Nine years was far too long to be away from expedition style mountaineering and I was getting very itchy feet. Disappointingly I had missed out on the summit of Everest back in 2005 by a mere 1000′, bouncing back three years later with success on Carstensz Pyramid (Puncak Jaya) in Indonesian Papua, bringing me to November 2017. I had dreamt of the day that Mt Vinson in Antarctica would be a possibility and this day had finally come.

The significant break in my quest to stand atop the highest point on each of the seven continents was due to a mixture of injuries, funding, and myself and Andrea’s worldwide travel commitments. With a spare month in our busy schedule it was at last time to add continent number six to the list.

7summits Map showing success on Vinson

First I had to get to Vinson which was going to be no mean feat, certainly the biggest contributing factor in the pricing for this expedition. With a very remote location in the Sentinel Range of the Ellsworth Mountains, and more than 750 miles from the South Pole, the only company that provides services to reach and operate in Antarctica’s extreme interior is Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE). Having a monopoly can only mean one thing! As the expedition progressed the price tag upwards of $40,000 would eventually become almost, kind of, maybe even, justified!

For now all I had to be concerned with was the decision as to which mountain guide company would carry my amateur butt up to the Antarctica highpoint, leaving whoever it might be with the task of working out the logistics with ALE.

Dotting the i’s and Crossing the t’s
Scanning through the big players of the mountain guiding world, reputable companies such as Rainier Mountaineering Inc (RMI), Alpine Ascents International (AAI), Adventure Consultants, and International Mountain Guides (IMG), the latter being the outfit I used on Everest; provided me numerous options. Alternatively I could utilize ALE’s own guiding services – this could make sense due to all the guiding companies having to use their logistics to get to the land of ice. On this occasion IMG won out, a repeat customer discount on their already slightly lower price, and having one of the worlds top mountain guides, Mike Hamill, made for an easy decision. RMI and their super guide, Dave Hahn, was a strong contender.

Having now committed to IMG and Phil Ershler’s Antarctica climbing program my email inbox was about to get bombarded with a whole slew of forms, disclaimers, medical and insurance requirements; all the crap that I typically have no time for! With reply deadlines in place I had no choice but to make a doctors appointment – hopefully for a clean bill of health, find emergency evacuation insurance, and ensure I had all the necessary equipment. Much of my gear untouched since Everest I assumed it would still be in the same good condition as when it was boxed away in an AC cooled storage unit.

As expected my doctor had no hesitation in signing the Physician’s Certificate and prescribing the requested antibiotics, I had no problem with the form labeled Acknowledgement and Express Assumption of Risk and Contract, Waiver, Release and Indemnification, and Andrea was excited about scribbling her name in the Participant’s Spouse box to sign my life away. With documents signed, sealed and mailed I now felt well into the excitement stage leading up to a big trip. I decided to scrimp on insurance, the hefty price tag of obtaining cancellation and evacuation insurance for such an expensive trip too much to consider, instead opting to use World Nomads Explorer Plan which conveniently covers the required $500,000 of Emergency Evacuation, a few other odds and sods, and Trip Cancellation…. Up To Trip Cost*. Why is there always an asterisk? Reading down the policy I read that: * Trip Cost up to a maximum of $10,000, more than a seventy five percent shortfall if something was to go wrong! It’s a good job I’m a risk taker.

The November 22nd departure date was already looming close, and with a spare bedroom at Andrea’s parents house littered with climbing and cold weather gear I thought it about time to make sure all such gear was worthy of hauling down to South America and on to Antarctica. Going back a few weeks, Andrea and I were in the Salt Lake City area which made buying anything I didn’t already own effortless. It was surprising how much of what was on the IMG recommended gear list I didn’t have. This was easily remedied with my therapeutic love of sliding a Visa credit card through an REI checkout – one of our quests is to visit every REI store in the United States!, just to the north of Salt Lake City was another great outdoor store where I managed to get hold of very reasonably priced gear, particularly Outdoor Research equipment.

IMG Vinson Expedition
ALE Flyer
Unhealthy OneSport boots

I had pretty much checked every box on the required gear list, bar a few items I would have to buy in Punta Arenas, Chile. Being ready with five weeks to go made me smile! My -40°C/F sleeping bag was as new, the heavy duty down jacket was still as lofty as it had ever been, the new gear; well that was all new, the crampons looked fine but were probably in need of a little touch up on the spikes, and my huge looking Millet OneSport Everest boots fitted like a glove. What more did I need to do? I had overlooked one important thing, and that was to make sure the crampons were adjusted properly and would securely fit onto the super stiff triple plastic boots. Exactly a month prior to departure I made the decision to sit down, put on the boots that fitted like a glove, and attach the crampons – the process went something like this…

Clipped the front of the crampon over the boots front welt with ease, the rear requiring the crampon mechanism to be adjusted slightly. With this done the rear crampon bail was inserted into the rear boot welt and the crampons securing clip pushed in towards the boot to lock everything in place – I didn’t want to see what happened next! As the rear clip is pushed in towards the boot it is not meant to make the front of the crampon effortlessly slice into the join where sole meets body, separating such sole from approximately forty percent of the boot. This was not good, and what was worse was that the exact same thing happened on the other boot.

This was a trip where footwear is the most important piece of gear and I had just discovered a disaster of epic proportions! Going into survival mode I at first decided that surely my now destroyed $1000 boots could be repaired, a hope that was soon quashed leaving me to turn to online outdoor retailers for a suitable replacement. The preferred options within the mountaineering community were either La Sportiva’s Olympus Mons Evo or the new Millet Everest Summit GTX, both looking like they were going to be as rare as rocking horse shit! After struggling with sizing on the La Sportiva’s my desperation hit a lucky streak, a more indepth Google search coming up with – a quick phone call and not only did I discover they stocked the Millet boot in every possible size but instead of being located in some Rocky Mountain outdoorsy mecca they were just up the street in Granville, Ohio. With Andrea’s never ending support and financial backing I walked out of the store a few days later a very happy man!

As well as being fully kitted out for Vinson I was now good to go should Everest arise in 2019…

A fully loaded Antarctica ALE Brochure

My outbound flight was scheduled to leave Miami on the evening of November 22nd, still a couple of weeks away, and as long as nothing unforeseen happened between now and then the gamble I took with cheap travel cancellation insurance was justified – speaking to others on the trip I discovered that some took the recommendation of IMG and dropped around $2000. Ouch!

… and finally I had two packed duffels full of gear. With almost two weeks of US highpoint bagging throughout the east coast states before arriving at friends in South Florida these duffels were treated like gold; if it meant fully unloading Going Broke, our trusty SUV, each evening then so be it. This was no easy chore with two bikes, a mobile gym and other travel luggage, on top of the Vinson gear!

Opting to fly with LATAM via Santiago and on to Punta Arenas in Chilean Patagonia was the logical route out of Miami – having only one stopover also gave me much needed peace of mind that both duffels would make it to the final destination. For a couple hundred Dollar saving I could have added another stopover in Lima but felt this far too risky!

