Mount Vinson Expedition, Antarctica 16,066 ft.
Mount Vinson, the highest peak in Antarctica lies within the Ellsworth mountain range a mere 600 miles from the South Pole. The icy continent is a landscape of extremes, with night-time low temperatures often reaching negative 40F and a summertime sun that never sets. Antarctica is one of the last truly wild places on earth, and climbers who venture to “The Ice” will leave with a feeling that they were just part of something very, very special.
Our Vinson climbing team meets at the southern tip of Chile in the bustling port town of Punta Arenas. We will spend two days checking equipment and weighing our collective gear and supplies in preparation for the 6 hour flight to The Ice. Flying to Antarctica aboard a Russian Ilyushin IL-76 cargo jet and landing on the blue ice runway at Union Glacier is an experience you will never forget. From the Union Glacier we board a Twin Otter on skis for the flight to Vinson Base Camp. It takes an impressive amount of logistical support to get people and gear to the bottom of the world.
The route up Mt Vinson involves glacier travel and moderately steep snow climbing. We generally put in two camps above base camp before going for the top. The summit ridge provides some interesting climbing as you wind through rocks, ice and snow on your way to the top of Antarctica. The views from the summit on a clear day are breathtaking, as you gaze across an ocean of ice which extends all the way to the horizon.
Vinson climbers should prepare themselves physically to be able to carry moderately heavy loads over the course of 6-8 hour days. Antarctica is a very cold place and proper equipment is essential. Our Vinson expedition guides are very adept in taking care of climbers in Arctic and Antarctic conditions; however, climbers must ultimately be familiar with how to look after themselves in a very cold environment.
The Mountain Trip Difference
We pride ourselves on providing the highest level of personal attention to our Vinson climbers from your first contact with our office until after you return home from your expedition. Our office staff is comprised of Vinson veterans, who can answer your questions based on personal experience. We provide the very highest standard of client care at every stage of your trip, and base all of our decision making on, “What is best for you?”
Our expedition guides are very experienced with the rigors of Antarctic climbing and we provide them with the very best in food and supplies to ensure that you have the greatest possible experience at every stage of your journey. Mountain Trip sets the standard for quality on Mount Vinson. We use the finest Antarctic tents, and have been the only guide service to equip our Vinson Base Camp with a large comfortable dome tent for weathering out storm days.
Vinson climbing expeditions take about 14 days; however, flight delays in Antarctica are quite common due to the ever changing weather. Mountain climbers must keep some flexibility in their return schedules to allow for delays.
We are currently accepting bookings for the 2015/16 season. Based on booking trends over the past few years, and the limited availability of seats on the IL-76, we strongly encourage prospective climbers to book well in advance of their desired departure. Early booking also gives us priority for flights to Vinson base camp. Booking in April for a December expedition is not a bad idea.
Aconcagua – This is a great entry into high altitude mountaineering and a good stepping stone before attempting Vinson because the length of the trip is similar, but it is overall somewhat easier of an ascent, and therefore a good litmus test before spending three weeks on an Antarctic peak.
Denali West Buttress – A climb of the West Buttress of Denali might not be a bad idea for someone hoping to ascend Mount Vinson. While the West Buttress is physically more demanding than is an ascent of Vinson, we are including this to stress how serious an expedition to Antarctica can be. Climbing Denali is a whole lot less expensive than climbing in Antarctica and it might make sense to know that you enjoy cold, harsh environments before heading this far south.
Follow Up Climbs
Denali West Buttress – If you decided to attempt Mount Vinson before climbing on Denali, and had a good experience, you should really consider heading to Alaska. The West Buttress is physically more demanding than is an ascent of Vinson, but in many ways, Vinson is a great training peak for Denali, as it is physically less demanding, and the duration of the expedition is generally shorter.
Everest – This is a huge jump up from an ascent of Vinson, and a very serious decision, but if you are considering climbing the Seven Summits then Everest is on your list.
Vinson Guided Climbing Expedition Itinerary
Day 1 Arrive in Punta Arenas, Chile! We’ll meet you at the hotel when you arrive after a flight to the southern tip of South America.
DAY 2 Team Meeting / Welcome Dinner
We will have a team meeting and equipment check at our hotel. There are very few gear shops in P.A, so be sure that you brought everything on the equipment list and that everything is in good condition and of the highest quality. We’ll discuss the following days’ events in detail and probably still have some time to explore the interesting port city. That evening, we’ll all go out for a welcome dinner in one of the several great restaurants.
DAY 3: GROUP MEETING
All climbers flying to Antarctica must attend a pre-flight orientation with ALE. Later in the day we will weigh all of our equipment and food and ALE will stow it all on the Ilyushin.
