ICY COSMONAUT AT THE END OF THE WORLD - RED BULL BASE CLIMBING EXPEDITION / ANTARCTICA
Every photographer dreams of travelling to an amazing place where adventure, uncertainty and temptation are imperatives. The Antarctica is the only uninhabited land in the world, the place where many countries have their own research stations. The Antarctica belongs to no one, and yet it belongs to the whole world. Nevertheless, not many people visit this wonderful but harsh place at the South Pole.
The Red Bull team, consisted of eight people from four countries: Russia, Serbia, Switzerland and Turkey, chose this remote place for their unseen venture. "Red Bull Antarctica" expedition had a task to accompany one of the best world base jumpers, Valery Rozov, who jumped off 2 931 m high Mount Ulvetanna on the Antarctica. The expedition started on November, 4, in Istanbul, and continued in Cape Town (South Africa) where the whole team gathered together. We flew about thirteen hours from Istanbul to Cape Town. The comfortable plane, great food and pleasant company made the time pass quickly. The most important dilemma on our arrival in Cape Town was soon resolved. We were informed that our entire luggage had arrived. After we were welcomed by Victor and Jury from the TAC (the Antarctic Company), we went to the centre of Cape Town and our hotel "The Fritz".
We spent the next day shopping for provisions necessary for the duration of the expedition. Have you ever tired to buy food for a month? Probably not... but trust me, it’s not an easy task at all! Moreover, imagine doing that not for one, but ten people! After spending the whole day filling the eight full trolleys we completed the preparations for leaving for the Antarctica. In the evening, there was a briefing at the TAC, about the journey, the Antarctic station and the way things function there.
The departure was postponed for the next day due to bad weather, so we got another day off. We decided to spend it sightseeing and after that we headed off to a nearby mountain Lion's Head. We ascended the mountain slowly, overlooking the city on one side, and the ocean and beautiful African beaches on the other side. Opposite the Lion Gate there is a symbol of Cape Town, the Table Mountain, which got its name because it resembles a table.
The flight to the Antarctica was at 11.30 p.m. After going through the regular security check we went through a gate, specially used for travellers to this unusual destination. At the first glance we were hugely impressed with the plane, thinking that it could have been made only in Russia. Iljusin 76 is actually a cargo plane which is used for this kind of commercial flights. We left Cape Town and flew to the Russian Antarctic station Novolazarevskaya. It’s interesting to mention that this flight lasts for six hours and although this plane is neither comfortable nor attractive the tickets cost $20 000 per person! The interior of the plane is hard to describe. There were many national flags there, hung by the people who had flown on it. Fourteen different countries and 62 passengers. The plane was flown by one of the best and most awarded Russian pilots, Ruben Esayan. For this experienced pilot that was the 59th flight to the Antarctica. At the 10 000 m height and at speed of 750km/h, it took us five and a half hours to flow 4 123 km. We landed on an improvised airport near the Russian Antarctic station Novolazarevskaya. And 65 minutes prior to the landing we were warned: We are approaching the airport, put on your Antarctic clothes!
I stepped out the plane directly on the icy surface. It was hardly possible to see anything without glasses. The temperature was -15˚C, the wind speed -18km/h. In fact, the wind was so strong that it was carrying everything around. The sun was shining even though it was 3.45 a.m. It was then that I realized what it was like to have 24 hours of daylight, and I had yet to realize how that would affect everything we were about to see. The first day on the Antarctica was quite relaxing. The wind calmed and the sun was so shiny that we had the impression of being at one of the fashionable ski resorts. I took us half a day to check the equipment, tents, generators and all the other things. The sun finally set but it was still a daytime. An amazing experience!
At the Russian station we took a small transport plane Douglas DC3 – Dakota, to our final destination at the foot of the Mount Ulvetanna. We fastened our seat belt and got ready for landing. The moment the plane reached the ground looked as if the plane crashed onto the ice. We had the real feeling of being in a plane crash. When we somehow managed to land, our luggage was scattered all around. The unfavourable landing conditions caused the severe damages to the plane, so that it had difficulty getting back to its base later on. As soon as we landed it was clear we had a problem - we were too far from the place where we were supposed to put up our tents. We had no choice – the 1.2 t heavy equipment had to be carried to the campsite, 1.3 km far from the place where we landed. When the plane took off, we were left in the middle of nowhere! Then the icy adventure began for the members of our team: Valery Rozov, two photographers, Predrag Vuckovic and Thomas Senf, three cameramen and two professional climbers.
