Morning of Dec. 24

We are all in Punta Arenas and due to fly out later today.  We flew all last night but will be home for Christmas morning tomorrow.

Sat. Dec 23, Patriot Hills

Well, the Ilushyn is in the air from Punta Arenas to here in Patriot Hills. We don’t yet know whether or not it will guarantee that it comes here….. but they are generally unlikely to take off without pretty strong assurances it will land. So we will be on pins and needles for the next 4 hours.
If it does get in we should arrive in Toronto early on Christmas morning!!!!
Wow here’s hoping!!!!

Friday’s update

Our team will be re-united in Patriot Hills in 15 minutes.  The ALES group was able to fly today to Mt. Vinson and pick up everyone.

It’s unlikely we will be able to leave Patriot Hills today due to fog.  I will update you on our departure once it’s known.

December 21

The team is patiently waiting at Vinson Base Camp – the weather has not been cooperating and so far they have been unable to get a Twin Otter in to fly them out. I remain in Patriot Hills. The Iluyshyn is being held until our team is back from Vinson – but it seems unlikely that will happen today. Spirits remain good. Will keep you updated.

This is the steep headwall that rises up about 3,000 ft above Camp 2 and provides the passage to high camp. The base of the headwall is about 10,200 feet (3,100m). You can see small black dots on the right side of photo – this is a group of climbers making their way up.

The view from halfway up the headwall

Drama on the Mountain

Last night was an overly exciting adventure. Unfortunately I awoke at 1am with high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). We had an oximeter because we wanted to keep track of Dale’s status. My oxygen saturation on awakening was reading 40% – sitting up and deep breathing brought it to 70%. Barry had exchanged places with Pat and slept in my tent as I had not been feeling well after descending from the summit attempt. I was sick to my stomach and had very little for supper. He woke up, watched my breathing pattern and picked up the oximeter from Pat. “You must go down the mountain, NOW”. He gave me 250 diamox and 25 of Viagra. The camp was mobilized – Dale and Barry packed up one tent, their gear and my essential gear and at 3am we started out. At
this point the Viagra had started to work and my oxygen saturation had increased to 91, though I still felt very short of breath on  exertion. We had to descend the headwall, and I had to walk it. Stalwart Barry shortroped me down the headwall with Dale leading the way – the patient became the rescuer.

We arrived at Camp 1 after about 4 hours. I crashed in an ALES tent (they’re the company that organizes Antarctic expeditions) and they had sent one of their guides up from base camp with oxygen. Despite some improvement early on my saturation started to drop again into the 70’s and Barry arranged for me to get down to base camp (more Viagra and diamox). Dave (an ALES guide) and Barry took me to corner camp, while Dale set up Camp 1 for the rest of the team that would be descending later. At Corner Camp I was met by another ALES guide (Alti) and strapped on some skis to make the final descent to Base Camp.

Along the way I met the team that originally went up Vinson 40 year’s ago – I was so exited to meet them, and they were more  worried about my HAPE; information that had spread like wildfire through the different camps. In Base Camp I was able to immediately board a Twin Otter and came back to Patriot Hills. Dr. John Apps reviewed my case and I am happy to report that apart from some residual crackles and wheezes I am just fine.

Meanwhile the rest of the team is at Camp 1. They will be descending the remainder of the mountain tomorrow and weather  permitting back here in Patriot Hills tomorrow evening.

This has really been an incredible journey both personally and professionally. The idea started 2 years ago and has involved a large number of people and I would like to take this opportunity to thank a few of them.

Mr. Ian Delaney, present since the beginning when the decision to come to Antarctica was made, who by the way was incredible on the mountain climbing to a personal best of 3800m at Summit Camp and giving a valiant effort to climb the last leg, funded this expedition and also was critical in the fundraising for the Heart Failure and Transplant Program at Toronto General Hospital. He climbed the headwall with a fully loaded pack negotiating crevasses (I am sure similar to what he does at work) and never complained or asked for special treatment.

Barry Blanchard, a legendary Canadian climber with numerous first ascents who was crucial for the team, but also for me personally during these last 24 hours.

Dave Stark, the safety expert with Yamnuska guiding company and I am happy to report we are all safely off the most difficult  sections of the mountain.

Both Dave and Barry are wonderful, entertaining professionals who I would climb with again any time any place.

Pat Murphy, a rock on the mountain, always positive and upbeat and another woman to share some unique female aspects of mountaineering.

Yanick, for his delight in drama and ability to carry a camera anywhere.

The Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation who’s members have been willing at all times of day/night to assist in every way possible and I must thank all – but especially Stuart and Krista. Alex R has made all of our wishes come true with media exposure for the trip – Alex you rock!

Lina Chiodo for her fundraising and general support – bella with great thanks.

Gary Levy for his undaunting support.