The flights went okay, helped along with a bit of luggage luck and a chance meeting with the IMG guide; whilst asking a Santiago airport official about domestic connections, unbeknown to me my duffels were floating around on the carousel behind me – for some reason the official asked if the bags were mine! Not sure how long they would have continued going around in circles but I would definitely have joined the next flight without them. Then during the domestic flight the lady next to me in row 16 commented that I too must be a climber as I stepped by her to take my seat – I wondered why she thought that. She then asked if I was climbing with the legendary Dave Hahn or IMG, upon which I commented IMG. I was then told that my guide, Justin Merle was sitting in 16A, across from me! What a coincidence. I introduced myself and made small talk with Dave’s client and Justin – apparently RMI are on the same schedule, taking the same ALE flight out to the ice, and probably climbing alongside us. This was going to be fun.

Boarding Pass in hand I was ready
Punta Arenas to Union Glacier

My first night in Punta Arenas was spent in a cheap Airbnb, far cheaper than the IMG assigned hotel – I guess it’s completely irrelevant when the expedition costs in excess of forty thousand Dollars in the first place! The sun was mostly out, it was relatively warm and not too windy. By the time I returned from dinner a couple hours later it was seriously windy, still warm and sunny out, but gusting strong enough to make walking difficult. This night on Vinson the windchill read from -45°F to -56°F for the coming week. One of the biggest problems with Vinson is making it out onto the ice and with conditions like that it wasn’t going to happen without inevitable delays.

With gear check out of the way I had to find a Nalgene pee bottle with a larger head; Justin Merle concerned that the one I was expecting to use might be a tad small, even with the cold shriveling up any extremities! Mission accomplished and with new overpriced wide head bottle and leather palmed Swany climbing gloves I was good to go. I had only bought a pair of high-end mittens and some thin wind stopper gloves. Today was Black Friday in the US and I could have gotten a pair for significantly less than the $100 I ended up paying! …and $20 for a Nalgene bottle; absolutely outrageous! With those concerns out of the way all that was left was the additional snacks, and trying to anticipate how the bitter cold would affect food. I think there could be a visit to the dentist upon my return to fix fractured teeth.

The only formalities left were our team dinner, an eating affair with an unpretentious fun bunch of team members, bag weighing, and an ALE cocktail hour with all the other adventurers heading over for once in a lifetime experiences – some heading over to climb Vinson, emperor penguin viewing, South Pole visitors and the hardcore sled pullers attempting to cross the continent. I thought this was purely an IMG Vinson trip! The morning following our team dinner, ALE, as planned, collected our bags, weighed them and stacked them with various other expedition duffels in the back of a box truck in prep for loading onto the ALE flight, informing us that we wouldn’t see them again until Union Glacier. If plans went as scheduled we’d be sitting on the same Russian Ilyushin IL-76 cargo plane the very next morning. First we got the privilege of joining around fifty others at the ALE offices in town.

What an awe inspiring night being in the presence of hardcore athletes and wealthy Chinese. We sat through a few short videos and listened to an ALE trip co-ordinator going over Antarctica guidelines. It was cool to collect our boarding passes for the large Russian Ilyushin IL-76 aircraft and keep our Pisco sour glasses as momentos. We may even get to head out to the ice tonight. As mentioned at the meeting, defendant on the 7-7.30pm weather forecast we may have a 30 minute turnaround to be ready for departure. The airplane captain decides if the conditions are good enough to land in and if so we depart around 5 hours prior to the landing time. At the meeting we were told that it was too windy to load the baggage onto the plane this afternoon, a contradiction leading us to believe that there was little chance of an evening departure.

Justin Merle (front right) and his band of merry mountaineers
Duffels loaded and ready
Dressed for the icy continent

That evening we eventually received the email from our assistant guide, Emily notifying us that it was not going to happen and to be ready for a 7.30am departure – we already knew that that day and the next few didn’t look so optimistic! Could be a bunch of hotel hopping and laying low until we get the green light. I was also slightly concerned that the carton of Chilean red wine I’d made a rush purchase on would be confiscated and that our eventual summit celebrations on the ice wouldn’t happen!

….and from here on out it was all about climbing the tallest of them all in the Antarctica interior.

Heading to the Ice
Almost bang on 7.30am we got the news we had been waiting for, a pickup time of 8.45 – Woohoo! The nerves kicked in a little but super exciting times lay ahead. Now have to try and make sure I can fix the irritating bone spur that could well throw a major spanner in the works, potentially causing a boat load of discomfort.

Airport security was swift, after which we got to hang out with the various teams. Dave Hahn’s response to if in his 36 summits of Vinson he’d ever made it to the airport and still been unable to depart for the ice – “yes, numerous times” was not the anticipated one! My warm and fuzzies to be out on the ice soon had dissipated slightly. Not too long later we received our second green light, an ALE staff member calling out over a funky green loud hailer. We were to board buses, not back into town, but to the Russian Ilyushin IL-76 aircraft waiting off to the side of the runway. Some last minute refueling and we excitedly climbed the steps into the huge cargo carrier. Half the aircraft was kitted out with forward facing seats, the other half full of cargo, separated by a few inward facing bench jump seats – a few of the team made a beeline for these as they came complete with ample legroom and were close to the food trolley.

Antarctica travel is certainly no luxurious gig, and if you’ve ever seen the inside of a 1970’s built Soviet cargo plane you would understand why! I was very surprised to have waitress service, even if it was in the form of an ALE employee in one of her numerous roles for the company. Also surprising was the total lack of turbulence, allowing for a perfectly smooth flight – conditions had been so windy in Punta Arenas. A couple of tiny port holes at the front of the aircraft allowed us a view of icebergs, blue skies and fluffy clouds, just the start of the spectacular scenery that would soon become the norm.

Landing, like the rest of the flight was perfect, even though after the fact we discovered that the pilot requires a navigator in the planes lower cockpit to advise on navigation, probably even as to how low they are above the runway. Strange being inside an aircraft where you have no idea when the actual landing will take place! Although by now blue skies were non-existent, stepping from the plane in the brutal cold Antarctic summer was the most amazing experience, a sublime wonderland prompting photos of everything, moving or stationary. A fun and bouncy polar vehicle ride took us to the ALE Union Glacier mini city, the colorful tents and surrounding mountains a welcome sight.

Transportation to Antarctica, an old 1970’s era Ilyushin IL-76 Russian cargo aircraft
Paying close attention to the safety briefing
ALE vehicles at the blue-ice runway

Phil Ershlers comment about understanding the hefty price tag was becoming justified, the countless tents, huts, communication stations, motorized vehicles, and fatbikes, all in place to support a constant flow of adventurers, South Pole visitors, climbers, even marathoners! I was definitely enthusiastic about the afternoon agenda; an ALE team greeting, snacks and soup, closely followed by dinner and what felt like a good supply of wine and beer. Whilst the 9pm weather advisory didn’t permit an early departure to Vinson basecamp the opportunity to take one of the camp fatties out offset the disappointment – surrounding camp was a crevasse-free well marked and groomed 10 km circuit that was always available for walking, running, or more importantly biking on!

