Week in the Life the United States Extreme sports team: `Let's ski down Antarctica's tallest mountain...'

DOUG STOUP has always had a crazy dream: to be the first person to snowboard down the highest peak in Antarctica. Last month, he and five equally determined friends well used to the rigours of extreme sports, set out from Los Angeles, armed with both ski gear and camera equipment, to scale the 16,000ft Vinson Massif. But they only got as far as Punta Arenas, in Chile, before they encountered what they came to call "the storm of the century".

After a week of eating, drinking and going for long hikes on the plains of southern Chile - they grew so restless they imagined the pigs had turned into monsters and the trees looked like Marge Simpson's hairdo - the skies cleared just enough for them to fly to Patriot Hills, their base camp, and from there to the bottom of the mountain, just in time for another lashing from the elements.

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THURSDAY: "Antarctica is quite unforgiving - minus 5F (minus 20C) in the shade, but Sahara heat in the sun," observes Stoup. Doug Coombs, a twice world extreme skiing champion, is crazy enough to run around without a shirt, but the euphoria cannot last. After the team's first taste of skiing, on a 45-degree headwall between camps 2 and 3, the snow sets in and shows no signs of letting up. The group concentrates on sleeping as much as possible.

"Any time you go this high it takes a lot out of your body," Stoup says. "Your hair stops growing. As long as you keep very hydrated, keep food and fuel you can keep going, at least for a while." The team's supplies include a 5,000-calorie-a-day diet, but they each expect to lose 15-20lb on the trip.

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FRIDAY: Coombs reports from Camp 2. "Our progress is kind of bleak. It's snowing - it's been snowing for 15 hours... We're up to three or four inches right now, about 8 per cent moisture content, good skiing snow. I think my sleep technology is really wired now; I'm learning how to sleep anytime, all the time ... With 24 hours of daylight, the hottest time of the day is from about four until midnight."

Holed up at the camp, there is no immediate danger. As Mark Sicola, base- camp co-ordinator, observes: "Wind is what really kills you out here."

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SATURDAY: "We're lucky enough is some ways to get all this powder, but it's keeping us trapped for a while and we're concerned about avalanche hazard up higher on the mountain," says Mark Newcomb. With the wind down, other members nevertheless decide to ski two couloirs near camp 2.

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SUNDAY: "The storm of the century continues today and 18in of new snow has accumulated at camp 2 (10,000ft) over the past 48 hours," says Wade McKoy, the main photographer. "We've been stuck in our tents for three days passing the time with the usual reading, card games and journal entries."

When the weather clears briefly, three of the skiers descend to base camp with waste and collect more food and fuel. "Newcomb was itching to do something and Coombs is always itching to do something. I think they wanted to get the heck out of here," says McKoy.

When they return, the team spends two hours building a cooking alcove, service bar and exercise corner out of the ice. They are now rising at noon and going to bed at 3am.

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MONDAY: The storm is over, at last. "We have moved to camp 3 - almost 13,000ft," Stoup reports. "The team is now in striking distance of the summit. We are all amped and poised."

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TUESDAY: The team reaches the summit of the Vinson Massif. Although it is cloudy as they set off from camp 3 at 1pm, the weather clears as evening approaches and the climb is flawless. "We are standing around in complete sunshine looking out to the vast horizon," reports Stephen Koch. "It's just absolutely beautiful, couldn't ask for better weather, really. Minus 20F (minus 30C) on top with no wind chill."

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WEDNESDAY: The dream is realised, as the team ski and snowboard down Vinson. "We're happy and excited. Everybody is in great spirits," Stoup reports. Exhilarated, Coombs and two others set off straight away to climb Mount Shinn, the next-door mountain that stands just 300ft shorter. "Out here you see miles and miles of ice-cap," marvels Stoup. "It reminds me of a desert... It's great for photography."

Are celebrations in order? "We still have several goals to meet," Stoup answers. "I'm not even thinking about celebrations, that's too far away."

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