Finns Queen Maud Land debrief: "When I heard the pilot swearing, I knew things were getting out of hand"

Posted: Feb 13, 2007 04:50 pm EST

(ThePoles.com) We are both from southern Finland...where the highest hill is about 80m (250 ft), and that hill is quite familiar to us, after going it up and down a few hundred times for training by now, the two men told ExWeb last year. So when Finnish climbers Pekka Holma, 39, and Patrick Degerman, 38, jumped in a plane to Antarctica last December, it was with few fixed plans but much anticipation: A sketchy map in hand and some Norwegian pics in pocket they hoped to bag some first ascents in Queen Mauds Land - but got more than they bargained for. <cutoff>

Here goes the climbers story straight from Patrick:

<b>"I thought that this is how it should be"</b>

"When we were getting closer to the peaks, the pilots asked if I could come up front to show them where we wanted to land. Full service! I was amazed by the mountains, and after a couple of turns we were ready to land. I strapped myself down in between the pilots. The view was absolutely stunning!"

"But after a few seconds, I forgot everything about stunning-ness. We hit the snow a bit harder than we had planned, and the snow wasnt that soft up in the mountains at 2400m. The plane was squeaking and banging, and I thought that this is how it should be. But when I started hearing the pilot swearing, I understood things were getting out of hand."

<b>"The pilot screamed F*** </b>

"Seconds later, the right landing gear broke, the propeller hit the snow and when the wing hit the snow, we made a nice U- turn to the right. Everything just stopped in a few seconds."

"The pilot screamed F*** as loud as he could. At that point I didnt even know what had happened, but after looking out the window I understood the problem. The pilot gathered us together and told us we have a BIG PROBLEM."

"The other plane that should have been operating in the area was damaged on the ground during a storm and standing on its head. So at the moment we were definitely on our own. After a day and a half, a Twin Otter came over, 2400km from Patriot Hills, to pick up the rest of the group, and flew them back to Novo."

<b>No need to bring food to Antarctica, local recipes date back to 1966!</b>

"The positive thing for us two Finns in all this misery was that the Basler (modified DC-3) was going to transport fresh food to the German scientists at Neumayer station, and they could not fit it into the Twin Otter."

"So there we sat in camp with a broken airplane and piles of oranges, bananas, lettuce, kiwis, sour cream, milk, etc. The scientists had been waiting for fresh food for months, and unfortunately we had to eat it before it froze."

"Next time I come to Antarctica I wont bring any food, because the last time, when we were climbing the Ellsworth mountains in 1997-98, we found American Antarctic Mountaineering Expeditions food from 1966 under the snow close to Mount Gardner."

"We ate for two days, and the food would have lasted at least for half a year. And now again we sat there with piles of food! We thought of sending the scientists at Neumayer our really tasty fruit cocktail recipes, but didnt want to disturb their working morale. Thank you Neumayer!"

<b>Counting on an iffy ridge</b>

"After riding out some bad weather for a week, we were ready to hit the mountains. In front of us laid 1012 unclimbed peaks, just waiting for adventure. We cheered when we heard there would be good weather for the next three days, and started to prepare for the first ascent."

"The mountain sat about 15 km from our camp, so in the morning we strapped on our skis and started to negotiate our way through the glaciers. At that point we did not know if it would be possible for us to climb the mountain. From the airplane we had seen a straight-rock face, but counted on there being a ridge on the other side. We counted right. "

<b>Brokeback mountain? No - Mount Finland!</b>

"After a few hours of skiing, we could see a nice ridge leading all the way to the top. After a bit of abseiling and climbing we were standing on the ridge. Quite early we left our skis and walked up to the summit pyramid. The sun was shining and the views were so amazing that our 55-minute climb/ 5-minute rest, almost turned over to 55 minutes resting and 5 minutes climbing."

"After five pitches, the top was just a few meters away. We walked hand in hand the last few steps to the top. We had been thinking of this moment every day for two years. We also felt very small looking around at one of the fiercest places on earth. Now it had shown us its best, and we were very grateful for that. When we reached the top of that mountain, it didn´t have a name. Now it has one: Mount Finland!"

<b>Now, how do we get back?</b>

"During a period of two weeks we climbed four peaks in various weather conditions. They werent technically that demanding, but still strenuous because of the windy conditions. We had to dig out our tent almost daily. Antarctica should be the driest continent on earth. Has something changed? Because of the small problems with the airplanes, we did not know exactly how we would get back to Novo."