Nights of Nervous Waiting
Making it out onto the ice on schedule was one thing but being able to fly a mere 80 miles further to Vinson basecamp was entirely another!

Icelandic team driving to the South Pole, continuing on down towards the Ross Ice Shelf, back to the Pole, and finally back to Union Glacier. Obviously not on a budget after seeing their decked out Toyota truck.
Still no-go, now we hope for tomorrow. Bed by 11pm in absolute daylight – this is far lighter than being on Denali high up in Alaska with barely any change between midday and midnight!

A scrappy night waking every couple of hours. Slept in base layer bottoms and still felt too warm.
I was sure that during the night I saw the sun streaking into the tent, very different to the overcast morning skies. Bits of blue made an appearance, obviously not enough to get us into the air.
Our 9.30am update put us into a 30 minute holding pattern for first departure to Vinson basecamp, leaving us nowhere to go other than within camp. Conditions got worse over the day changing to snow later in the afternoon.
My day was spent jumping on and off the fat bikes knocking out loops of the camps wanded perimeter.
Food continues to impress with cooked breakfast, creative salads and hot food for lunches, loaded avocados with salmon, eggplant smothered in vegetables, soups, always washed down with dessert and as much coffee, tea and water.
The small window led to me packing away sleeping bag only to unpack it later for an early evening nap.
More photos of tents, snow, and the departing South Pole bound plane. Sucks that we couldn’t leave but a plane load of Chinese made the Pole. We struggled through dinner with ample red wine and beer, washed down with more after being told of no chance of an evening departure today, and probably not tomorrow either, even running into a 2-3 day stint at Union Glacier! We already had a full day instantly planned – fat bike the 10km circuit, gear check and glacier travel overview, giant snowman construction, and hiking.
The evening ended with The White Maze documentary, then writing this at almost midnight.
Very very white out but amazingly warmer than expected.
Keep forgetting to not bring camera into warm tent from outside in the subzero temperatures – instantly mists up and covers in condensation. Needed to bring bigger lens too!
At least tomorrow we move away from the 30 minute standby window providing us far more flexibility for fun.

Sleep by midnight, awake by 7am and not a lot in between. First up again, a scenario very typical of me on these expeditions. Breakfast came and went and although the weather looked like it had dramatically improved we were once again on standby. This time we could do what we liked through 12.30pm, the next weather update. Having had little physical activity over the past week or so it felt great to be out on the 10km groomed trail surrounding Union Glacier. Not sure how the pins in my ankle would behave! In what seemed like beautiful conditions the nine of us photographed, bullshitted, and hiked our way along the groomed trail. Two and a half hours later we were chowing down on lunch. Yet another amazing meal, making us occasionally not care about leaving so soon.
Refueled from lunch, Justin, Philip and I borrowed three fat bikes and this time on wheels headed out on the 10km loop. I can now say I have fat biked in Antarctica! Taking less than half the time on 2 wheels we made it back in a little under 1:30, photo stops included.
The 12.30pm update had been pushed to 5.30pm, once again deemed no good for flying.
We had time for harness and climbing gear setup prior to dinner – these refreshers are always necessary for me! Everything seems familiar but I’m rusty after having so long away from mountaineering. Backpack is now ready to pull a sled and harness is configured with all necessary gear.
Great camaraderie ripples through our team and almost everyone else within ALE is super friendly.
Apparently my middle name is ‘asshole’ and not Anthony – I receive back everything that I dish out and love every minute of it! We bullshit continuously, Emily being a big player.
We already know tomorrow is almost guaranteed to be unflyable weather. Justin and I had planned a fat bike race for 7am, now pushed back until after breakfast. Not sure whether I’ll be able to kick his ass or not!
Dave Hahn actually realized who I was tonight after Justin explained about my Everest 2005 trip. He couldn’t join the dots even after seeing the Gibbon hanging from my tent.
Still no real cause for concern but being in Union Glacier for over 48 hours now is causing some anxiety. Just been reassured by the Belgian onsite meteorologist that low and high pressures have messed things up and that by Friday we should be seeing more settled weather again – mentioned that there will be many flights zipping around to the Emperor Penguin colony, South Pole, Antarctic crossing drop-offs and Vinson. With no Ilushyin flight until December 4th people scheduled to depart are hanging around.

Adventurers gateway to the interior of Antarctica
Blue ice runway Union Glacier shuttle service
Not many places these freight trains cannot make it through
Union Glacier volleyball
Mount Rossman looming over camp
A walk on the wild side
Client tents at the spectacular ALE Union Glacier Antarctica basecamp

Almost expected we received a big No-No on making the 80 mile flight to Vinson this morning. A later than usual wakeup got me into the team dining tent in time for another epic breakfast. Our 9.30am update told us to stay close again, the worst case scenario as we couldn’t leave the camp boundaries. Justin and I were resigned to riding loops around Union Glacier. No matter how much I moaned it still didn’t get me anywhere. Seems like all we do is eat, flowing effortlessly from breakfast, into lunch, and moments later on to dinner. The early afternoon shower felt do damn good, maybe something I should try out every few days or so!
Almost instantly after leaving the shower the wall construction began. I had found a strategic location behind our IMG campsite, enough room to dig out the large blocks of compacted snow that would make an Antarctic Gibbon Ridge. I cut blocks whilst Kim, my ‘part-time’ partner in crime, put in the wall foundations – we were soon joined by Philip. Only the blocks making up the precarious arch remained to be installed – this is where 6’ 5” Justin came in. The semi-circular arch needed additional helping hands, and with the noise we were making this didn’t take long to find.
What a job, we had completed a work of art – 20’ in length, more than 5 blocks high, 18” thick, and an arch almost 6’ high were the final dimensions. The Gibbon sat atop like the crowning king. These constructions seem to be the way to kill ‘waiting’ hours on all big mountains. Kim, Philip and I were stoked. This made for the perfect IMG Antarctica photo. Maybe I should have waited on the shower!
Lounging around for the 2 hours leading up to dinner was now the order of the late afternoon. We had been waiting 72 hours for a flight out.
An early announcement mentioning we could stand down for the night, until at least 9.30am the following day, came with indications that clearer weather was likely the following evening. Was this to be our final night here before heading on up to Vinson basecamp? A few more drinks indicated it could well be! Three hours of fun, joking around, and bullshitting with each other followed. This team is the best!
I’ll be glad to be out of here so the drinking and eating subside.
Still feels so surreal to be down here, the hefty price tag becoming more and more acceptable each day.
Tomorrow we fly…

