25-27 November 2012 — Blue sky is somewhere above. Christian sits in “my” vestibule and pumps the Whisperlite. The smell of white gas permeates the tent. Then comes the soft “whump” of the white gas igniting and soon a swirl of black smoke percolates up into the vestibule. I sit cross legged behind him, clad in puffy pants and puffy jacket. My toes are chilly, and I sift through the remaining vittles, looking for the tea. I choose the chamomile and drop it into my baby Nalgene.
Our re-ration is now over 36 hours late. The two days prior have been spent in a mix of hunkering from gale force gusts, conserving energy and maintaining camp. This is the third time in three courses that one of my re-rations has been delayed due to inclement weather. For two days we have been on stand-by, ears cocked and tuned to the silent sky. Our slowly dwindling food supply has provided skimpy meals. Christian and I divide up all the food and pass out some semolina and pasta. Otherwise we consume Mocking Jay, Ender’s Game, Enduring Patagonia, Robinson Crusoe and Catching Fire. Christian strums the ukulele, appropriately singing Wish You Were Here. We chat and make the decision to postpone the decision. We smoke Paul’s proverbial cigarette. My mind tells me we can survive a long time without food. We conserve our energy, lay low and drink water. So we plan to wait. The occasional calm bluebird lifts our hopes and spirits until we look northeast toward the ocean. The roiling clouds, grey, thick and billowing spill up out of the Westland. We check the weather via satellite phone. Turning “fine but windy.” Neither materialize this evening. No chopper comes in, there is no flurry of activity within our perimeter. We sit and we wait.
Christian pokes his head back in the vestibule door after giving out pasta, checking in, and spreading cheer. “Jared, a bit of good news awaits.”
“What is it?” I reply.
“I’ll tell you when I get in” he says as he walks off to tend to a task and returns momentarily. He pokes his head into the tent and then his hand reveals a 250 gram bag of pasta. “One group had a little quinoa. We can have more than that one ramen noodle packet tonight.”
The sun cuts a bright yellow and green line through the Kaitum. “Shall I make hot drinks?” I ask Christian
“Whenever you are ready” Christian responds as a gust of wind buffets the tent, billowing the fabric wide despite nearly 360 degree coverage from our two meter high and one and half meter thick snow wall surrounding most of our shelter.
I move slowly, sliding my red, synthetic sleeping bag to my waist and slipping my waterproof jacket over my upper body. I reach deep into my sleeping bag and pull my hard foam inner boots out. Inching forward, I push my bag completely off, then sit cross legged on the backpack and 60 meter rope which serve as insulation from the cold snow. One by one I slide the inner boots into the cold hard plastic outer boot and gaiter, then uncross my leg and slip my foot into the combo. The daily dressing ritual about complete, I reach into the vestibule, fill the pot with water, position the stove and set water to boiling. I rest my head in my hands and as I wipe my hands over my face I realize that my mannerisms aren’t all that different than my dads.
“What’s that?” Christian asks as he loads his small baby Nalgene with coffee.
“Huh? I didn’t hear anything” I respond after pushing my hat above my ear and tilting my head.
“It’s a helicopter” he says.
I am out of the tent instantly and quickly spy the red, white and blue bird down valley under the high cirrus clouds. “Folks, get up there is a chopper in the sky” I yell throughout the perimeter. “It might not be ours, but they are flying.” The bird makes a line for Centennial Hut, then a sharp bend and starts approaching our location. “It’s ours” I pronounce thirty seconds after my first announcement. “Let’s get going.” Heads and then bodies start poking out of the vestibules. The helicopter does a pass over our campsite, swings back northeast and loops back around. The perimeter is a flurry of action. The four door Eurocopter AS350BA “Squirrel” slowly settles in on the edge of our probed out safe zone and we all squat, shield our faces and eyes and watch it do a small tap dance as it tries to settle down. In the cabin, the pilot’s hands are swirl of motion as the rotors slow to an idle. He steps out and then off the rail and immediately slides half a meter down glacier on the unexpected, hard, icy surface. Regaining his balance he walks around the nose and opens the cargo basket and back door. Christian and I duck in, thank him and start grabbing the necessary duffle bags. We make a couple of laps, shuttling the supplies from the helicopter to the students. The pilot makes his way over to us with two more MSR fuel bottles. I catch his eye. “Hey thanks, this will be about 15 minutes” I say.
“OK, I’m going to take off and I’ll be back” he nods with a smile.
“Thanks, do you mind mailing these?” I ask, handing him a small plastic bag with a couple of postcards and letters in it.
He momentarily responds with a perplexed look, then grins and takes them from me. “Nope not at all.” He heads back to the helicopter, cranks up the throttle and takes off into the clear, blue, early morning sky.
I turn and see students dumping duffles, filling fuel bottles, counting wag bags and dividing food. I banish the visions of the breakfast cake I will soon be cooking, grab the food inventory list and get to work. Breakfast will come soon enough.