Vinson Massif - Antarctica
As an expedition, and as an experience, a climb of Vinson has to rank as one of the most extra-ordinary privileges that adventure travel can offer. To travel to this most intriguing of continents, steeped in the history of exploration, to experience the phenomenon of 24hr daylight and to ascend to a peak from where the whole of the horizon and middle distance is an uninterupted white wilderness, viewed through some of the purest air on the planet and laid out below an endless sky.
After the unique experience of simply getting to the mountain, the ascent its self also offers a rounded mountaineering experience and journey. The process includes glacier travel pulling sledges over the infamous Antarctic sastrugi, climbing a moderately steep headwall and a ridge traverse with elements of rocky and corniced ground up to a classic summit. Along the way we will also of course be camping out in a polar environment with its unique environmental challenges and skills required.
This trip is one of our more specialist adventures, we generally run it as a small, closed, expedition for individual groups. We work in close communication with the team to tailor the dates and itinerary to match the experience and aspirations of its members. If you have a team who would like to express an interest in this exciting expedition then please do contact us.
Gavin Bate of Adventure Alternative first climbed Vinson in the year 2000 as part of his Seven Summits Quest to climb the highest peak on each of the continents in one year. Now his own trips to Vinson are with mountain instructor and polar guide Steven Pinfield who was the Patriot Hills Base Camp Manager for seven years and has been involved with Arctic and Antarctic Expeditions for much of his adult life. Steve has been to the South Pole many times and guided on Vinson many times over the years, he also acts as an advisor, expedition coordinator and operative for the Polar Race. His knowledge of Antarctic mountaineering and cold weather survival is almost unsurpassed, and he will personally be the lead contact for Gavin's South Pole Expedition. It is largely Steve's huge experience and leaderhsip under the umbrella of Adventure Alternative and using Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions flight logistics which will give you the very best chance of success on this most incredible of the Seven Summits.
Dates and Itinerary
November - January
This trip is one of our more specialist adventures, we generally run it as a small, closed, expedition for individual groups. We work in close communication with the team to tailor the dates and itinerary to match the experience and aspirations of its members. If you have a small team who would like to express an interest in this exciting expedition then please do contact us.
Your international flights from your home country will be to Punta Arenas. Upon your arrival at the airport you will be met by a member of our staff with a sign bearing the Adventure Alternative name. They will accompany you back into town, settle you into your hotel and provide you with information on Punta Arenas and the surrounding areas to include a street map of the city. We will agree a suitable time with you to examine your Antarctic clothing ensuring that nothing has been inadvertently forgotten.
Apart from the agreed time to check your clothing you are free throughout the day to explore the city. In the evening you are invited to join in for an Antarctic slide show and presentation arranged by Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE) followed by cocktails. The presentation will include information on your flight south, the current weather situation, what to expect on your arrival in Antarctica and some historical information about early and more recent climbs of Vinson Massif. This will be the trip of a lifetime and we want to ensure that your climb of Vinson Massif is going to be an occasion you will never forget. There will be lots of time to ask any questions you may have and get to know your fellow travellers.
Every effort will be made to keep to the scheduled departure date but please note that this is dependent on weather and local conditions.
As soon as the weather is suitable we will call you at your hotel and advise the time of departure. You will be given as much time as possible (normally 2 hours) before being picked up from your hotel by bus. Please make sure that your bill has been settled and any "city" clothing is left at the hotel. Once customs and immigration formalities at the airport have been completed we will proceed to the aircraft with time for photo sessions before climbing on board. After a safety briefing by the flight crew we will fly south.
Flying South - The flight time from Punta Arenas to Union Glacier is approximately 6 hours, depending on the winds. The initial part of our flight passes over Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost area in Chile. The Portuguese Fernão de Magalãnes (Ferdinand Magellan) leading the first circumnavigation of the globe from 1519-22 discovered and named Tierra del Fuego ("Land of Fire") for the camp fires spotted on shore built by the native Yahgan people. The ocean below has been notorious throughout modern history for its wild storms, violent winds and heavy seas. Waves higher than 100 feet have been encountered in the Drake Passage by several ships and many early seamen lost their lives to these waters in the quest to find new lands.
At approximately 60 degrees latitude we reach the winter limits of frozen seas. This area of ocean is called the Antarctic Convergence and is rich in plankton and other tiny creatures that form the bottom of the food chain for Antarctica's rich bird and wildlife colonies. We are now entering the area governed by the Antarctic Treaty.
