An unclimbed summit…. A new route…. In Antarctica… with clients! It doesn’t get much better or more challenging for a mountain guide. A season spent guiding on Mt Vinson and the South Pole had me tuned in to the polar environment and ready for a different challenge.
High winds were driving clouds through the mountains bordering the glacial basin in which our base camp was situated. The constant but ever changing sunlight helped us to identify a sharply defined arete on our chosen peak. Snow and rock gave a prehistoric spine direct to the highest point on a horizontal summit ridge.
The clarity of the air meant the distance was greatly fore-shortened. After a fair few hours of dragging our pulks across the vastness of the Schenz Glacier the ground began to subtly rise, Rounding a broad shoulder of moraine we were able to crampon up steep icy slopes until an exposed col gave us just enough flat ground for our tents. Above us our peak suddenly seemed a lot bigger. Fortifying ourselves for the climb ahead we feasted on Moroccan Lamb, ice cream, chocolate brownie and a box of Chile’s ‘finest’ red wine!
Next morning a couple of hours scrambling over the moraine brought us to the base of the ridge. We zig zagged up over rubble filled ledges with the occasional steeper step until a band of conglomerate buttress and gullies blocked the way. Forced out rightwards on to the steep snow and blue ice of the east face the exposure was immediate and intimidating. A gully allowed us to regain the ridge where it narrowed. Ahead a series of sculptured gendarmes blocked the way. However a succession of delightful wind scoops and snow ramps gave spectacular but easy climbing just below the difficulties of the crest with a couple of excursions onto the rock of the west face to add variety.
The difficulties and exposure steadily increased until we suddenly arrived at the summit. The ever present wind had died away and we were able to linger in the sunshine with spectacular views back down our line of ascent. Looking out to the south there were dozens of unclimbed peaks bordered by a mass of the Drake Icefall tumbling down from the high polar plateau.
Peering over the summit ridge we spied an easy scramble descent to the glacier. Steep slopes with the occasional crevasse and some clever route finding allowed us to pick up a natural line back across the west face and onwards to our camp. Quickly packing up we clipped into our skis and raced our pulks back to the expanses of the glacier below. A few short hours later we were enjoying a well deserved beer and a shower at a busy Union Glacier base camp.
Peace Peak 1869m by Windscoop Ridge PD 350m,
Soholt Hills, Ellsworth Mountains, Antarctica
First ascent: 8th January 2015
I'm currently on my way to Antarctica for another season guiding on the ice. I'll be working on Mt Vinson & Last Degree South Pole expeditions for ALE. Plenty of photos from last season on Flickr. back in the Uk for the cracking Scottish winter we've all been promised!