Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Night in the Cockpit of a 747

Emergency landing on a field

We have lost most of our instruments. We are pushing the engine controls as hard as we can, but none of the engines are responding. I shout mayday to the radio, but the radio is silent. And I fear that the aircraft's hull may no longer hold pressure. I curse my decision to ever enter the cockpit of this rusty 747-200. This night is going to end badly. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I decide that it is time to exit the cockpit, run down the stairs, and ... order a drink from the steward.

I am at the Jumbo Hostel near Arlanda, Stockholm's international airport. We've really lost the instruments and engines, because the plane was stripped down from valuable parts before this Singapore Airlines 747 was converted into a hostel.


For once, I'm not somewhere skiing. It is kind of my summer vacation from skiing. The south side of the planet is too far into spring by now, the north side hasn't gotten into winter yet, and I'm too busy at work. So I'm taking my son to visit Stockholm for the weekend, and we're staying at the hostel. We have room #747, the smallest but most interesting room. It is the cockpit suite. We sleep in the actual cockpit which is tiny, but we also have a bathroom with shower, and a lounge area with eight first class seats; the upper deck is all ours. The bulk of the other rooms are on the main deck, and that is also where the hostel's cafeteria serves food; the seating for the cafeteria is in the nose.

Beds

Fire in the engines!

Facilities

There is a full-service bar and a basic restaurant that serves grilled food or heats frozen meals. The steward in duty recommends us to take the bus to the terminals and eat there, but frankly I have already eaten often enough at the Arlanda airport. So we eat at the hostel.

Cafeteria

Dinner

There's seating and tables outside the plane, and I suppose they would be very nice during the summer. Now in the rain it is not such an appealing option.

At the back of the plane there is a children's swing where you can sit on a 747 tire.

The tail and the swing

Verdict

The Jumbo Hostel is a very interesting place to stay for a night for airplane enthusiasts. It is also a low-cost and convenient place to stay when changing planes or otherwise having to overnight somewhere before taking your next flight. The airport is right next to you, and breakfast is being served from 3AM onward.

The airplane enthusiasts may even opt for multiple nights. Here's a possible schedule for a stay:
  • 1st night cockpit suite
  • 2nd night rear pressure bulkhead double room
  • 3rd night main gear well room
  • 4th night engine #2 (room under construction)

Engine room, under construction

The only downside is that if you have interests or work in the city, the commute to the airport is long.

Only a few of the rooms have their own bathroom. But this was probably my only time that I've had a shower in an aircraft!

The shower in the cockpit room

By the way, Stockholm is an excellent city to visit. I like the Medieval Museum and the Wasa Museum in particular. You can also fish right in the city center:

Fishing in Stockholm city center

More Pictures

Engine room entrance

Upper deck entrance

Pressure bulkhead double room

Cockpit room entrance and room number

Main deck corridor

It is never a good sign to see rental car company signs from the cockpit

Pilots need a toy

Side corridor in the back

Rear door, leading to the washroom

Normal cabins sleep 2-3 people (but no bathroom)

The single room in the back (has bathroom)

Upper deck lounge area (part of cockpit suite)

What did they DO to her?

Photos and videos (c) 2012 by Jari Arkko

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Carrying Skis to 17,000 ft

Base camp kitchen tent glowing in the night

It is usually easy to write these articles. But now I even don't know where to start. Should I talk about the skiing at 17,000 ft? The ice climbing to get there? Or spending a night in a tent at five kilometers? How sick I felt at the altitude? The craziness of climbing at these altitudes just hours after arrival, with no acclimatization at all? Or how my guides had been telling everyone I'm the chico loco, a crazy boy who skis mountains naked? (Based on seeing a blog article where I skied in a swimsuit on my local hill.) Or how the climb went from fun to an almost tragedy for my friend? And how my guide saved the situation by carrying her off the mountain on his back? For ten kilometers... and I had trouble keeping up behind them.

