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Antarctica, Vinson Massif

Vinson Massif. I was extremely lucky to be invited by Frank Wells and Dick Bass to go with them to Antarctica as part of their “Seven Summits Odyssey.” Just getting there was a major feat of logistics. We chartered a specially modified DC3 with three turbo-prop engines (the third in the nose) which, with its ski-landing gear, was probably the only aircraft that could have flown us to the foot of Mount Vinson. The plane was piloted by Giles Kershaw from the United Kingdom. The climbing team consisted of Frank Wells, Dick Bass, Rick Ridgeway, Steve Matz, Yuichiro Miura and Taijairo Maeda. Miura wanted to ski down Vinson. We left Punta Arenas on November 17 to fly to the British Airstrip at Rothera. The Chilean Air Force parachuted the fuel we needed from the Hercules aircraft chartered by Wells and Bass. On November 18 we flew into the Vinson Massif landing on the icecap about five miles northeast. On November 19 we hauled gear by sledge to the head of the glacier below the massif. This was the same route as the one used by the 1966 American expedition. On November 20 we climbed the 2,000-foot headwall and reached the site of Camp I a few hundred feet below the col between Mounts Shinn and Vinson. The following day we moved into the camp, digging a snow cave in a crevasse at the back to act as a retreat in the event of high winds. On November 22, we moved up to Camp II at 4,000 metres on the ridge just above the col. The following day we set out for the summit. This was a particularly windy day with gusts of over 50 mph. The temperature was around –35° F. Wells had a frostbitten nose and it was decided that everyone, except Ridgeway and me, should go back. Unfortunately, Ridgeway had trouble with his goggles and was forced to turn back a few hundred feet higher. I ended up going to the summit by myself, reaching it at about five P.M. It was not technically difficult but the situation was quite incredibly wild. On my return to Camp II, we all dropped back to Camp I which was more sheltered and the remainder of the team waited there for better weather conditions whilst I retreated to the plane so that Kershaw and I could keep them supplied with food. The six remaining members of the team all reached the summit of Mount Vinson on November 30.

Christian Bonington