Up to the top of the Massif today. We had an easy time getting out of camp this morning as conditions were perfect, no wind and no clouds above (although there was an ocean of cloud below). We pulled out of camp a little before 9 AM. For the first hour or two, temperatures were mild and most of the team was wondering if all the down gear was necessary, then we caught a minor but persistent breeze and hoods went up and zippers got shut. The cooler conditions were ideal for walking. Vinson summit day is a long, moderate incline (on glacial ice, of course) up a broad valley until you hit the final rock and ice peak atop the broad summit plateau. Then things steepen and tend to get more interesting. Throughout the climb we were treated to increasingly magnificent views of the sharp and lofty peaks to the North. Eventually we were sheltered from wind as we came along our summit peak, but then caught enough of it on the 16,000 ft final ridge that we had to be very much on the lookout for frostbite on each others faces. We walked onto the highest point in Antarctica at 4:15 PM. I’ve had more relaxing times up there -the steady cold breezes needed to be paid attention to this time as one couldn’t take gloves off for picture taking or snacking. But it was stunning and beautiful to see the mountains up and down the Ellsworth chain sticking out of the endless cloud sea.
We got off the ridge without frosting anyone and had a smooth and easy walk down to high camp, which we reached around 7:45 PM. Strength returned as we sat around for hot drinks and dinner. Inevitably, with the relief of having made the top, folks started talking about airplanes, but I tried to keep people focused on the need to climb down safely first. We’ll do that tomorrow, high camp to basecamp, with some heavy loads. And from what we heard, none of the other teams did any flying yet and don’t expect to tomorrow -that sea of clouds envelopes both Vinson Base and Patriot Hills. So perhaps we’ll catch up to all the other climbers soon. My team is looking forward to a good sleep first… It is supposed to reach -30 C at high camp tonight.
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