Summit day!!!!! 24th of December 2012
With the weather looking like it’ll hold, we head off out of high camp for our summit push. A super exciting breakfast of oatmeal and anything else you can stomach plus trying to drink as much water as you can gets you ready to head off for the day. The going is slow, but steady and relatively easy straight out of camp. The incline is fairly mellow, but we move at a steady pace to ensure no one burns out before the summit.
The weather was in our favor, and was extremely mild for the bulk of the day on our ascent. Just prior to getting to the summit ridge, the wind picked up quite a bit which dropped the temperatures to an estimated -40ºC. This was the first point in the trip where I actually used my huge down parka, summit mits & face mask. Although I had been carrying them for days with not so much as pulling them out to use them as a pillow, I was sure glad I had them on summit day. We also had been advised to open up hand warmers and throw them in the gloves in the morning. That was a welcomed reprieve from the cold & wind when you threw on those gloves and had something warm to hold onto.
At this point, all bundled up, we started up the last portion of the climb up the summit ridge with our objective close at hand.
Moving up the ridge is fairly slow for a few reasons. Notably, we’re freezing our asses off, but we also need to clip into and out of fixed protection (climbing anchors in the mountain) and doing so with mittens is a real hassle (damn near impossible). Fortunately, many of the protection points were shielded from the wind which meant you could at least take a mitten off to unclip & clip into the anchors which were backup safety in case someone lost their footing.
Finally, we could see the the summit itself, mostly due to the fact that another group was a bit ahead of us and were taking their celebratory pictures. The bummer about the timing of our reaching the summit was that clouds had set in thereby limiting our view to about 20-30feet in front of us. Never the less, everyone made it to the top!
The summit of Mt. Vinson generally entails a corniced ridge that is fairly infamous in nearly every summit shot previously taken. We were lucky enough to have -23ºC temperatures at the top which meant we could hang out for about a half an hour. We made a bunch of satellite phone calls back home to let everyone know that we had made it, were safe and all super stoked to be on top after working for the last week or so.
After we’d made our calls, everyone tried to stomach some kind of food & water at which point we began our descent. Although the ridge line itself was semi-technical, the bulk of the mountain was pretty straight forward. Considering we’d only be on the ridge itself for maybe 20 minutes, we still needed to be very cognizant of each step, but the majority of the difficulty lie behind us. Now, the trick was making sure we kept up the energy to keep slogging it out back down to high camp.
Once back in high camp, elated, we pulled off our crampons, boots & packs to hop into our sleeping bags to recover from two long days. Our summit day ended up being about 11hrs give or take. Again, still not as long or as intense as Denali, but still one that isn’t completely a walk in the park. We filled a few water bottles, had a final meal and zoned out for the night. That -40ºF sleeping bag felt GREAT.
While still running on the high post-summit, we packed up our high camp and headed down through the fixed lines back down to low camp. The beauty of the Vinson trip, at least during this part, was that we could be unroped through the fixed lines, which meant we were free to move at our own pace. The first time down the fixed lines, I nearly burnt a hole in my Black Diamond Guide Gloves due to arm-rapp’ing in addition to being clipped in (an arm rap is simply where you rap the route around your arm so that you can quickly arrest a fall should you lose your footing). This second time through I didn’t run down the face, but I still did work up a serious sweat, fogging up my glasses and soaking through nearly everything I had on.
When we got back to low camp, we made quick work of packing up anything we’d left behind, stuffing our duffels with extra gear and fixing the sleds to our packs to make the journey back to Vinson Base Camp.
Again, unlike Denali, this time the sleds were not that bad. The hills were mellow enough that it was extremely easy to manage the sleds. Not to mention, that we’d only been carrying sleds for such a short time, everyone was quite tolerant of the inevitable smack into the feet when someone would zone out while staring at what we’d climbed up. On the descent, we got lucky enough to have clear skies, so we could see the ice falls on the ridge up to high camp & the summit itself. We also got to see the crevasses we had climbed earlier much more clearly! Ignorance sure is bliss when you’re walking through a crevasse field where any given crevasse may be hundreds or thousands of feet deep.
A low cloud bank had rolled into VBC, obstructing the view, and making it impossible to tell just how much further we really had. It hid the camp, but we still had breathtaking views of Antarctica which is mind blowing when you try to comprehend just how remote you are and how far you truly are from ANYTHING.
Now, back at VBC on Christmas Day, we were waiting eagerly for the steak & wine dinner we’d been promised early on in the trip. Box wine has never tasted better than it did that night! I don’t care what day of the week it was made, it was awesome. The steak sure didn’t suck either. Quite the meal to be had on a climbing expedition. Definitely a first, that’s for sure. Jacob & Seabass are badass guides/cooks/friends!