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Antarctica, Overview and Various Activity

Antarctica, Overview and Various Activity. Unreported from the 1999-2000 season was the Swiss “Antarctique 2000” expedition to Wiencke Island. Traveling aboard the yacht Philos, skippered by Eric Barde, Laure Schmied, Eric Christinet, Michael Hiltebrand, Paul Kobler and Francois Germain (leader) journeyed to the Port Lockroy area and established a base camp below the well-known Savoia Peak (1415m) on February 10. They then attempted a probable virgin peak between Savoia Peak and Janssen Peak (1085m). After climbing to a point above 700 meters on this peak, the team was reportedly turned back by unstable ice walls, poor snow conditions, and unseasonably warm temperatures. They then turned to a lower peak northeast of Savoia Peak and climbed it, finding it to be around 730 meters in altitude and naming it Mont PiaBer. After spending another two days and nights at their base camp in a severe storm, the team returned to the Philos, then sailed to the Chilean base Gonzalez-Videla for some scuba diving on February 15. The Melchior Islands were visited on the way home, Puerto Williams reached on February 23, and Ushuaia on the 24th.

The 2000-2001 Antarctic climbing season was relatively quiet, at least in terms of first ascents and new routes. Surprisingly, Dronning Maud Land* saw two groups active, making some first ascents and repeating a number of established routes (see reports below). In the Sentinel Range, the only pioneering activity was by the NOVA group on the east side of Vinson Massif (see below), though 65 people reached the summit of Vinson Massif by the normal route. This was the largest number that had ever summited in one season and, given that 70 climbers attempted the ascent, represents the traditionally very high success rate on this popular route.

The popular Antarctic Peninsula saw significantly fewer climbing teams than in recent years. First off for the season was the Spanish team of Iosu Feijoo, Oskar Palacios, and Jose Antonio Estivariz. This group arrived at the Chilean Gonzalez-Videla base at the northern end of Paradise Harbour. Aided by base personnel, who ferried the team south of the base to the start of their climbs with a Zodiac, the Spanish climbed a 318-meter peak on December 19, which they named New Euskadi Peak, and a 581-meter peak on December 24, which they called Gasteiz-Araba Peak. There are no previously recorded ascents, and the base personnel from Gonzalez-Videla confirmed to the team that the climbs were first ascents.

In late February, Australian mountaineer Greg Mortimer, operating from the ship Professor Molchanov, once again led a commercial cruise to the region that made some minor ascents. A large party from the group climbed the small peak known as Mt. Don Roberts on the eastern end of Lemaire Island. More significant was the first known ascent of the eastern peak of Two Hummock Island. Around 670 meters high and with a challenging corniced section near the summit, the smaller team that made the ascent unofficially named it Roald Peak, after celebrated Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen.

During the first two weeks of March, the well-known Antarctic commercial operator Adventure Network International (ANI) ran a commercial climbing cruise using the Dutch- owned Grigory Mikheev. Aboard were three climbing groups: one group of six clients from the U.K., plus the three ANI guides, Rob Hart, Damien Gildea, and Ben Marshall; one independent, international, non-guided group comprising Ronald Naar (Netherlands), Vicente Castro Sotos (Spain), and Javier Selva Serrano (Spain); and another independent group of snowboard-mountaineers, led by Doug Stoup on his second visit to the region. (The latter group’s activities are reported below.) One month prior to this expedition, Stoup and Gildea had guided a two-month, 1100-kilometer ski traverse from the coast to the South Pole.

On March 3, both the guided group and the international group made an ascent of a minor 550-meter peak on the western side of Andvoord Bay. The climb was a straightforward snow route with some minor crevassing. March 4 saw both groups again climbing together, this time on an attempt of the striking rock peak of Mt. Tennant (690m), situated on the northern end of Ronge Island. The groups accessed a less difficult snow and ice route on the east side of the mountain, but at mid-height the route was deemed unsuitable for the larger guided team due to hard-ice conditions and the nature of the upper ridge at this time of year. Naar, Sotos and Serrano continued, reaching the summit some hours later to complete the first ascent.