We spent the first night at the temperature of -23˚C. Tucked in our sleeping bags, grouped in different tents, we kept tossing and turning and trying to get some rest. The whole tent was filled with light and it was really hard to fall asleep. Moreover, it was freezing more than we had expected. Everything had already got frozen: our toothpaste, deodorants, all liquids, everything we had never thought could even get frozen.
I woke up as if I hadn’t slept at all. Terrible! I didn’t sleep a wink. That was one of the worst nights in my entire life, night filled with cold and light. I was trembling, wondering how we were going to spend 21 days there.
Valery, Sasha and Thomas went to check whether it was possible to access the mountain, as well as the conditions that could be expected when climbing, while the rest of us continued fixing the camp and carrying the rest of the luggage. The second night went a bit better than the previous one, but it was still very cold and light.
I tried to keep all the batteries for my camera (5pcs) in a bag, during the night, but soon I found out it was impossible. I felt as if I slept with ice cubes. I realized it was more important to keep myself warm and I decided to deal with the batteries in a different way (which later proved as a good decision).
The next day, Valery, Sasha and Thomas took all the necessary things to a place where we had already set up the ABC camp (Advance Base Camp). The cameramen (Turkish team, Selim & Cengiz) and I joined them. Valery, Sasha and Thomas stayed there over night, and started fixing the ropes. After leaving the equipment we were later to use, I and cameramen got back to the campsite. There, I left a camera and two lenses I had planned to use in the following days. That was very useful since each extra gram can make the climbing more difficult. The first obstacle we came across at the foot of the Mount Ulvetanna was a huge glacier, which instantly reminded me of my adventure on the Mont Blanc, in March, and all the difficulties I had there.
The very start of the climbing made us aware of what we were about to plunge into. At one moment I slowed down and took out my camera. I took the first few shots at the glacier and when I put the camera away and tried to stand up, I felt like something burst in my knee. Incredible pain! I was standing still for about 10 minutes and then I made a few steps. The pain didn’t ease but I was determined to go on and somehow, I managed to reach our ABC camp. The view from the spot was magnificent. My GPS showed we were 1000 m higher than our base camp. After we took a 30 minutes break we left for the base camp, just as it had been planned. The pain in my knee grew stronger, and since we were descending the slope, the pressure increased. I was completely exhausted when we finally arrived in the base camp. And now, not only did I suffer from the lack of sleep, but I had that unbearable knee pain. There was an enormous bruise and the swelling that was visible even with my trousers on. Therefore, the first part of the day I spent lying and sleeping.
When Valery came back to the camp that evening, he suggested using a syringe and a needle to extract the blood from the swollen area. I agreed with it because I trusted Valery completely after we had gone through thick and thin over the last couple of years. I also knew it could only do me good and the risk of not being able to continue climbing made me feel bad. We use some cognac for disinfection since everything, including our alcohol, was frozen. We extracted 4 full syringes of lymph from my knee, and then I started feeling dizzy. I lost the control over my body. All the members of out team gathered around me. Some of them were holding me, others were calling for help. All I could hear was Valery’s voice…Predrag, Predrag! A few seconds later I fainted. When I came round I was lying in a wide open tent, with ice on my neck and forehead. After being unconscious for 10 seconds after the procedure…I came to life. I was hot at first, then I was freezing and felt like vomiting, but it took me no longer than 15 minutes to overcome these symptoms. I was given some painkillers and I stayed in bed that day. Before leaving my tent, Valery and the rest of the team said: "We are climbing together tomorrow... you’ll be as good as new"!
