- Melissa Arnot
- Alex Barber
- Gabriel Barral
- Jake Beren
- Zeb Blais
- Katie Bono
- Anne Gilbert Chase
- Sean Collon
- Leon Davis
- Elias de Andres Martos
- Cody Doolan
- Paul Edgren
- Mark Falender
- Leah Fisher
- Eric Frank
- Steve Gately
- Josh Gautreau
- Thomas Greene
- Casey Grom
- Dave Hahn
- Walter Hailes
- Tim Hardin
- Mike Haugen
- Andy Hildebrand
- Mike Hinckley
- Joe Horiskey
- Nick Hunt
- Tyler Jones
- J.J. Justman
- Levi Kepsel
- Mike King
- Adam Knoff
- Katy Laveck
- Ben Liken
- Josh Maggard
- Paul Maier
- Linden Mallory
- Lindsay Mann
- Andres Marin
- Jeff Martin
- Erik Nelson
- Billy Nugent
- Brent Okita
- Logan Randolph
- Tyler Reid
- Dave Reynolds
- Kel Rossiter
- Geoff Schellens
- Shaun Sears
- Garrett Stevens
- Jason Thompson
- Mike Tomlinson
- Mark Tucker
- Mike Uchal
- Pete Van Deventer
- Alex Van Steen
- Ed Viesturs
- Maile Wade
- Mike Walter
- Seth Waterfall
- Solveig Waterfall
- Peter Whittaker
- Win Whittaker
- Bryson Williams
- Dan Windham
- Robby Young
Posts for Vinson Massif from 01/2011
Back to Base
The great climber and author Greg Child once wrote: “Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the top is the answer to the question of why we climb.”
Climbing, and the reason we do it, is an elusive thing. There is no straightforward, definitive answer, and I’ve struggled with it since I began climbing in 1986. I guess to some extent it’s relative to each person. For some, it may be the overall challenge. Others are motivated perhaps by a specific summit or group thereof. To each his or her own.
For me, as I labored under a heavy pack today, dragging a laden sled behind me, the question arose as it often does: Why am I doing this? Why am I thousands of miles from my children, my wife, my home and my friends, struggling in tough conditions with aching feet and a sunburned nose? Why?
It was as if the mountain heard my query. As I moved, a gentle breeze brought a layer of Antarctic ice fog up the glacial valley. The sun above was muted, and a giant, iridescent sun-dog formed above me. The frigid snow crunched beneath my feet, and massive walls of rock, snow, and ice rose in every direction. It was absolutely silent, and yet deafening in its majesty.
Yes, this is why I climb. These moments of solitude that are wholly grounding, humbling, and innately inspiring. They rarely come to me on top of a mountain, and are never predictable. But, they always come, they always inspire, and they never cease to make all the pain, cold, suffering, and challenge worth it.
I now sit in my tent at Vinson Basecamp, the sun peeking through a thick fog above. The team is all happy and fulfilled, laughter and conversation filtering around.
It’s been a great handful of days on Mount Vinson. Tomorrow, or the next day, Ed, Cindy, David, and Ben will fly off on a Twin Otter, and the rest of us - Peter Seth, Caroline, Kent, and I - will stay on to do some skiing and climbing.
More adventures await.
Peter Whittaker calls from Basecamp
Did I say Antarctica wasn’t cold? Well, I was just kidding. Antarctica, especially high up with a stiff wind, is really, really, really cold.
Our day today started reasonably enough, with a bright sun high in the sky and reasonable temperatures for walking. The team moved well out of High Camp along the seemingly endless glacial valley leading toward Vinson’s summit.
About 2 hours into the journey, Vinson decided to give us a little test. The wind began to pick up, and suddenly we could all feel the frigid cold biting at any exposed skin and dropping our core temperatures degree by degree. Time to layer up. In moments, we all donned our custom Peak XV Antarctica down jackets and pants, shutting the wind and cold out, at least somewhat.