Midnight until 7ish is becoming the sleep pattern for me. I find it prepares my body perfectly for the top notch breakfast. The words of the day were a repeat of the previous 3 days, nevertheless allowing us free reins until the late afternoon announcement. Finally I got to ride the 10km loop again, all I needed was a partner and radio from the comms tent. The day was definitely our worst weather with nothing but white in every possible direction. Even the relatively close Mt Rossman was out of sight.
Justin was fair game and off we headed, out into the great white beyond. It didn’t take long before the buildings that make up ALE’s Union Glacier base vanished into the white and we lost references completely. Luckily the multi-use trail is well wanded. This was beyond words, nothing but white up, down and in every direction. Peaceful, surreal and wild.
Off with the down jacket, the goretex, zips open and still sweating profusely. Blowing snow made its way into all openings. It felt so good to be out riding for the 55 minutes it took to complete the 10kms. I’ve ran faster that we biked today but never in such beauty! The facilities at Union Glacier ensured drying off was easy.
Bring on the Iditarod Trail Invitational…
A shower wouldn’t have gone amiss today but missing the hours of availability and having to redress the ankle pin problem felt too much like hard work.
Cutting down on lunch seconds and riding again prior to dinner were both going to to ensure that I was hungry before and not stuffed after, problems I had experienced every day since we landed on the ice!
A few laps of the camp in the newly fallen snow was hopefully going to keep me in some sort of shape for the upcoming Cape Epic mountain bike race. I had completed far more fat biking than hiking on this expedition so far, something that would hopefully be changing tomorrow.
A slightly lower key night with a a little less to eat and drink was the way to go, although not sure that retiring to the tent by 10.30pm would work out so well. Even less so on the back of a 2 hour nap.
Not sure our fallen arch was a good omen for an optimistic departure tomorrow! Bring on the forecasted good weather!!

Excited about the change in weather it was difficult to stay put, although a quick glimpse from the tent’s rear door dashed those hopes – there was almost as much white as the previous day!
It was definitely a little demoralizing to see no visible change. The bearer of the weather forecasts came by after breakfast saying things were still expected to change, just a bit slower than anticipated.
At least we had free reins until lunchtime. Any opportunity to hit the fat bike trail was good with me, only this time I had earnt my stripes and got to go alone. Issued with a radio by the ALE comms guys and an expected return time I was off. With far better visibility the hour long ride was unbelievable.
The day became clearer and clearer by the hour leading us to think that it was only a matter of time before we were called. After all, the Chinese got to the Emperor Penguin colony, the Croat got to Hercules Inlet and a frostbitten adventurer got a ride back to Union Glacier. Our end was looking good but it was now too foggy to land at Vinson basecamp apparently.
Lunch came and went, a few more laps of camp were completed and still we waited. Union Glacier grew progressively more spectacular as the day went on. Mountains that we hadn’t seen before rose from the surrounding plateau and sheer beauty memorized us. If we get to finally leave tomorrow then this day would have all been worth it.
The dinner forecast reiterated the afternoon announcement – fog! Vinson wasn’t going to surrender easily. A couple of games of Catan killed some time, multiple photo shoots killed a bit more, and the rest was spent eating and drinking.
We were very ready!
I was in awe at the beauty, the Union Glacier base, and eager to discover what was beyond our visible slice of wilderness.

Life doesn’t get much better than fat-biking in Antarctica
Union Glacier regional airport
Just me, the mountains and a bike
Icelandic transportation solution for tackling the sights of Antarctica

Subtle Change of Scenery
The news we had been waiting for came through just after breakfast. We had woken to another glorious day but apparently some fog still lingered at Vinson basecamp.
Lounging around in the breakfast room we found out that we had 45 minutes to take down camp and get all our gear ready for Skidoo collection – it would be loaded onto the Twin Otter until basecamp cleared enough to fly. Now it was another waiting game, although another step closer! An hour or so later and we were sitting on the small plane excited as a bunch of school kids. This was it, we were finally leaving for the mountain proper.
The pilot told us it could get choppy closer to basecamp but we didn’t care. Just make the 35 minute flight pass by as soon as possible. Turns out the flight was as smooth as possible, all around surrounded by seas of white and spectacular mountains. I was in heaven! We were trying to pick out Vinson en route but seems like it wasn’t visible until we landed at the small ALE settlement thats seasonally erected on the ice.
A quick tour of where to pee and poop, some guidelines to enable us to keep the area pristine, and we were shown to where our campsite would be placed.
The ALE clients flew in, ate in their private tents and headed straight up to camp 1, also stocked and probably complete with tents already!
We cleared a flat platform, erected tents, went through gear, and finally had fun building the kitchen tent – Denali all over again. I was proving my ‘Waniac’ nickname – as usual I cant stay still and nothing was going to change just because we were in Antarctica! A few of the team dug up a cache left by the January 2017 team and divided it up into piles that would be taken up towards our camp 1 location – we needed to get out later this afternoon and make a carry.
Sleds were rigged, warm clothes packed, water bottles filled, and we headed off up an easy incline with awesome views of the Vinson Massif. The Branscomb Glacier terrain was relatively easy, not that any of us really noticed with the amazing blue skies, seas of ice, and windswept jagged mountains of the Ellsworth Range.
We covered most of the incline that leads to camp 1 and stashed a couple of duffels and fuel ready for collection the following day. The weather was perfect, definitely well below zero, but still feeling sweaty and requiring plenty of sunscreen and lip balm.
This was wilderness at its finest! Due to our eventual departure after 6pm we didn’t arrive back to camp until almost 11pm, all of us famished and ready to hit the sack.
Our guides, Justin and Emily, had the added task of cooking us (un)healthy burgers, complete with bacon, cheese, and hot water for drinks. Not sure how i managed to devour 3 of them! I’m writing this at 1.15am in broad daylight in what must be the most surreal place on the planet by far. Tomorrow we strip down camp, collect our cache and move on up to camp 1, or low camp.

Finally arriving at Vinson basecamp on the most perfect of days
Keeping Antarctica pristine
Packing up to leave for camp 1
Load hauling by sled just like on Denali
A group effort to establish camp 1

