4 Minute Trailer

Wednesday 8th September 2010
Map of the North Pole. The Geografic North Pol...

Image via Wikipedia

Trailer for Phoenix Film’s documentary ‘THE ARAB WHO TOOK ON THE ARCTIC’ (2009) following Nabs Al Busaidi’s 650km trek to the Magnetic North Pole.

‘THE ARAB WHO TOOK ON THE ARCTIC’ – Trailer from David Ward on Vimeo.

Produced by Guy Sinclair/Alan Cunningham.

Shot and Directed by David Andrew Ward.


The world’s remotest ATM

Saturday 27th February 2010

Cash machines are pretty much everywhere these days, including Antarctica. That’s right, if you travel roughly 8,000 miles south you will reach the most remote cashpoint.

Located at McMurdo Station, an American Antarctic research centre, the cash machine is maintained by the Wells Fargo banking group.

Interestingly, Wells Fargo decided to build two ATMs – not because long queues are a problem near the South Pole, but as a precaution in case one stops working (calling out a technician would probably prove pretty costly and could take a while).


Summit Day: South Pole Expedition

Tuesday 26th January 2010

Nabil Al-Busaidi & Renaissance Services Antarctic Expedition

Vinson Summit Day – Part II

By now, I was really beginning to suffer. I could not breathe and my head was pounding louder and louder at each heartbeat. Eventually I broke down for the first time and asked Scott for a break, so I could detach my rucksack. Without the weight on my back and the constriction on my chest from the shoulder straps, I was back on track and just able to keep up with Scott, but I was still hyperventilating from the thin air. The earth is not entirely circular but flatter at the poles and for some reason this makes the air thinner, so for every height we climbed to it actually felt 500 meters higher.

Six hours after starting, we approached the final plateau before the summit ridge. The wind was bitterly gusting 60 km/h from the east and blew up the Vinson Massif and down the other side. There was a pocket of calm as the wind rushed up the summit overtopping the edge and down the other side. It was a small pocket of heaven for us having suffered seven hours of battering in the wind.

We made our final preparations for the push to the summit under the guidance of Scott. I put on every piece of clothing, had some shots of energy gel, stashed all the remaining equipment and steeled myself to ignore the pounding in my head for one final hour. With the conditions we were in, we could only afford half an hour to traverse to reach the summit and half an hour to return, without risking frostbite.

Vinson peak

By now the wind was at least 50 km/h approaching up to 80 km/h, making it hard for me to stand up. If I leaned into a gust and suddenly stopped, I would lose my balance making me look unstable on my feet like a punched drunk boxer.

We proceeded as fast as we could along the sharp, thin, rocky ridge. We had the ice axes ready, were roped together for safety and put spiky metal crampons on our feet to help our footing. Each peak along the ridge brought into view another peak slightly higher and further along than the one we had just climbed. Frustrating us intensely, making me wonder when this personal hell would end.

After what seemed like at least another hour, but was actually less than 20 minutes, we came to an innocuous 2 meters high pyramid of rock and snow that was clearly higher than any point we could see for miles. As with the magnetic north pole, it was so nondescript that I could not quite believe it was the right summit. There really should have been neon lights; an arrow or at least a plaque that lends the location more gravitas and confirmed this was in fact the goal I had struggled so hard to reach.

Team

We circled around the east side of the snowy goal and from the south side of it I paused briefly within decision. Scott handed me the small Omani flag that I had taken to the Arctic and the summit of Kilimanjaro and said something encouraging which was whipped away by the howling wind. As I scrambled up the last few feet from the south side I could see the west side of the pyramid was no more than an accumulation of snow piled up on the leeward side of the slope and if I strayed too far to the left I might be avalanching unintentionally 1,000 meters to my death. So I decided to conservatively stay on the windward side, which I knew was rock underneath.

Vinson summit IVinson Summit II


All these distracting thoughts contributed to me losing my footing just as I reached the top. To cover up my clumsiness I dived on the summit like a rugby player scoring a try, planting the Omani flag, at the highest point of snow, on the highest mountain, on the highest continent, in the coldest driest place on earth. The time was 19:12 GMT on 17th January 2010. And I was the first Omani to summit Mount Vinson, one of the seven highest summits on the seven continents.

Vinson Summit IIINabs at Vinson


Summit Day: South Pole Expedition

Monday 25th January 2010

Nabil Al-Busaidi & Renaissance Services Antarctic Expedition

Vinson Summit Day – Part I

Our guide Scott woke us up at 7.30 and I refused to tuck my head out of the sleeping bag, as if I was in denial and by hiding my head the whole experience would go away. I was very nervous about Summit Day, not sure if I would be able to make it to the top. My head was still thumping slightly and my stomach was turning with the thought of what lay ahead. Mark, my fellow climber, was also anxious which was surprising considering how experienced he was. If he was apprehensive with all his years of mountaineering, then it was probably best that I was ignorant of what lay ahead.

