Mount Vinson is the highest peak in Antarctica, at 4,892 meters. It is the most remote of the Seven Summits. There is no permanent civilization in the Vinson massif. It has only seasonably occupied camps with the expedition teams and the stuff, who settles in the summer time between November to January. The vast majority of prior climbs to the summit use the western side of the massif.
My journey to climb Mount Vinson took me December 2018 to a city called Punta Arenas in Chile. It is located on the Straits of Magellan. Punta Arenas is the southernmost part of South America and plays a major role in accessing Antarctica. There is only one flight that ensures the connection to Antarctica. It is an Ilyushin Il-76. It’s a four-engine heavy-lift freighter. It is made to operate in the worst weather conditions as this is considered as military and cargo aircraft. Illyshin is a name like Boeing.
The White Continent
The Illyushin II-76 flies from Punte Arena airport to Union Glacier, the main traffic hub in Antarctica. From Union Glacier Camp, there are flights to the South Pole, Vinson Massif, Hercules Inlet and further locations.
There are no flight controllers in Union Glacier. The machine lands on a blue-ice runways in Antarctica. For those reasons, it flies only when the weather conditions are perfect.
Our flight was postponed twice. The flight took 4 hours and the setup was very unusual one. We were just 60 passengers and there were only two windows and a composite toilet. As we landed in Antarctica, the temperature was around -10 degrees Celsius. We transferred in a huge snow truck to Union Glacier at 700 meters. We received a detailed briefing on how to use the facilities there. Our double occupancy tents were already setup and looked luxurious with camping beds with a table and a carpet.
Moving to Base Camp
The next day, we left with a ski-equipped DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft to Vinson Base Camp at 2.130 meters. The bad weather condition made the flight suspended. We met our guides and the whole Base Camp staff. The Base Camp set was luxurious for such a remote place. We stayed in huge tents. The dinning tent and living area were heated with solar power. We had a cook too. He prepared us fresh food and 3 course meals daily.Climbers were waiting for a flight for one week. We met our guides and the whole Base Camp staff. The Base Camp set was luxurious for such a remote place for its big tents. We had a cook too. He prepared us fresh food and 3 course meals daily.
We spent three days in Base Camp. We spent them doing an acclimatization hike, packing gear and food for the higher camps. Then, we moved to low camp at 2.750 meters. We pulled some of our gear on sleds. We had also setup our tents. From now on, biological need Nr. 2 has to be done in big toilet bags. We had an dinning tent with chairs made from ice.
We stayed two more days in Low Camp before we left to High Camp at 3.710 meters due to a storm. The route to High Camp is steep. There is a section of fixed line on slopes up to 45 degrees on the journey. This part was demanding especially because we were carrying all our load and summit gear. So our backpacks were pretty heavy. Some other teams went up in two rotations. In this way they divided the load.
As we reached High Camp the wind started picking up. By the way we setup in our tents, it became so strong and reached around 60km/h. I was sharing my tent with my Filipino Team Mate. We were focused on preparing our summit clothing. We were spoiled. Our guides were providing us with hot water. We were able to prepare our food in our tents. We had expeditions special dry food. This exists in different variations like noodle with cheese or with salmon. It’s already cooked and dried. So what it needs is some hot water. After few minutes it becomes ready to serve. The advantage of dry food is that it is very light and it is very easy to prepare.
The night in High Camp was cold and very windy. Our tent was shaken the whole night. In the morning we woke up at 6. Got ready for the summit push. We divided our team in two groups. The first group started earlier that us. They were supposed to check, how the weather conditions are higher up. after less than one hour, we got the information, that they have passed the weather front. So we followed them.
After almost 5 hours of steady steps, we reached the roof of Antarctica. The last part before the summit plateau requires some scrambling. We had an amazing view of the white continent. We made few pictures and soon our fingers started to freeze. We hurried up to go down. It’s when all remaining expeditions encountered us on the way to the summit.
Once we reached High Camp, we took a good rest. The following day, we went in extreme strong winds up to 80km7h down. The lower we came, the weaker the winds became. Once in Low Camp, we made a short break, picked up the gear and the trash we left and we continued our way to Base Camp.
We were very happy to join the Base Camp staff. They prepared a nice reception for us. All the amenties in Base Camp felt so luxurious after few days in Vinson remote Camps. We enjoyed some rest and we were looking forward to fly back to Union Glacier soon.
The weather didn’t allow any machine to fly. We spent 10 days in Base Camp waiting for a clear weather. It was ironic. Normally such waitings are more for the summit days. Once the sky cleared up, we were very glad to hear the sound of the flight coming to bring supplies to Base Camp and to bring us back to Union Glacier. Luckily the weather stayed stable in this part of the peninsula. We reached Punta Arenas two days after.
What a journey!