Mountaineering :: Trekking :: Ski touring


In December 2003 I led my first expedition to the Vinson Massif in Antarctica for Jagged Globe with two clients.  We reached the summit of Vinson on 15 December and the summit of Mt Shinn on 17 December. This is a copy of the report which appears on the Jagged Globe website of the expedition.

David Hamilton


Website Report - Vinson Massif 2003

The expedition group (Rob Gambi, Jo Gambi,and David Hamilton ) left the UK on 26 November and arrived in Punta Arenas, Chilean Patagonia on 27/28 November.  Unsuitable weather at the Patriot Hills base in Antarctica led to an 11 day delay and the group did not fly to Antarctica until 10 December.  The 4 hour flight from the South American mainland over the Drake Passage in a large Russian cargo aircraft was very interesting, with great views of icebergs and sea ice from the navigator's position in the glass nosecone.

The team flew from the ALE (Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions) base at Patriot Hills to Vinson Base Camp on the Branscomb Glacier in a ski equipped Twin Otter aircraft on 11 December.  The weather remained perfect for the next six days, with 24hr sunlight and clear blue skies.  Daytime temperatures were warmer than expected and it was only cold at night when the sun disappeared behind the surrounding mountains and temperatures fell to -25°C.  From Base Camp (2110m) the team moved all their equipment to Camp 1 (2770m) in 7hrs on 12 Dec, followed by a load carry to Camp 2 (3700m) on 13 Dec (7hrs up and 3hrs down), and a move to Camp 2 in 6hrs on 14 Dec.

Monday 15 Dec was another day of perfect weather with clear skies and little wind.  The team were feeling strong and well acclimatised and decided to try for the 4897m summit of Mt Vinson.  The route was a little longer than expected.  A gently angled trek up a glacier to 4660m took 7 hours.  This was followed by steeper snow slopes (up to 40°), leading to the rocky West Ridge, exposed to cold winds.  This led to the summit marker which was reached just after 8.00pm, about 10 hours after starting out from Camp 2.  The summit was quite cold and windy but the views were excellent.  All the main peaks in the surrounding Ellsworth Mountains could be clearly seen and an unbroken sea of ice stretched as far as the distant horizon in all directions.  The team descended the East Ridge completing a traverse of the summit pyramid before rejoining the ascent route at 4600m and following this back to Camp 2.  An American group led by Phil Erschler reached the summit on the same day following the same route.

The following day was spent resting in Camp 2 and on Wednesday 17 Dec the Jagged Globe team decided to climb Mt Shinn 4660m located approx 9km north of Vinson.  This also required a long glacier approach to within 250m of the summit.  The final section was a little more difficult than Mt Vinson with sections of Alpine PD in snow filled gullies with short rock steps.  Fortunately this was accomplished in fine weather although it was possible to see that the weather pattern was changing on the surrounding peaks.  The heavily corniced summit was a great vantage point for taking photographs and admiring the surrounding peaks including Epperly, Tyree and Gardner to the North and Vinson to the South.  By the time the team returned to Camp 3 after a 12 hour day the weather had deteriorated considerably with high winds and driving snow.  This continued for the next 3 days and the group were trapped in Camp 3 awaiting an improvement.  On 21 Dec the weather improved sufficiently to allow the group to descend to Vinson Base Camp and a Twin Otter was dispatched from Patriot Hills to collect them on the same evening.  After 7 nights spent at Camp 3 the comfortable facilities at Patriot Hills were very welcome.  Everyone enjoyed one of Fran's delicious meals in the mess tent sitting on proper chairs at a proper table, with a glass or two of finest Chilean wine (out of a box).  The sit down toilet with washing facilities was also much appreciated.

Thus ended a trip which had given a great insight into mountaineering in the Antarctic environment, combining ascents of Mt Vinson & Mt Shinn in good weather with a taste of what an Antarctic storm can be like.  Thank goodness it was the middle of summer and temperatures never fell below -30°C.  In winter temperatures of -80°C are not uncommon! And it is dark for 24hrs…



David Hamilton
High Adventure
67 Castle Road
CV10 0SG


Telephone:    From UK    02476 395422
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Skype:  davidhamilton8848

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