The next morning my knee recovered more than I had expected. I slept much better, too, but the pain killer (Tramal) gave me some unusual, indescribable dreams. But most importantly, I could use my leg. And, like everyone had predicted the day before, I really did climb with them that day! Although the max. daily temperature was -11˚C (and min. was -30˚C), the weather was favourable, because there was no wind, the worst enemy of the sport. After only six day of our expedition, Rozov, Sasha Ruchkin and Thomas Senf already reached the top of the Mount Ulvetanna, which is considered to be technically most difficult Antarctic mountain for climbing. However, the plans had to be changed since it wasn’t possible to jump from the very top of the mountain. We found the exit spot a bit lower. The ropes that stretched to that place had already been fixed, so it was easier for me and the cameramen to climb the next day.
We all gathered together again at the ABC camp, with a complete plan for the following jump. We had two small tents for five of us. For a moment it seemed impossible to organise, pack things and spend night there together. It was getting colder and colder. We were boiling the snow and preparing the water for tea and food. The whole situation we found ourselves in was extreme! We had a quick snack and managed to settle ourselves in the tents. I was with Valery and Jury in one tent, and Cengiz and Selim were in the other. It was horrible in there. Each sound or movement would wake up the others. I was lying in the middle, and I didn’t move or made a sound till the next morning. I thought that the first night at base camp was the worst ever, but I was wrong! It went from bad to worse. This one was definitely the worst night in my life!
We all woke up dog-tired, except for Jury, the Russian legend, of course. After only 50gr of cereals and a cup of tea, we were off to rocks, ready to climb. The weather was changeable but we were hoping it would be possible to jump. The wind was constantly blowing and it was freezing. After climbing for three hours we finally reached the place we called "The Cheese Head" – it was a spongy rock resembling the cheese. Preparations went slowly. Thomas, Sasha and I were preparing the security ropes. Valery tried to warm up while he was putting on his wingsuit. The temperature of -26˚C, the mild wind and the roughness of the Mount Ulvetanna made us act quickly. Eventually, after 45 minutes spent on the top of the rock, everything was ready for the first base jump from the Antarctic Mount Ulvetanna.
We were all hanging on ropes around the place where Valery stood. The rest of the team on the landing zone was informed that there was only a minute till the jump. The video and photo teams confirmed their positions. 15 seconds to jump, 3,2,1... GO! Valery flew through the air! In the perfect Antarctic silence it was possible to hear the rustling of Valery’s suit, although he was already a few hundred metres far from the exit point. A wonderful and accurate flying path, the altitude difference of 1000m and a perfect landing after 45seconds were admirable. Everyone was cheering. Valery himself soon announced via radio that everything went perfectly well. Also, all the team members confirmed they had fulfilled their tasks, which meant we successfully completed our Antarctic mission. After we all calmed down I checked my photos. I got what I wanted and I was thrilled to bits! Satisfied with our accomplishments we quickly packed our things, getting ready to descend and get away from the extreme cold. The wind grew stronger and the sun started peeking through greyish clouds. The light circle around the sun was amazing I am really pleased I was able to capture that moment, the moment you can only experience there, in Antarctica.
We got back to ABC camp, and after we had a few cups of hot tea, we felt strong enough to leave for the base camp. Four hours later we gathered around there, talking about unbelievable adventure we had just taken part in. But soon, we were completely worn off. It was midnight, and yet the sun was up high. We wrapped ourselves into our sleeping bags and fell asleep quickly.
We spent the next day resting. In spite of low temperature (-15C), the weather was sunny and calm. And then, we came up with a new plan. Since we had a few more days to spend there, we decided to do something extraordinary. Two more jumps off from two different mountains! Tungespissen (2277m) and Holtanna (2641m).
The first one was easily accessible, since it was near the Mount Ulvetanna. Holtanna, however, was about 12-14 km far from our base camp. We were aware it wouldn’t be easy. Nevertheless, we unanimously accepted the plan. The following morning we got up at 5 a.m. Of course, you can’t tell the time by the position of the sun there, since it’s always daylight. After about five hours of climbing and hiking we reached the summit of the Mount Tungespissen, which we immediately called "the ship" since it looked like one. We didn’t have any difficulty getting to the exit point here, compared to the magnificent Mount Ulvetanna. Moreover, it took us less time to prepare for the jump, although the weather conditions were almost identical. We were all on our positions, cameras were ready, and Valery was up in the air again, adding one more legendary jump to his record. Even though the altitude difference was significantly smaller, the jump was perfectly performed, just according to the plan. There was one more goal to achieve. We took another day to take a rest and recharge our batteries, and then we were ready for action again. The equipment, including the tents, too, was put on the sledges, and we set off to Mount Holtanna. It took us a bit longer than we expected, but after 14.6km (according to GPS) and five hours of walking, we made it to the foot of the Mount Holtanna. I first heard of it last year (2009), when a French expedition, led by Geraldine Fasnacht, reached its top, and did a first base jump ever on the Antarctica.