DAY 4: FLY TO THE ICE
Weather permitting, we make the 4.5 hour flight to the blue ice runway on the Union Glacier. From there, weather permitting, we will fly to base camp at 7,000 feet in a Twin Otter. At base camp we will have an on-glacier safety talk and prepare our sleds with loads for our ascent.
DAY 5: MOVING UP THE GLACIER! After spending the night in base camp we’ll pack up our gear and head on up the Branscomb Glacier to Camp 1 at about 10,000 ft.
DAY 6: CARRY TO HIGH CAMP
We’ll carry loads up to high camp at 12,500 feet and return to Camp 1 for the night. This gives us a chance to “carry high and sleep low,” helping us stock the camp with supplies and enable our bodies to better acclimatize to the upper mountain.
DAY 7: REST/ACCLIMATIZATION DAY
The day of carrying loads up the steep face is a long and tiring one, so most climbers will want to rest for a day before moving up to high camp on our summit bid.
DAY 8: THE RIDGE TO HIGH CAMP
The route up to high camp climbs a steep face next to a rocky ridge for 3,000 feet (900m). The views back down the Branscomb Glacier can be astounding, so don’t forget to look back over your shoulder on your way up. This stretch follows fixed lines for most of its length, so be prepared to use an ascender with mittened hands.
DAY 9: OPTIONAL REST AND ACCLIMATIZATION DAY
We’ve just made a big gain in elevation, so many climbers will benefit from taking a rest day before making a bid for the summit.
DAY 10: SUMMIT DAY!
From high camp it is about a three mile traverse with 3,600 feet of elevation gain to the summit. The summit ridge offers fun climbing with sensational views of Ellsworth Range and the Ronne Ice Shelf. After summiting, we’ll spend the night back at high camp before descending down the steep face the next day.
DAY 11: RETURN TO BASE CAMP.
DAY 12-14: CONTINGENCY DAYS. You’ve flown a long way and spent a lot of money to get here, these days are insurance so that you get the best possible shot at summiting! We’ll have plenty of delicious meals to keep us busy and the sledding and hiking out of Vinson base camp are fantastic.
DAY 15: FLY FROM BASE CAMP TO THE UNION GLACIER / PUNTA ARENAS.
DAY 16: FLY HOME
This is quite optimistic, and climbers should heed our recommendations for booking return flights.
****This is a very rough outline of how the schedule might proceed. There are many options for moving, camping, rest days, etc. and we might easily be delayed by weather at the beginning, middle or end of the trip. Please keep an open mind and stay flexible!
Vinson Guide Tips
A dead camera battery is a sorry reason to feel disappointment over your trip. Bring two or three spare batteries, and a few extra disposable toe warmers to ensure that you have plenty of juice on summit day. Make certain that you have charged, discharged and charged your new batteries before you depart from home.
Chilean electrical outlets use 220 volt current, so consider bringing a voltage converter. The outlets only accept use the “two post” style plugs, so you should pick up a converter plug for anything you might need to plug into an outlet. Converters are available in Punta Arenas, but wouldn’t you rather not stress over something like that when you are about to fly to Antarctica? Pick one up at your local travel store before your trip.
On the Ice, only use your camera when your battery is warm. I keep mine in a thigh pocket, where it is not prone to condensation, but stays warm and accessible. On summit day, I paste an adhesive backed toe warmer over my battery cover to help keep it warm, and drop the other toe warmer from the package into my thigh pocket for additional warmth. Two sets should get you to the summit and back with dozens or hundreds of images to share with everyone at home.
- MOUNTAINEERING BOOTS:Boots fall into two categories, traditional double boots and boot systems with integrated gaiters. The goal is to have warm, comfortable feet! Try on a variety of boots as they all fit differently and get the one that fits well.
Triple Boots: La Sportiva OLYMPUS MONS EVO, Scarpa PHANTOM 8000, Lowa EXPEDITION 8000, Boreal G1 EXPEDITION
Double Boots: La Sportiva BARUNTSE or SPANTIK, Scarpa INVERNO with High Altitude Liners or Intuition Denali Liners, Boreal G1 LITE
** All double boots need overboots and most ikely, gaiters- Triple Boots do not necessarily need them
- OVERBOOTS: Neoprene overboots such as 40 Below Purple Haze are best. OR and Wild Country insulated Overboots work well if they fit with your crampons. Supergaiters alone are not warm enough for Vinson.
- GAITERS: Full height, such as Black Diamond GTX Frontpoint Gaiter or Outdoor Research “Crocodiles.” Full coverage “Supergaiters” work great as well. Do you really need these? Call us to find out!
- BOOTIES: Synthetic or down fill booties. These are great for camp and tent comfort and allow you extra opportunity to dry out your mountain boots. They also help keep feet warm at night. Cut out an extra insole from some foam for additional warmth.
Your clothing layers for Vinson basically consist of five layers for your torso and four for your legs. Additional layers are optional and should be selected based on personal levels of hygiene or comfort.
