Monday, January 17, 2011
Climbers, Skiers Stuck in Antarctica, Travelers Stranded in Punta Arenas
As the Antarctic climbing and skiing season moves toward the finish line, bad weather is making it difficult for the teams to head home. Meanwhile, strikes and road blockades are preventing travelers from escape Punta Arenas, Chile as well.
The First Ascent Team, who completed a climb of Mt. Vinson and have been doing some skiing over the past week, are back at the Union Glacier camp where they are waiting, along with plenty of others, for a lift back to Punta Arenas, where they can eventually catch a flight home. According to their most recent blog post, filed by Jake Norton, the team has been waiting for a couple of days for a ALE flight to come pick them up. The weather has been less than cooperative however, as thick fog has prevented any kind of movement off the ice, and apparently some people have been stuck at the base for over 11 days now. Jake explains how they fill the days waiting, saying: "We read. We sleep. We listen to music. We eat. We repeat."
South Pole skier Willem ter Horst and guide Hannah McKeand are also stuck in Union Glacier, and have been there for about five days as well. Willem says that they hope to get a flight out tomorrow, but it all depends on the conditions. He does say that if he has to be stuck somewhere, there are few places more beautiful.
The teams may actually be happy to be stuck on the Antarctic ice, as conditions are not good in Punta Arenas at the moment. In fact, it may be worse to go back to Chile, where a government proposed 17% rise in fuel costs has sent a wave of dissatisfaction through works, who have now gone on strike and have clashed with police.
Reports indicate that there are road blocks set up all over the region, and thousands of tourists and other travelers are currently stranded in the city. Worse yet, most of the shops and restaurants in the city are also closed, and there are reports of food shortages too.
While Punta Arenas is the gateway for the explorers and climbers who go to Antarctica each year, it is also a major cruise ship port for tourists who are sailing in the waters off the frozen continent. During the high season, which is in full swing at the moment, a great deal of traffic moves through Punta and these strikes are playing havoc with the tourist trade there. There are some reports that many of them are attempting to get passage to Argentina, where they hope to be able to get a flight back home.
The situation seems rather grim, and the BBC reports that some countries have advised their citizens to stay away from the area for now.