Mountaineering :: Trekking :: Ski touring


This was the second expedition that I led to Antarctica for Jagged Globe  providing me the opportunity to make a repeat ascent of Mt Vinson that I had climbed in 2003. This is a copy of the report that appears on the Jagged Globe website.

David Hamilton


Jagged Globe Mt Vinson 19 Nov - 6 Dec 2005

Jagged Globe Mt Vinson 2 Dec - 20 Dec 2005

On Thursday 15th December 2 Jagged Globe leaders and 5 clients reached the summit of Mt Vinson 4,897m, the highest peak in Antarctica.  This was one of the most successful expeditions that we have run to this extremely remote destination, with all the climbers who attempted the peak reaching the summit.  However the transport delays that are unavoidable in travelling to this part of the world played a large part in changing the shape of the expedition itinerary.

Jagged Globe planned two separate expeditions to Mt Vinson for the late 2006 climbing season in Antarctica, one departing the UK on Nov 19th, the other on Dec 2nd.  In a 'normal season groups visiting Antarctica using the ALE flights from Punta Arenas in Chilean Patagonia can expect a delay of a few days at the start or the end of their journey. ALE quote an average delay of 4-5 days.  In reality the first JG group was delayed for 10 days in Punta Arenas.  The second group had no delay, and as a result both groups arrived at Vinson base camp within 48 hours of each other, combined forces and climbed together.

Group one (David Hamilton, Stephen Hoddy, Gareth Stewart, Tom McGrath) made good use of their enforced stay in Punta Arenas, a city of 120,000 people situated on the Magellan Straits at the southern tip of South America.  In addition to developing an encyclopaedic knowledge of every restaurant, museum, monument, bar and nightclub in this sleepy windswept town they also made a 3 day visit to the nearby Torres del Paine National park and visited the Penguin colony at Seno Otway.

There was considerable relief in the party when the weather conditions at Patriot Hills in Antarctica improved sufficiently for the flight to operate on 3 December.  The 4 hour flight over the Drake Passage to Antarctica in a huge windowless Russian cargo plane is one of more bizarre and exciting elements of this expedition.  The landing on the blue ice runway is pretty bumpy and it takes the plane about 3km to come to a stop.  Prior to our arrival strong winds, driving spindrift and unexpectedly low temperatures had made life at Patriot Hills very difficult.  However we arrived in bright sunshine with only light winds and temperatures of a very reasonable -20°C.

It took a few hours to build a strong wall of snow blocks to protect our tents form the high winds that we were warned could return at short notice.  We also dug a small hole to keep our frozen foods cold (steak, sausages, bacon, chicken, fish etc).  We had a day in Patriot Hills (a collection of tents and temporary buildings clinging to the ice) to get used to life in Antarctica.  Some people found the 24hrs sunlight harder to get used to than others.

The following day (4 December) we flew for an hour in a small ski equipped Twin Otter aircraft following the peaks of the Ellsworth Range to Vinson base camp 2110m.  On arrival we were met by several teams who had just climbed Vinson.  They reported tales of unexpectedly cold temperatures (down to -45°C) and bad weather.  Although the majority of the climbers had made it to the summit they all looked considerably worse for wear.

We were then treated to a few days of calm and settled weather.  Temperatures inside the tent were quite reasonable and outside the air was not much below -20°C.  Stephen Hoddy chose to leave the expedition and return to the UK - although he was subsequently stuck at patriot Hills for 12 days waiting for a flight out of Antarctica.  Gareth Stewart, Tom McGrath and David Hamilton carried a light load to 'half camp' on 6 December, and moved with a week's supply of food and fuel to Camp one 2770m on 7 December.

The only really cold night of the whole trip was the night of 7 December that Team One experienced at camp one when the thermometer on the outside of the tent went off the bottom of the scale. It only went down to -35°C.  Team one placed some equipment at 'high camp' 3700m on the Shinn / Vinson col on 8 December (5hrs up and 3 hrs down) returning to sleep at Camp one.

Jagged Globe's 'Team two' (Keiran Whitefield, Rhys Jones and Mark Timmis led by Adele Pennington) had enjoyed a smoother journey since their departure from the UK on 2 December and arrived at Vinson Camp one on 8 December.  From this point both groups combined and climbed together.

On 9 December we dismantled all the tents at Camp one and began the climb to high camp. However it soon became apparent that strong winds on the headwall section leading to the col would make the ascent unacceptably unpleasant and we returned to the site of camp one to re-pitch the tents.  Snow fell all through the night of the 9th and into the 10th.  Around 50cm fell in relatively 'warm' and windless conditions.  By the afternoon of the 11th the snow had stopped and was replaced by strong winds gusting unpredictably from all directions.  The windspeed was steady at around 40 knots with gusts up to 60 knots.  Adele and David spent several hours outside during the storm reinforcing the defensive walls protecting the tents.  Despite the ferocity of the winds only one tent pole broke and there was only minor damage to one of the team's 3 tents.

The weather improved on the 12th and 13th of December, but was not good enough to justify moving to high camp.  The long awaited improvement finally happened on 14 December and the whole group moved from Camp one to high camp taking between 4 and a half and 6 hours for the climb.  This was followed by 3 hours of arduous digging to create a 'bomb proof' encampment in case the storm struck again.  The night of the 14th was cold, clear an calm.  Of the four expeditions camped on the Col we were the first to start for the summit at 09.15 on the morning of the 15th.  Weather conditions were perfect.  There was not a cloud in the sky and there was virtually no wind.  Down clothing was unnecessary and we made the climb to the summit in almost 'warm' condition.  We made good progress across the long gently angled slopes that lead to this final summit pyramid before opting to climb the slightly steeper 'right hand' route to the top.  This gave 300m of interesting climbing, initially on a 35° snow slope and then on an interesting ridge of snow with occasional rock pinnacles to avoid.  This route led directly to the summit which we reached at 16.10, just under 7 hrs after starting out.  We spent more than 30 mins on the top taking pictures and admiring the boundless views over Antarctica.  Conditions were not cold and we were able to remove our gloves without fear of losing our fingers!

The descent to high camp took 3 hours, and the following day we returned to Vinson Base Camp collecting all the equipment from camp one on the way past.  The Twin Otters took the group back to Patriot Hills on the 17th, and miraculously the Illyushin flight from Punta Arenas which had been delayed for more than a week arrived on the 18th and took everyone back to the mainland of South America.

Everyone had a very enjoyable time and all were thrilled to have experienced the uniqueness of the Antarctic environment and reached the summit of Vinson.  The fact that 'team two' returned home exactly on schedule while 'team one' were 2 weeks late just serves to illustrate that fact that there is a large element of unpredictability in all schedules and itineraries in this part of the world - and all travellers should be aware of this.

David Hamilton  23/12/05

David Hamilton
High Adventure
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