This frozen, icy continent has been explored for over one hundred years, and as we come to the end of the 20th century we find that Antarctica is still as awe inspiring as it was when it was first discovered. 66 degrees south is the latitude at which we cross the Antarctic Circle. Along this circle the sun never sets at the austral summer solstice and never rises at the austral winter solstice. Further south these Antarctic days and nights lengthen until at the Geographic South Pole the sun rises and sets only once a year.
Continuing our flight south and if weather conditions below co-operate we may see tabular icebergs and the ice shelves from which they calve below us. Some of these bergs can be the size of a small country and become a method of transport and homes for penguins and seals. Our first sight of the icy continent appears at Charcot Island close to Alexander Island, 71 degrees latitude. Alexander is a large island in the Bellingshausen Sea separated from the mainland by George IV Sound. It was discovered by Von Bellingshausen on 28 January 1821 and he named it after the Russian Tsar. Hubert Wilkins, an Australian aviator, in a flight over the island in 1929, suspected it was an island and this was confirmed in 1940.
The ice sheet continues to stretch inland until in the distance appear the spectacular Ellsworth Mountains, the highest range in Antarctica. Passing over the Ellsworth Range our runway comes into sight. The wheeled aircraft lands on an area of blue ice which is 3,300 ft (1,000m) above sea level. The blue ice remains clear of snow due to the katabatic winds which funnel down from the mountains with great force. You are now warmly welcomed to the Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions camp at Union Glacier, Antarctica.
An introduction to the friendly staff is followed by a tour and orientation of the camp and surrounding area. You will be shown to your accommodation and settled down to a welcoming meal. On our arrival at Union Glacier if the weather permits we will transfer all our equipment from the Hercules aircraft to the Twin Otter or Cessna and fly to Vinson base camp. You will be accompanied by your guide.
The flight to Vinson base camp from Union Glacier is approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes. The pilot is in constant contact with the base who are updating him with current winds and weather. There have been occasions when the weather has deteriorated since our departure from the main base and we have been forced to return and await better flying conditions. Once landed at Vinson base we will set up camp, review the climbing route with the guide and re-arrange the loads ready for the journey. Vinson Massif, at 16, 067ft (4897 m) stands as the highest mountain in Antarctica. It was first climbed and successfully summitted on 18 December 1966, and was climbed again only once (in 1979), until Adventure Network International took a group to climb it in 1983.
Days 2 -13
During these days we will be attempting to reach the summit of Antarctica's highest mountain. The success rate for clients on the summit is good, though you should be aware that, while Vinson is not considered a technically difficult peak, the mountain is high, temperatures well below freezing and the area remote. It is not recommended for those just starting out at snow and ice climbing. The climb will be a team effort with the group working together for safety. The rate of ascent and pace will be developed by the guide to reflect mountain realities and group strength. Our guide to client ratio is normally 1:3.
There may be other groups on the mountain at the same time and we will be in contact with base camp, by radio, throughout the duration of the trip. Clients are asked to assist in setting up camp in the evening.
The initial trek up Vinson Massif follows the narrow valley of the Branscomb Glacier from base camp at 2134m (7000ft) off the west side of the Ellsworth Mountains. The route includes some minor crevassing for 2 miles to Camp 1 at 2774m (9100ft). From Camp 1 the summit is clearly visible and the neighbouring peaks of Mount Shinn and Mount Gardner can also be seen.
Camp 2 is 3000m (100ft) higher into the mountain and then the route ascends through an ice fall to a broad col between Vinson Massif and Mount Shinn. Camp 3 is at 3650m (12,000ft) and after that the route to the summit rises approximately 760m (300ft) in 5km (3 miles) before a hard snow and ice slope leads to the broad summit ridge and the top of the mountain.
The time from Vinson Massif base camp to the summit varies from group to group. We take into consideration aspects such as fitness, acclimatisation, experience and weather. The climb has previously taken as little as two days and has stretched to as much as two weeks to reach the summit. New routes have been attempted in the past, record times have been broken and summits logged.
It is our goal to lead you safely to the top of the mountain, however if for safety or health reasons, our guide deems that it is in your best interest not to continue you must accept this decision.
Once back in Vinson Massif base camp, and a full aircraft load is ready, the guide will inform Union Glacier and an aeroplane will be dispatched to collect you. Please note that we will wait until we have a complete load before flying back to Union Glacier from Vinson base. It is possible that you may return to Union Glacier in an aircraft other than that in which you arrived.
Weather permitting the aircraft from Punta Arenas arrives at Union Glacier with a new collection of avid explorers and will take off with your group for the final leg of your Antarctic journey.
