Mt. Vinson Expedition

Overview

Vinson Massif is Antarctica's highest mountain, reaching 16,067 feet in the heart of the Ellsworth Mountains. Located 700 nautical miles from the South Pole, the mountain was first climbed by an American expedition in 1966-1967 and did not see a second ascent until 1979. With a long history of success, climbers on our guided expeditions continue to climb with AAI throughout the world.

Expedition Highlights

  • Climb the most pristine and remote of the Seven Summits.
  • Experience the unbelievable vastness of the Antarctic interior.
  • Modern day Antarctic exploration with South Pole and first ascent options.

 

Vinson Massif on the approach to the Ellsworth Mountains.

Vinson Massif on the approach to the Ellsworth Mountains. Guy Cotter

Using a well established ascent methodology and the leadership of our seasoned mountain guides, the ascent of Vinson is not technically difficult. Also, while its altitude challenge is moderate, a good fitness is essential as all team members take a share in the load carrying. Similar to Alaska's Denali, extreme low temperatures are not uncommon. A solid background with snow and ice climbing techniques is required to be proficient on this ice covered continent and previous cold weather camping experience will help you enjoy the unique aspects of Antarctic climbing. 

Prerequisites

  • Basic alpine and glacier travel skills
  • Cold weather camping experience
  • Excellent physical condition
  • Ability to carry a 60 lb (27 kg) pack at 12,000 ft (3700 m)

Mt. Vinson Expedition

Itinerary and Route

Vinson - Map

We meet in Punta Arenas in Chilean Patagonia and then fly to a base by the Patriot Hills at 80 degrees South where there is a seasonal tent encampment and where our aircraft can make a wheeled landing on a natural blue-ice runway. We spend one night there and the next morning fly about an hour north in smaller, ski-equipped aircraft to our base camp at 7,874 feet on the Branscomb Glacier at the base of Vinson. Here we will review the Leave No Trace techniques that we will be using, go over crevasse rescue and glacier travel procedures, and do the final organizing of our gear.

The climb from our base involves extensive glacier travel on gentle and moderate slopes, and as we move up the mountain we'll establish three camps at approximately 8,850 feet, 9,850 feet, and 12,150 feet. We take about six hours to climb to Camp 1 which is located at a beautiful vantage point below an ice-wall that drops directly from the main summit.

This first day is straightforward and a good way to "clear the cobwebs" from the system after the sedentary nature of the access flights, and we also have the opportunity to further practice and apply our glacier travel and self-rescue procedures. As we begin to ascend the Branscomb Glacier we gain views of Mt Shinn, Antarctica's second highest peak which sits adjacent to Camp 3.

 

Our Route

Climber high on Mt. Vinson with Mt. Shinn behind.

Climber high on Mt. Vinson with Mt. Shinn behind. Guy Cotter

From Camp 1 we'll have a fairly easy four-hour climb to Camp 2 at 9,850 feet. As we move to both of our first two camps, we carefully skirt crevasses on the broken glacier while ascending slopes of moderate enough angle that we will be able to climb with roughly half our gear on our backs and tow the rest in sleds. When we move to Camp 3 at 12,150 feet, we carry expedition packs with enough supplies to last us five days (about 60 lbs. each). This is a six-hour climb that includes movement through a fairly simple icefall and which takes us to a sheltered position just below the windy summit plateau.

From Camp 3 our climb to the summit will take seven to ten hours, and while not including technical terrain, will involve a careful threading of the heavily crevassed summit plateau. The summit rises dramatically from the plateau and we ascend it via a snow face increasing in angle to over 45 degrees on its west face. Once on the summit ridge we scramble over snow and rock steps for 200 feet to the summit itself. When we leave this grand place, our descent to high camp only takes a few hours and the next day we make it all the way to base camp where we prepare for the flights back to Patriot Hills and Punta Arenas.

Views throughout this climb are excellent, but the one from the summit is especially rewarding as we look out over the icecap stretching to the horizon, broken only by mountain summits rising through the ice which is thousands of feet thick. The scenery we take in from the top of Vinson is absolutely unique in the world and provides a major, additional reward to our achievement of reaching the summit of Antarctica.

Climbing camp on Vinson.

Climbing camp on Vinson. AAI/AC Collection.