Not a bad nights sleep but waking up sweating made me remember how good this RAB expedition sleeping bag really is. Twenty four hour daylight was really going to start messing with our body clocks, not going to bed until after 1am, then waking at almost 9am. There was no reason to crawl out of the sleeping bag until water was boiling!
Surprising how long it takes to break camp and start heading out, almost 1.30 in the afternoon.
Almost seemed ashamed that our kitchen tent would only get a single night of use, that is unless we had to spend a night after our ascent whilst waiting for the flight back to Union Glacier.
Breakfast was a concoction of scrambled eggs, cheese, bacon and broken bagel, the bagels probably buried in the snow for the prior 5 years! Some of our food was cached from the January 2017 trip, dug up after spending an Antarctic winter entombed in the ice.
With camp ripped down, excess baggage stashed in the abandoned kitchen pit, and our sled/ pack combos packed with all necessary gear for up high we were set to go. This time I was on the rear of Emily’s rope, Valeri and Steve in the middle. The first hour was a trudge out of camp up a gentle incline, pretty much taking us out of sight of basecamp. Following the wanded trail, stopping in synch with the yellow flags that marked the pee holes, we made slow progress. Perspective is crazy here with what looked like relatively short sections turning into hour plus plods. Mountains that appear on top of us are miles away – very strange with the endless ‘white’ messing with us.
We collected our previous days cache and continued on for a further three hours to camp 1. The terrain was easy with an altitude gain of around 1800 ft from basecamp.
After cresting what looked like the final small hill tent tops appeared, although still a significant distance probably separated us. Pulling in at almost 8pm we still had a lot to do.
A few hours of the hike were in cloud with the obscured sun reducing the temperature somewhat, changing completely when we hit a sun drenched camp. Time to lather on the sunscreen! So far I have no sunburn nor chapped lips, although the cold does make my snout sore after multiple hours spent outside.
With tents anchored down an eating area had to be built – once again Kim and I were straight at it. Energizer Bunny at it again. We dug through ice, sawed out blocks of compacted snow and shoveled piles of snow to construct a kitchen that was good for cooking and the nine of us to sit perched around the centre pole. It was worth the effort.
Time was flying by and again we had no concept. Dinner was a little earlier, closer to 11pm than midnight, but it really didn’t matter. We get to lay in tomorrow as the sun disappeared behind the mountains from 3am until almost 10.30am. The temperatures would plummet and although broad daylight, without the sun the previous night had hit -24°F
Plenty of hot drinks, full water bottles, and an empty pee bottle, I retired to the warmth of the bag. Around 12.30am it was still warm enough to strip down to boxers; hours later I wasn’t so sure!
The colors of camp 1 echoed with the camps of five other teams added to the shades of bare rock on the surrounding mountains. This was photo wonderland.
The guides did an awesome job of dinner, this time offering up pasta, tomato sauce, cheese and pizza base bobolis covered in more cholesterol rich cheese. Perfect energy food to recover from the days hike and to take us through to a late breakfast. By 11am water would be on the stoves.

A tough day in the mountains, en route from basecamp to camp 1 on the Branscomb Glacier
Comings and goings from our kitchen tent
All eyes checking out the weather up high
Taking time out to simply relax, picturesque Mt Shinn to the far right

Dictated to by the Weather
Somewhere around 10.30am the warmth of the suns return changed the interior of the tent. Water crystals fell from the roof and the frost from our breath disappeared. Sometime in the wee hours it cooled significantly, prompting me to at minimum put on a warm hat. Although feet had cooled I didn’t feel it necessary to put on socks or a base layer. Apparently the temperature had dropped to -27°F overnight!
By the time water had boiled it was already midday – breakfast had turned into lunch and was being served after 12; who would have thought? More bacon, this time on bagels.
The next few hours we prepped to drop a cache at the top of the steep fixed lines, another full day of hiking at snail pace.
Departing at 3pm, this time minus sleds, six of us carrying loads, we made our way the 40 minutes or so to the bottom of the fixed lines – ropes secured to the steep slope by aluminum pickets. These would top out at almost 12,000 ft, one to one and a half hours from high camp. We would cache at the top of the lines and collect in a couple of days when we move up to high camp.
Not dissimilar to the fixed line above the 14,000 ft camp on Denali, or even Everest’s Lhotse Face. We were geared up with an ascender and safety line, on top of being roped up – a little over the top to me! Watching other groups ascend, this was going to be slow progress. More dots heading up the 45° slope.
The sections with kicked steps were easy whereas the steeper parts required horizontal foot placements. Fortunately there weren’t too many anchors for our 6 person rope team to keep clipping and climbing around – this process did slow us down even more.
Our tented camp became ever smaller the higher we got, eventually disappearing from sight completely as we crested the final ridges. Four hours after leaving camp 1 we made the end of the lines, suffering with nothing more than slight ankle discomfort from the acute angle of the incline.
Combining all of our loads into a single duffel made all our packs significantly lighter for the descent. I was hoping for a fast Lhotse Face style down climb, Justin denying me the freedom. We had to remain roped together! This time I lead and an hour and a half later we rolled into camp. Its surprising how many rope lengths we had to descend, making for sore feet on the steep ice and snow face. It was still 10pm once we arrived into camp, where at least this time Emily, who had descended earlier, had almost prepared dinner.
Wraps filled with rice, beans, cheese and bacon bits were the order of the day. Again, I devoured more than my fair share!
The 3am until 10.30am bitterly cold hours were not good for sleeping as crashing out around midnight meant 11 hours horizontal in a sleeping bag. Still, I slept pretty well as I had most nights on this expedition so far.

A day spent doing nothing was, at least I thought, going to drive me stir crazy. It ended up being a very relaxing day.
Breakfast at noon, a briefing on the weather and the following days plan, and I was out the door digging out a sun lounger, complete with amazing views of the climbing route. I had barely created another snow masterpiece when the team were crowded around with Justin and Emily providing further information on our schedule. Seems like the projected winds were staying away for another couple of days, allowing us a shot at the summit in 48 hours.
How happy was I? Big negative temperatures were not going to put me off but if slightly calmer winds were better for the team then so be it.
As everyone else migrated back to their tents I added further modifications to the lounger, a few tweaks to take in the contours of a mountaineers body. It was perfection, a place where I spent the next 4 hours. Usually saved for a big summit but lying down staring at the most amazing scenery on the planet, thinking about my dad and his cancer battle, bought a few tears to my eyes. He would have been so proud to see me out in Antarctica living another of my climbing dreams. This was surreal beyond surreal and I spent the afternoon watching Adventure Consultants and a German team slowly inching their way up the fixed lines.
This was time for catching up on blog writing and banging out another chapter of “Its What I do – A Photographers Life of Love and War”.
Hearing that soup was available at so called lunchtime I took it on myself to light the MSR stoves and get water boiling. Asparagus cup-a-soup would have to suffice. It was now 7pm and with only a few hours until dinner it was time to retire to the tent for a while.
Not sure that I even managed to read more of the book before falling asleep, something I prefer not to do as it disrupts my ‘evening’ sleep too much. Evening, broad daylight, breakfast at midday; all weird usually but normal in the Antarctic summer.
Dinner of rice, cheese and chicken nuggets was a welcome meal, total crap as usual but very typical in high and remote mountains!
I struggled to sleep tonight, instead banging out another chapter whilst listening to the dying hours of my iPod – 2am I drifted off.

Daylight for 24 hours gave multiple angles of the same epic scenery
Untouched pristine terrain
Antarctica in all its glory
4,460 m Mt Shinn
Interim stash on the way up to high camp
Our camp 1 on the Branscomb Glacier

Finally, maybe we lucked out on heading up the fixed ropes again, this time to stay a couple of nights. The guides yelling out from the cook tent a little after 10.30am was our cue to be up and ready – we were to leave between 12 and 1pm. Little did we know that the weather forecast would take a turn and instead of the next 48 hours being calm and sunny we would have winds whipping across the top of the ridge we were about to ascend. It didn’t look pretty!
The 11am weather forecast now called for 15-20 knots at high camp, significantly higher at the summit. We were to sit it out and see how things transpired.
One o’clock became 2 became 3 and 4, before finally departure was abandoned. I was pissed! We had arctic clothing for these conditions.

