When I was younger, I often wondered whether I would ever stand in a place that escapes definition because it is so unlike any other place on earth. A place that I would struggle to describe because the visual and emotional references demand a new vocabulary. A place that only a few have ever witnessed.
Spending 12 days climbing in Antarctica, reaching the summit of the Vinson Massif, I am satisfied that I have been to such a place. During my time on Vinson I wrote little sketches about my experiences. These are a few of them.
“The wind storm tonight is insane. I have never experienced such violence. It comes in inconsistent gusts. The four Anemoi take an enormous breath and exhale with anger. There is a brief moment of calm as they inhale to fill their lungs. But you know the Anemoi will exhale again. I have felt at times that the tent would collapse under the force. There is no sleeping tonight.”
“The wind storm continues this morning but it’s lost some of last night’s enthusiasm. No one got much sleep. There was no precipitation, simply wind carrying snow at great speed. There are drifts everywhere. Some tents from teams that left for Camp 2 were flattened or damaged. I can not imagine what these teams must have experienced at the higher elevation.”
“There is a silence here which is eerie. An isolation. It does not bring any comfort to me. Instead I feel the mental strain of loneliness. Perhaps I need the noise of everyday life. I’m grateful for the presence of the other climbers on our team.”
“How strange to be in a place where the air is brutally cold while the sun delivers an unrelenting intensity. Moving up the mountain in direct sunlight I climbed today with a single layer even though the ambient temperature is -20C. We turned into a wind toward the top of the fixed lines that lead to High Camp and I put on my heavy parka.”
There are many more observations I recorded during the expedition, but these capture of the contrasts of this extraordinary place. Shouting violent winds that lead to an uncomfortable silence. Heat and cold in a strange co-existence that makes no sense. The Vinson Massif is a breathtaking paradox.