Vinson Massif, Antarctica  •  2007

Nicki's Updates from Vinson Massif, Antarctica

December 18, 2007  •  Off the Ice

I'm back in Punta Arenas, Chile, thank god. have to take a shower quick and get something to eat. This trip was a life changing event. My life is changed.

I love you all and thank you for your well wishes. Will let you know when or if I can get flight home sooner than the 24th. Cannot WAIT to get home!!!! More later.


Updates From Scott Woolums' Website

Dec 16, 2007  •  Good things come to those who wait!

Summit! We did it! On the morning of the 15th, we woke to sunshine, very light dimenishing winds and blue skies! What a shock after seven days of serious winds and cold. Almost didnt know what to do, but we figured it out fast, time to go for the top! Conditions were very good, some cloud and very light winds for the first 5 or 6 hours up. Its a long day, over 3400 vertical ft gain and 3.5 miles from high camp. As we approached the summit ridge some clouds blew in obscuring the view, but thats ok as it was a moment we had waited long and hard for. The summit of Vinson Massif! Eight hrs up and it would take us another 3 to get back down. Nicki and Brice did fantastic, tired but solid. Congrats to Nicki who is 6 for 6 in her seven summits mission.

I am writing this from Vinson Base Camp as we had run out of batteries at high camp to do a report. So today we enjoyed a perfect morning at high camp, sunshine and calm. So we slept in, took our time packing camp, then started the long descent. Great weather to descend, sunny and hot. Down the fixed lines to Lower Camp, some time to reshuffle loads, visit with Dave Hahn and then start down to Vinson Base Camp. A long day and now its 2 am here in Base Camp and I'm trying to get this out before crashing. So we are all down safe, very tired, happy and now hopefully, with some luck, home before Christmas! We are tenativly scheduled for the second Twin Otter flight back to Patriot Hills, maybe tomorrow.

Quite a number of people from other groups are also here waiting to fly out after not summiting for various reasons, mostly after waiting for days for the week long storm to end, also there's a couple folks that have frostbite and need to get out as quickly as possible (not from our group). This has been an epic storm, several injuries, 8 tents blown apart, winds clocked at over 70 mph in Camp 1, and seven days of constant high winds over 30 in high camp. We were lucky and just waited up high for it to end, then ended up being the first group to summit, with another couple groups summiting this afternoon and tonight. So should be lots of people heading home now.

Sorry for the delay and any anxiety around this report. Will post some photos tomorrow from the summit!

—Scott Woolums reporting from Vinson Base Camp.

Dec 14, 2007  •  The Winds continue! Day Seven!

Still extremely windy here at high camp. Last night we had gusts to probably 60+! Today they have averaged about 30. We're all doing well, just bored. Around 1pm I bundled up and ran down to our cache at the top of the fixed ropes. Only 2 short hours, but it was the coldest I have every been! Going down went quick with the wind at my back, coming back up I had to fight the wind all the way. Could only see a hundred yards or so in the blowing snow. Quite a challenge! Would have traded a summit day on Everest to having to do that again, and I'm serious! But the good news is we have another 4 days or so of food and fuel here and conditions have improved a little over yesterday. So with any luck in the next day, two or three we can do this mouintain and get home for Christmas. There was a bit of drama last night as several groups choose to descend (due to the forecast) from high camp here in some very extreme conditions. Not sure exactly what has happened but I think there was some cold injuries. Our team is fine, although I came about as close to frostbite as I ever want to on my little carry down and up today. We are quite comfortable, tucked in here at camp now, just waiting..and waiting... We are starting to focus on making the (hopeful) flight on the 18th, summit or not as its been very hard waiting this long. That gives us the next 3 days to summit!

One tough expedition! Nicki and Brice deserve big kudos for hanging so long in some quite extreme conditions!

—Scott Woolums reporting from Vinson High Camp

Dec 13, 2007  •  Day Six in High Camp!

Quite a wild night and morning here with the winds picking uo to 45-50 knots, with an updated forcast of another system comming with more mosture and higher winds. The good news is that the resupply/trade with Dave Hahn went well last night. So as soon as we get a small break, we can drop down 30 mins and pick up a cache with more food to wait out this next system and hope there is some break before Sunday when it is predicted to pass. Tough calls up here as there is a very serious risk to packing and going down vs. staying put. Our best chances for summiting are to stay put and keep waiting as we really do have a solid little camp here thats taking the wind well. Very difficult hanging out now though as it's very tough just to go out for any length of time due to the extreme wind chill factor. One group here is planning to try and descend as they say this is the best break we will have till Sunday.

Again, batteries are continuing to get lower so will only be sending one update a day until the batteries fail. Basically no worries we are all doing well, just super bored and ready for something to happen.

