The flight from Vinson Base Camp to Union glacier is surely one of the finest on the planet. On the flight in, you are almost too excited – it is hard to remember anything but white and light and sky and black rocked peaks. Not to mention the looming Massif in front of you yet to be climbed.
On the way out, with any luck you have summitted Vinson, you have had a good celebratory meal or two and a welcome back beverage. The ski plane is packed with all your bags up front and the plane is small enough you can see out both sides of windows.
With the Vinson runway slanted downhill, you drop off quickly and then leave the snow and sail out over the glacier, sweeping around the corner. This allows you to look back over your left shoulder at the normal route extending up the Branscomb Glacier, onto the head wall where you ascended the ropes, then on up the long summit slopes to the final spectacular ridge and the top of Antarctica.
A few minutes into the flight you pass the immense SW face, bordered on the right by the Rolex Ridge, then the Sunset Face and the Texas Glacier, before the summit plateau dips down and then rises up to Mount Craddock. It is pretty obvious why the entire mountain is labeled a Massif.
From there the plane tracks along the Nimitz Glacier, with the very long line of the Ellsworth Mountains alongside you. Almost none of these peaks are climbed, and they rise in a jagged succession of opportunity. Next time you’ll just want to get off the plane a bit early on your way in.
From there the mountains recede on the left and build on the right as you pass over the Anderson mountains. While the sun and clouds build shadows below, the crevasses of the glacier pop out in lines and circles, rising out of hidden upheavals of land below the ice.
The engines hum down as the plane coasts down over Union Glacier and with a long slow turn, rolls around in front of Mount Rossman to a gentle landing on the glacier in front of Camp. Home, or at least a bit closer to home. You jump from the stairs and back onto the ice.