- BASE LAYER TOP: A synthetic top such as Mid-Weight Capilene from Patagonia. The new Merino wool options are really nice as well.
- LIGHT FLEECE TOP:This should be made from 100 weight or Powerstretch fleece. A zip t-neck is essential for ventilating. Guides’ Pick: Patagonia R1 Flash Top or R1 Hoody.
- SHELL JACKET: This should be large enough to go over your base and expedition weight clothing layers. This does not need to be the burliest Gore-Tex pieces you can find! Many people are climbing Vinson using lightweight, windproof, water resistant shells.
- PRIMALOFT or similar “PUFFY” JACKET:The “puffy” type jackets are arguably better than fleece as they are lighter and more windproof and can be thrown on over your shell jacket at rest stops. Guides’ Choice: Patagonia Micro-Puff Jacket (with hood).
- EXPEDITION PARKA (WITH HOOD):Patagonia, Marmot, Mountain Hardwear and The North Face all make good parkas, but our Guides’ Pick is the Patagonia Down Parka. There are some synthetic options such as the Patagonia D.A.S. Parka and the Wild Things Belay Jacket, however; down is recommended as it is lighter and less bulky.
- REGULAR UNDERWEAR:One or two changes. Look for synthetics such as Patagonia Capilene.
- BASE LAYER: 1 pair of synthetic top and bottoms such as Mid-Weight Capilene from Patagonia. The new Merino wool options are really nice as well.
- LIGHT FLEECE PANTS: made from 100 weight or Powerstretch fleece. Guides’ Choice: Patagonia R1 or Wool 4 Pants.
- STRETCH WOVEN PANTS: Once considered optional, this “Soft Shell” layer is great due to the broad comfort range they provide. Often pants made of Schoeller Dynamic or similar fabrics can be worn all the way to High Camp in lieu of less breathable Shell pants. Guides’ Pick: Arcteryx Gamma MX pants or Patagonia Winter Guide Pants.
- SHELL PANTS: Light weight windproof pants with side zips. Just like your Shell Jacket, these do not need to be super tough. Your primary benefit from this layer is wind protection.
- INSULATED PANTS: This layer must have side zippers and needs to be either “Puffy” synthetic or down pants like the Patagonia Micro Puff Pant or Feathered Friends Volant Pants. These need to fit over your Shell pants for easy and quick layer changes.
Hands, Feet and Head
- SOCKS: 3+ sets of wool or synthetic medium/heavy weight socks. Make certain your socks fit with your boots!
- LIGHT GLOVES: “Soft Shell” Gloves work better than fleece. Guides’ Pick: Outdoor Research Vert Gloves
- INSULATED GLOVES: Warm, insulated gloves are the workhorse on Vinson. Gloves with a Goretex liner are best and our Guides’ Pick, Black Diamond Guide Gloves also have removable liners for ease of drying. Please do not skimp on gloves; purchase the best, warmest ones you can find.
- SUMMIT MITTENS: Thick, warm, non-constricting mittens made of pile, Primaloft or down. Guides’ Pick: Outdoor Research Alti Mitts. They aren’t cheap, but are extremely warm. Just divide the cost by your 10 fingers and they are a bargain!
- WARM HAT: One warm hat or two hats of different weights. Wool or pile is fine. Your hat must provide ear protection. If you bring two, the second could be a balaclava.
- FACE MASK: Neoprene or Windstopper work well.
- BUFF: Buff is the brand name of a lightweight, synthetic, long neck gaiter that can be worn as a hat, scarf, balaclava or headband. This is an exceptionally useful piece of clothing.
- SUN HAT: Baseball type or wide brimmed sun hat for the intense sunshine of the southern latitudes. You can combine a baseball hat with a bandana for good sun protection
- HAND WARMERS: Bring 8+ sets of disposable hand warmers as insurance.
- GLACIER GLASSES: They must have side protection and filter 100% UVA and UVB rays.
- SKI GOGGLES: Double lens, full UV protected goggles. The cheap ones tend to fog up.
- EXPEDITION PACK: (5500+ cu in. or 85+ Liters) You’ll need a large pack in order to carry your gear, plus group food & equipment. Our current favorites are the Mountain Hardwear BMG abnd the Osprey Aether 85. Both are light and fairly simple packs, which we like.
- DAY PACK: A small day pack is nice for the flight to Antarctica. (Optional)
- LARGE ZIPPERED DUFFELS: Two large duffels for transporting gear on sleds and for use as gear storage back in Punta Arenas.
- EXPEDITION SLEEPING BAG: (Rated to at least 40 below.) Marmot Cwm, Mt Hardwear 5th Dimension and The North Face Darkstar are all great bags. Which to choose, down or synthetic? Down is lighter and less bulky, but cost a lot more. Synthetic bags are getting much better, but down is a better choice. Guides’ Pick: Feathered Friends Snowy Owl. You might only use it in Antarctica, but you’ll be warm.