Vinson Summit

The weather forecast was not as good as yesterday and anything higher than 50 km/h winds at the summit and we would have to wait another day. The estimated wind speed at the summit was 40-60 km/h. With the weather likely to change for the better or worse, it was worth climbing and hoping that in the six hours it took to climb up, the wind could be blowing off to attempt the summit. It was certainly better than sitting around for another day kicking our heels and getting cold.

Vinson

We set off from high camp at 9.30 up a 25° glacier that took over an hour to climb. As soon as we topped that slope and turned the corner, the wind hit us straight in the face, the bitter wind that reminded me of some of my worst days walking to the magnetic North Pole. In addition the continuous critical effort the altitude had given us, began to take its toll on me. My Achilles were straining, my heart was racing, my lungs were bursting, but worst of all my head was thumping, which scared me that I was progressing towards acute mountain sickness. I had read about high altitude cerebral edema. It is a dangerous thing and I was scared.

Mark, who has been climbing all over the world since he was 18, maintained that mountaineering at altitude was not about fitness, but about mental attitude. As long as you were determined, you could summit. I felt I was incapable of making the summit, the physical effort was so great and each step we took, I hoped would be our last. But I also knew that each step I took, I could take one more. And as long as I could take one more, I would never give up. So I just focused on making the next steps. I didn’t doubt my termination, but I doubted my body.

JP my companion and trusted friend during the Arctic trek compared the continuous minor adjustments and relieving pain to spinning plates. Each plate needs a bit of attention to keep it going, but you rapidly need to move to the next plate to prevent it from falling, and so it was with the climb. Each ache needed quick adjustments, but the mind can not focus on only one plate, as there are so many things that need to be kept on top of. Thanks to my experience at the North Pole, I was better prepared with equipment and clothing. But with less things to worry about I started to focus on the few painful plates instead of skipping from one item to the next.

Vinson map

I spent the first hour repeating duas that my father had taught me before the North Pole. Repeating these in my head would occupy my mind until my body overcame the pain barrier. And then once I was through on the other side, I would listen to my iPod. The psychological benefit of climbing in a small group was that every time my spirit dropped, I looked over at Mark or Scott seeing them being exactly the same, carrying on with the thought, that if they can do it so can I. But for each step I was secretly hoping that one of them were sneaking a break.

We stopped briefly for a break and while I adjusted my clothing Scott relieved his pee muscle and Mark did some personal admin. All of a sudden, the safety rope linking us all together, suddenly dragged me moderately down the hill. Mark had dropped one of his mittens and knowing how unfortunate it was, ran immediately after the glove. Loosing our big down mittens would be a big obstacle and then we would have to turn back. It was a desperate situation overriding anything else. I was being dragged downhill after Mark and in return I dragged Scott downhill, who was still trying to pee in a controlled manner!! Luckily Mark managed to retrieve his glove.

Four hours after we started the wind was still marginal as to whether it was prudent to descend and our faces stung from the wind, so Scott asked us if we wanted to turn back and try again the next day. I don’t think there was any hesitation from Mark or I as we both wanted to continue. There was no way I wanted to suffer that climb again tomorrow and I would rather continue in harsh winds than start again.

To be continued tomorrow…


Day 10: South Pole Expedition

Friday 22nd January 2010

Nabil Al-Busaidi & Renaissance Services Antarctic Expedition
Diary Day 10

I went to bed the previous night with a thumbing headache because of the altitude. I had a similar thing when I was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and knew that this could be alleviated by hydration and resting to acclimatise. But I woke up several times in the night and every time I moved my head, I could feel my head thumbing, which was not a good sign.

When I woke in the morning, it was actually a brilliant day for summiting Mount Vinson. It was perfect weather with very little wind, but I still had a major headache and told the guide I needed a rest day. I took diamox, which is an altitude acclimatisation medicine. It is not an immediate fix for the acute mountain sickness I felt, but it speeds up part of the acclimatisation, which in turn helps to relieve the symptoms.

Vinson Summit

Mark and Scott decided to try and take advantage of the weather and go from high camp to the Summit, but two hours into their walk, they turned around and came back to high camp. Mark was also feeling the effects of the altitude and also needed a rest day.

The altitude at high camp is 4,000 meters, but because the air is so thin at the poles, the occurring altitude is almost 300-400 meters more than the actual. But again, we had great weather. The temperature in the tent went up to 20°C in the sun, but as soon as the sun went behind the mountain leaving us in the shadow, the temperature instantly dropped to -8°C.

One of the criteria to do anything here is to make sure the route is in the sun and not the shadow, as it can make almost 30 degrees difference. With 24-hour daylight in Antarctica during the summer months; weather conditions and how we respond to the altitude, rather than clocks, dictate our activities and schedule and “time” takes on a different meaning.

I hoped the weather the following day would be as good, as the route to the summit is exposed making it sensitive to strong winds. Summit day is expected to be our longest day of climbing, 9-12 hours, so I needed all the rest I could get to acclimatise properly before summiting Mount Vinson.