Another crap windy day
Lenticular cloud moved over us causing the sun to hide and temperatures to plummet. Not as bad as the shaded 3am to 10am hours still.
Thirty knot sustained winds apparently still at high camp. To us it just looked like spindrift on the ridge, nothing to be too concerned about. Kiwi Adventure Consultants, the Germans and two ALE clients were having to endure the conditions with no chance of sumitting in the obviously bitter conditions.
Kim and I built a giant cock and balls, I mean candle monument finishing well into the evening, quite possibly visible from outer space, or at least the top of the fixed ropes. My thought and Justin’s suggestion – two great minds think alike!
I commented in my typically big mouth that whilst Hahn was building walls around his two tents I was building a giant cock for all to marvel at!
Frustration was the order of the day yet again with my internal voice reiterating the fact that ‘these conditions on Denali would have been perfect, what the fuck!’

With nothing better to do Kim and I build ourselves a giant exploding c…..andle!
Looking out across the Branscomb Glacier
Multicoloured mountains were our camp 1 eye candy
Interesting skies over an interesting monument
Time to demolish camp 1 and move on up

A Summit Worthy of the Wait
Yeah, finally things looked better. The phallus had made it through the Antarctic night, the cloudy skies had cleared and the ridge didn’t look anywhere near as windswept. We were still on standby!
A guide pow-wow with Team Hahn and we were told to prepare for a 3pm departure – by 3.30pm we were underway and excited as hell.
At the bottom of the fixed lines Dave Hahn turned back with a client problem, eventually having to return to Vinson basecamp.
Camp one was now temporarily empty, another 20 or so climbers complete with sleds heading in to take over our campsites. Various teams including Guy Cotter’s Adventure Consultants. This crowd were maybe considered lucky, arriving in to Union Glacier on the IL 76 and whisked straight out on the fleet of Twin Otters to basecamp. Looking back I much prefer our weather waiting game.
Easy fixed ropes, where as usual I was pulling up the rear of Guide Johnston’s rope – not sure the reasoning but this was where both guides seemed to want me. Maybe from there I couldn’t cause too many problems! The stops were too long for me but I’ll forgive her as the timing was perfection.
This morning was down to -24°F with 10-15 knot winds, mostly subsiding as we gained altitude.
From the top of the fixed lines the incline was far less but still ascending all the way to high camp. The guides had decided to offload all the cached fuel to whoever felt they could carry a little extra, the remainder of the cache being pulled behind them in the not-so-slippery duffels. Both looked to be struggling, moving even slower than usual. I think Emily was trying to be a hero and told her so – eventually she allowed me to pull out one of the heavier food bags from the duffel and stuff it into my backpack. The pace was still more than comfortable. The way I’m feeling on this trip makes me want to jump straight on to an Everest expedition – super strong and super motivated.
Late night camp assembly, hanging on to the final couple hours of relative warmth before the sun disappears behind the mountains.
Pasta delivered to our tents tonight with hot drinks. Bed came well after 2am.

Now where did we leave the cache for high camp?
Taking in the amazing vistas of the Ellsworth Range
So sweet to finally settle into high camp
Making comfortable work of the upper section of the fixed lines and on to high camp

Similar to Denali you go as soon as conditions allow, and with our 1am arrival, 3am bedtime, at high camp none of us were chomping at the bit to head to the summit hours later. Slightly different than every other mountain I’ve been on, Denali included, there is 100% daylight at all times, hence there was no real need to leave disgustingly early – just before lunchtime is perfectly acceptable! It was 11.17am as we trudged at an alarmingly slow pace out of camp.
Back to camp 12 1/2 hours later.
Views from the summit were spectacular.
Hike was comfortable but the return was a grind.
Roped up with Guide Johnston, Phillip, Christophe, with me pulling up the rear, once again.
Carried Justin’s sleeping bag for emergency situations – I should have filled my backpack with other crap to justify the pace.
Return hike was substantially in the shade, bringing the temperatures down considerably. No Christophe we’re not stopping for a rest, its too damn cold!
Day was pretty much perfect with temperatures down to a balmy -28°F on the upper mountain, blue skies and endless ice and snow.
Emily thanked me for my patience on the rope, something I found very nice of her.
More than once I was frustrated with the relentless rhythm of step, stop, step, stop, step, stop.
Climbing schedule has been perfect as 10-15 knot winds are due back tomorrow, precipitation the day after.
We need to push to basecamp for flight back to Union Glacier.
Dave Hahn had lit stoves for our arrival back and removed shattered Christophe’s crampons – super nice guy. He heads up tomorrow with 2 clients.
Summit ridge was spectacular with some hairy drop-offs and foot wide exposed trails.
Cheese quesadilla’s for a late dinner – I chose to eat the greasy morsels in the excuse of a kitchen tent and allow myself more warmth and my tent mates a little more space.

The end is in sight as we make our way along the final exposed ridge
The Gibbon and I happy as can be!
Success on the penultimate of the Seven Summits
A few rocky and exposed sections will see us nicely to the top of Antarctica

It’s all About the Delays
Allowing for what seemed like an eternity, an 8.30am shout out came for an 11 o’clock departure, hopefully allowing us enough time to make it down to Vinson Basecamp. We needed to be there by mid afternoon/ early evening to fly back to Union Glacier. The morning was cold with breezy conditions, our relatively fast pace soon warming us, gratefully assisted by the sun and wind at our backs. The descent to the top of the fixed lines taking us a mere 15 minutes, far less than on the way up. The partially shaded, awkwardly slow arm wrap descent was once again borderline miserable! Taking well over an hour I was glad to be at the bottom, thankfully leaving only twenty minutes to camp 1 and a break before the push to basecamp. Looking back up to the ridge-line the wind was whipping up spindrift once again – summits were happening today but definitely not as comfortable as ours only 24 hours earlier. Hope the Hahn crew were having fun up there!
Gear reshuffles and cache burials in preparation for the IMG January expedition allowed us an hour break at camp 1. As usual too much time for me to be hanging around – I need to learn to chill out and relax! Around three hours should see us into basecamp, the sight of a couple of Twin Otters being the icing on the cake. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, that part is wishful thinking. A little after reaching the prior site of our camp 1 carry we all seemed to notice what was hopefully just the shadow of clouds reflected onto the snow. It had to be a shadow right, surely not cloud or unflyable fog? Within minutes we were in thick pea soup knowing there would be no planes waiting for us nor coming to haul us out. The expected crappy weather had decided to rear its ugly face a day early.
Down we went, loaded sleds banging into our ankles, frustration levels reaching fever pitch, and snappiness throughout the rope team. Valeri and Guide Johnston at it, the Hess’s at it, and me at the back cursing to keep moving and get the fuck down! The final twenty minutes took us below the cloud and allowed Vinson basecamp to come into view, a thin layer of blue sky in the distance – maybe the Canadian pilots could just fly through that blue piece of sky to reach us. The ALE crew at basecamp had us on standby, potentially up to 11pm. We knew better! It sucked to also find out that ALE’s clients and cargo would go on the first flight, the Germans and half of our team on the second, and those with a surname too far into the alphabet third – Morris was too far down the list which meant we were going to be split up! Worse still, what if they abandoned flights due to worsening conditions after flight two; we could be stuck here for additional days and that really would suck. In reality the three ALE Twin Otters could all just come together and pull everyone out at the same time, however these guys are super safety conscious, totally unlike the Alaskan bush pilots up on Denali – right now I wanted Denali pilots!

