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.
A final few days at the end of my Scottish winter season gave a mixed bag of conditions, weather and routes. After a year off the Irish crew arrived for a quick hit coming away with ascents of the Douglas Boulder SW Ridge (IV 5) and a very snowy swim up Western Rib (III) on the west face of Aonach Mor. With the turbo thaw back in action my final day on Curved Ridge was almost alpine with a leisurely picnic on Crowberry Tower and a cloud inversion on top.
Winter conditions are slowly developing in Scotland. We got a bit of everything this week as a couple of storms blew through but they left a good covering of snow on the hills. I was back out with Rob & Jude who have now amassed plenty of Scottish winter experience but are always up for an adventure.
Sunday saw us having a crack at Summit Buttress Ordinary Route IV 5 in Stob Coire Nan Lochain. Unfortunately the snow was insulating the turf and it wasn't remotely frozen meaning we had to bail. Unfrozen turf seems to be a real problem on the west coast at the moment so we headed east looking for better conditions. An early start saw us battle against the spindrift avalanches on Opening Break IV 5 in the Northern Corries. Topping out on to the plateau in to 80mph winds was an interesting experience and it was a good team effort to get back to the van safely.
Unsurprisingly the bodies and psyche had taken a bit of a battering so Tuesday saw us hiding in the Ice Factor pushing our ice and dry tooling grades and drinking plenty of coffee.
Wednesday was looking like the best day of the week so we broke trail up on to the Aonach Eagach III. We were soon joined by a few other parties on what was a very enjoyable traverse along the snow plastered ridge. Our final day saw us push tired limbs up onto the Ballachulish Dragons Tooth II. A new route for me but one that has become very popular in the last couple of years and had seen plenty of traffic the previous day. A great day out on continually interesting ground and amazing views from the summit to finish the week.
I've just spent 3 days with Raj & UKML developing his skills for a forthcoming ice climbing trip to Rjuken. he's a very proficient rock climber so it was all about winterising his systems and introducing him to steep ice. Ice and indeed winter are somewhat lacking in the Cairngorms at present but we found some great little venues in the northern corries to workshop the various skills. Day 1 we made a scrambly ascent of the Fiacaile Ridge looking at building belays in winter. The surprising amount of ice on the Goat Track also allowed us to develop the Raj's movement skills offering a few steep bulges for front pointing. The second day saw us expolring the various ice streaks on the Great Slab. The right hand start to the coulior gave us a full 50m pitch of Gr IV ice perfect for placing ice screws and lots of climbing.
Finally we returned to Sneachda and the small ice / mixed climbing venue below the Fiacaille and expolred the limits of ice tools and crampons on the different mediums.
Winter conditions in 2017 have been a wee bit fickle. There's been a reasonable amount of snow but successive thaws have continually stripped the hills meaning that there is no base and lots of loose rock around. Nonetheless with a bit of imagination and lateral thinking there's always an adventure to be had. Regulars Rob & Jude were back for another week on the west coast moving up the grades and climbing classics.
Sunday saw us on a warm and wet Ben Nevis enjoying the delights of No 2 Gully. There was a surprising amount of good ice where needed and the screws were needed. After an atmospheric climb we topped out going from winter to summer in a couple of steps. I think we were the only team to log a route on UKC that day!
We tried heading east one day coming away with an ascent of Hidden Chimney Direct (IV 5) in Sneachda. The route was well verglassed and rime was developing as we started but we narrowly failed to beat the freezing level to the top of the crag as things turned warm again.
Overnight snow gave our final day a proper wintery feel. We broke trail into Stob Coire Nan Lochain and swam up Raeburns Route (IV 4). There were copious amounts of spindrift & grauphal being moved by the wind and we triggered a small slide on the approach but once established on the route things calmed down a bit and we enjoyed a great climb.
Libby Peter is one of the UK’s most respected climbers, with years of experience in expeditions, instructing, coaching and guiding around the world.