- COMPRESSION STUFF SACK: Outdoor Research makes some nice, new lightweight sacks. Essential for sleeping bags and one is recommended for your summit clothes, such as your parka, mitts and warmest pants.
- 2 SLEEPING PADS: You need two pads, with one being a closed cell pad such as a Ridge Rest or a Karrimat and the other an inflatable pad. The new Exped down-filled air mattresses work great if you practice inflating them before your trip. Guides’ Pick: Exped 9 full length paired with a Ridge Rest Deluxe. (Contact us for tips on having success with the Exped pads).
TECHNICAL CLIMBING EQUIPMENT
- ICE AXE: (with leash.) 70-80 cm length works well for Vinson Guides’ Pick: Black Diamond Raven Pro.
- CRAMPONS: We recommend 12 point crampons that fit your boots and overboots, if you will be using them. Step in or strap versions work equally well, just make sure step-in versions fit with your overboots.
- HARNESS: Adjustable leg loops are required. The Black Diamond Blizzard or the even lighter Couloir harness are both lightweight and functional.
- PRUSSIKS: Bring one 6mm prussik loop, which can be paired with your ascender for glacier travel.
- CARABINERS:Bring two large locking carabiners and five regular carabiners. Bent-gate biners are very sexy, but are not appropriate for this expedition, so leave them at home with your neon lycra sport-climbing tights. Mark them with colored tape for identification. Guides’ Pick: Black Diamond Neutrinos are very lightweight.
- ASCENDER: There is about 900m of fixed line leading to high camp, so you will need a handled ascender such as the Petxl Ascension to negotiate the route.
- PERLON CORD: 60 feet of 5 mm for sled and pack tie offs and rigging your ascender.
- SKI POLES: Adjustable, 3-section ski poles work best for traveling. Make certain they have broad, “powder” baskets. Black Diamond Flick Lock poles are recommended as they are less prone to spontaneously collapsing. Three section poles travel more easily than two section versions.
ESSENTIAL PERSONAL ITEMS
- STUFF BAGS (for your own items)
- (2)ONE QT. WIDE MOUTH WATER BOTTLES
- INSULATED COVER (for each water bottle).
- LARGE PLASTIC CUP OR BOWL for eating (2-4 cup measuring bowl or Rubbermaid storage bowl work fine)
- INSULATED CUP 12 or 16 ounce plastic cup for hot drinks
- LARGE PLASTIC (LEXAN) SPOON
- 2 SMALL LIP BALMS (WITH 30+SPF): Two small tubes are easier to keep from freezing than one big tube.
- SUN SCREEN 3-4 OUNCES- Three to four small tubes work better than one large tube which could feeze solid.
- TOILET PAPER: 1 or 2 rolls, depending on your technique
- TOILET KIT (Tooth brush & paste, floss, Handi-wipes, hand sanitizer… keep it small)
- P-BOTTLE Wide-mouth, collapsible Nalgene Cantenes work great- they make a 96 ounce version! Ladies- look for an appropriate adapter available at your local outdoors store. These items are both tough to find in Anchorage so plan ahead!
- EARPLUGS for the flight and for windy camps
- PERSONAL MEDICAL KIT (Blister kit, aspirin, antacids, lozenges, Ibuprofen). PLEASE CONTACT YOUR PERSONAL PHYSICIAN FOR A LIST OF APPROPRIATE PRESCRIPTION MEDICATIONS. Mountain Trip will have a very comprehensive medical kit.
- CAMERA, with lots of film or digital and no film
- BOOK(s)for storm day reading and for keeping sane in the event we get stuck at Patriot Hills waiting for a flight
- JOURNAL & PENCIL
- ALTIMETER WATCH
- FOOT POWDER
- NECK GAITOR
- SPARE SUN GLASSES
- PERSONAL MUSIC PLAYER (CD, MINI DISC, MP3 PLAYER, ETC with extra batteries)
Make sure your gear works for you! Try everything out before you leave home. Vinson base camp is not the place to discover that your boots are too small or that your pack is not the right size.
**Fly with your boots and glacier glasses in your carry-on. Just in case.
ALL EQUIPMENT ON THIS LIST IS AVAILABLE AT AMH IN ANCHORAGE.
And you get a 10% discount if you mention that you are joining a Mountain Trip expedition. Check out their Web site www.alaskamountaineering.com or call 907-272-1811
FEATHERED FRIENDS IN SEATTLE WILL ALSO GIVE YOU A 10% DISCOUNT IF YOU TELL THEM THAT YOU ARE JOINING US ON AN EXPEDITION
www.featheredfriends.com or 1-206-262-6292