But mostly I want to thank Dale for being the best ambassador a woman could ask for to raise awareness for organ donation and transplantation. As we stood so close to the top that Dale, who was feeling strong, could easily have made it, never suggested that he go on without the team he said he was so happy with what had already been accomplished – he is truly a team player. I enjoyed becoming close friends with Dale and seeing the look in his eyes as he helped in my rescue last night. He and all my many other
patients, who they are and what they do, are what I love about my job.

Thank you to all who read the blog and left us comments. Imagine if you will -30, in your tent with me calling out the blogs to everyone and all of us sharing and laughing, at the stories. It really helped us stay connected with home and also build our team spirit.

I do promise to update re: flights as there remains a diminishingly small chance we will be home for Christmas – but the official blog is now over. As Aaron Knox said – everyone out there please – “live life, test your limits, climb a mountain”.


Heather Ross (me) and Dale Shippam, near the summit of Mt. Vinson Massif.

Summit Day

It was -35, windy, and sunny for our summit bidWe got up at 7 am and were underway by 10:00 amIan got off early but his oxygen saturation dropped and his heart rate increased and came back to spend the day at Summit CampThe rest of us were off: 8 km and 1200m elevation to gain – what a day.

We made good time, but unfortunately at the 4400m mark Pat and I began to wane.  200m from the summit we checked everyone out – Pat’s oxygen saturation was 64, mine was 73; i.e. both of us needed to be on a ventilator.  Dale on the other hand was 93%!  Since we didn’t want Dale to attempt to summit without an MD present, and since Pat and I clearly had to go down the mountain, the trip was stopped 200m shy of the summit.  We were so close we could see the flag.

Dale was remarkable, strong, and had no issues with the elevation.  It is likely that the compressed schedule, given our delays in Puntas Arenas, contributed to Pat’s and my problem.  We are now back in High Camp and are recuperating from the day – 12 hours long.

Overall I feel the trip has been an overwhelming success, and there is a certain irony that the heart transplant recipient was best poised to summit the mountain!!!


200 metres from Summit, December 18, 2006.

Sunday’s climb: High Camp

What a day!

We moved to high camp.  It was a long and arduous day; 8 hours – please enjoy the blog as I carried it all in my pack!  Dave, Ian, Dale and I were on one rope, Barry, Pat and Yanick on the other.  Half way up a massive crevasse calved off the mountain – you could hear it, see it, but most disturbingly you could feel it.  It was quite a ways away so we were never in any real danger.

It is cold – oh my it is cold.  It’s about -30 to -35 now, and the sun will disappear shortly resulting in it being about -40 to -50. We are well geared but it is still remarkably cold!  Hence no cook tent, we cook in the vestibule.

Pat and I are in one tent, Barry, Ian and Yanick are in another, and finally Dave and Dale are in the last tent.  One thing you can be sure of – there is no way we are getting up at night to use the outdoor potty.

Tomorrow the plan is to try for the summit – everyone feeling well and weather permitting.

Saturday’s climb: Headwall

Well, it was quite the day.  We hiked up to high camp – about 4 km distance, 800m or approx 3000 feet of elevation.  It is through a heavily crevassed glacier.  We took up food and fuel for the camp which we hope to move to tomorrow – depending on how everyone is doing.  Arrived back at our established camp at 10 pm, after 7.5 hours of climbing.  Ian had soup on and snow walls built around the entire camp.

The peak altitude today was over 12000 feet, a personal best for both Dale and Pat.

Everyone is doing well and the weather has been holding for us, -30 in the shade and at night and warm under the sun.

Friday: Ascending

We woke up this morning to -30 degrees. The condensation in the tent resulted in small snow storms everytime you moved. The sun came out from around the mountain at 11 am and immediately the thermal energy hit the dark clothing we are wearing and the temperature rose. We broke camp at 2:30 and headed up the Branscombe glacier. We got in to this camp (New Camp 1, just shy of Old Camp 2), set up camp, and dinner is now on.

As you walk the heat from the bowl effect and thermal energy is overwhelming – so much so that for the most part we walked in long sleeved long underwear. When you stop it is a whole different ballgame. And when the sun goes down well then watch out.

Dale is doing great. His oxygen saturation is 97%, his heart rate around 100 – or normal for a heart transplant recipient. I must say I find him completely inspiring – he took his own gear, one of the 3 food bags, as well as Yanick’s XS in order to have a boom in camp. His fitness is remarkable, let alone for a transplant patient. I am in awe.

We will likely do a carry to the camp at the top of the headwall – it is only 4 km but 800m elevation gained, hence very steep. The mountain certainly has traffic on it – groups such as Mountain Madness, Mountain Team, ANI etc.. It makes for a very festive time at dinner at breakfast.

Thanks as always for the comments. I read them at bedtime through the tents to the team and they are always appreciated!

PS Kyle: Starbucks is a coffee company who make my favorite triple vente non-fat latte – something I would truly enjoy about now.