Vinson V: Summit Day
Trying To Delay The Summit
It’s counterintuitive when doing a speed record attempt but I’ve actually been trying to delay our summit attempt on Vinson. We could have gone yesterday and possibly even the day before but I’ve been actively trying to encourage our team to wait. Fortunately, the weather has been playing into my hands with forecasts predicting improving conditions making the decision to wait for an easier one.
Why do I want to wait?
Well, the moment I step on the summit the clock starts. The 7 Summits record is recorded from the summit of the first climb to the summit of the last. My planned itinerary is bookended with Vinson at the start and Everest at the end. The climbing window on Everest at the end is quite narrow and difficult to bring forward so in order to compress the schedule as much as possible I’ve been trying to delay our Vinson summit attempt as long as I can. I was actually hoping I could do a double summit, an early summit just to get one in the bank then a second speed ascent right at the end of the season. Unfortunately, with rules and regulations on the hill, it will be too difficult to do that so my best option is to just delay the summit as long as I can.
Summit Weather Forecast
We’ve been monitoring the weather reports, which we receive via radio, for the past few days. The general trend has been winds dropping through to Tuesday 16th as a high pressure system passes over then starting to pick up again after that. The updated report on Monday morning read:
“Forecast for Tuesday 16th January. Vinson Summit. Temperature -32degC, clear with light and variable winds”
Perfect, can’t get much better than that. It’s colder than other days but with light winds, it should be much more manageable. Collectively we decided we would hold off and go for the summit on Tuesday. Still a couple of days earlier than I would have liked but not too bad. There is only one team behind us who will likely summit on the 17th then the mountain will be closed for the season so summiting on the 16th will be close to the last summit for the season.
Time To Get Going
We got up at 07:00 with the aim of leaving by 09:00. At 07:00 the mountain above us was casting a shadow over camp making it feel quite cold but by 09:00 we were in full sun which is why we wanted to leave then.
Breakfast consisted of a granola mix with hot milk and a hot chocolate drink. Other mornings we’ve been having pancakes, scrambled eggs made from dehydrated egg powder mix, hash brown made from shaved potato, and other cooked items. They were all good but this granola mix was superb. Our guides had planned to have granola just for summit morning as it is a quicker easier meal, but it made me wish we were actually having it every morning. When I am at home I just eat a cheap homemade muesli mix every morning so granola/muesli is what I am used to operating on and it works for me. Although this granola was much better than my homemade muesli.
After breakfast, we went through the tedious task of getting ready to leave. Putting on boots, crampons, harness, etc. requires good dexterity in the fingers hence it is difficult to do with gloves on. But with gloves off and temperatures around -28degC at High Camp, I can only last a matter of minutes before my fingers initially start stinging then go numb. I am yet to find a good solution apart from putting my gear on as quick as I can then shoving my hands under my armpits to warm them up a bit before putting my gloves back on. If anyone has a better solution I am all ears.
Kitted up and roped together, it was about 09:05 when we left camp.
The ascent started out on an easy gradient for while heading up the glacier. From there it continued up a steeper snow ramp to gain the summit ridge. The final section then required traversing the ridge to the summit. The ridge, which was mixed snow and rock, was relatively easy but in patches quite exposed. All up, climbing as a group, it took about 6hrs 10min from High Camp to Summit. By 15:15 we were all standing on the top*.
The summit was absolutely incredible. The views from the highest point in Antarctica were like nothing I’ve seen before and to top it off, the weather was absolutely perfect. Despite being -32degC, with full sun and no wind it was comfortable enough to hang out on the summit taking photos and enjoying the views for about 45min.
It is difficult to describe the view from the summit. Even the photos don’t do it justice. To the North, East, and West the rocky peaks of the Elmsworth Mountains pierce through the icecap creating a dramatic contrast to the South where the flat, desolate ice cap extends to the horizon and beyond. Somewhere out there, about 700 nautical miles away was the South Pole. Although I will admit, the views from Mt Shinn a couple of days ago were actually better than from Vinson. Tallest / largest isn’t always best
Vinson Summit 360: https://youtu.be/OqhR00_Fado
Project 7in4 Officially Starts
On the Summit I took out my Project 7in4 flag for a few photos. Standing on Vinson officially marked the start of my 7 Summits speed record attempt. From here on I am racing against the clock, aiming to climb the remaining 6 (+1) # mountains in under 4 months. The current record is 126 days so even at 4 months I’ll have a few days spare, but basically I’ll be trying to do it as quick as I can and hopefully slice a sizeable chunk off the record.
But the question is – if we were on the summit for 45min, should the Project 7in4 clock start when we first got up there, when we left to come back down, or somewhere in between? I’m going with when we left, and based on the time stamp on the last photo I took just before descending down, that was 16:00 Chilean time (19:00 UTC).
- Project 7in4 clock starts: 19:00 UTC, 16th January 2018
- Date to complete the 7 Summits to beat the current 126-day record: UTC 19:00, 22nd May 2018.
Project 7in4 Officially Starts: https://youtu.be/GBbLC25M-4c
To the summit of Vinson I carried a small bottle of Limeburners‘ international award-winning Darkest Winter Whiskey. Over the coming months I will be carrying this bottle to the top of all the 7 Summits and upon completion will auction it off with proceeds going to SpinalCure Australia and Surf Life Saving WA. If you are a whiskey enthusiast, watch out for this bottle popping up in all my summit photos and bid big when it goes under the hammer.
Limeburners Darkest Winter to go under the hammer for SpinalCure Australia and Surf Life Saving WA: https://youtu.be/OuQKJ4OLfIM
The descent was pretty straightforward, just following the same route as what we climbed on the way up. At about 16:00 we left the summit and were back in camp just before 18:00.
Climbing as a group we took it slow and steady and stood on the summit together as a team which was wonderful. Personally, I found the entire climb quite easy and had plenty in reserve. It’s reassuring to know that I can complete climbs like this, the highest point in Antarctica, with relative ease. There’s still a long way to go, but I’m happy we’re off to a good start.
*One member of our team decided not to attempt the summit due to a pre-existing medical condition which flared up at altitude and he turned around at high camp.
# The +1 is for Kosciuszko. There are two 7 Summits lists. The Bass List which has Kosciuszko as the highest point in Australia and the Messner List which extends the Australian continent to Australasia with the high point being Carstensz Pyramid in Papua, Indonesia. Carstensz is over twice the height of Kosciuszko and a much harder climb hence the Messner list is now the commonly accepted one for the 7 Summits, but being a proud Australian I couldn’t leave Kosciuszko out so I’ll be doing both.