In December of 2020 we are headed to one of the most remote mountain ranges on Earth, the Vinson Massif in the Ellsworth Range. We will attempt to climb Mt. Vinson (16,050’/4,892M), the highest peak in Antarctica and one of the Seven Summits. Getting to the base of Vinson is an adventure in itself and relies on the expertise of Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (ALE). ALE has named Northwest Mountain School as an Approved Guide Company and will be providing air and logistical support for the expedition. IFMGA guide John Race will be the expedition leader and will manage the climbing aspects of the trip.
While the climb to the summit of Vinson itself is not overly technical, its extreme location below the Antarctic Circle and high elevation provide significant challenge for the climber attempting to reach the summit. The primary hazard is very cold temperatures, which is the norm in Antarctica. At the start of the trip team members will meet in Punta Arenas, Chile for 2 days of packing, safety briefings, and other preparations for the 5-hour flight to the Union Glacier aboard ALE’s Ilyushin IL-76 TD cargo aircraft where we land on a blue ice runway. From Union Glacier we will transfer to a smaller De Haviland DHC-6 Twin Otter for the 1-hour flight to Vinson Base Camp (6,900’/2100M) on the Branscomb Glacier.
The climb itself takes about a week, but we build in extra days for acclimatization and weather delays to maximize our chance of having a good summit opportunity. We will utilize 2 camps on our way to the summit and will utilize sleds to transport some of our equipment to Camp 1 (9,000’/2750M). There is a section of fixed line on slopes up to 45 degrees on the journey between Camp 1 and Camp 2 (12,400’/3,770M).
Our interest in Vinson began in the late 1980's when John first read about the climb in Dick Bass’s book, The Seven Summits. Vinson was first climbed in 1966 on a joint expedition led by Nick Clinch and climbers on an expedition supported by the American Alpine Club and National Science Foundation, Vinson has slowly become easier to reach, due to flights and logistics provided by ALE. We have a core group of long time NMS customers headed down to the "ice" and would like to round out our team.
- Day 1: December 3, 2020: Depart the US bound for Santiago, Chile. Overnight on Plane.
- Day 2: December 4, 2020: Land in Santiago, transfer to flight to Punta Arenas. Arrive in Punta Arenas, Chile and collect our equipment. Overnight in Punta Arenas at hotel.
- Day 3: December 5, 2020: Equipment check. Following a group breakfast at the hotel, we will carefully evaluate all of your equipment, discuss specific details of your trip, and make sure that our personal kit is ready for tomorrow's weigh in and briefing with ALE. We build in this extra day to also account for the possibility of delayed luggage or flight delays. Overnight in Punta Arenas at hotel.
- Day 4: December 6, 2020: Final Preparations in Punta Arenas. We will weigh all of our bags, attend a briefing with ALE, and then spend the afternoon looking around Punta Arenas. Overnight in Punta Arenas at hotel.
- Day 5: December 7, 2020: Flight from Punta Arenas to Union Glacier, Antartcia aboard Ilyushin-76 cargo aircraft. Flight takes around 5 hours and lands on a blue ice runway. If time allows and the weather cooperates we will transfer to Twin Otter aircraft for the roughly 1-hour flight to Vinson Basecamp. This portion is entirely at the discretion of ALE. (6,900’/2100M) Overnight in tents.
- Day 6: December 8, 2020: Carry to Camp 1 (9,000/2750M) We follow a slow rise up the Branscomb Glacier and utilize sleds to keep pack weights lower. On this first trip we carry food, fuel, and some of our climbing equipment to cache at Camp I, also called “Low Camp.” The day gains around 2,150’, takes 4-6 hours, and is 5.5 miles one way. This carry also assists with acclimatization. We will drop loads and return to Vinson Base Camp. Overnight in tents.
- Day 7: December 9, 2020: Acclimatization Day at Vinson Base Camp or carry day if we took a rest day previously. Overnight in tents.
- Day 8: December 10, 2020: Move to Camp 1. We will take the remaining gear and our tents, sleeping bags, etc. and move our camp up to Low Camp. We will again use sleds on this section. Overnight in tents.
- Day 9: December 11, 2020: Cache at Camp 2, also known as “High Camp.” (12,400’/3,770M). We need decent weather to do this. The route follows the Northern end of Branscomb Ridge and involves climbing fixed lines between 35 and 45 degrees. Once we gain the top of the fixed lines it takes about 90 minutes on milder terrain to reach Camp 2, where we will once again drop our loads. This section can be quite cold with the wind being the primary concern. No sleds on this section. Overnight in tents.
- Day 10: December 12, 2020: Acclimatization/Rest Day at Camp 1. Overnight in tents.
- Day 11: December 13, 2020: Move to High Camp with remaining equipment and camping gear. Overnight in tents.
- Day 12: December 14, 2020: Summit Day. This is a 9-12 hour day that climbs 3,670’/1,120M to the summit at 16,050’. We need good weather to do this as the route does not have much shelter from the wind. The climb itself is relatively straight-forward and ends with a short, steep ice slope before gaining a craggy summit ridge. If there are not flight delays at the beginning of the trip nearly all groups get a good summit shot. Overnight in tents.
- Day 13: December 15, 2020: Descend to Vinson Base Camp and spend the night. Overnight in tents.
- Day 14: December 16, 2020: Return Flight to Union Glacier Camp from Vinson Base Camp. Overnight in tents.
- Day 15: December 17, 2020: Contingency/weather day. Also possible to climb other peaks around Union Glacier. Overnight in tents.
- Day 16: December 18, 2020: Scheduled Return flight from Union Glacier to Punta Arenas. Night in Punta Arenas. Overnight at hotel in Punta Arenas.
- Day 17: December 19, 2020: Start return flight home. Overnight on Plane.
- Day 18: December 20, 2020: Arrive home. Overnight in bed, at home.
5-Day Mountaineering Courses or our Denali Prep Course. If using the 5-day course to qualify we will require some additional training with a guide specific to using mechanical ascenders to climb fixed line and rigging and pulling a sled. All climbers must have previous high altitude climbing experience. You should be able to carry packs up to 45 lbs and pull a sled up to 35 lbs. Your pack weight will depend heavily on following the specific advice given in our equipment list.
e-mail or give our office a call. If you are comfortable with us and we are comfortable with you, we would have your complete our online registration form and submit your deposit.
- Contact us by e-mail or phone (+1-509-548-5823) so that we can discuss the trip.
- Complete our online registration form.
- Make your non-refundable deposit payment of $5000 here. Payments made by check or eCheck incur no additional fees and can be done online in our payment system. Bank wires will require an additional fee of $20. We accept credit card payments, but there is a 3.5 % fee added. We will send details on making this payment.
- We will send you a detailed pre-trip package including equipment lists, details on making your flight arrangements to Punta Arenas, as well as documents required to be filled out and submitted to ALE.
- Your final payment of the balance due will be due on August 3, 2020.