American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Antarctica, Antarctic Peninsula, Cape Renard Tower, Attempt, and Pt. 3,600', Ascent

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 2000

Cape Renard Tower, Attempt, and Pt. 3,600', Ascent. Our goal was to attempt the first ascent of the north face of Cape Renard Tower (747m) located on the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula. Cape Renard Tower has been climbed twice before, once by a Canadian team who climbed a mixed route to the lower east summit and in 1999 by a German team who climbed the west face to the main summit. We were aboard the yacht Pelagic (Latin: “of the sea”), a vessel with a seven-ton steel-encased lead lifting keel built by Captain James “Skip” Novak for the purposes of sailing and mountaineering in this region. The team comprised Julian-Freeman Attwood, Skip Novak and myself. Jules and I had made a previous attempt on the Tower in 1996.

After an aborted attempt to land at the base of the Tower on February 19, we moved to the northeast to the one spot where the collapsing ice wall is breached by a tenable line of ascent. A long pitch up this enabled us to fix a rope for the next morning. We returned, then climbed back up the rope and hauled 20 loads up the wall on to the top of the seracs. We set up camp on the top. We then established a traverse across the glacier to the lip of the 200-foot ice cliff from where a narrow ledge system led across the rock face to join our original “direct start” from the cave site of 1996.

From the ledges, there followed two more days of steep and difficult rock climbing to reach the toe of the massive couloir that cleaves the face. We established fixed ropes on all this section so that we could both return to camp and re-ascend to our high point as soon as possible with the plan of establishing a camp high on the mountain. However, after various discussions, it was decided to make a single alpine-style attempt from above the fixed ropes.

After some bad weather, Skip and I climbed back to the toe of the couloir by 7 a.m. on our big day. We climbed this in about a dozen pitches and then followed the ramp line that cuts across the upper walls up rightward. As night fell, we prepared for a cold bivouac without sleeping bags. The first pitch the next morning proved to be an awkward grade V piece of ice. We were forced to continue up the ramp line for another two pitches. The climbing became increasingly difficult until we ended up faced with a blank wall leading into a blank comer that stopped us in our tracks. Our high point was three-quarters of the way up, at the end of the ramp across the headwall on the summit tower, two pitches short of the easier summit ground. It took 15 rappels to return to the top of the fixed ropes, then three more rappels back to the ledge line as darkness fell. A weary plod with heavy loads back across the glacier and we reached base camp by 11 p.m.

I also made a solo ascent via a new route (with Freeman-Attwood in support) of the highest point of the Wall Range on Wiencke Island. This is Point 3,600' (1097m) on the chart at a position of 64° 49.5' S, 63° 23.0' W. The route was a technically straightforward line up a broad couloir opposite Jabet Peak to the crest of the north ridge. I then hung a right for an hour’s ascent along the crest via a series of rounded elephants’ backsides to the summit. Along the way I experienced rough weather with high winds and poor visibility. Subsequent checks have revealed that this summit had in fact most likely been climbed at least once before by members of the well-known Italian climbing group Lecco Spiders in 1976. They had christened it Monte Italia (1097m). It appears they had traversed to it from the neighboring summit, which they had climbed using siege tactics under difficult weather conditions.

Caradoc (“Crag”) Jones, Wales

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