Mount Vinson Climbing Expedition 


Mount Vinson Climb 1
View from Twin Otter enroute to Vinson Base Camp © Robert Anderson

Mountain: Mt. Vinson (16,050'/4,892M)

Route: Antarctica, Branscomb Shoulder Route

Dates: Dec 3 - 20, 2020

Cost: $45,000 USD

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Cost Includes
  • Mountain Guide and Mountain Guide’s expenses
  • All group equipment such as tents, stoves, sleds, camp dinner and breakfasts, climbing ropes, first-aid kit, satellite phones, radios, camping fuel, WAG bags
  • Pre-trip assistance with travel arrangements, equipment selection, and training plan
  • 50 lb. luggage allowance (additional weight will be $30 per pound with a maximum weight of 66 lbs., no exceptions)
  • Support Services while in Antarctica
  • All Meals in Antarctica
  • Lodging in Antarctica.
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Cost Does Not Include
  • Your International flight to/from Punta Arenas, Chile
  • $20 wire transfer fee (if applicable)
  • Excess baggage fees and airport charges.
  • Hotel Nights in Punta Arenas.
  • Meals prior to landing in Antarctica.
  • Required Medical Evacuation Insurance
  • Trip Cancellation Insurance (optional, but highly recommended)
  • ALE Staff and Guide Gratuities
  • Chilean Visa Fee. Paid upon arrival in Punta Arenas (about $160 USD)
  • Costs incurred as a result of delay’s beyond Northwest Mountain School’s control.

Vinson High Camp © Mark Postle
Ilyushin 76-TD © Mark Postle
Climbing between camps 1 and 2 Mt Vinson © Mark Postle
Ilyushin safety briefing © Eric Larsen
ALE Guide Tom W © Eric Larsen
View to Vinson Summit © Robert Anderson
Twin Otter @ Vinson Base Camp © Iain Rudkin
ALE guide, Scott W, approaches low camp © Iain Rudkin
Chef Antony D prepares dinner @ Union Glacier kitchen © Wilson Cheung
Union Glacier sign post © Tre-C Dumais
Climber Tom T on fixed lines © Iain Rudkin
Approaching Vinson Summit © Dylan Taylor
Vinson Summit Ridge © ALE
preaching Vinson Base Camp © Russ Hepburn
Captain Russ H and Co-pilot in Twin Otter © Adam Ungar
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.

Mount Vinson Expedition Itinerary 

Note: This will almost certainly vary slightly as we shift to accommodate weather, logistics, and team needs.

  • 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.

Mt. Vinson Expedition Qualifications 

Other than the cold this a climb that is easier than some of the other seven summits such as Denali or Aconcagua. That said, it is not easy, and participants must be familiar with expedition climbing and should arrive in top physical condition. You must have previously taken a comprehensive mountaineering course that covers skills such as: use of ice axe and crampons, roped glacier travel, crevasse rescue, ascending fixed lines, basic camp craft, and climbing knots & hitches. Previous cold weather climbing experience is a must as proper layering and the ability to perform various tasks while wearing warm gloves is central to having a safe trip. We are happy to assist with the pre-trip training on one of our 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.

Mt. Vinson Expedition End Date 

We are booked on the Dec 7, 2020 departure from Punta Arenas to Union Glacier and the return flight on Dec 18, 2020. We picked this date because it allows everyone to be home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is very important that participants understand that a variety of factors, paramount among them weather, can change this schedule. At each leg of the trip, reasonable weather is required to fly from Punta Arenas to Union Glacier, from Union Glacier to Vinson Base Camp, and then back on each leg. It is conceivable that if the weather is not sufficient for flying we could be delayed at either the start or finish of the trip and as such participants should be prepared for the trip to run a week longer than expected. Alternately it is also possible that the trip would run faster than scheduled if conditions are ideal and we could return early. At no point will we speed the acclimatization or rest process to make our summit bid, but if we get back to Vinson Base camp without using our contingency days, ALE may want to move us out to keep their logistics moving. You guide is committed to spending any extra time possible to give us a solid summit opportunity.