Mt. Vinson Expedition

Cost and Details

Vinson - Summit Team

January 2007 team on the summit of Vinson.
Luis Benitez

Max Ratio - 10 climbers with 2 guides

Capacity - 10 climbers

Duration - 16 days

Cost - $42,000

 

2017/2018

Climbing Season

  • Trip 1:  Nov 23 - Dec 8, 2017
  • Trip 2:  Dec 4 - 19, 2017
  • Trip 3:  Dec 26, 2017 - Jan 10, 2017
  • Trip 4:  Jan 6 - 21, 2018

 

Expedition Inclusions and Exclusions

Inclusions:

  • Flights to and from Union Glacier in Antarctica
  • Flights from Union Glacier to Vinson Massif base camp and return
  • Professional Mountain Guides' services
  • All expedition organizational requirements
  • Tents and group cooking equipment
  • Group climbing equipment
  • Use of expedition satellite phone for outgoing calls
  • Dispatch webpage updated throughout the trip for friends and family to follow
  • Transport of 50 lbs (23 kg) of personal equipment

 

Exclusions: Air travel to and from Punta Arenas, Chile; Hotel and meals in Punta Arenas; visa and airport fees; personal insurance - full travel, trip cancellation, medical, and rescue insurance is required. Medical evacuation insurance coverage of US$150,000 is required; personal clothing and equipment; excess baggage transport charges of US$66 per kg for any baggage exceeding the personal equipment weight limit; cost of satellite phone call while on the expedition.

The AAI / Adventure Consultants Alliance

The American Alpine Institute strives to provide the highest quality service and leadership to our climbers around the world. On certain expeditions, we reach out to our partners to combine resources and offer an experience unmatched by any other guide service. This is a joint expedition with Adventure Consultants who maintains the same standards for excellence as AAI.

History on Vinson Massif

Rob Hall and Gary Ball, the founders of Adventure Consultants, ran their first commercial expedition to Vinson Massif in December 1992. They worked together with Adventure Network International (ANI) whom they had established a relationship with in 1990 for the Vinson climb that completed their “Seven Summits in Seven Months” project. Rob had already climbed the mountain in 1989 as a field assistant to geologists Ed Stumps and Paul Fitzgerald; theirs was a United States Antarctic Research Program expedition that also included Ed’s brother Mugs, an accomplished American alpinist.

Antarctica reflected in a climber's goggles on Vinson.

Antarctic wilderness reflected in a climber's goggles on Vinson. Guy Cotter

Vinson and most of the other high Ellsworth peaks were first climbed in 1967 by American alpinists supported from McMurdo Station by the United Sates government program.

Giles Kershaw was a veteran polar pilot who during the 1980’s pioneered landing large wheeled aircraft on natural ice runways. He founded ANI and established a tent camp at Patriot Hills, accessed by DC6 aircraft flying direct from Punta Arenas. This made the Ellsworth Mountains accessible to private adventurers.

 

AAI and Adventure Consultants have continued to take advantage of the relative accessibility of Patriot Hills (now called Union Glacier) to stage Antarctic expeditions including ascents of Vinson Massif. The 2014/2015 expeditions mark the 21st season of guiding on Vinson for Adventure Consultants.

 

Mt. Vinson Expedition

FAQs

  1. I have heard that there can be long delays trying to get to, or get back from the ice, is this true?
  2. How can I best prepare for the cold? Isn’t it the coldest place on the planet?
  3. After going all that way, I would like to stay and go to the South Pole, is this possible and if so, how long would it take?
  4. Can I use skis on Vinson?
  5. If we get “stuck” on the ice, what do we eat? Have you ever run out of food?
  6. Why is this 2 week trip so expensive???
  7. What are the skills/prior experience required for this climb?
  8. What is the conditioning level needed for this climb?
  9. How many climbers will be on this expedition?
  10. Can I contact other climbers or guides for this expedition?
  11. Will I be sharing a tent or room with other climbers? Is a single supplement available?
  12. How heavy will my pack / sled be?
  13. What kind of food do you have on the mountain?
  14. How long is a typical day on the mountain?
  15. What type of communication is available on the climb?
  16. What sort of hotels do we stay at in the city?
  17. What time should I arrive and where do I meet my guides?
  18. What if I arrive early or depart late?
  19. How much should I budget for this expedition? How much cash should I plan to bring?
  20. How much should I tip my guide staff?
  21. Are there any entry or visa requirements?
  22. Can't find your question here?

 

1. I have heard that there can be long delays trying to get to, or get back from the ice, is this true?

Sometimes this is true and other times the trip goes to schedule though often there is some sort of delay on most trips as we wait for suitable weather conditions for flying in and out of Antarctica. Even though our expeditions are only 2 weeks long, you MUST purchase an open, fully changeable air ticket, as trips can be extended by a week or more. Given the remote nature of where we are landing, both at base camp and at Union Glacier, the weather must fall within certain parameters to be able to fly and you can be assured the reasons for flight delays are for safety. In today’s world there are few places where the environment still affects our plans and Antarctica is one of them!

 

2. How can I best prepare for the cold? Isn’t it the coldest place on the planet?

Yes, if the wind picks up and you are in the shade, it can get very cold indeed. The good part is that it is a dry cold. Low humidity makes the low temperatures a bit more tolerable. The best way to prepare for these temperatures, barring standing in a walk in freezer, would be to get out during the winter months if you can, and anticipate how your body will respond to the change in climate. To give you an idea of just how cold places down there get, the lowest ever recorded temperature by humans was at Vostok on July 21, 1983 was -128 F (-89C)!

