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.
An amazing week spent working for World Extreme Medicine in arctic Norway on their Polar Medicine course. The training focused on giving medics the skills to move and operate safely in this enviroment as well as specific cold weather medical knowledge. We looked at nordic skiing, snow mobiling, dog sledding, snow shoeing, navigation, avalanche avoidance and cold water immersion. The majority of the time was spent out in the field including a 2 night snowholing expedition which corresponded with one of the best northern light shows of the year.
Parrish Peak 1775m
Horseshoe Valley S 79.55 W82.01
1st ascent 12th Dec 1979 I Campbell & G Coleridge (NZ) Route unknown
2nd ascent Jan / Feb 1994 M Curtis & B Hull (UK) NW Ridge
3rd ascent 23rd Dec 2015 P Delmas, M Vincent (Fr) & Z Poulton (UK) NW Ridge
North West Ridge, Grade AD-, 300m.
Ascent 3:00, Descent 1:15
Access NW Ridge (left hand skyline on photo) from west by means of a snow rib below west face (windscoop) on skis to the first large horizontal platform. Climb the ridge direct on snow and very loose flaky rock, mainly on the left with a couple of excursions onto the right. The crux is just below the summit. Bypass the final tower by traversing snow leftwards until a loose gully leads easily to an exposed summit with block belays. Descend by the same route
A break from my normal of routine of guiding saw ALE fly a small team of us off to the South Pole to build the remote field camp for the various skiing, manhauling and kiting parties who would be passing that way. It's a long flight by Twin Otter refueling at the remote Theales Corner. The next week was spent digging and building in some pretty windy and cold conditions as we erected a luxory camp for upwards of thirty folk. A kilometer away the American base was also working hard taking advantage of the 24 hour daylight although on New Zealand time, 16 hours ahead of us. The arrival of our first guests gave us the oppurtunity to tour the base with them.
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!
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