—Scott Woolums reporting from Vinson High Camp

Dec 12, 2007  •  Storm - Day Five!

Woke up this morning to extremely high winds again, well over 30 knots! Very difficult to just go out of the tents now. So far this is the worst day of the storm. We have been getting more weather reports that this will continue again another 48 hours. Patriot Hills (100 miles away) is shut down due to high winds and drifting snow as is Vinson BC by the same storm.

We have been working on a mutual trade/resupply with Dave Hahn's group. They are at Camp 1 and running low on food. That was planned for today, but it is impossible to go down to meet Dave with the weather raging outside now! So postponed till tomorrow. Almost all books have been read, down to 2 liters fuel, and just a couple days food until we resupply! We are planning to stick it out here at high camp till we run out of resources to wait any longer. There are several flights scheduled in/out from Patriot Hills over the next week, so catching a flight will not be a problem after summiting (with luck). The Illuyshin flight scheduled for the 10th will probably be now on the 17th, that will delay the two scheduled for the 16th and 18th. We are refocusing now on hoping to summit and be down by the 18th at the latest in Patriot Hills (will not have enough supplies for any longer) for whatever flight we can get on. That will be a delay of 2 days over our original flight out on the 16th. If we can summit tomorrow or the next day we could be in Patriot Hills as early as the 16th still! Hard to predict with the winds howng outside right now! Everyone on the mountain is pinned down now by the same storm and we are getting reports of higher winds now lower down at Camp 1.

We'll keep trying to send reports out but batteries are down to less than 50%. So no worries if this is the last report untill we are down and can recharge everything! Everyone here says hi to those following back home!

—Scott Woolums reporting from Vinson High Camp

Dec 11, 2007  •  The Storm Continues!

Here we are, still up at high camp. Our 4th day now! Everything looked better last night with some clearing, but in the middle of the night the winds intensified to steady 20-30 knots with a temp of -25 to -27. So the wind chill right now is off the charts. No sunbathing today!

Seriously, its a bad storm with dropping pressure still. Not much sign now of it letting up, today at least. The good news is we are tucked in here good with another 3 days of food and fuel. A bit boring just laying in the tent all day and night. Its good we can at least get reports out! We have very limited sat phone batteries for voice calls, which we need to save for emergency comms if needed and short web updates for everyone back home.

Everyone is doing good! We are all hoping this will break soon. Still have lots of time and still be right on schedule!

We did get a report that Patriot Hills has been shut down by the same weather system, so this is a larger system across this area of Antarctica. We are getting satellite weather data interpeted by a meteorologist in Patriot Hills and passed on via radios from Vinson BC. There's still 5 groups waiting in high camps on Vinson, with 2 or 3 more waiting in Camp 1 also to summit. So we have lots of support, with a full staff we're in communictions with at Vinson BC several times a day. We're hanging tough until this breaks! Will try to get reports out every day. If we do go for the summit we will probably not be able to do a report, so sometimes no news is good news!

—Scott Woolums reporting from Vinson High Camp

Dec 10, 2007  •  High Winds at Camp 2!

High winds have kept us in high camp now for 2 days. Quite seriousness cold and wind. Day temps are -26 with a 15 to 20 knot wind! Burrr! We have a solid camp, two other groups here now, lots of food and fuel, so we plan to wait, up to 4 more days.

This morning we got ready to go, dressed in all clothing we had, and went for a hike! Good practice for travelling in extreme cold. Everyone did great, up 1.5 hrs. No problem staying warm. Its just quite a bit more serious to go a lot higher, into the obvious lenticular clouds above. Also felt good to get out of the tents for awhile. So were back in camp resting, hoping for better weather tomorrow morning. Theres 5 groups here now (2 over in the old high camp) waiting to summit. Batteries are getting low, so may not be able to continue reports until we are back at Camp 1. Will try! Send warm thoughts!

—Scott Woolums reporting from Vinson High Camp

Dec 9, 2007  •  High Camp on Vinson!

Up in high camp today after a difficult day moving up yesterday. Moved up 3700 vertical feet along the new route to the new high camp. A long tough day as theres over 2300 vertical feet of fixed lines along a spectacular ridge. Lots of great photos. Everyone hung tough, doing great.

Today we have cold temps, ice clouds and a lenticular high wind cloud just above us. So we are planning a rest/acclimitization day. Not bad here in camp, just not much to do! So tomorrow, hopefully the summit of Vinsonan the top of Antarctica!

—Scott Woolums reporting from Vinson High Camp

Dec 7, 2007  •  Vinson Camp 1

A couple tough days, first carrying loads up to"Half Camp", then moving up to here yesterday. A long 5 hr. Day with big sled loads. Good weather here although its quite windy just above camp and on the summit yesterday. This morning we are up with the sun, 11am here as it probably dropped to -20 or -30 last night, very chilly! We went down and picked up the gear we carried up to Half Camp, 3 hrs. RT. Tomorrow we are looking at moving up to high camp, and probably going for the summit the next day. We will probably not be doing reports from up high camp, so will have to wait till we are back here after summiting. Its been very difficult keeping batteries working in the extreme cold.