It wasn’t long before we put up a small base camp and got down to preparing ourselves for conquering another summit. Thomas and Sasha were carrying our equipment across the glacier while Valery, Selim and I went to the other side to find an appropriate place for landing and setting the video and photo cameras. A few hours later, we all came back to the camp, looking forward to our instant dinner. By that time, we had already adapted to extreme living conditions, so instead of sitting in tents, we were outside, holding our tea cups and chatting about the details of our next adventure. According to our rough plan, Valery, Thomas and Sasha were supposed to climb to the top of the Mount Holtanna, while the rest of us were on different locations in the landing zone.
As usual, we got up at 5 a.m. but the high wind prevented us from getting an early start. It blew at 15km/h. Two hours later, at 7, the weather was getting better and Valery, Thomas and Sasha headed off towards the top. We were constantly communicating via radio transmitters and were informed about their progress. After 9 hours of climbing under extreme conditions, we fulfilled the first part of our plan. The preparations started and soon after, our icy cosmonaut was flying through dry Antarctic air again. Valery landed successfully and the mission was complete.
Filled with pride and satisfied, once again we got back to our improvised camp. While some of us left for the main base camp immediately, I stayed with Valery and Sergey to pack the rest of the equipment and wait for Thomas and Sasha to come back from the Mount Ulvetanna. They arrived two hours earlier than expected since they had decided to find a shortcut and descend one of the biggest vertical walls. They way they went down could only be chosen by real professionals in the world of climbing. We were so proud of them.
In the meantime, we got informed via a satellite phone that our plane was going to arrive a day earlier than planned, which meant the next day. We hurried to the base camp to get ready to leave this, I have to say it again, incredible place.
Breaking down and packing up the camp made us a bit sad, although we could hardly wait to get back to the civilization, after 21 days. This, quite a long, period spent here made a huge impression on us and it wasn’t odd that we got used to the place and the camp. But it was time to move on and we quickly got down to packing.
Then there was a long-awaited sound, the sound of a plane, which interrupted the perfect silence of the Antarctica. We were delighted to get back to the comfortable modern life, but at the same time, we heavy-heartedly departed from the place we were certainly going to remember for the rest of our lives.
When we arrived at the Antarctic station Novolazarevskaya, we found out that we were supposed to wait for our plane, Ilyushin 76TD, for three days. It’s needless to say how much we enjoyed “Antarctic Russian Banya” or, in simple words, spa, after 21 days of not having a shower! Oh, what a delightful experience it was! It was hard to believe that anything could have given you such a pleasure. The moment my body touched the bed sheets and a pillow made me aware of the importance of small everyday conveniences. And should I really describe the moment I rolled down the blinds and found myself in a pitch black room, after three weeks of daylight? It’s hard to put that in words! It’s impossible to share this experience with anyone who hasn’t been in the same situations.
WHAT WAS THE MOST DIFFICULT OF ALL THINGS?
If anyone asks: "What was it like?" – the only clear and honest answer would be: "Very difficult and extremely cold". The problem was that the expedition lasted for thee weeks. It was constantly cold (the average temperature of -22˚C) and constantly daylight (the sun would get till the horizon and then rise again to the zenith), which was truly exhausting. The cold, harsh wind cut our faces as well as the merciless sun, making us wearing the protecting sunglasses all the time. To keep ourselves warm and fit, we continuously organised some activities or short expeditions, or we just kept ourselves busy in the camp. At nights we would go into our tents dog-tired, but the temperatures there, often just 5 degrees higher than outside, and the lack of darkness, were taking their toll, and we would get up the next day even more tired than before. I lost 9 kg in just three weeks, even though, of course, we had regular meals there.
