Embark to Antartica to climb its highest summit
Should we believe that the unexplored exists, then we must view the isolation of Antarctica as an explorer’s final frontier. Unparalleled in its pristine and absolute beauty, the journey to the Antarctic continent and the climb of Mt. Vinson ignites man’s primal instincts for wilderness, the elements, and conquest. The sheer magnitude of the continent and the exquisite nature of the ascent is an extreme and remarkable experience. Mt. Vinson, located 600 miles from the South Pole and 1,200 miles from the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, is the highest peak on the continent. Vinson is part of the Ellsworth Mountains, which rise majestically from the Ronne Ice Shelf.
Obviously unique in location, Vinson presents more than an off-the-beaten-track climbing trip. The entire journey is surreal in texture; from the land’s-end departure point of Punta Arenas to the five-hour flight to a continent with no permanent inhabitants, and to the Union Glacier Camp amidst the giant arctic desert. While it may be inclusion in the Seven Summits that spurs the initial attraction, most climbers find Vinson to be one of their most memorable climbing experiences and a chance to capture once-in-a-lifetime images.
Start: Punta Arenas, Chile
Finish: Punta Arenas, Chile
Destination: Mount Vinson, Antartica
Physical Rating: 5
Intermediate Experience Needed
With 5.5 million square miles of solid ice, the mass of this continent — twice the size of Australia — creates a remote wilderness unrivaled on the planet. While the size of the continent expands and contracts with seasons, the topography remains stunning with natural sculptures finely crafted by the barrage of wind, snow and cold. It is this ice age environment that constantly attracts intrepid travelers and explorers. While Antarctica has no native population, Emilio Palma (Argentinean) was the first to be born on the continent in January 1978. The lowest temperature recorded by a thermometer on Earth was minus 128.6 degrees F at Vostok Research Station on July 21, 1983. Though not considered “official,” a NASA satellite measured a temperature of minus 135.3 degrees F in east Antarctica in 2010. With less than two inches of precipitation per year, Antarctica is best characterized as a desert. Antarctica currently has a number of permanent research stations supported by several cooperating nations.
It was nearly 200 years after James Cook circumnavigated Antarctica that the summit of Mt. Vinson was reached (1966). It was the last of the Seven Summits to be conquered. The American Alpine Club and the National Geographic Society sponsored an American team which summited Mt. Vinson two weeks after their arrival, on December 17, 1966. The team, led by Nicholas B. Clinch, remained about a month on the continent and summited a number of peaks, including the extremely technical Tyree, as well as Shinn and Gardner. This expedition is well-documented in the June 1967 National Geographic Magazine. Soon after their return, US policy encouraging travel to Antarctica was changed to discourage travel to this region.
Depart Your Country of Origin. If possible you may want to arrive on this day, in case of lost luggage or flight delay.
Arrive Punta Arenas, Chile. From the airport in Punta Arenas, you’ll be escorted to your hotel. We’ll schedule a time to check your Antarctic clothing and ensure that nothing has been inadvertently forgotten. We’ll discuss Leave No Trace principles and how best to preserve the pristine Antarctic Wilderness. Please arrive early in the day if possible as we try to complete gear check on this day in early afternoon.
Gear Check, Final Prep; Slide Show, Gear Weighing, City Exploration. After final gear preparations; we usually have time to explore the city. Late in the afternoon, we will have an Antarctica slide show and lecture conducted by ALE. The lecture includes information on your flight south, the current weather situation, and what to expect on your arrival in Antarctica. We will also be weighing gear, as all gear that will fly to the glacier will be checked in at this time.
Depart Punta Arenas, Chile. Fly to Antarctica. Fly 4.25 hours to Antarctica by private transport jet. Transfer to ski aircraft and continue to Vinson Base Camp at 6,900 ft. (2,100 m) on the Branscomb Glacier.
You’ll be notified of our departure time as soon as we have a clear weather forecast, and given around two hours before we pick you up at the hotel. Make sure your bill has been settled and that your “city” clothing has been left at the hotel. After completing customs and immigration formalities at the airport, we’ll proceed to the aircraft for a photo session before climbing on board. We’ll fly to Union Glacier Camp. If the weather permits, we’ll transfer our equipment from the Ilyushin 76 aircraft to the Twin Otter and fly an hour to Vinson Base Camp. The pilot will be in constant contact with the base for weather updates. There have been occasions when deteriorating conditions after departure from Union Glacier have forced us to turn around and await better flying conditions. Once we land at Vinson Base Camp, we’ll review the climbing route and rearrange the loads for the journey.
