back 2 pa is @ jan 4.hope wthr is go_i 2 b gud da mean tme we just rlx & rcp

Friday, January 1, 2010

Update from Antarctica - Jan 01 2010 18:08:46 GMT

Back to Patriot Hills Basecamp last night or rather early this morning. Now wait 4 flight to Punta Arenas.

The above was translated by Kbot.


Đây là bản dịch sang tiếng Việt bởi Google Language Tools (còn hạn chế và không chính xác):

Quay lại Patriot Hills Basecamp đêm qua hoặc thay vào đầu buổi sáng này. Bây giờ chờ 4 chuyến bay tới Punta Arenas.


The following is the original message sent by Khai via satellite on Jan 01 2010:

back 2 ph last nite or rather early this wait 4 flight 2 pa