But all was well, in the end. And this entire experience lasted just 48 hours. A weekend to remember, if any...



Views from the hike to the glacier

My goal for the weekend was climbing up Bolivia's 5,320 meter (17,000 ft) Tarija Peak - with my skis. Higher than I've ever been skiing or climbing, by a margin of a kilometer! Still, Tarija was a mere hill on the neighboring 6000+ meter peaks of the Cordillera Real.

Laguna Chiar Kota and the site of our base camp at 4700 meters





Getting to Bolivia

Departure from Miami on an American Airlines 757

Flying to Bolivia is surprisingly easy. American Airlines flies there daily from Miami. I took this flight on a Friday evening after my work was done for the week, slept in the plane, and landed in La Paz, Bolivia's biggest city at 6 AM. But while this itinerary sounds simple, the flight was exciting. First of all, El Alto, La Paz's airport is one of the highest airports in the world, sitting at 4061 meters. Arriving passengers sometimes pass out on arrival. All of us are familiar with how our ears pop as aircraft land and the air pressure rises inside. Our ears popped when we approached La Paz, too, but due to pressure dropping, as the pilots allowed the inside pressure to gradually normalize to the outside environment. This happened while we were still in air. The picture below shows pressure altitude being at almost four kilometers inside the aircraft, while we are still in the air. I do hope the pilots were donning their oxygen masks, as having them suddenly lose consciousness during the approach would have been bad.

Cabin altitude almost 4 kilometers while we are still in the air

But we had no problems, and I didn't feel anything special at the airport. The crew from Bolivian Mountain Guides was at the airport to meet me: the guide, driver, secretary, the small kid and the teenager. What an expedition! We took my gear to the hotel in La Paz, situated a bit lower, at altitudes between 3700 and 4100 meters. The hotels in La Paz offer essential amenities such as oxygen. But I felt OK without.


La Paz sits in a valley surrounded by the high altitude plains.

But we continued, and took off for a three hour drive towards the mountains.

Dusty road trip

Base Camp

In the beginning, the going was easy. I felt good after hiking an hour to the base camp, situated at 4700 meters near the Laguna Chiar Kota lake. The evening was fun as our expedition cook kept bringing us more and more food.

Base camp

Tarija Peak from the base camp lake (the small peak above the large glacier on the right)

Kitchen tent - the best restaurant in all of Bolivia

There were a couple of other climbing teams in the same camp, but my guiding company had the biggest setup. They had three guides, a cook, two clients, and four tents in addition to the kitchen tent. We also employed a couple of local teenage girls for running a few mules up to the camp with our gear, including my skis.

Ski transport

Expedition transport personnel

The base camp was on a rocky but level ground near the incredibly beautiful lake. Our crew tried fishing from the lake, but failed to catch any fish this time. (In school I had learned that the world's highest lake is Titicaca, but it is a kilometer lower than our base camp lake. I made an Internet search to find out that there are actually lakes and ponds all the way to 6,390 meters! Titicaca is merely the highest lake with commercial ship traffic. Lame.)

Prettiest bathroom in the world? Maybe the coldest, too.

Plains surrounding the base camp

Taking a break in the sun

Climb

Spending the night in a tent at this altitude felt a bit uncomfortable, however, and in the 5AM approach march I was almost ready to turn back. There were no severe signs of altitude sickness, but I was tired and had lost my appetite. But since we were not gaining much altitude, I kept continuing in an effort to at least see the snow and maybe ski a few meters before turning back.

Start of the glacier climb

But after reaching the start of the glacier and eating some food, I suddenly felt much better. Crampons were on, and I felt good. Not quite running up the mountain, but almost. Food made the difference? Or moral boost from reaching snow? Hard to tell, but we continued. I reached my new goal of climbing to 5000 meters. But I still felt OK, so we continued. The last two hundred meters were tough, however.

