Off Ice Follow-up
Letter 12: Expedition Icetrek
Dear Everyone, Icetrek, sponsored by Iridium, arrived on Jan. 26, 1999 at 5:15 p.m. to much fanfare and celebration. Peter Hillary, Eric Phillips and John Muir honored us with a presentation to a standing room only galley audience the same evening at 8:00 p.m.
Taking turns speaking and interjecting often humorous comments throughout, it was hard to imagine that they'd spent 84 grueling days being the first to traverse the 132 kilometer-long Shackleton Glacier for a total trek of 1,400 kilometers. They were in great spirits, suffered little frostbite and were quite thin, but not the "bag of bones" rumored prior to their arrival. Originally they'd planned on reaching the South Pole within 64 days and then returning, but due to severe weather, lack of winds for their Quadrafoil kites, illness and other unforeseen difficulties they completed their journey at our station.
Peter shared that once the group made their decision not to retrace their route after arriving at the pole, they relaxed and took their own pace enjoying the one-way trek. Prior to this decision and in light of their original plan, the expedition left food depots along the way at GPS identified locations in preparation for their return. Since all 3 trekkers want to do this expedition again within the next 10 years, perhaps these food depots will await them! They certainly won't spoil.
The Icetrek expedition holds the record for the longest trip to the South Pole. Unlike the other expeditions arriving here this season, Icetrek, at the request of the New Zealand government, carried all of their waste (including human waste) with them. The Icetrekkers wondered why the weight of their sledges was heavier at the completion of their expedition than at the beginning!
The first thing I observed throughout Icetrek's presentation and talking with each of them afterwards, was the incredibly positive attitude of the group. They continually mentioned their awe of the beauty they experienced on this expedition and struggled for words to communicate this very personal experience with us. The stark, treacherous and wild beauty of the continent combined with their arduous trek wrought with hardship was obviously an emotional experience for them. Eric said, "I am privileged to have skied over a wild part of Antarctica." Each expedition member expressed a love of the wilderness. Both John and Peter have climbed Mt. Everest.
Peter Hillary shared his belief that expeditions have an obligation to share their adventures with the public and the media not only to serve as inspiration but also to contribute to the lives of others. Few people would ever have the privilege to have experiences such as theirs. Peter said that he was not an adventurer simply for himself, but for others. "I can see why so many of you keep coming back." were his closing words.
After their presentation; Peter, John, and Eric chatted casually with us as they signed endless autographs while cameras flashed. I noticed that Eric had difficulty autographing due to the 1/2 to 3/4 inch black tip of his thumb. Frostbite. I asked him if his thumb would be OK and he explained that it wasn't too bad but that it would be more susceptible to future frostbite.
After the crush of autographs and photos, Peter enlightened me with the details of the injury he sustained from having a beard. During his 84 days of the trek, Peter grew a beard and it quickly became a problem. Icicles formed from breathing. After an especially large one grew from his beard, he decided to pull it off. Excruciating pain resulted. Along with the icicle, Peter had pulled out his beard hair of roughly 3 inches in diameter where the icicle had been attached. I could see this patch of very short hair on Peter's chin compared to the remainder of his beard. Next time, Peter said, he was going to carry clippers. Yes, he was serious about his goal to return to Antarctica.
Peter Hillary's words, "I can see why so many of you keep coming back." are still haunting me.