So let’s start with the headline: I travelled to Antarctica to climb Mount Vinson and reached the summit at 7:00pm on December 5th 2021. You can stop reading now unless you want to find out what made this expedition truly challenging.
It all started at Vinson Base Camp, simply known as VBC by the climbing conoscenti. Our small group of four climbers arrived at VBC from Union Glacier in a Twin Otter aircraft equipped with skis. To get the gear from the plane to our tents we used orange plastic sleds. Standing by the plane I thought “Nice! No hauling packs today baby. This cheap orange piece of crap is my ticket to ride.”
With my gear dumped in the sled, I grabbed a thin rope at the front end and set out for the far side of basecamp. All hope of sledding bliss was destroyed over the next 100 meters.
After a few steps, on a downhill slope, the sled slammed into the back of my boots. “That’s a bit annoying” I thought. I then climbed up a low ridge in the snow and it felt like I was dragging a shipping container uphill using a piece of dental floss. Continuing on the downslope of the ridge, I anticipated the ‘whack’ on my boots that was inevitable as the sled obeyed gravity. Damn. This short journey included a moment with me staring at my gear on the ice after it was ejected by the sled for no reason at all (as far I’m concerned.) This was going to be a slow descent into hell.
The leader of our expedition, Justin, assured me this short, and irritating, introduction to pulling a sled would get sorted once we were roped in on the ice and the sleds properly tied. He lied. He had to. If he told me the truth I would have stayed in my tent.
Climbing safely on a glacier means roping up with your fellow climbers. Imagine a happy conga line of people progressing up a glacier, or down a glacier, with a rope running between each climber, secured to their harness. Now insert sleds. Absolute hell.
The climber behind you is ultimately responsible for making sure the sled you’re hauling doesn’t slam into you. You are responsible for the keeping the sled in front of you from taking out the climber you’re following. Imagine going across a slope when your sled wants to go sideways. F*ck.
At one point I had a shouting match with my sled. He didn’t try to defend himself. He just sat their on the ice looking bored. Imagine Tom Hanks in Cast Away talking to Wilson.
I reached the summit of Mount Vinson, the highest peak in Antarctica. It is one of the highlights of my lifetime of climbing. Despite the sleds.
PS the overwhelming beauty of Antarctica has to be seen to be believed. I will write another post about this aspect of the expedition.