Mountaineering :: Trekking :: Ski touring

 

This was my 11th season working in Antarctica and my 9th working for ANI. I had a long and interesting season arriving at Union Glacier on 10th November, and leaving Antarctica on the last customer flight on 24th January.

I spent the whole season at Mt Vinson, running the Base Camp for much of the time. I made two climbing trips during the season. From Dec 19th to 24th I climbed Mt Vinson together with 3 ANI clients. On Dec 28th & 29th I made a fast ski ascent of Mt Vinson and Mt Shinn. The short article below (written for the Eagle Ski Club yearbook) describes this trip.

A total of 215 climbers (guides and clients) attempted to climb Mt Vinson this season. 194 people were successful and there were 21 'repeat' ascents by guides. The total number of ascents of Mt Vinson was therefore 215. My ascents of Mt Vinson on 23rd and 28th Dec were my 18th and 19th of the peak, and on 29th Dec I climbed Mt Shinn for the 5th time.


Two days away from the office - skiing fast and light in Antarctica

I started working in Antarctica in 2003 as a climbing and skiing guide. During the intervening years my guiding work had reduced and my admin and management work has increased. In the 2014-15 season Mt Vinson Base Camp (2140m) was in operation for 63 days, and I was the BC Manager for 53 of them. I am not sure which of my previous jobs has best prepared me for being a combination of chef, radio operator, air traffic controller, baggage handler, maintenance man, toilet cleaner etc, but is interesting work in a unique environment.

The work is normally 24hrs a day, 7 days a week, with no programmed rest days. However an opportunity arose at the end of December for myself and Scott Woolums to combine a few small work tasks on the mountain with a 2 day recreation trip. Regular ascents of Mt Vinson (4897m) take 5-7 days and few parties climb neighbouring Mt Shinn 4610m, Antarctica's 3rd highest mountain, so it was an ambitious plan to try and ski both peaks in a two day window.

We cheated a bit by leaving work at 14.00hrs on Dec 27th. In 3 hrs we skinned up to Camp 1 at 2750m. After a short break we continued to Camp 2 at 3780m, arriving at 20.00. The following morning conditions were cold and clear with an air temperature of -20°C. We made a leisurely start and set off on hard windblown snow at 10.30. We removed skis to climb the final ridge on foot, a distance of 500m horizontally and 50 m vertically, reaching the summit at 15.00. 15 mins on the top, followed by 15 mins reversing the ridge, and 30 mins of high speed skiing on very firm snow saw us back at Camp 2 by 16.00.

The next morning we rose with more urgency. We had work to do back at VBC in the evening, and aimed to climb Mt Shinn and ski back to base before 21.00. This peak offers slightly more complex climbing than Mt Vinson, but is not a difficult ascent. We climbed 200m on skis before dropping down to Goodge Col at 3600m and began the 1000m climb to the summit. After crossing the large flat area on skis we switched to crampons for a short icy traverse before continuing on skis until 100m below the summit ridge. Ice axe, crampons and rope were used for climbing the corniced summit ridge and we reached the top at 15.15.

The first part of the descent gave the best skiing of the trip, following the moderately angled north slopes of Mt Shinn with great views over to Mt Vinson. The middle section required several hours of careful routefinding and ropework through a barrier of crevasses and seracs, while the lower section opened out into a high speed schuss down the lower Branscomb glacier to VBC.

I was back at my desk by 20.00 and managed to eat dinner with one hand while writing the evening VBC report on the laptop with the other. Everything was in order for the 21.00 radio call to Union Glacier, and we both agreed that we had made the best use of our two day 'holiday'.

David Hamilton 25th March 2015

David Hamilton
High Adventure
67 Castle Road
Hartshill
Nuneaton
Warwickshire
CV10 0SG

Email:  david@highadventure.org.uk

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