Roped up making our way towards the fixed lines and onwards to camp 1
Mt Shinn at 4,660 m overlooking Vinson high camp
Finally back at high camp for some much needed rest
The team all rigged and making our way from Vinson camp 1 down to basecamp

12/11 – 12/12
Still no sign of a good weather window and with that the only thing to do is build, this time a bigass cavern dug well into the snow. With the mostly whiteout conditions it was cold up on the surface but warm enough to write this blog with no gloves twelve feet underground!
Flying on December 13th, a quick stop at Union Glacier, and onwards to Punta Arenas was what the team hoped for, optimistic for sure.
Asked Andrea today to price flight change for the 19th or 20th of December as pretty sure we’re not going to be off the ice in time for the 14th. Tomorrow the weather is meant to rapidly get better, maybe allowing the chance to leave Vinson Basecamp – we will see. Only so much bullshitting one can do! Almost out of the red wine too. We polished off most of our alcohol on bad weather day number one – 3 liters of wine and a bottle of Jack just didn’t cut it!
Slept like a log for 9 hours last night, probably out of exhaustion, or maybe the vino.
One minute we had glimpses of blue sky, the next light snow, then a complete whiteout – neither mattered as long as my upcoming cavern was warm.
So looking forward to healthy food now, at least something better than the shit we’ve been chowing down for the past 10 days. At least Union Glacier provides top notch cuisine.
My only mistake so far was the single pair of boxer shorts I bought out with me from Punta Arenas, the single pair actually being the pair I’m wearing! They, along with a thin base layer smell so badly of urine I can barely undress for bed at night. It seems like an eternity since washing them in my eating bowl a week ago at camp 1. So need a shower now.
Juston cut up and used my eating bowl lid as a spatula for a pancake breakfast, well worth the sacrifice.
As evening came so did an increase in the amount of blue sky and sunshine, hinting that tomorrow could be the day. By the time we hit the tents around midnight hopes were high.

Fortunately our group being split between the second and third flights didn’t materialize and at 2.45pm we were airborne, making another step towards South America. We had cheekily asked the pilots assistant if he could divert us over camps 1 and 2 before turning to Union Glacier. Based on ALE’s pricing this may have gifted us a $5,000 USD scenic flight – cheers captain! As expected the views were phenomenal. Camp 1 was almost empty, possibly something to do with the 50 km/h sustained winds they had endured over the previous 48 hours. We knew that the Russian 7Summits Club had lost their large dome kitchen tent and a couple of sleeping tents to the elements – something hard to believe as when we had walked through days earlier the conditions were calm and blue. Being up at camp 2 was the better option on this occasion. Dave Hahn was keeping his team up high for good reason, waiting out the weather down below. They wouldn’t tackle the 20-25 km/h winds whipping up and across the exposed fixed lines. I guess that although stuck we were in the relative luxury of Vinson Basecamp.
It was great to be back at Union Glacier again even if I was definitely going to have to change my looming return flight north. The next scheduled IL 76 flight to Punta Arenas would be the returning cargo flight on December 16th, with the possibility of an evening 15th departure – either way I had to use the Satellite phone to contact Andrea for a new schedule.
The ALE staff had been somewhat ignorant at Vinson Basecamp but pulled out the stops with extended lunch hours at Union Glacier. We can barely fault them and their first class logistics. The remainder of the afternoon was spent erecting camp for the final time, squeezing in some last minute fat biking on the newly groomed trails, and showering. For me it was also time to wash my lonely boxer shorts, this time with the luxury of shower gel.
Although only available until 10pm the kitchen staff tried their best to keep the wine and beer flowing – we did hear that the reason it wasn’t continuous was due to prior guests drunken antics in and outside of camp. We still managed to obtain more than our fair share!

Punta Arenas was beckoning but surroundings like this made it extremely tough to leave Antarctica
Digging seems to be a favorite pastime of mine
Time to get out of here, twin otter style
A happy team of IMG mountaineers at Vinson basecamp

Grand Finale for the Penultimate Seven Summit
Missed breakfast.
Crap sleep with Christophe snoring, my spinning head and the ultra hot sleeping bag.
Now leaning towards a 15th departure I was a little pissed that my new flight was 4 nights away, the change itself running a hefty $675, on top of having to fend for myself in Punta Arenas.
Bike ride to the Beach with Justin followed by a much needed moraine hike up possibly unnamed peaks. Maybe Mt Wayniac?
Sat on top of a rock above the Beach reflecting. Its hard to believe from here that there’s any bad or greed in the world. Just me and solitude.
Second night of excessive red and white wine mixed with the occasional beer, ultimately leading to the second hangover!
Now 80% sure of a 5pm departure tomorrow.

The ‘Beach’, a nice fat-ride from camp
Celebrating with a Polar beer at Union Glacier

The dining tent whiteboard displaying the information we had been waiting for, the IL 76 was due to depart Punta Arenas at 9am getting to us at 1.30 in the afternoon. The predicted 3pm flight time for us would get us back to Chile by early evening for a night of drunken debauchery!
This time I did make breakfast, slightly less intoxicated than yesterday!
With all the cities better hotels already booked for the weekend where were we going to end up? ..and what kind of a mess will we end up in?

IMG Blog (Phil Ershler)

Good news from the Ice. The Team is literally making their last walk on the Ice right now. Heading to the ice runway to meet the incoming IL-76, their ride back to Punta Arenas and home. Time to do some last minute shopping for the holidays. Congratulations, once more, to Justin, Emily and our entire team of climbers for keeping priorities straight, contributing, being patient and simply getting the job done. Their reward was, of course, a summit on pretty much the best possible day. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

Members will be heading in different directions once they reach Punta Arenas but we thank them all for climbing with IMG and wish them the best of holiday seasons. This one is a wrap.

The team was able to fly from Vinson base camp to Union Glacier camp today. A small step but an important one.  They are now totally comfortable in the big ALE base camp, with all meals prepared for them and served in a large, heated mess tent with tables and chairs and 24 hour hot water. Life is good.

Flight to Punta Arenas is scheduled now for the 15th, at the earliest. Weather still is the determining factor. Time to read, talk, play cards and eat, with a cup of coffee or tea in your hand the entire time. No one is suffering. In a couple of days they’ll all be home and missing the beauty that is Antarctica. We’ll let you know when they fly.

Best laid plans……as they say. Weather did not permit a flight off the Ice for the team on the 12th. Team is still at Vinson base camp. If the weather says ‘no’, no one flies. Earliest flight now is scheduled for 15th or 16th December. Not the ideal scenario but it is what it is. 80 degrees S latitude is one of the most isolated and difficult places to reach on earth. ALE, our flight service, has a perfect safety record because they’re conservative. We rely on their expertise to say when it’s safe to fly. No limit to the food and fuel available on the Ice so no issue other than waiting gets hard but not nearly as hard as climbing Vinson and the team’s already done that!!

