The flight time from Punta Arenas to Patriot Hills was approximately 4.5 hours and I slept through most of the flight to Antarctica. We landed at 2 o’clock in the morning at Patriot Hills on the Blue Ice glacier. During the summer season, November through January, there is 24 hours of sunlight and even at 2am it was bright as day, so bright we had to wear sunglasses. With 98% of its area covered with snow and ice, the Antarctic continent reflects most of the sun’s light rather than absorbing it.
All this white snow everywhere reminded me of an article I read about scientist Hashem Akbari (based at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California). His big theory was quite simple and based on the same effect as experienced at the Antarctica. He suggested painting all roofs and road tops white to reflect the sun. In big urban cities where it is hot all year round, the sunlight reflected from a white surface does not contribute to the greenhouse effect, which drives global warming, and also makes a surface much cooler. Akbari calculated that if all sunny urban areas were painted white, the effect would balance expected rise in global emissions over the next decade, and delay the impact of climate change.
However, being at the Antarctic, freezing and staring at all this white snow and ice, I wanted to paint it all black instead, just to feel a little warmer!
We all had to walk about a kilometer (1/2 mile) from the glacier to the Patriot Hills camp. The air was heavy with diesel and brown aviation gas, but once we arrived into the camp the air was incredibly clean and crisp. Antarctic is the windiest and driest continent on earth with an absolute humidity
lower than that of the Sahara Desert, and the air was also surprisingly different from the North Pole. The brutal weather conditions and strong winds, that also delayed our arrival with several days, have been synonymous with Antarctica since its discovery and can often be a major challenge to explorers and scientists. For the same reason I chose to climb Mount Vinson during the summer months from November to January, as the weather is the least hostile during these months. The temperature at the South Pole at our arrival was also warmer than at the Arctic last year, maybe due to the extreme weather conditions we faced during the North Pole Expedition with strong winds and temperatures as low as -80°.
The Patriot Hills camp is very well established and comparatively luxurious, and that is even though everything at the camp is either recycled or flown back to Chile for disposal, so there is absolute no litter at the Antarctic. All wastewater from washing and toilets is even sealed up, frozen and flown back to Chile as well, so we do not leave any footprints behind at all! The philosophy ruling about recycling everything and not leaving anything behind, not harm the nature and our environment, was very inspirational and something we all should think more about in our day-to-day lives.
Part of the camp was a long dining tent, which worked as the gathering place for everyone. The dining tent was surprisingly warm, due to the constant sunlight warming the tent. Due to our late arrival, we went straight to the two long tents, where we settled in for our first night in the Antarctic.
At 9 o’clock we woke up for breakfast and received instructions for the following day. We finally had good weather, which meant that our flight from Patriot Hills to Vinson base camp was able to leave the same day. The flight took approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes and followed the spine of the Ellsworth Mountains, with impressive views of the peaks and broad valley glaciers that form the Heritage and Sentinel Ranges. The Vinson base camp is at 2,150 meters, but because of the cold, it felt like 400 meters higher. The weather was finally on our side and I was one step closer to the start of the Renaissance Services Antarctic Expedition and my climb of Mount Vinson.