Our Expedition Philosophy 

On climbs like this we have always felt it is better for everyone to accomplish their goal of getting to the summit on 1 expedition. As such we emphasize a slow pace, take extra time to acclimate, and build in contingency days in an effort to avoid climbing in less than ideal conditions. We go out of our way to provide nutritious, appetizing meals that come as close as possible to food that you would eat at home. Our tents are top-quality Hilleberg double-walled Expedition tents with large vestibules or Mountain Hardware Trango 3.1’s also double-walled with large vestibules. Prior to the trip, at the equipment check-in, and in the packing of group gear we emphasize making sure that you have every item you need for the worst-weather we might encounter while keeping things as light as possible. We often joke that we pioneered the “light and slow” approach to climbing big, cold mountains, an approach that has yielded an extremely high success rate while guiding Denali & Aconcagua without any significant mishaps in our group. Taking your time, going slow, and packing light is a strategy that has consistently delivered excellent results for our customers.

How to secure your space on the expedition 

If contemplating a trip this committing, the logical starting point is to send us an 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.

  1. Contact us by e-mail or phone (+1-509-548-5823) so that we can discuss the trip.
  2. Complete our online registration form.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Your final payment of the balance due will be due on August 3, 2020.

John Race’s Guiding Background: 

John has guided full time since 1992 and guided summers in college from 1989-92. He is an IFMGA guide, founded the Northwest Mountain School in 1994, and has guided extensively on high altitude expeditions around the world. He is the past Vice President of the American Mountain Guides Association. Guiding highlights include 23 expeditions to Denali resulting in 19 summits, 6 trips to 8000-meter peaks (Everest x 2, Cho Oyu x3, Shishapangma x1), as well as leading climbs to Aconcagua, Elbrus, Kilimanjaro, Mt. Bona, Mt. Sanford, Mt. Barrille, and many other high peaks. This will be John’s first trip to Mt. Vinson and he is organizing the trip at the request of customers he has climbed other big mountains with. John has previously guided on a ship based ski trip to the Antarctic Peninsula and guided a successful “Shackleton Crossing” of South Georgia Island that utilized Skip Novak’s sailing vessel the Pelagic Australis. On the South Georgia trip we sailed 2000 NM from Stanley in the Falkland Islands and back. John runs the Northwest Mountain School (NMS) with his wife, Olivia Race, also an IFMGA guide. NMS works with upwards of 1200 customers per year with a specialty in educational programs including mountaineering courses, rock climbing courses, avalanche courses, and ski touring programs, and customized expedition experiences. The Northwest Mountain School employs some of the most qualified guides in the US. You can see more details on his bio.

Medical Evacuation and Trip Cancellation Insurance 

ALE requires that each team member, including the guide, carry a minimum $150,000 Medical Evacuation Insurance. We also strongly recommend that all participants purchase Trip Cancellation insurance to cover any trip costs in the event that you are unable to start the trip. Our office will send you full details of your options and work with you to find insurance you are comfortable with.

Travel Arrangements to/from Punta Arenas 

We will send you complete details to assist with making arrangements in booking your flight to and from South America. We work with a travel agent that is highly experienced with the trip to Vinson and she will assist with booking our flights in and out Punta Arenas (PUQ). At the end of the trip it is very common to come out early or late and she will assist with making the necessary flight changes and will suggest tickets that give us the most flexibility for getting home efficiently and for a reasonable cost. Our travel agent also works directly with ALE in booking their customers and we have used her on many previous expeditions around the world.

Pre-trip Support 

We have an office in Leavenworth, WA with a full-time office staff. Additionally John and Olivia are available to assist you with the myriad of details that go into planning and preparing for a big trip. We work very hard to make sure that when you call someone actually answers the phone and when you text or e-mail we are there. If you are uncertain in any way about working with us, we are happy to provide references from past customers as we realize this is big commitment.