ALE's Union Glacier Camp is up and running for the 2017/18 season so time for an overview of this years Antarctic & South Pole Expeditions. Alongside the usual Mt Vinson and Last Degree expeditions there a number of more challenging projects and guided trips.
Ben Saunders (Trans-Antarctic Solo) - Solo, unsupported & unassisted manhaul attempt at an Antarctic crossing from the southern edge of Birkner Island to the South Pole and on to the Ross Ice Shelf via the Leverett Glacier. Based on Lt Col Henry Worsleys Solo Shackleton 2015/16 attempt. [solo, unassisted & unsupported]
Astrid Furholt - Two person team attempting an unassisted manhaul on the Roald Amundsen route by which the South Pole was first reached. Accessing the start point at Framheim by Twin Otter to the Ross Iceshelf and then by kite ski to the edge of the shelf. [unassisted]
Ice Maidens - Six women team from the British Army attempting an unsupported crossing of Antarctica from the Leverett Glacier on the Ross Ice Shelf to Hercules Inlet via the South Pole. Two resupplies at the South Pole and Thiel Mountains. This 1700km route was used by Felicity Aston in 2011/12 on her Kaspersky ONE Trans-Antarctic Expedition. [unsupported]
Ice Trek - A guided team of five attempting a new route from the Ross Ice Shelf to the South Pole via the Reedy and Kansas Glaciers
Scott Sears (Antarctic Gurkha) - Solo, unsupported & unassisted manhaul along the standard 700 mile Hercules Inlet route to the South Pole. [solo, unassisted & unsupported]
Yasu Ogita - Solo, unsupported & unassisted manhaul from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole. [solo, unassisted & unsupported]
Davar Rostuhar - Solo, unsupported & unassisted manhaul from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole. [solo, unassisted & unsupported]
ALE Ski South Pole - Guided team manhauling from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole. Two Guides Carl Alvey & Christain with five clients
Paul Landry (Polar Consultants) - Guided team man hauling from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole
Robert Swan Energy Challenge - Guided team of four man hauling from the Messner Start to the South Pole. Expedition running on 'renewable energy & bio fuels' during the manhauling phase.
Leo Houlding (Spectre) - An innovative attempt to combine climbing, man hauling and kite skiing. After an ALE Twin Otter drop off the expedition will comprise a 300km kite ski to the Organ Pipe Peaks in the Gothic Mountains, an attempt on the 750m buttress of the Spectre (2020m) and other unclimbed peaks, a 400km manhaul onto the polar plateau and a 1100km kite ski directly back to Union Glacier. [unassisted]
Unsupported - Support in Antarctica is usually provided by kites i.e. wind assisted or vehicles. Unsupported trips are typically manhauling on skis
Unassisted - Assistance is usually in the form of resupplies, either planned or emergency. All solo trips are unassisted by definition.
My first guiding rotation for ALE on Mt Vinson for the 2015-16 season got off to a good start. ALE were trialing using a Boeing 757 to transfer guests from Punta Arenas to the blue ice runway at Union Glacier. We flew business class with all the normal perks for only it's second landing in Antarctica
The weather was poor on arrival but a short delay brought better conditions and the oppurtunity to slingshot the whole climbing teamover to Vinson base camp by Basler & Twin Otter. Heavy snow and poor visibility sonn returned and we spent 4 days at camp awaiting improvements. The avalanche risk was high so we made a couple of sorties up the safer slopes towards low camp. My team of three were moving well and when the good conditions finally arrived we made good time up the mountain. Arriving at Low Camp we found the snow wallls built by the Ranger team (and a chain saw!) had been blown over by the previous bad weather. A quick rebuild and we settled in for a rest day in the sunshine. A couple of the team visited Sam's Col, a key passage on the original route by which the mountain was first climbed.
The follwoing day looked pretty marginal up high but the decision was made to move up putting us in a good position for the forecasted summit window. my team monstered the 1200m of fixed lines to arrive in the stunningly situated High Camp in a very quick 4.5 hours. The rest of the day was spent resting and rehydrating.
Summit day dawned without a breath of wind or a cloud in the sky. We were away by 9am breaking trail up the glacier towards the col between Mt Sublime & Vinson. Down jackets or gloves weren't required and just 5.5 hours later we were relaxing in the sun on the summit of the bottom of the world for the first ascents of the season. For NE it was his final mountain on his 7 Summits quest. Forty five minutes later we reluctently started our descent passing plenty of teams still ascending in the afternoon sunshine. A quick 2.15 hours later we were back at High Camp to be greeted by congratulations and hot water from the ALE Ranger team.
Our final day on the mountain also dawned with clear skies aiding another quick descent to Base Camp in 4 hours arriving literally minutes before our Twin Otter. The champagne was drunk, bags packed and photos taken before the spectacular flight back to Union Glacier. The teams good fortune continued with a flight back to Chile that evening. High Camp on Mt Vinson to the comforts of their hotel in Punta Arenas in one day!
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!
This weekend I've been working with Ryoko and Anthony, the former who has big plans involving skis on Mt Vinson and Denali. Not sure I can help her much with the skiing! so it was all about giving her the mountaineering and expedition skills to enable her to get up and down the mountains safely and look after herself in an extreme enviroment. Saturday was spent in a wet Stob Coire Nan Lochan focusing on crevasse rescue, ascending and descending fixed lines and avalanche avoidance. A better forecast for sunday tempted us up on to Ben Nevis which has had a surprising amount of new snow. Arguably the best grade II on the mountain is Ledge Route which is similar in technical difficulty to Mt Vinson although it is currently in very easy condition with all the rock steps banked out. Some good navigation practice got us off the back and down into Red Burn for a quick look at cold weather survival skills and emergency snow shelters.