 

3. After going all that way, I would like to stay and go to the South Pole, is this possible and if so, how long would it take?

We can arrange this for you. It typically takes 10 days or so after your climb is finished. The whole team flies back to Union Glacier, and when the main group flies back to South America, you will fly to 88 nautical miles away from the pole, and ski the rest of the way in pulling sleds just like the polar explorers! See our Ski the Last Degree South Pole page. Note, this option is only available after our first, second or third departures, as it is getting too late in the season to do this after our January departure.

 

4. Can I use skis on Vinson?

On the mountain, we actually don’t need them! We typically do not wear skis on our expeditions, as skiing with a heavy pack and a sled behind you is a skill most do not have.

 

5. If we get “stuck” on the ice, what do we eat? Have you ever run out of food?

No, we won’t run out of food! Typically we bring at least one weeks worth of extra food with us. If we are required to stay longer than this we will then dine at the large base operated from Union Glacier, who maintain huge stores of food that could basically winter over everyone present.

 

6. Why is this 2 week trip so expensive???

One sentence sums it all up. The flight to and from the ice. This will be the most expensive, no frills flight you will ever take. The plane is a Russian built Ilyushin 76, designed for work in Siberia; it is well suited for taking off and landing on the ice. However, the interior will be jammed with cargo for the base, our gear, climbers, scientists, polar explorers, etc. Despite the low frills, it is a fun and exciting flight, especially the landing!

 

7. What are the skills/prior experience required for this climb?

We usually ask that you have prior experience with an ice axe and crampons, and have done other remote climbs. Snow camping and previous experience at altitude would also be beneficial.

 

8. What is the conditioning level needed for this climb?

Given the remote location and altitude, we ask that you are in good condition. Cardiovascular shape is very important on this climb, as the summit day can be long. You need to be able to carry a pack between 30-45 lbs/14-20 kg and drag a sled 20-30 lbs/9-14 kg.

 

9. How many climbers will be on this expedition?

Typically ten members is our maximum with two guides or five climbers with one guide.

 

10. Can I contact other climbers or guides for this expedition?

Sure! Before the expedition, contact our office and we can pass on your details to the other climbers.

 

11. Will I be sharing a tent or room with other climbers? Is a single supplement available?

Typically you have your own hotel room in Punta Arenas and share a tent on the mountain with one other member.

 

12. How heavy will my pack / sled be?

Expect your pack to be 30-40lbs/14-18kg on the way up and 40-45lbs/18-20kg on the way down. Your sled will be about 20-30lbs/9-14kg on the way up, and 20-25lbs/9-11kg on the way down.

 

13. What kind of food do you have on the mountain?

Quite tasty stuff! Given that we are living in a walk in freezer, we bring such things as steak, fresh fruit and veggies, salmon, etc. to keep stored at basecamp for before and after our climb. On the mountain we also eat fresh food plus MRE’s -Meals ready to eat. This is real food, vacuum sealed, so you just heat and eat! We can also cater for different dietary requirments.

 

14. How long is a typical day on the mountain?

Typically expect your days to be 4-9 hours long, with summit day potentially being longer.

 

15. What type of communication is available on the climb?

Your guides will carry satellite phones, which you are welcome to use for a nominal fee. Contact the office for details.

 

16. What sort of hotels do we stay at in the city?

The expedition departs from Punta Arenas and we stay at a great little hotel called Terra Del Fuego or at a more upmarket hotel called Hotel Rey don Felipe. The hotel staff are good friends of our company and they go out of his way to make us all feel at home and welcome. The challenge for hotels in town is if we need to extend our stay due to not being able to leave for the ice on our specified departure date. Many groups actually get kicked out of their hotel, but with us, Patricio actually works hard to be able to keep us in the hotel till our departure!

 

17. What time should I arrive and where do I meet my guides?

Before the start of your expedition, you will receive a final details letter from the office outlining when and where you will be meeting your guides.

 

18. What if I arrive early or depart late?

We can assist you with booking extra hotel room nights if you arrive early. However, on this trip YOU ARE NOT ABLE TO ARRIVE LATE, as sometimes we can fly to the ice the day after your arrival, and if that is the case, and your bags get lost, you will not be able to come on the expedition.

 

19. How much should I budget for this expedition? How much cash should I plan to bring?

Given the unsure nature of the start of the trip, it is difficult to say how much cash to bring. We usually suggest that members bring a cash card with them, as there are many international cash machines in Punta Arenas.

 

20. How much should I tip my guide staff?

This all depends on your level of interaction with your guide. If you feel that your guide did their best to make your trip a great experience, give accordingly.

 

21. Are there any entry or visa requirements?

It all depends on what country you are coming from. Please click on the attached link for details: www.worldtravelguide.net/chile/passport-visa.

 

22. Can't find your question here?

Contact our office for further information!

Mt. Vinson Expedition

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