Mountaineering :: Trekking :: Ski touring


This was my 8th season working in Antarctica and my 6th season working for Adventure Network International (ANI). After initial season start up jobs in Punta Arenas and Union Glacier I spent most of the season based at Mt Vinson. This was a busy season for ANI in Antarctica with several expedition projects and events timed to coincide with the centenary of Amundsen's arrival at the South Pole in Dec 1911 and Scott's in Jan 1912. Party as a consequence of this increased ANI activity at the South Pole the total number of climbers visiting Mt Vinson was slightly less than in recent years. Over a period of ten weeks approx 150 climbers reached the summit of Mt Vinson. Additionally 14 people climbed Mt Shinn and a private group of 3 climbers from Austria made a rare ascent of Mt Tyree.

The ANI team arrived to open Vinson Base Camp on 20th November 2011. Over the next few days the facilities at Camps 1 & 2 were opened and the fixed ropes were placed on the steepest section of the climb. There were only two ANI clients during the V1 rotation and it fell to me to guide them. The weather was cold and clear, and we made swift progress to Camp one on 21st Nov and Camp two on 22nd Nov. Conditions were clear for our summit climb on 23rd Nov but a combination of very cold temperatures and a stiff breeze made the final section of the climb quite challenging. My team of three was the first group of the 2011/12 season to reach the top of Mt Vinson. The sky was clear and we enjoyed great views over the Ellsworth mountain range and onto the Antarctic plateau. Experience has shown that strong winds can happen at any time of the season, however the air temperatures are usually coldest at the start of the season (late Nov) and at the end (late Jan). One of my clients completed his '7 summit quest' with the ascent of Mt Vinson and this climb was number 6 for the other climber. This was my 16th Vinson summit.

At the end of V1 the ANI ranger team conducted a rescue exercise using the emergency equipment stored on the mountain. This involved lowering a rescue sled from Camp two to Camp one using a 700m long rope. I was in Vinson Base Camp at this time, but was due to join the ranger team during V2. The task for the V2 rangers was to carry the rescue equipment back to its proper storage location. At this point we discovered that lowering a heavy sled down a steep snow slope was a lot easier than pulling it back uphill. Once this task had been completed the team of three rangers remained in Camp two offering safety cover for the other climbers on the mountain. After this the 3 ANI rangers climbed Mt Shinn (4660m) Antarctica's 3rd highest peak. It was a little cloudy on the summit ridge and although we saw brief glimpses of the neighboring peaks we did not enjoy clear views.

The remainder of the season went very smoothly. Weather conditions at VBC remained good for flight operations throughout the season and there were no significant delays to inbound or departing groups of climbers. Similarly there were no periods of prolonged poor weather on the mountain and all the visiting groups of climbers were able to make incident free ascents of Mt Vinson. At the end of V4 the ANI staff moved the camp 50m 'uphill' to counter the effects of the glacier movement. As VBC has become larger with more 'stuff' this task that used to be simple has now become more difficult and the Vinson staff were grateful for the arrival or a work team from Union Glacier camp to help with the move.

Snow conditions on the slopes close to VBC are not normally good for skiing. The surface is often icy with hard wind blown snow. This season the snow cover at heights of 2,100m - 2,700m was much better than usual for skiing. Throughout the season ANI staff and clients enjoyed some fine skiing on the slopes surrounding the Branscomb glacier close to Vinson Base Camp. High altitude weather balloons were seen floating over VBC on two separate days moving in a SW direction.  A Skua was also seen flying around VBC. These were both highly unusual events. In seven previous seasons at Vinson I had not seen either before. The final Vinson ascent of the season was made on 20th January 2012 by an ANI team of two guides, 2 rangers and 6 clients. Vinson Base Camp was closed down on 23rd January 2012.

Much of my time in the 2011/12 season was spent at Vinson Base Camp this is reflected in the selection of pictures on the right. For more climbing and skiing picture look at my Antarctic reports from previous seasons.

David Hamilton 15/2/2012

David Hamilton
High Adventure
67 Castle Road
CV10 0SG


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