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Antarctica, Dronning Maud Land, Holtanna, First Ascent, and Various Other Climbs

Holtanna, First Ascent, and Various Other Climbs. Holtanna (2650m), situated at the southernmost point of the Fenriskjeften massif in the Dronning Maud Mountains, is a huge granite spur that towers 800 meters above the ice. The first people to travel to these mountains were the Norwegians during the Antarctic summer of 1958-59. In 1996-97, another Norwegian team made the first ascents of different peaks in this area, including the famous Ulvetanna, the highest peak (2920m) of the northernmost massif.

The team for the first ascent of Holtanna was made up of five climbers and a photographer: Alain Hubert (Belgium), Ralph Dujmovits (Germany), André Georges (Switzerland), Fabrizzio Zangrilli (U.S.), and Daniel Mercier and René Robert (France). Also with us was Katelijne Vanheulekom (Belgium), in charge of communications with headquarters, and scientists Alain Bidart (France) and Ronald Ross (U.S.), who were working on different education and research projects.

The origin of the project goes back to 1997 when I saw these beautiful mountains from Blue-1 as I began the longest crossing ever made in Antarctica by foot and skis, using power sails. Because polar regions are central for research on climate change, I have always tried my best, through the concept of “learning by adventure,” to use expeditions to make these isolated parts of the planet better known. Since, according to the 1992 Madrid Protocol, the Antarctic is the only continent officially considered a zone of peace and research, I consider it of the utmost importance that polar explorers and mountaineers spread the word about environmental issues of the Antarctic. In the same line of thought, we had the chance to participate in an indirect way on the study of manned flights to Mars.

NASA has been studying for years the extreme life conditions astronauts will have to face by landing on the Red Planet. Polar regions are the best places on Earth to find extremely difficult life conditions. Thus, in collaboration with Stanford University, we set up permanent weather stations and also gathered some of the few living organisms able to develop in such a harsh environment: lichens.

The expedition started from Blue-1 on December 10 by skiing for 70 kilometers to Base Camp, which was established at the bottom of Holtanna’s wall. A first attempt on the north pillar was called off due to the high risk of rockfall. We then decided to climb the South Pillar (ED/ABO, 6b A2-A3) of Holtanna (The Hollow Tooth). It took us a total of ten days to reach the summit, which we achieved during the night of the December 31, 2000-January 1, 2001. In general, the granite is very sharp (be careful with the rope) and fragile on the surface. We used bolts for most of the belays and a total of five bolts on the pitches. We used only one camp on the ascent. All of us reached the summit together on the same day.

During January, André Georges and I climbed nine other new routes in the Fenriskjeften massif around Base Camp. Some of the peaks had been named by the Norwegians in the 1960s or in 1996; we didn’t want to name most of the other peaks, as Antarctica is a particular place on Earth, a place in which, ultimately, we are nothing, no more than a snow flake dependent on the wind.

The Norwegian climber Ivar Tollefsen, who led the first climbing expedition to this area, spoke about these peaks in these terms: “While crossing the back of the throat of the Fenris Wolf, we could see the tip of his blood-red tongue, pointing skyward, tinted by the midnight sun. On either side of the tongue was a set of teeth that would make the monsters in Jurassic Park look like gnats....” Beginning from the southwest point of the cirque of the Fenriskjeften massif, we climbed the first Wolf’s Tooth (2210m), an incredible peak (literally carved by the wind) via a long ridge from the east to the west (TD Al) in 12 hours. Our second climb was the east face of the castle called Midgard (2345m); it took 19 hours over two days (TD A1/A2/A4). Our third and fourth teeth, a 2380-meter and a 2390-meter peak, took five hours each (D+), by the east ridge and the north ridge respectively. The fifth climb, of the east face of a 2430-meter peak, was more difficult, but the rock was beautiful and very strong, with amazing cracks. We called this peak “The Black Tooth” because of the color of the rock; the ascent (TD) took us ten hours.

Our next objective had been climbed by Daniel Mercier and me the year before during a reconnaissance; the climb (D) took two and a half hours. We then made the second ascent of a peak named Philiptanna (2200m) by the Norwegian expedition. The climb (AD) was easy, and took one and a half hours. Next, we climbed a really amazing small peak in two pitches by the east face (D, three hours); the 400-meter west wall (full of Arctic Stern birds), which literally overhangs the ice, is impressive and gives you a nice view of the northernmost small peak of the Fenriskjeften, the Tungepissen (2277m), which we reached just for pleasure. When I left BC, Andre Georges soloed the southernmost chimney/crack (ED+) of Ulvetanna in about five hours.

Georges and I also made the first ascent and traverse (from the south to the north) of Stettind (2558m), both of us solo: D+ in eight hours on snow/ice and rock. We made the first ascent of the east ridge and the first traverse of Kintanna (2724m) by descending the north face; the peak was first climbed by the Norwegians in 1996. Our ascent and traverse (TD Al) took us 15 hours. Rapelling the face, we used the anchors left by the Norwegians five years before. All five climbers of our expedition also made the second ascent of the south face of the north peak (D+) of Holtanna (called Holsttind [2577m] by the Norwegians in 1996), in four hours.

Alain Hubert, Belgium