Day 9: South Pole Expedition

Wednesday 20th January 2010

Nabil Al-Busaidi & Renaissance Services Antarctic Expedition
Diary Day 9

The weather was great and both Mike and I felt better, so we decided to ascend from Vinson low camp to high camp, which lies at 4000 m. It was an elevation gain of 1,200 meters. The walking distance that day was very short, about half a kilometre, before we reached the start of the 45° slope and the ropes fixed to the cliff face. We put crampons (snow spikes) onto the bottom of our boots, and put all of our equipment into our rucksacks, clipped our harnesses to the ropes and then spent almost four hours climbing up the 45° slope. The route took us up the broad mixed spur at the northern end of the Branscomb Ridge through rocky sections and areas of blue ice.

Crampons

It took us five and a half hour to get from low camp to high camp, and when we finally reached high camp, we were so exhausted. Mark was feeling dizzy and I had a thumbing headache from exercising at altitude. Both are typical symptoms encountered at altitude and is part of the body’s reaction to the lower oxygen pressure. The amount of oxygen available to our bodies is determined by the atmospheric pressure we climb in, which decreases the higher we get up, leaving fewer molecules of oxygen per breath. The atmospheric pressure at high camp where we are now is only about 60% that of sea level, and at the Mount Vinson summit it will be down to around 50%, making the climb that much harder.

Vinson camps

The combination of extreme weather, low temperatures and high altitude has a great impact on our bodies, and the steep slopes often require quick, accurate decisions, which is even harder under these circumstances. It is therefore extremely important that we give our bodies rest days and time to acclimatise in between the climbs in order to fully get used to the new atmospheric pressure.

With only five to six hours climbing every day, we have a lot of spare time during the expedition. We do not do much in between the climbs, maybe go for a short walk, but otherwise spend most of the time sitting in the tent, eating and drinking hot drinks and simply letting our bodies rest. At low camp we had a cooking tent, well more precisely a square hole in the snow with a big pole in the middle and a bottomless tent over it. The food we ate up until low camp was prepared and carried from Patriot Hills. High camp is more basic and we cooked simple, dehydrated meals and ate them in our tents just like at the North Pole expedition. The snow is so clean and pure here, that we melt it and use it for both cooking and drinking.

Mt. Vinson

Climbers and guides are coming and going in their own pace and with their own agenda and it varies from camp to camp how many we are. At low camp it was only Mark, our guide Scott and I. Although, just before we left low camp for high camp, another two rangers came along; Rob and Patchy, following us to high camp.

Tomorrow is a new exciting day. If the weather is good and our bodies are sufficiently acclimatized in the morning, we may be able to climb the last 14 km, taking Oman and the Renaissance Services Antarctic Expedition to the top of Antarctica!


Day 8: South Pole Expedition

Wednesday 20th January 2010

Nabil Al-Busaidi & Renaissance Services Antarctic Expedition

Diary Day 8

After the walk yesterday, we needed a rest day giving us a chance to acclimatize. Due to the extreme southern latitude of Mount Vinson and consequent thinning of the atmosphere, there is less oxygen available to our bodies, which makes the altitude harder to cope with than the same elevation on a peak that lies closer to the equator. I can feel a remarkable difference on the effect it has on my body compared to both Mount Kilimanjaro and what I experienced climbing in the Alps.

Even on rest days, it is important we stay active, so we walked to a nearby col, which was a three-hour walk. I was exhausted from the day before and effected by the altitude and really didn’t want to go, but it turned out to be a quite easy walk. The weather was sunny and bright and we ended up walking without jackets. We were sweating despite the thermometer showing minus degrees. In fact, the tent temperature that night was 18°C despite the frost outside. The weather here has been absolutely brilliant and the worst day in Antarctica isn’t as bad as the best day I had at the North Pole.

You might wonder how this diary makes it all the way from Mount Vinson in the Antarctic to you, with no electricity, no mobile network or Internet here – the answer is satellite phone. To minimize our environmental impact the only energy source used at Antarctica is solar power.

satellite phone

Even the camp at Patriot Hills is run solely by solar power and we use small portable solar panels to charge our satellite phones, iPods and other electronics during the expedition. With 24-hour sunlight and short days of walking and climbing, that works great and we have no problems continuously charging our electronic equipment. I used the same solar powered satellite phone and solar panels at the North Pole, but with little sunlight and opportunity to charge the satellite phones due to weather conditions and 10 hours walking every day, it was a lot more challenging.

Solar panel

The difference between the ease of access to solar powered energy at the South Pole and North Pole and the incredible focus on minimizing the environmental impact here, got me thinking about energy efficiency in general and how we take energy sources like electricity for granted without giving it much thought how we use it – or waste it. There are a so many ways we can make our homes, offices and buildings more energy efficient only by paying attention and caring. A simple example is using fluorescent light bulbs instead of incandescent bulbs. The fluorescent light bulb only needs 13 watts to get the same amount of lighting as you would get from a regular, 60-watt incandescent bulb. The use of new technology like laptops, TV screens and washing machines built to be energy efficient or insulating our houses are other examples. Where there is a will, there is a way.

Tomorrow is a big day with increasingly difficult climbing conditions, 45° slopes and 1200 meters elevation gain. I am excited, but also worried how I will cope with the altitude now we get closer to the top.

Solar panels on tent