—Scott Woolums reporting from Vinson Camp 1, 9000 ft.

Dec 5, 2007  •  Vinson Base Camp, Antarctica!

Perfect weather this morning and here we are! Got out on the first Twin Otter flight to Vinson BC. So after getting camp set we are off to carry a load up towards Camp 1. Nice weather, some high winds up high. So back to BC and again its late, 11pm. Hopefully we'll have some time to catch up with everything, including sleep! Spirits are good. Tomorrow Camp 1!

—Scott Woolums reporting from Vinson BC

December 5, 2007  •  Vinson Base Camp Where It's Brisk

Nicki called from Vinson base camp to report that at 25 below it was Cold, but that they'd had a safe and uneventful flight to Patriot Hills yesterday, followed by the Twin Otter flight to base camp. Today they did a carry ¾ of the way to Camp 1, cached it for later pickup, and returned to bc.

She says Antarctica is beautiful, cold, and also cold. By the time they got back to bc from their carry, Brice's beard was completely covered in ice. The team did enjoy a good dinner of steak and cheese tortellini, but the overall verdict is still that it's cold.

Back in Punta Arenas, Nicki says they met Tony Mowbray known for his solo sailing, but is in Antractica doing a chartered sail with clients.

The team's plan is to move up to camp 1 tomorrow, take a rest day Friday and go down to retrieve their cache. Saturday they'll do a carry to Camp 2 and Sunday move up to C2. If all goes as planned and the weather holds, they'll make a summit bid on Monday.

—Nicki Branch

December 4, 2007  •  Doing the Punta Arenas Hang

We are at the airport and the flight is now on hold due to wind gusting on the ice runway where we land... so not sure if we are flying out or not. If not, I will email from the hotel again. The waiting game begins of our group of 52 travelers.

Scott and I have been talkng to this one gal on the trip who is skiing to the south pole and just found out it's Allison Levine... someone I'd always admired and who has climbed the seven summits. She also does corporate speaking like I want to do.

Also we met another gal named Bernice Notenboom that writes for national geographic and is the female equivalent of Scott — does adventure trips all over the world and knows all his friends and then writes about her adventures. Her site is

Sittin at the punta airport longing to get on the Illysian!


December 2, 2007  •  Punta Arenas

Greetings from Day 3 in Punta Arenas, Chile. What a great town this is here. I just got back from my ALE debriefing of procedures for antarctica and flying in for all expedition teams. They showed slides at the debriefing of frostbitten toes, fingers and thighs! Evidentally that is the worst danger there... the extreme cold that hits quickly. We are not to remove our gloves from our hands for more than 30 seconds. Which is difficult to do when you have to strap on crampons!

Yesterday Scott, Brice and I went to see the Magellan Penguins at the sound. Adorable little guys that were walking to and from their nests in the sand dune hills on little paths to the beach. So cute! After that we went out for dinner and I had Conger Eel, a Chilean specialty food that was delicious.

We are on stand-by as of 6:30 am tomorrow (I am now 5 hours ahead of the Pacific Timezone) to go to the airport for the flight onto the ice. So far the last 14 days they could not fly in due to wind. Cross fingers we are not stuck here for days.

Once we arrive in Antarctica, we are scheduled to fly out and back to here on December 17th if weather is good.

I'm feeling good and thinking positive and excited to get loaded onto that Illysian plane and fly onto the bottom of the world!

Over and out from Punta Arenas, Chile... more to come later.

I miss you all and home very much!


November 30, 2007  •  Southern-most Tip of South America

Hola from Punta Arenas, Chile!

I have arrived safely from the US, all baggage arrived with us, and Scott and I have settled in to our hotel rooms. We will be meeting another team mate, Brice, who is coming from Montana and will be on our expedition.

Tomorrow is debriefing with Antarctic Logistics Expeditions (ALE) for our procedures for flying onto the ice in the Russian Illusion plane. Tonight its time to rest up from the day of travel with not alot of sleep. We could see the Straits of Magellan as we were driving from the airport to town.

Below is the proposed itinerary which is dependant upon the weather. Our first day to fly onto the ice is Dec 3rd. It's cold and windy here at the very southern tip of South America.


Vinson Massif Expedition Itinerary

Day 1, Arrive in Punta Arenas, Chile. You have to arrive no later than 12 noon this day or the day before. We always recommend arriving a day earlier in case of lost bags, schedule changes. Off to our hotel in Punta Arenas. We stay in the beautiful little seacoast town of Punta Arenas. A good night to rest after long overnight flights to get down here! Enjoy the long days, over 18 hours of light here in Punta Arenas. We will need to spend some time preparing everything for the flight.

