In Cape Town South Africa, Sue prepared for her flight to Novolazarevskaya Research Base with some members of her team. Two days of rest helped to reset their biological clocks giving them time to explore Cape Town, visit white sandy beaches with blue “swollen scary seas.” They soaked up the sun and sipped fresh organic juices on the wharf knowing they’d be cold very soon.
Flights from South Africa to Antarctica are dependent on weather and winds, so schedules can change without warning. She sent this photo from the airport while awaiting departure. She flew out with a group of 20 Chinese tourists en route to the South Pole. The Wounded Warriors ski group accompanied by Prince Harry preceded them by two days.
After a six hour flight across the open ocean, they landed in broad daylight at 3:30 a.m. Greenwich meant time at Novo base where the runway is a sheet of ice located on a flat windswept area surrounded by an “icy desert.” The temperature on landing was -1 C; a balmy 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Near Novo, she saw two skuas soaring overhead. These large 21 inch seabirds nest along the Antarctic coasts during the summer months of November and December. The birds are easy to distinguish because of their size and brown/beige coloration with flashes of white on their wings.
At Novo, the expedition members off-loaded their gear and boarded another aircraft for the final leg of the flight to Holtanna Glacier to join the rest of the team that preceded them to set up one tent and prepare for their arrival. The tentative plan for the second group was to reach Holtanna Glacier today 11/29. Hopefully, tonight Sue is warm and sleeping out of the wind in her -40 degree Marmot bag.
The expeditionary job is to dig out the semi-buried large DC-3 turbo aircraft marooned on its belly over the winter after a mishap causing a hard landing and significant damage to the landing gear.
Sue’s job is varied but her main focus is medical support for the team. She will have 24 hour consultation with the ER physicians at the University of Colorado at Denver via satellite telephone. Prior to departure, she spent ER time with local physicians in her hometown of Whitefish MT and with some of the CO physicians in their new massive ER.
Years of experience teaching wilderness survival, performing avalanche rescue with her dog, extensive skiing experience, and winter survival skills, are background for this venture. Sue has been to Antarctica twice before, to Mt. Everest Base Camp five times, and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro three times.
Working in the cold requires a high calorie intake. It will be interesting to hear what they will be eating. She says in So. Africa she weighed in at 61 kg, about 134 pounds, heavier than her ideal. But the extra insulation may be just what she needs under these conditions. I’ll let you know what she weighs after 2 months of working in the cold.
If you Google Holtanna Glacier you will find numerous photos and videos from extreme climbing teams who venture to climb sharp spires of granite jutting up from surrounding ice. This is the area where they will attempt to remove the disabled aircraft, assess the damage and then a determination will be made if it is repairable and can be flown out to Novo. For Sue’s extensive list of experiences and classes for 2014, check out her website at: email@example.com
We are now awaiting an update via satellite phone after they reach their camp location at the Holtanna Glacier site. The working team will be living in tents for the next two months.
Betty Kuffel, MD