While already packing for a rapidly approaching 2018 Antarctic season, the joys of past new climbs and new peaks in Antarctica, as recounted in my American Alpine Club report, remind me again why there is no place like Antarctica.
I had previously completed the first solo ascent of a new route on a prominent ridge bordering the southwest face (The Rolex Ridge) and looked across at the huge unclimbed expanse of the mountain to the west of it. It took 10 years to organize the return and have a chance to climb it.
We departed Punta Arenas, flying on Adventure Networks Ilushin 76 to Patriot Hills, and then continued another hour in the air in a Single Otter over to Vinson the following day. We landed five miles away from our hoped for drop off point due to deteriorating weather. We had skis, so spent that night and the following four days skiing though mixed weather up to the base of the peak. From this side of Vinson, four long ridges lead out, separated by five glaciers, only two of which have been explored.
At the head of the glacier along the base of the mountain (8,300 feet) we reached a spectacular camp set on the col of a ridge suspended between two immense glaciers. In honor of the man who originally inspired our journey, Jim Clash, we named this the Clash Col.
The 7,000 foot face leading to the summit plateau didn’t appear to have any camp sites, so we made our first attempt on the peak in a single non-stop effort, that attained the top of the face, but left us still a good distance from the summit. We retreated for an 18-hour nap in the eternal sunshine, ate the rest of our food, and then on the evening of 4 January we set out again, utilizing a small ice nubbin to place a tent and rest at a high camp for four hours before continuing on the next morning.
We reached the plateau in eight hours, and another seven hours of wandering across the immense expanse of ice and up the summit ridge led us to the top at 1:30 a.m. on January 6.
The face itself offers a mix of snow, ice and the occasional rock band to climb through, at a gradient of 35° to 60° degrees. With a rapid elevation gain, views south toward the Pole open up over the ice rapidly and the final stroll across the summit plateau, all at over 15,000′, makes for a memorable experience to put it mildly.
Amongst our team, Peggy Foster became the first Canadian woman to complete a new route on Vinson, Intesar Haider became the first person from Bangladesh to ascend Vinson, Chris Heintz became the youngest person to complete a new route to the top of Antarctica, Bob Guthrie ascended two years after recovery from a potentially life threatening cancer, and Robert Anderson completed his third new route to the summit of Vinson Massif.