Mount Vinson is the highest mountain in Antarctica at 4892m and one of the 7 summits. It was discovered in 1958, by a US Navy aircraft. It was first climbed in 1966.
If Mount Vinson were not one of the 7 summit few people would go there. It is a beautiful mountain, but besides being the highest in Antarctica there is nothing remarkable about it that would cause people to go to such lengths to climb it.
This will be my third expedition to Mount Vinson. I summited in 2011 to complete my 7 summits and again in 2016 when I guided a group of ill and injured Canadian soldiers and veterans to the summit.
After we have skied to the South Pole we will fly into Vinson Base Camp and spend a day or two resting and getting ready for the work ahead. At Base Camp we will have a large group dome tent for meals and socializing. We will also have smaller personal sleeping tents. Meals at Vinson Base Camp are more luxurious that what we eat on the South Pole ski expedition. Because we can fly food in and do not need to carry it very far we can eat hamburgers, pasta, fresh vegetables, pancakes and more. Once we head up the mountain we will be back to the lighter and calorie dense freeze-dried foods.
The logistics company ALE has a team at Base Camp to help expeditions when in need. They provide daily weather forecasting and are there to help in an emergency. Because of their dedication, climbing Mount Vinson is relatively safe.
From Base Camp we will bike up a snow and ice glacier to what is called Low Camp. This will take us 6-8 hours depending upon our speed and the snow conditions. We will pull our gear in sleds and this will make things a little easier. Along the way we will be surrounded by the beautiful faces of Vinson Massif which Mount Vinson is the peak of. As the glacier moves over steeper ground and turns a corner there are quite a few crevasses in the area that we need to be mindful of. We will travel roped together for safety in case someone breaks through the surface and falls into a crevasse (this is unlikely).
Once at Low Camp we will set up our tents and take a rest day. Usually teams will spend some time here to acclimatize, but since we have just spent 10 days at 10,000’ we are pre-acclimatized, but will still hang out a day or two to rest and fuel up for the big climb ahead.
From Low Camp we will walk about an hour to the base of the Head Wall. This huge 45-degree slope ascends about 1200m. We will be roped together and be walking in crampons and have our ice axes for additional safety. We will ascend a fixed rope that is installed at the start of each climbing season. We will attach ourselves to this rope as we climb to provide a safety net in case of a fall.
Ascending the Head Wall can take 6 or more hours and we usually take a break half way for lunch. The conditions can be rock hard ice or nice soft and fluffy snow. I am hoping for the later of the two.
We will emerge from the Head Wall tired and will walk into strong winds coming off the summit plateau. This last walk to High Camp will take another 1-2 hours over rolling ground. This part can be quite draining as your body is almost out of reserves by this point.
High Camp is located at 3773m in a large flat spot with beautiful views all around. We will set up our tents and make sure they are extra secure to withstand the hurricane winds that can rock through camp.
If the weather is favourable we will take a rest day to recover from the steep climb to High Camp and to acclimatize further. The following day we will head out for the summit. The trail out of High Camp follows a huge plateau that rises slowly over many kilometers until we reach the Summit Ridge. The plateau is usually relatively protected from the wind, but once we emerge onto the Summit Ridge the wind is often raging and hyper cold. Any exposed ski will be frozen in seconds so everyone must be prepared with parka, goggles, face mask, and warm gloves.
The Summit Ridge is a beautiful, narrow and steep ridge that traverses for several hundred meters to the summit. Walking across a narrow ridge sometimes a few feet wide you can look down one side 700 feet and the other 1000 feet. It is spectacularly beautiful and scary at the same time. If you are strong, have worked well as a team, and prepared well, and had a bit of luck, after about 6-8 hours after leaving High Camp you will reach the summit for an amazing photo.
We won’t spend too much time on the top as we are only halfway and need to get back to the safety of camp before we run out of gas. The walk back to High camp is easier, but fatigue is setting in and it can seem like an eternity to get there.
Once back at High camp you collapse into your tent and try to rest and get some calories into your body to help you recover. After a night of rest you will pack up the next morning and make your way all the way to Base Camp which will seem warm and inviting in comparison to where you have just been.
We will then fly back to the main base at Union Glacier to await our flight back to Chile for a hot shower, great food and a soft, warm bed.