"One option was to ski back to the camp a few hundred kilometers. We thought it would be a good idea because then maybe we could climb something on the way and also get a better look at Rakekniven, which Conrad and Alex had climbed back in´97, and maybe visit the Norwegians who were climbing the east face of Ulvetanna."

<b>"In our opinion it was a good plan"</b>

"We left all the fruit cocktails behind and started pulling our sledges towards Rakekniven. Our route was going over a ridge where we had to gain about 500m of height with 100kg in each sledge."

"In our opinion it was a good plan, but pretty soon we found out it was not that easy. The first day we only made 3km! We stumbled into our tent and just laughed at our miserable effort. Well, if we cant drag one sledge each up the hill, maybe we can drag one sledge at a time."

"Off we went like yo-yos back and forth. It paid off, and on the third day after leaving camp we were on the other side of the ridge and spotted a good looking mountain ahead. Well, we thought we could take a day off to climb it, and we did."

<b>"Pekka kept rambling about beer - and I have to admit even I got a bit thirsty"</b>

"After skiing a week or so, Pekka started dreaming about drinking beer. I heard about beer in all different sizes and tastes. I have to admit even I got a bit thirsty at some point."

"Pekkas dream came true when we reached Ivar, Trond, Robert and SteinIvar at the foot of Ulvetanna. They had transported a whole barrel full of beer cans to their camp. Pekkas eyes were as big as plates when he was offered one. He opened it in a second, and found out it had frozen! Hehheh. It was a sight to see a thirsty Finn melting up a beer can in his underwear. : )"

"In the end everything went according to plan. Another Basler was flown from Canada down to Antarctica to pick us up from Ulvetanna BC. Later on we heard they had put on a new wing and a new landing gear on the wrecked airplane in our camp, and flew it back to Novo - amazing work by ALCI."

"Now at the moment, we are sitting back in Finland planning our next trip and enjoying the easy life with food in the fridge and cold beernot frozen."

"Best regards,
Patrick Degerman"

<b>Note from the climbers: We want our tent back!</b>

Beside the expedition debrief, Patrick has something to say to Euro climbers - particulartly, those who visited the recent ISPO fair in Munich, Germany:

"Last week the expedition tent was stolen from the outdoor fair ISPO in Munich, so if anybody gets to know where our tent is (with all our writings, drawings and poems inside) I will be happy to trade it for a new one."

<i>In addition to the only peak in Finland, both Pekka and Patrick were familiar with cold climbing, after expeditions in Greenland, Himalaya and Spitzbergen (where they made 8 first ascents). Moreover, this was Patricks second time in Antarctica (following an expedition to Ellsworth mountains in 1997/98).

Dronning Maud Land (Queen Maud Land) is the part of Antarctica lying between 20°W and 45°E, with a land area of approx.2,500,000 km². This territory was claimed by Norway on Jan 14, 1939.</i>
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"The pilot screamed F*** as loud as he could. At that point I didnt even know what had happened, but after looking out the window I understood the problem. The pilot gathered us together and told us we have a BIG PROBLEM." So reported Finnish climbers Pekka Holma, 39, and Patrick Degerman, 38, in their close call on Antarctica in 2006. Image of the Basler/modified DC-3 courtesy of their Mount Finland Expedition (click to enlarge).
"Next time I come to Antarctica I wont bring any food, because the last time, when we were climbing the Ellsworth mountains in 1997-98, we found American Antarctic Mountaineering Expeditions food from 1966 under the snow close to Mount Gardner." Image from one of the current climbs made by the two Finns (click to enlarge).
"After five pitches, the summit was just a few meters away. We walked hand in hand the last few steps to the top. It didn´t have a name. Now it does: Mount Finland!" (in image, click to enlarge).
"During a period of two weeks we climbed four peaks in various weather conditions. Because of the small problems with the airplanes, we did not know exactly how we would get back to Novo." (Click to enlarge).
Note from the climbers: "Last week the expedition tent was stolen from the outdoor fair ISPO in Munich, so if anybody gets to know where our tent is (with all our writings, drawings and poems inside) I will exchange it for a new one. " All images Courtesy of Mount Finland Expedition (click to enlarge).
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