Once back in Punta Arenas we will confirm details of our onward flight schedule. We will assist wherever possible with any questions or queries you may have.
Note: Every effort will be made to follow the above itinerary but please note that it is offered subject to change at the discretion of ALE staff based on weather and local conditions.
Vinson Massif cost: £25,400.00
- This figure is dependant on numbers, and includes all expeditions costs ex flight out of Punta Arenas.
- This includes flights into Union Glacier camp and onto Vinson Base Camp, all group equipment and food/meals and guide.
- International air fare to Punta Arenas
- Personal insurance
- Hotel costs in Punta Arenas
- Excess baggage costs
You will need to be fit and be able to cope well with the cold and have suitable clothing to do so. Any trip to Antarctica and especially one involving ascent to exposed locations and at altitude should not be underestimated! It offers up very different challenges when it comes to terrain under foot and temperatures. It will be necessary to have some prior knowledge of snow or ice travel or experience using crampons or axes but further specific polar instruction will be given. If you are looking to gain experience in polar travel and more remote wilderness survival then this is a great climb to start with and it will give you the experience and knowledge to go on to other objectives with further confidence.
A training programme should include at least one hill walk a week with a small pack of around 10kgs, and regular visits to the gym or the swimming pool once a week for the final two months before departure. Age is not a limiting factor either; the secret of climbing high is to go slowly, be prepared in terms of clothing for the cold, drink well, eat well and sleep well. A regular, maintained pace will ensure proper acclimatisation.
Although Vinson is not considered a technical mountain and it's summit is lower in pure altitude terms than many other 'trekking peaks' it should not be underestimated as an expedition. Climbing Vinson does of course require travel and sustained functioning in Antarctica, one of the last true wildernesses on earth. Needless to say the weather could potentially pin us down in a tent for days at a time. It will be in this situation that your comfort and enjoyment will depend to a large extent on previous experience and the methods and philosophy that this breeds. We are happy to advise a programme of training and expedition that will help a less experienced person to gain this experience prior to your Antarctic adventure.
Altitudes above around 5500m are classified as 'Extreme' altitude in physiological terms, with ambient air pressure less than half of that at sea level and a consequent dramatic reduction in the body's supply of oxygen. Although Vinson is actually just below 5000m the description Extreme Altitude is the most instructive to use in this context. The variation of air pressures accross the world's latitudes means that that the available oxygen can be less at high latitudes than near the equator for the same given altitude AMSL anyway. The effects of these altitudes on any one individual cannot be accurately predicted prior to actual exposure. For your comfort and safety we require that you have prior experience of trekking or climbing at at least 5000m and of multi-day wild camping trips. You will also need to be physically fit and medically well.
Additional Kit Info
A full kit list and reccomendations will be issued to all team members upon application.
It will of course include some personal specialised cold weather equipment such as down clothing, sleeping bags and high specification footwear and also a small amount of mountaineering hardware. This equipment can be fairly expensive and we would reccommend that you do not purchase items without first seeking advice from ourselves or another suitably knowledgeable and experienced person. You may also consider hiring some of the more specialist equipment, some organisations offer a 'try before you buy' scheme where you hire brand new gear but then have the option of buying it at a discount price at the end of the trip.
Adventure Alternative provides group equipment such as tents and stoves.
At Expedition Kit Hire our aim is to provide a seamless, first class customer service for our clients, offering top quality clothing and equipment to fit the demands of any expedition from Polar, high altitude, desert or tropical treks across the globe. If we don't stock a product, we probably can so please get in touch.
- All our expeditions are overseen by Gavin Bate, Company Director, Mountaineer and Everest Guide.
- We also have an in-house expert in polar mountaineering, survival and logistics.
- Members of our own staff have climbed Vinson and can give you direct advice and information from personal experience.
- We do not sub-contract freelance guides so we know and trust all of the staff who will be on the expedition.
- We offer small scale, authentic adventures with flexibility built in to cater for unpredictable elements such as the weather or slower acclimitisation.
- We are able to modify our expedition schedule to suit your own personal requirements and aspirations.
- We will meet and talk to you personally to agree a expedition format as a team.
- We are passionate about responsible tourism and our company supports sustainable development in Tanzania, Kenya and Borneo in a real way.
- Adventure Alternative underwrites the charity Moving Mountains.
- Financial security guaranteed as we are AITO bonded.
- We are members on Interhealth which gives you access to pre-trip health information and on-site assistance by phone in the event of an emergency.