Overnight, the ship moved south to the Waterboat Point area, where on March 5 the group pursued a number of objectives. Two clients and one guide, as well as the international team and Stoup’s team, made an ascent of the obvious small peak above and to the east of the

Chilean base Gonzalez-Videla. This peak, which is actually a low satellite point of Mt. Hoegh (890m), was a relatively straightforward climb, with some crevassing down low, a thin band of very loose rock, and some steeper terrain toward the summit. At the same time, the rest of the guided group climbed the easy-angled ridge on the eastern extremity of Lemaire Island that includes the small summit known as Mt. Don Roberts, as well as a slightly higher peak. The group climbed both peaks but did not attempt to continue to the higher, more challenging peak beyond.

The international team and the guided team climbed together on March 6 on an attempt of the popular peak Mt. Scott (880m), prominently situated at the southern end of Lemaire Channel. Due to the almost perfect weather experienced throughout the season, the glaciers were thankfully free of deep snow, but these same conditions produced broken ridges and significant crevassing, not only low down on the glaciers but also high up on summit ridges. Such conditions turned the group back on this occasion, high on the upper reaches of Mt. Scott’s normal East Ridge route. They then turned toward the east and ascended the highest point of the horseshoe-shaped massif, an easy snow summit of around 980 meters that gives spectacular views over the area and down into the beautiful Lemaire Channel. No name was suggested for this summit; although no previous ascent has been recorded, it had probably been climbed before. On March 7, the entire group rested, photographed the abundant wildlife and enjoyed the hospitality of the Ukrainian personnel at Vernadskiy base.

On March 8, fueled by the previous day’s home-made vodka, the guided and international groups set out on a two-day attempt of Mt. Shackleton (1465m). After easily accessing the snout of the Wiggins Glacier, south of the peak, the group proceeded up the Wiggins, hauling sleds and establishing a camp toward the head of the valley, below an obvious icefall. Travel on the Wiggins was good except for numerous large crevasses and the heat of the beautiful weather. Starting early on the 9th, the two teams took separate routes through the jumble of blocks and seracs above to reach the base of the East Ridge, the normal route on Mt. Shackleton. After ascending and traversing numerous short, steep, and icy snow slopes, the group was halted at around 1100 meters beneath an impassable bergschrund. Passage on either side looked unlikely, so the larger guided group was forced to retreat once more. Naar, Sotos, and Serrano persevered, however, climbing some steep ice with little protection in a minor north-side variant to the usually straightforward East Ridge, reaching the summit around midday. This was probably the first non-government ascent of this beautiful peak. Upon seeing the three safely descending, the guided team broke camp and moved back down the Wiggins in continued perfect weather. All were reunited onboard the Grigory Mikheev by dusk.

March 10 was the last full climbing day, and the team once again split for various activities. Naar, Sotos, and Serrano climbed up to a point on the very corniced ridge south of the spectacular Mt. William (1600m) on Anvers Island. Three clients and two guides went to the twin summits of Jabet Peak (545m), the shapely little mountain on Wiencke Island, right next to the Port Lockroy base. The rest of the group spent the day toproping vertical ice on a nearby glacial edge. That evening the ship left the area, giving the group spectacular views of the gargantuan Mt. Francais (2822m), the highest mountain on Anvers Island, before heading north, visiting the wildlife of Deception Island on March 1, then arriving back in the port of Ushuaia in the early hours of March 14.

Damien Gildea, Australia

*Note on naming: there has been some confusion regarding the location and naming of Queen Maud Land. Queen Maud Land is synonymous with Dronning Maud Land (“Dronning” is Norwegian for “queen.” Dronning has been previously misspelled “Droning” in this journal.) Dronning Maud Land is the technically correct name for the mountains commonly referred to as Queen Maud Land. Further, the rarely visited Queen Maud Mountains are not in Dronning Maud Land but rather in the Transantarctic Mountains, south of the Ross Sea, thousands of miles away.