Vinson Base Camp: Acclimatization and Preparations. This is a day to relax and recover after several days of travel. In the quiet surroundings of Vinson Base Camp, we can appreciate the beauty of Antarctica while preparing for our climb. We will load our sleds for the days ahead and, if time allows, we will take a short hike to gain familiarity with the Antarctic environment and to refine our clothing and equipment choices for the climb.
Vinson Base Camp to Low Camp. 2,150 ft. (650 m) of elevation gain, 5.5 miles (9 km) of distance, 4–6 hours travel.
From Vinson Base Camp to Low Camp we follow the gradual rise of the Branscomb Glacier. The gentle climb is ideal for pulling sleds allowing us to lighten the loads in our packs. Due to crevasse hazard, we will travel roped together today and throughout our time on the mountain. At Low Camp (elevation 9,000 ft./2,750 m) the guides build a cooking/dining shelter for our group. Depending on conditions, we may overnight here or cache equipment and return to Vinson Base Camp. The following day we will re-ascend from Vinson Base Camp, acclimatize at Low Camp, or continue our climb up the mountain.
Low to High Camp (this includes some extra days). 3,350 ft. (1,020 m) of elevation gain, fixed ropes on slopes up to 45 degrees, approximately 6–10 hours travel.
We ascend to High Camp (12,400 ft./3,770 m) when conditions are suitable and the forecast indicates stable weather ahead. We may carry all of our equipment in one push, or we may choose a “load carry,” overnighting back at Low Camp and re-ascending the next day with lighter loads. These choices will depend on weather and group fitness.
Our route takes us up the broad mixed spur at the northern end of the Branscomb Ridge, offering fantastic views of Mount Shinn and the glaciers below. We ascend fixed ropes on snow slopes up to 35/40 degrees. Snow conditions can vary from soft to hard and windblown with icy patches. From the top of the fixed lines to High Camp takes about 1.5 hours ascending the gentle snow slopes of the summit glacier. This section of the route can be very exposed to the wind, requiring care to prevent cold injury.
The facilities at High Camp are more basic than at camps below. We cook and eat simple, dehydrated meals in our tents, or outside if the weather is calm. Our next day is normally spent resting and acclimatizing at High Camp to give everyone the best chance of summiting.
High Camp to Vinson Summit. Return trip from High Camp – 3,670 ft. (1,120 m) elevation gain, 9 miles (14 km) distance, 9-12 hours travel.
We make our summit attempt on the best weather day possible as the route is exposed and subject to high winds. The majority of the route is along the Vinson summit valley, with a short, steeper snow and ice slope leading to the spectacular, rocky, summit ridge. The views from the summit are breathtaking. Mount Gardner, Tyree, Epperly, and Shinn dominate the foreground, surrounded by impressive peaks that rise from the vast ice sheet below. Here, at the top of Antarctica, the true scale and majesty of the continent are overwhelmingly apparent. We’ll take time to savor the experience and take photos before retracing our steps to High Camp.
Descent to Vinson Base Camp. The descent to Vinson Base Camp is usually achieved in one day from High Camp, retracing our route down the fixed ropes and along the Branscomb Glacier. At Vinson Base Camp, we celebrate our summit with a hearty meal and a toast to our team.
Return to Union Glacier by Ski Aircraft.
Once we’re back in Base Camp and a full aircraft load is ready, the guide will inform Union Glacier and an aircraft will be dispatched to collect you. There will be opportunities to meet and trade stories with other adventurers and, if conditions allow, we may explore the scenic peaks nearby camp (these can also be used as extra climbing days as needed).
Return to Punta Arenas, Chile. Weather permitting, the aircraft from Punta Arenas will arrive with a new collection of avid explorers and you depart for the final leg of your Antarctic experience. Our staff will meet you at Punta Arenas airport and transfer you to your hotel.
Depart Punta Arenas
Arrive Home Country
No two Antarctic experiences are exactly the same. This is part of the excitement and adventure of Antarctic travel. The itinerary above highlights typical activities and experiences. Exact timeline and details will vary from trip to trip. Trip length may vary by departure.
Please anticipate delays and do not plan anything for at least a week after your scheduled return. Allow yourself to enjoy this unique experience without the stress of pending commitments.
Note: Every effort will be made to follow the above itinerary, but it is subject to change at the discretion of our staff, based on weather and local conditions. Some departures may be slightly longer or shorter based on flight schedules to Antarctica. If you are interested in extending your trip to include the South Pole Ski Tour or flight to visit the South Pole let us know!