But, it gets tricky in situations like this. The thick down insulates well, and keeps you warm and toasty. But, you still have to move uphill, and that generates heat. Too much heat, and you start to sweat. Sweat out your baselayers, and you’re going to get cold sooner or later. So, climbing in these situations is an exercise in zipper running, hat pulling, and sleeve pushing; it is a constant battle to maintain that thermal equilibrium, right on the line between too cold and too hot.
With that obstacle added to our climb, we kept moving, everyone doing well and chugging right along. Before long, the route made a sharp right-hand turn, and began climbing steeply toward the summit ridge. And, now, Vinson decided to show us what she could do. The temperature had dropped as we ascended, to about -30 degrees C on the summit ridge, and then the wind really picked up. We estimate about 30 miles per hour fairly consistently…In other words, enough wind and cold to make it the coldest day I’ve ever experienced on any mountain, anywhere. And, Ed Viesturs, who’s got a handful of cold mountains under his belt, agreed that it was the coldest summit day in his memory. That’s cold.
We were close now, though, and kept pushing onward, trying to check cheeks, noses, ears, etc., for frostnip - which can come on quickly in such conditions. Along with the wind, Vinson’s final curveball was the largely-moderate terrain of the lower mountain finally transitioned to a steeper, more exposed ridge for the final push. But, it was manageable, and soon we were all celebrating and shivering on top of Antarctica.
I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to some unique places and mountains over the years, but must admit that Antarctica, and Mount Vinson, is one of the most spectacular. To gaze out from the summit at the jagged peaks of the Ellsworth Mountains, which eventually yield and give way to a vast sea of glacier, is simply beyond words.
We spent a few minutes on top, taking pictures, congratulating one another, and of course pulling out the 1966 Alaska Flag for it’s final foray on the summit of Vinson. And, then, it was time to go. It’s too easy to linger on such summits, and in the abusive cold and wind, we needed to get down fast. Everyone moved well downhill, and we’re all now in our tents, enjoying the warmth of a sunny tent and a full belly. Sleep will come quickly tonight, and will be well earned by all.
Tomorrow…well, there’s still work to be done. All our gear needs to somehow make its way from High Camp down the fixed lines and all the way to Vinson Basecamp. We’ll sleep well, and work hard tomorrow.
And, yes, in case I ever forget, Antarctica is COLD!!
Hey everyone, Peter here and just checking in. We are back down at high camp. We had a very windy summit. I’m not sure if our call got out. We tried to communicate from on top. It was very cold, very windy. But we had a great successful climb today with everyone reaching the summit and we even took some time to get some great production. There should be some stills heading your way now. Some images from our climb today. Super cold. Super windy. But we’re all very happy to be back down at high camp where there’s just a slight breeze. And it’s about 8:30 right now, the sun is still very high in the sky. Tomorrow we will break camp and see if we can make it back to base camp. We had an awesome summit day. It was beautiful. It definitely pressed us. And we’re all going to sleep tonight pretty darn happy. So, that’s it for now and we’ll talk soon.
Peter Whittaker checking in from high camp after summit
Hey everybody this is Peter Whittaker up on top with the whole First Ascent/RMI team. We are on top of Mt. Vinson it’s 5 p.m. It’s about 31, 32 below zero and the wind is blowing about 18 - 20 knots. It’s beautiful up here clear, low clouds and bitter, bitter cold.
We are going to try and push a picture out tonight when we get back to high camp and you’ll see we are all frosted up. But we are happy, we are on top. Give a yell you guys…
We’ve done it. A beautiful day, a little brisk and we are going to put the phone away and head on out of here.
Alright that’s the word from on top of the bottom of the world.
We’ll shoot a call later on maybe from camp.
First Ascent, RMI and Eddie Bauer over and out.
It never seems like much until you have it on your back.
I thought I had pared down my kit pretty well, bringing only what was essential to fill my belly, keep me warm, allow me to take pictures, edit them, and transmit them back home. It really didn’t seem like a lot. But, when that “little bit” got on my back this morning, my body told me otherwise. I’m pretty sure everyone on our team was in the same boat.