Day 2, Explore town, go over equipment, what to expect and how to dress when we fly onto the ice the next day. We’ll also take part in an introductory slide show and pre-flight briefing on flying south and the schedule. Excellent seafood restaurants, interesting culture and usually a remarkable collection of fellow adventurers, travelers, climbers and trekkers heading for Antarctica or the Torres Del Paine region of Chilean, Patagonia.

Day 3, Our first day to fly onto the Blue Ice Runway at Patriot Hills. We will fly from the Punta Arenas airport in a large Russian 4 engine Ilyushin IL-76 across the Drake Passage and the Bellingshausen Sea to the Patriot Hills Base Camp. That’s about 4.5 hours of flying time. From here, most of the time the same day, we continue farther into the Ellsworth Mountains in a ski equipped Twin Otter to the Vinson Base Camp at 8,000 ft. on the Branscomb Glacier. This flight is approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes. Quite a day if all goes well and the weather holds. Usually they will hold the flight from Punta Arenas if conditions do not look good to travel all the way in. Base Camp at Patriot Hills is quite nice considering the location. Many times we will be on standby in Punta Arenas waiting to fly in, so patience is key. Trust your pilots, if they say its not good to fly south, it probably is a good indicator to spend another day enjoying Punta Arenas!

Day 4, The shock of being in Antarctica is settling in by now. Recovering from the sheer magnitude of being in one of Earths most remote locations is quite simply overwhelming! As first the Ilyushin and then the Twin Otter depart and we settle into life here, you can truly appreciate the pristine wilderness of Antarctica. You will simply never forget this experience! Base Camp is comfortable, cold (below freezing air temperature all the time), extremely dry air, but still very manageable when the sun is out. We organize gear, sort smaller loads for our first trip up towards Camp 1 tomorrow. Skiis and snowshoes are not used here, only light sleds to help bring our gear farther up the glacier.

Day 5-10, We plan a series of 3 camps beyond base camp. Moving up using standard carry/move schedule to acclimatize and enjoy the expedition. The climbing is moderate, up to 45 degrees. Easier cramponing with some exposure and a short “icefall” section between Camps 2 and 3. Camp 1 is about 2 miles from BC and at 9,100 ft., Camp 2 is at 10,100 ft., and Camp 3 is at 12,300 ft.. Our summit day gains about 3,000 ft. and 3 miles first up to the summit ridge then along the ridge a short ways to the main summit. An unbelievable view stretches in front of us as we stand on the summit of Vinson! A view only a handful of people have ever experienced.

This schedule will vary depending on the weather. The climb will take approximately 5 to 6 days above base camp. We have almost a week of extra days built into the schedule for weather which allows an almost 100% chance for summiting. During the climb at all times we have very good communications with base camp and will be doing daily Satellite Trip reports on our progress for everyone back home to follow our expedition. We also will have very good email and telephone connections for the entire expedition on this trip. We may be out there but we will not be out of touch!

Day 11-13, More than likely we will be down from Vinson with a bit of extra time on our hands. With so much to do in the immediate area we plan an active schedule for those who would like to climb another mountain. We look at this as being a unique opportunity to venture out to explore the area, with a chance to climb Mt. Shin near Vinson. Several routes offer more adventure opportunities. We include this in our programs to Vinson as its always better to stay busy and what a place for that! We like to take advantage of our time and flights since it’s a long way down here! This is very weather dependant.

Day 14, We are by now back in Vinson Base Camp celebrating and waiting for the next Twin Otter flight out to Patriot Hills. We ask everyone to allow a few extra days (at least 7! see schedule) in case of weather delays. Staying flexible is key as the weather can easily change plans.

Day 15, Hopefully we are flying to Patriot Hills to enjoy a bit more comfortable Base Camp. With luck we will just change planes here and continue onto Punta Arenas enjoying hot showers, Chilean wine and a big dinner. Any extra days we do end up spending at Vinson BC or Patriot Hills are pure magic though, enjoying the true wilderness of Antarctica. As pure as it gets! It is possible to continue onto flights home later if we are out earlier in the day.

Day 16, Extra day to enjoy Punta Arenas or plan flights back home. We recommend allowing an extra week to 10 days on the end here for a trip into the Torres Del Paine region or Tierra Del Fuego area for trekking if we arrive back on time. If we are delayed by weather, we can use this time as a buffer to make our international flights back home.

Day 17-24, International Flights returning home. Again we highly recommend everyone have a very flexible schedule over the next even couple weeks in case on the front end of the expedition we have weather delays flying out to the ice or extreme weather keeps us from getting out as scheduled.

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