PHOTO ACCESSORIES AT MINUS DEGREES
A colleague of mine from Switzerland, Thomas Senf, and I took Nikon photo accessories that proved to be excellent for such extreme conditions. We only had to recharge our batteries twice, in twenty days (although it may sound unbelievable in extremely low temperatures), even though we kept our cameras outside, in front of the tents, in our rucksacks, to prevent condensation that may have been caused by temperature changes in the tents. My bag was full to the top. There were three cameras: Nikon D3s, D3 and D300 (which I didn’t use at all). As regards photo lenses, I had: 2,8/14–24 mm, 1,4/50 mm, 2,8/70–200 mm, 2,8/17–35 mm and two indispensable "fish eyes". I also had a SB900 flash, with a remote control and a polarizing filter. While I was shooting the main jump, from the top of the mountain I was using D3s and D3 and two lenses: 16mm and 14-24mm. We often used polarizing filter to decrease the reflection and highly saturated sky.
Try to imagine everyday life under these conditions: sleeping in cramped tents, eating in a bigger one, where we gather around for meals and hanging out. We used melted and then boiled snow for drinking, cooking and washing up. It was difficult to keep yourself clean since everything was frozen, including, for example, toothpaste. Briefly, we didn’t have a shower for 20 days; we just managed to somehow brush our teeth, with or without toothpaste. I shaved once and I used a protecting facial sun cream SPF 50, even though it wasn’t very useful and we all got tanned! One more thing I found interesting was a toilet which was a kind of an igloo with a plastic toilet, a bucket and a special bag that was later disposed to containers which were loaded on a plane and taken to the Antarctic station. The main rule for all visitors to the Antarctic is that the only thing you can leave there is your footprints, and the only one you can take away is your memories, photos and video shots.
For most of the participants, this expedition was the most demanding and difficult one in their careers. Their mental and physical abilities were put on a test. Someone might say: "All this for the sake of sport?", but it is human courage and the urge to achieve the impossible and be the best in what we do what makes life interesting, exciting and worth sacrificing, even if it is only a 45 seconds of a base jumping. After all, it is 45 seconds of a complete freedom and chance to see the world from the sky, which only birds are capable of doing. Free as a bird, our “Icy Cosmonaut” was flying through the air, while the only thing you could hear in this magnificent and frozen part of our planet, was the wind.
DRONNING MAUD LAND
(engl. Queen Maud Land) is a part of Antarctica lying between the terminus of Stancomb-Wills Glacier at 20°W and the Shinnan Glacier at 44° 38’E. The northerly and southerly extend of this area is not officialy defined. It was claimed by Norway on January 14, 1939 and naimed in honour of Maud Charlotte Mary Victoria, Princess of Wales and Queen of Norway (1869-1938). The claim is based on the discoveries of the Norwegian whaling expeditions organized by Lars Christensen (Norvegia Expeditions 1927-31) but it is, like all other claims in Antarctica, not universally recognized and the area is subject to the terms of the Antarctic Treaty. In some places of DML beautiful mountain peaks trough the Antarctic ice sheet which covers most of the area creating an impressive contrast of shapes and colours. The large glacier tongues and vast ice shelf along the coastline of Dronning Maud Land form vertical ice cliffs, sometimes several meters high.
As a logistic operator in the DROMLAN initiative, ALCI offers the following services:
- intercontinental air-bridge between Cape Town and Russian Novo Station as a primary airfield, or Norwegian Troll Station airstrip as a secondary in case of a sudden weather deterioration at Novo.
- maintenance of the runway near the Russian Antarctic Station Novolazarevskaya
- dense feeder flight network between Antarctic research stations and field teams within the DML area
- providing meals and accommodation of flight passangers at the ALCI airbase
- any other service necessary for the logistic operations above
ALCI utilizes an Ilyushin 76TD, a Russian-designed heavy cargo transporter, to cover the 4200 km intercontinental flight between Cape Town and Dronning Maud Land. This four-engine jet aircraft is well equipped to handle the transfer of heavy cargo featuring a self-loading / unloading cargo system and rear ramp access and possesses service equipment to transport up to 80 passengers.