With heavy packs, we huffed up the fixed lines once more. Yesterday we had some nice cloud cover keeping us cool, and today, although the sun was back to its blazing self, the temperatures were significantly cooler. Overheating was not too much of an issue.
We all moved uphill well today, keeping a plodding pace that was not too fast, not too slow, but would get us there in good time, with gas still in the proverbial tank. The old tortoise and the hare idea.
It paid off, with everyone arriving under clear skies with a gentle wind at High Camp, 12,250 feet.
It’s one of the most stunning camps I’ve ever been to, with enchanting vistas in every direction. Shinn stands mightily off to the side, the jagged summit of Mount Epperly rising just behind it. Go just a bit out of camp, and the world drops off some 3000 feet to Low Camp, and the massive expanse of Antarctic white spreads like an ocean as far as the eye can see. And, of course, just above us looms the summit of Vinson, still some 4.5 miles off.
It’s off to bed early tonight to catch a few zzz’s in between shivers - the forecast calls for temperatures around -30 Celsius tonight. Then, once the sunlight hits the tents and makes life bearable, we’ll suit up and begin moving uphill.
With luck, by midday tomorrow we’ll be on top of the bottom of the world. It was 45 years ago that Eddie Bauer helped get the first people to the summit of Vinson, and it’ll be quite a thrill to return there, with Eddie Bauer and the flag Bill Long unfurled so long ago.
Send us good thoughts, and hope the weather gods are kind to us.
Peter Whittaker from High Camp
Good morning, good morning. It is January 9th, and this is Peter checking in, we’re just finishing up a great breakfast of Cream-of-Wheat and a hot drink. The sun just hit our camp, and we’re packing up and getting ready to make the move up to high camp. It was cold last night, cold this morning, but we have a little bit of sun right now. Weather looks good. And I’m gonna walk out and let my tentmate say a few words, Ed Viesturs.
Morning everybody, it’s beautiful day. We are loading up the camp here and we’re gonna make that ascent back up to high camp another 3,500 feet higher, and weather looks good and the forecast is pretty descent and we hope to go to the summit of Vinson tomorrow, Monday the 10th so be sure to check in tomorrow, follow the progress and we hope to be hootin’ and hollerin’ from the top of the bottom of the world. Ed Viesturs and Peter Whittaker signing out.
Peter Whittaker and Ed Viesturs talk about their move to high camp
Our day began differently than what we’ve been used to. The seemingly eternal sun had hid herself away behind a thick veil of clouds, and a dusting of snow fell during the night. Finally, the cold of Antarctica was showing us its stuff, and I for one was impressed.
Loading up packs, we all sorted through our things, deciding what could be left at High Camp and was needed to stay to keep us warm and happy down here at Low Camp. There’s always a desire to bring as much as possible up on a carry in the hopes of having a lighter pack when you finally do move up. But, the worst-case scenario must always be considered, and generally it’s better to leave less the first time, and carry more the second time, ensuring you have what you need if the going gets tough. So, we all had heavy packs, but not too bad.
The move up to High Camp on Vinson is a fairly expedient one, taking a steep line up the Branscomb Glacier headwall. It’s steep, but not overwhelming, and fortunately gains altitude quickly. The entire team moved well, and the cloud cover was actually a blessing in disguise, keeping the temperatures reasonable. Step after step, foot after foot, we climbed upward into the clouds, dusted with snow from time to time. Eventually, the fixed lines gave way to a windy ridge and gentler terrain leading to High Camp.
As we moved up the final 1000 feet to camp, the mountains decided to show us some scenery. The clouds lowered a bit, and Mount Shinn, the third highest peak on the continent, reared up from the ether below. A stunning sight, and a nice culmination of a hard day’s work.
We’re now all safely back at Low Camp. The weather is socked in, with a light snow falling on the tents. Antarctica has finally showed us her cold side; we’re all hoping she warms to us again soon.
