Antarctica story - continued...

Getting down to The Ice requires some determination. You have to really want to do it, as the expense, logistics and amount of gear required are all sizeable. To get flown into the interior requires all of that, and in my case, a good dose of luck. This came in the form of a NOVA film project that was put together by Conrad Anker, who I knew from his earlier days at Black Diamond Equipment. Conrad had the original idea to traverse the Ellsworth Mountain Range from north to south, which would have been a 200-300 mile, multi month outing. After working on this for a few years, the plan changed to a shorter east to west traverse of the range with a trip over the top of the continent’s high point, the 16,067’ summit of the Vinson Massif.

The idea behind the film was to get a group of three people to talk about various aspects of the Antarctica experience. As the designated Alpinist and Expedition Leader, Conrad talked about the challenge of climbing in such a remote, cold area and all of the logistics that went into putting such a trip together. Jon Krakaurer filled in with some history and background, while Dan Stone of Boulder, CO was the resident Glaciologist, who was in charge of the science aspect. The film crew was made up of John Armstrong as the lead cameraman, Rob Raker as the sound guy and Liesl Clark as the director. Dave Hahn and myself were along as field guides, with Dave having the current record of 20 trips to the summit of Vinson.

After enduring weeks of bad weather, we were finally able to fly from Patriot Hills to Flower Hills on the east side of the Ellsworth range to begin our journey. Starting at about 1,000’ above sea level, we proceeded to double haul 1,300 pounds of gear up 40 km of untouched glaciers and 15,000’ of vertical over the period of 15 days. While most of it was very pleasant, the cold was a constant reminder that we were far from Kansas. Temperatures ranged from –20c to about 0 and the ever-present winds drove that even lower with windchill. The route itself was fairly nontechnical and I was able to give the new BD Clipfix tip & tail skin kit a good workout as we were skinning for the majority of it. Earlier prototypes had inspired enough confidence that I didn’t take any spare parts and was happy to see that they worked flawlessly for over 50,000’ of climbing in everything from warm slop to eye-popping cold.

With 24 hours of beaming daylight, our schedules often depended on what we had done the day before. If we stayed up late, we could sleep in without worrying about the consequences. As we were skiing up valleys that had never been explored before, there were countless first ascent possibilities within meters of our tents. Conrad and Jon were able to climb Mt. Havener as an all night outing and I was able to climb and ski Mt. Mohl during a half-day of bad weather. The skiing was an odd mix of avalanching powder pockets and blue ice, of which it was hard to tell what was worse. The ice was stable, but hard to edge on, whereas the powder was turnable, but would break loose in blocks that required some quick double Whippet arrests to stay on top of. After 3,750’ of 45 degree skiing, I’d had enough and wasn’t going up for seconds!

Patriot Hills