Vinson Pre Trip Information #4

Are you getting excited yet?

You will be departing for Punta Arenas before you know it! We hope you are feeling well prepared for your adventure, both mentally and physically. If you have any lingering questions about your kit, please let us know.

In this email, we’ll address some of the nuances of dealing with human waste in Antarctica, provide you a more detailed look at your first days in Punta Arenas and touch on a couple of recurring topics as well.

Read on!

One of the favorite night time reads of my two sons was a book in Spanish called Todos Caca.  Yes, that translates to “Everyone Poops.”  What I like about the book is that it distills a messy subject down to just the facts, and removes many of the silly, goofy associations with the process.  We hope to do something similar below.

Human waste is a real challenge to deal with in Antarctica, and while it is not necessarily the most pleasant topic, it is one we need to address before you get down there.  The topic will be brought up again, and again, and again, I’m afraid, but for good reason.  You are traveling to one of the last, truly pristine environments on our planet and we all need to work very hard to help keep it in that condition.

Human waste will not decompose and go away in the deep freeze of Antarctica.

At the Union Glacier camp, and at base camp there will be established communal toilets.  On the climb we are responsible for collecting and returning with our solid waste.  To that end, we will be using a system called WAG Bags.  You will be provided several WAG Bags, which are small, packaged systems for collecting and transporting human waste.  When you tear open the packaging, you’ll find a thick, heavy duty zip lock back, and a larger bag with a small amount of what looks a lot like cat litter in the bottom.  Each kit also contains a small bit of toilet paper and a handi-wipe towelette.

After setting yourself up in the designated toilette spot (the guides will provide directions here), open your package, stow the zip lock so it does not blow away, and roll down the edges of the larger bag, in a manner so that you are rolling to the outside of the bag.  The reason is so that you do not accidentally contaminate the outside of the bag in the event of a gust of wind or poor aim.  Do not put liquid waste into the WAG Bag, as this will be unmanageable for transporting.

When you’ve finished, put all TP into the large bag, roll it up and place it into the heavy duty zip lock, making certain that the zip is locked! Voila! You’ve just done your part to help keep the continent clean.

Bring a couple of small, travel sized, bottle of hand santizer and use it liberally.  The guides will also have some, but it is nice to have your own supply as well.  The more pro-active you are, the less your chance of having the high-altitude trots will be.

Liquid Waste and Wind

I think we may have mentioned that Antarctica is a windy continent.  It is also one of the few places that we’ve seen the pretty gross phenomena of climbers walking around with a frozen glaze of pee all over their trousers and sometimes jackets. Disgusting, but unavoidable?  Maybe not…

Jim Croce sang “You don’t spit into the wind.”  Get it?

If it is really windy, consider using your pee bottle to contain things and then pour it out low to the ground.  This can really prevent the above sheen from occurring.

Last year one of our climbers arrived, but his bags did not.  This resulted in a very stressful and expensive shopping spree that we hope to avoid by having one extra day built into our schedule before our flight to Antarctica.

Your first days in Punta Arenas will look something like this:

Day 1:  This is the day that we have asked everyone to arrive in Punta Arenas, Chile.  We are planning to pick you up at the airport, however; if circumstances conspire to prevent us from doing so, please take a taxi or share a van to the hotel.

We will check everyone’s gear individually when you arrive in Chile.  That evening, we will go out for a “Welcome Dinner,” and will enjoy some of the local cuisine and Chile’s famous wines.

Day 2:  Contingency day for baggage or acquiring any missing equipment.  Finding gear can be challenging in Punta Arenas, although there are more options than even a few years ago.

If we do not need to deal with equipment, we will organize a day trip to visit one of the local penguin rookeries.  It’s hard to describe how hysterical penguin watching can be!

Day 3:  We will attend a meeting with ALE in the morning where they will reiterate much of the information we have provided you regarding travel to and life in Antarctica.

After the meeting we will return to the hotel and collect all of our group and personal equipment, which ALE will weigh and collect for the flight to the Ice.  The guides will outline what of your personal equipment you will want to keep with you for the flight, but everything else will go with ALE and be loaded onto the plane.  This often takes a good part of the day, but we will have plenty of time for a leisurely dinner and retire early to bed, in anticipation of the flight over the water.

Day 4:  The flight to Antarctica is scheduled early in the morning.  You will pass through Chilean customs and turn some heads as you walk through the airport in your mountain gear.  Everyone will then assemble in a waiting area before heading out onto the tarmac to load onto the plane.  It’s pretty wild to board on the tarmac and step off onto the world’s biggest ice rink!

Electricity in Chile

Chile operates on a 220 volt, 50 Hz electrical system.  In the US, we run on a 110 volt system, meaning that electronics that you want to use in Punta Arenas will need to have some sort of transformer to protect them from the higher voltage current.  Many devices have transformers that will enable operation on a variety of current, but double check the fine print on yours before plugging it into the outlet in the hotel.

Speaking of plugs… you’ll also need a plug adapter to charge that iPhone, because most outlets in Chile are what are known as the CEE Type 7/16 Europlug.  The hotel might have an adapter that they will loan out, but it might be prudent to pick one up before departing or in an airport gift shop when you are en route.

If you have a laptop or something with a 3-prong plug (grounded), you should consider purchasing an adapter before arriving in Chile, as these can be a bit tougher to locate in country.

Travel Itinerary

I know that we covered this before, but it’s important. If you did not book your flight to Punta Arenas through a travel agent, we highly recommend that you provide your travel itinerary and flight confirmation numbers to a friend or family member back home.  Consider asking your airline to note in your file that this person is authorized to make changes to your itinerary on your behalf.

You will know when you are about to fly from Union Glacier to Punta Arenas with about 4-5 hours of lead time.  When the plane arrives in Punta Arenas, if it is not on the scheduled flight date, there will be a mad rush to the local airline office as climbers attempt to change flights.  If you have a person you can contact at home to help with any necessary changes, you might avoid the rush to the LAN Chile office.

Having an authorized representative is especially important if you do not have a significant buffer between the scheduled flight off the Ice and your return flight home.

Climbing big, cold mountains is certainly serious business, but we can climb them in a spirit of levity, rather than one of being constantly stressed out.  Enjoy the scenery, make friends with other climbers, stop and take photos of clouds, ice and snow.

Inevitably, there will come a time on your trip where you’re going to need to buckle down and get serious, because serious consequences are at stake, but these times are relatively few and far between.  Work hard at organizing yourself, so you can efficiently pack your pack and clear out your tent, making these daily tasks second nature.  This will enable you to have more time to relax, instead of spending hours fiddling with your kit.

Your guides will work with you to help you develop efficient systems for your daily routines, so ask them for input and trust that all advice they provide is aimed at making your experience a fantastic one.

Thank you again for choosing Mountain Trip for your adventure to Antarctica!

Have fun getting ready and we’ll see you in Chile,

Warm regards,

Bill, Todd, Laura
and the gang at

Mountain Trip International