Specifification for the aircraft:
Maximum payload: 20 tons or 80 pax
Range with 20 ton payload: 6500 km
Cruising speed: 750-780 km/h
Cruising altitude: 9000-11000 m
Every 6-hour flight from Cape Town to Antarctica (length of the route – 4123 km) is operated by the most experienced Russian Crew – a group of pilots, navigators and engineers from the Flight Testing Centre of the Civil Aviation State Research Institute – headed by the Centre’s Director, honoured test pilot Ruben Esayan. This made it possible to complete more than 50 return flights within last 6 years and ensure 100% safety while landing a heavy wheeled aircraft onto the slippery ice runway.
"Antarctic" crew has also fulfiled a number of fuel drops to Vostok station for Russian Antarctic Expedition. All the drops have been done with a precise accurancy at the altitude of 500 m.
New young crew members are constantly being involved that allows having even more specialists trained for severe and unpredictable conditions of the white continent.
The Novolazarevskaya Station is a Russian, formerly Soviet, Antarctic research station, which is located at the south-eastern tip of the Schirmacher Oasis at 70° 46’ 04’’ S and 11° 49’ 54’’ E, 102 m above sea level. It was opened on 18th January 1961 during the 6th Soviet Antarctic Expedition and was named after Mikhail Lazarev, captain of the supply ship "Mirny" during the expedition of Faddey Bellingshausen in 1819-21.
The station can accommoadate up to 70 people during summer. Winter population usually consists of about 25 scientists and technicians.
The Schirmacher Oasis, a 17 km long and 3 km wide hill-rocky area with a maximum elevation of 228 m, lies at the edge of the Antarctic continent. Northwards an ice shelf extends over 80 km to the Lazarev Sea coast while massive glaciers from the Antarctic ice cap embrace it from the south. Up to 180 lakes, some of them partly covered with ice all year round, characterize the landscape of the oasis. Much of the area lacks an ice or snow cover not only in summer but also in winter. The climate is relatively mild due to the fact that a big amount of the solar radiation is absorbed by the dark coloured rocks. The Oasis was named after the German aircraft captain Richard Schirmacher, who first flew over this area during the German Schwabenland Expedition in 1939.
At the beginning of 2006 the bathhouse "Antarctica" was designed and made on the GREENSIDE factory, test assemblage of the bathhousewas aslo fulfilled here. In November 2006 bathhouse components were shipped to Antarctica on the board of the research vessel "Academic Fedorov". The team of specialist of GREENSIDE Antarctic Team began assemblage of the bathhouse on the "Novolazarevskaya" station on the 8th of November 2007. The process of the bathhouse construction took 43 days – on the 20th of December 2007 its grand opening took place. In September 2008 the bathhouse "Antarctica" became a nominee of Guinnes Book of World Records and was recognized as the world record by Russian Book of Records. Cape Town, located at the south-western tip of the African continent, is the gateway to the Queen Maud Land region of Antarctica connecting flight and shipping routes to the south. It is a city of cultural nad natural contrasts. From the busy city centre someone can reach pristine wilderness in a few minutes, and the steep rocky slopes of the Table Mountain descent to long beaches and the open ocean. Cape Town lies in the heart of the Capensis, the smallest and most diverse of the 6 world’s floral kingdoms, featuring more than 6000 endemic plants and many different bird and animal species. The pleasant climate, the beauty of the city and its natural surroundings give people many possibilities to enjoy themselves before and after their journey to Antarctica.
We hope you enjoyed this pictoral excursion and have an idea of the work of the Antarctic Logistics Centre International on the great white continent called Antarctica. Since the introduction of the Dronning Maud Land Air Network in 2002, the number of flights to Antarctica organized by ALCI have increased significantly. Today ALCI transports more than 850 people and 90 t of cargo per Antarctic season from late October to the beginning of March. ALCI aims to professionally service the specific requirements of all Antarctic operators as well as establish the necessary infrastructure and facilities for all logistic operations and to maintain and service the specialized Antarctic vehicles and equipment in Antarctica and Cape Town.
The ALCI Team is always open for constructive criticism and advice and we would welcome the participation of all interested parties to provide guidelines and assist in the planning of future activities as well as to compile recommendations within the framework of the Antarctic Treaty System.