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


Me

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Normalcy

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

video
A break before the South Pole

video
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

Home

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 2nite.it'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 then.in 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 morning.now wait 4 flight 2 pa