Hi yo, this is Peter Whittaker and calling in from Antarctica, Mount Vinson. It’s just a little before 11 PM, and today the whole team left this morning from Camp 1 at about 1:20 and we carried up the fixed lines, a load to Camp 2 at about 12,500 feet. The weather was kind of marginal, with a little bit of sun in and out, a lot of fog, not much wind which was good, but it was definitely Antarctica-like. A little bit of chill along the way. The team did great and we drop the load and then descended, and got back here and brewed up. Just finished with dinner and are in the tent right now. The forecast is still pretty good for the next couple days our plan is to move up tomorrow. And occupy the high camp and if things go well, we could be on top the following day. Yeah, we’re right on track. Things are good. We also just got word down here in the bottom of the world that the Seattle Seahawks won. Congratulations to Pete Carroll and the Hawks. Go Hawks! And we will check in tomorrow, hopefully from high camp. That’s it for now.
Peter Whittaker calling from Camp 1
First off, my apologies at not getting a dispatch off last night. After downloading images to my netbook, I encountered some issues with both charging the computer and a corrupt driver for the satellite phone. Fortunately, I brought a backup laptop with me; unfortunately, that laptop had been left at Vinson Basecamp. So, last night from 10:30 PM until 2:30 AM, I had a nice journey back down to Basecamp to swap out laptops, pick up some additional gear, and head back to Low Camp. Not what I had in mind, but being out during the “night” was a great time, albeit a long one!
Rest days are always nice.
This morning we awoke leisurely, mainly because here at Low Camp we’re in the shade from 3:00 AM until 11:30 AM while the sun is behind Vinson. As a result, the temperatures drop from reasonable and pleasant to painfully cold during those hours. It’s best to stay inside.
Seth and Caroline - after making another great breakfast - left to make an additional carry from Vinson Basecamp to Low Camp of some additional food and equipment. Meanwhile, the rest of us went about our day. Peter and Ben began with ice sculptures, carving a great First Ascent “A” out of the ice. Kent and I moved up the glacier to do some shooting with Ed.
The highlight of the day was our journey up to a nearby Col which was part of the original route used by the 1966 first ascent team on Vinson. It was the common route until about 15 years ago. From Low Camp, a short, 30 minute walk leads to the Col, and immediately a stunning landscape is laid out ahead. An ocean of white, pockmarked by black-rock peaks, and bounded on one side by the giants of Shinn, Epperly, and Tyree. It is a stunning sight to behold, and one more of what will be many happy memories of this special land.
- Jake Norton
Peter Whittaker from Camp 1
I always thought that Antarctica was cold. And, I’m sure it is sometimes; we just haven’t really seen that yet, and I for one am not complaining.
Our day began with a late-morning breakfast, brilliantly prepared by Seth and Caroline. We don’t bother to get moving until mid-morning; it’s warmer then, and with perpetual daylight, there’s no real worry about setting camp before nightfall. After breakfast came the mountainous task of sorting and packing our various piles of equipment: food, stoves, ropes, crampons, tents, clothes, bags, pads…all of it needed to move uphill, either in a backpack or on a sled. And, for Kent and I, there was a bit more; laptop, batteries, cameras, satellite phone, and a solar charger had to be added to the mix.
But, somehow, we got most of it. Seth and Caroline headed off early, on skis, toting heavily-laden sleds full of group and personal gear. The rest of us - Peter, Ed, Cindy, David, Ben, Kent, and I - followed along under the blistering sun of Antarctica. It is amazing: While the actual air temperature might only be zero or less, with no wind and bright sun, it feels much, much warmer. So warm, in fact, that we all were in midweight baselayers most of the day. But, even the slightest puff of wind chills to the bone and sends one running for gloves, hat, and a Downlight Sweater.
After just over five hours on the trail, we crested a small knoll and saw the ice-block walls of Low Camp ahead. Tired but happy, we pulled in. Seth and Caroline had arrived long before, and hot drinks were waiting on our arrival - not bad service for 9,200 feet in Antarctica.
Above us, stunning peaks rise all around, and the eternal sun blazes overhead. It’s colder here, but still pretty nice. I’m smiling…
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