They’ll get off as soon as it’s safe to fly.

The IMG team is sitting pretty at Vinson base camp. Everyone made the big descent yesterday in good form. Now it’s again up to the Vinson weather gods to allow the team off the Ice and get back home. Best case scenario now is for a flight off the Ice on the 12th. Send your good thoughts their way. Everyone gets anxious/ excited about getting off the Ice but safety always comes first and weather simply has to be good to fly. But hey, summit’s in the rear view mirror, camps are comfortable, plenty of food and no one’s heading back to Antarctica any time soon so let’s enjoy every minute of being on the most remote continent in the world.

All’s good on the Ice, other than it’s time to come home. Soon.

Justin checked in first thing Sunday morning to let us know the team was up, had broken camp and already was working their way down the 1200 meters of fixed rope between high camp and camp 1. By the time you read this post, they should already be down the ropes. From the bottom of the ropes, it’s a short walk to camp 1. Nice break there. They’ll dig out their cache, repack everything into the sleds and then move down to Vinson base camp later today. If weather permits, the team may even fly back to Union Glacier this evening.

Within the next couple of days, the IL-76 will come back into Union Glacier and pick all the climbers up and get them back to Punta Arenas. We’ll let you know when we have a better idea of timing for that all-important flight.

Bottom line — huge success yesterday on Vinson. Patience and persistence paid off and IMG had another safe, successful and enjoyable climb. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

Goods news from the summit of Vinson. IMG members on top now. Basically no wind. Descending shortly. Big congratulations to Justin, Emily and the entire team for a super job. “Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Great quote.

Hope to have the team off the Ice on December 12th.

The IMG Vinson team in Antarctica is on their way to the summit. The weather is quite good and wind low. They departed high camp at 6 am, Seattle time. 5 hrs later on Vinson time.

Forecast is reasonably good and the winds have decreased down on the Ice. Justin reported this morning that the team was packing up at camp 1 and going to attempt their move to high camp today. No news is typically good news so we’re hoping the team is continuing with that plan and will be able to reach high camp today.

We likely won’t have that news until late today. As always, fingers are crossed and weather will continue to play a large role in the team’s climbing plans.

A successful trip to high camp today could mean a shot at the summit tomorrow. Entirely speculation but we’re hopeful.

Check back tomorrow and we’ll get updates on the site as soon as we can.

Skies are clear but winds still too high to justify making the move to high camp. Infinitely more pleasant to wait out weather concerns at camp 1 rather than at high camp. First day they wake up and don’t see plumes of snow coming off the ridge at high camp, they’ll be packing and moving up.

At least windier than we really want right now. That’s the word from the Justin, Emily and team down on the Ice. Camp 1 is super comfortable (relatively speaking) and reasonably protected. When you see snow plumes coming off the ridge near high camp, you think — maybe it’s not the right day to move up higher. Team made that decision today. Better to wait out the wind at camp 1 rather than sit at high camp where it’s only going to be colder and windier still. Seems like a smart to decision to us!

Team has made a carry and a move to camp 1 and then made a carry up close to high camp yesterday. Time for a break. Plan normally is to get gear at or near high camp, return to camp 1 and then get in a rest day. That’s exactly what’s happening today. Forecast is reasonably promising and regardless, you can only push so hard.  Rest today and prep gear, eat, drink and be as ready as you can be for that final push. Weather permitting, push to high camp tomorrow and then try to summit the next morning. High camp is not the place to rest in good weather.

Progress continues on the Ice. Justin called in late on the 2nd to let us know that the team had moved up to camp 1. That’s a good thing. Justin and crew will keep an eye on the weather and see what makes sense tomorrow – whether to make a carry to high camp or perhaps take a rest day. Trick is to find that balance between taking advantage of every day of good weather but trying not to burn any team members, too. That makes guiding as much an art as a science.

Good news this morning from Antarctica. Weather improved and our team was part of the first wave to fly from Union Glacier over to Vinson base camp. Justin called via sat phone to let me know they were digging out our cache at Vinson base, getting tents up, sorting gear and preparing to get a carry in this afternoon. That’s all very good news. He reported that weather was quite good at Vinson base camp, and they were anxious to begin their climb. All members are healthy and anxious to get the crampons on and start walking. We’ll take it.

The team needs at least 6 climbing days with reasonable weather to get up and down from Vinson base camp. Fingers, as always, are crossed.

Late afternoon update from the Ice. Flying remained a ‘no go’ today but forecast now shows weather should turn for the better overnight. The IMG team is first in the queue to fly to Vinson base camp so all remain hopeful that tomorrow will be the day. That’s a big hurdle. Then it’s time to start walking. We’re all keeping our fingers crossed for the IMG team.

News just in from Justin on the Ice is that the team is still on standby. Weather has not yet said yes. There is still a possibility that they can get to Vinson base camp today but, if not, the forecast is looking more positive tomorrow.

Flight delays are not uncommon on Vinson trips. Patience, for now, is the name of the game.

Good news is that our team flew in exactly on schedule on Sunday. The flight from Punta Arenas to Union Glacier is on a Russian IL-76. That’s a big 1970’s era cargo jet. From there, it’s about another hour on a Twin Otter to reach Vinson base camp. All flight legs require good weather and visibility. The team is first in line for the flight to Vinson base camp but needs just a little more clearing to make it happen. A good motto when it comes to flights is —– “when in doubt, don’t”. ALE, the flight service, has an impeccable safety record and we want them to keep it that way.

Life at Union Glacier is CUSH beyond belief. Believe me, the team is not suffering. I just hope they’re not getting too comfortable!

As soon as possible, our team will be on their way over to Vinson base camp, putting the boots on and working their way up the mountain. All is just fine in Antarctica.

It’s always summer somewhere in the world.That even includes Antarctica. The Austral summer has started and that means the sun is now above the horizon 24 hours a day in Antarctica. IMG’s first Vinson expedition for the 2017/18 season is being led by IMG Senior Guide, Justin Merle, and assisted by IMG Senior Guide, Emily Johnston, MD. If that isn’t a super guide combination, I don’t know what is. They met their climbing team in Punta Arenas, Chile the day after Thanksgiving. Food shopping, packing, gear checks, getting over jet lag, orientation meetings, getting all the gear to the airplane and just an amazing amount of excitement kept everyone busy for the next couple of days. I received news from Justin that they were headed for the airport the morning of the 26th and we’ll next hear from them from the Ice. Isn’t it amazing when you can fly to Antarctica exactly on schedule?

Justin, Emily and team will touch base via sat phone when they can. This is the first expedition of the season to Vinson. Since IMG’s first trip to Vinson in 1988, we’ve always found this first trip to be extra exciting.  It’s cold but it’s Antarctica and to be expected.

Guiding Company: International Mountain Guides
Guides: Justin Merle & Emily Johnston
Antarctica Logistics: ALE

Airline: LATAM from Miami to Punta Arenas, via Santiago
Hotels: airbnb, Hostal de Patagonia

Nov 22nd – Dec 15th 2017


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