Nearing the top

Reaching the top of Tarija Peak

I initially decided to just reach the main ridge, but then the steep snow cover on the face towards Tarija tempted me to climb a bit to ski the steepest initial part. Then I was so close to 5300 meters that it would just make sense to climb a few more meters... and then my guide insisted that the top of Tarija ja just a few more meters higher than us... and then I was at the top. Or the top of the skiable part; I chose not to climb the knife edge a little bit further on the same ridge of mountains that might have been the proper peak of Tarija, as it would have required proper ice climbing, and I felt it would be better ski back to lower altitudes as soon as possible.

Tarija Peak, 5300 meters

Still, climbing this high this fast may not have been the smartest thing to do. I was at the top of the mountain just 30 hours after having arrived in the dizzying heights of La Paz. Not much time for acclimatization.

Top altitude per my altimeter

Skiing

Four minutes. Fast, on icy and hard snow, and no stopping. The snow was in perfect condition, fun to ski.

Skiing


Details, details, ...

Bolivia is best reached through La Paz, and there are plenty of climbing and skiing opportunities nearby. The world's highest ski area, Chacaltaya, sits nearby at 5,430 meters, but has been closed as the glacier melted away. It does get occasional snow, however. Bolivian Climbing Guides and other local agencies can help you in any climbing expeditions. Just be aware that explorations in these mountains are very dangerous both due to the high altitudes and being far away in the wilderness. You need a self-sufficient team to deal with any emergencies. There are no helicopters to rescue anyone, for instance - we tried.

Miami airport, about to depart to Bolivia

Airport views before sunrise

Skiing

The glacier

Photo and video credits (c) 2012 by Jari Arkko, with some help from the Bolivian Mountain Guides



Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Zoetermeer

Snowworld in the evening

I was beginning to get bored. On a ski hill. I had gotten a great deal on the lift ticket, eight hours plus a dinner for less than the two hour ticket would have been. But the downside was that I'd have to stay until dinner time, and all I had was this tiny slope. And a crowd of beginners on it. 

Then I saw it. An opening into a tunnel, with "Doorgang naar piste 3" on the top. I had missed the main slope. Embarrassed, I skied through the tunnel to find a proper size slope, with no beginners disturbing me or me disturbing them.



Beginner run

The "doorgang"

Snowworld

Snowworld is located in Zoetermeer, 60 kilometers from Amsterdam. The ski area has a nice beginner run "Jungfrau", a snowboard park "Eiger Slope", and a long main slope "Wallis". The main slope is 210 meters long, but has a reasonable 20% steepness. The main slope straight and has little extra features, however. But it is good enough to be used in race practices, and can certainly keep you occupied for a couple of hours easily.

It takes 15 seconds to ski the main slope. (No turns are required.)

The main slope

Snow park

After-Ski

As noted, Snowworld sells package deals where their restaurants serve dinners once you are done skiing. The package dinner is in a Swiss-style restaurant that serves barbecue food (!). While the meats were not particularly impressive (and I am not a big meat eater anyway), the salad bar was quite impressive. I enjoyed my meal.

But the big thing for me was Bierstube, the local after-ski bar. They had live music. I repeat, a living, breathing band in an indoor ski area! On a Friday night the bar was pretty packed. Recommended!

The singer

Band playing

Details, Details

A two hour ticket would have been 32€, but I got a great deal for an eight hour ticket plus dinner for 29€.

There are also other package deals, including a 78€ deal that includes also one night's accommodation.

Entrance to the Snow World
The summer deal

Verdict

The Snowworld has quite a bit variation in its many slopes, even if the main slope is perhaps a bit too simplistic for my taste. You can certainly spend many hours here, however, and it is also perfect for race practice.

But where Snowworld excels is the quality of after-ski. Live band in an indoor ski area is unheard of. I've toured a big fraction of the world's indoor ski areas, and Snowworld has certainly the best after-ski. Recommended!

Main slope from the outside - note the horse!

Ski lifts


One-stop shopping: Ski area and crematorium

Inside the "doorgang"

Photo and video credits (c) 2012 by Jari Arkko