AAC Publications - http://publications.americanalpineclub.org

Antarctica, Antarctic Peninsula, Summary of Activities

Summary of activities. Livingston Island is a rugged mountain massif, home to the highest point of the South Shetland Islands, off the northwestern tip of the Peninsula. It is also the location of a number of scientific research stations from different nations. On January 5th, Alex Simon i Casanovas, Jordi Sorribas i Cervantes, David Hita i Sanchez and Vicente Castro Sotos, personnel from the Spanish Juan Carlos I base, made the first ascent of Mt. Bowles, a rounded peak on eastern part of the island. Argentine sources put the altitude of Mt. Bowles at 914m, but the Spanish team's GPS recorded only 839m. Though the route was only of moderate difficulty, it is one of the few summits ever reached on the island. Vicente Castro Sotos had climbed on the Peninsula in March 2001, when he made the first ascent of Mt. Tennant (690m) on Rongé Island (AAJ 2001), as well as an ascent of Mt. Shackleton (1,465m) and other smaller peaks.

The recent high levels of climbing activity by Antipodean groups in the Peninsula area continued, with the Spirit of Sydney, skippered by Roger Wallis, being chartered by a group of experienced Australian and New Zealand guides and clients—Jon Chapman, John Fitzgibbon, Karl Hillary, Theodore Kossart, Jon Morgan, Chuck Olbery, Stuart Morris, and Rob Rymill. The latter is the great-nephew of the legendary polar explorer John Rymill, who led the audacious British Graham Land Expedition of 1934-37. That expedition explored a large area of the southern Antarctic Peninsula, including many of the high inland mountains and discovered King George VI Sound.

The first summit for this year’s expedition, on January 8th, was the probable fourth ascent of Harris Peak (1,005m) on the Reclus Peninsula. The whole team summited via a route from the north, which they then skied to descend. Harris Peak had been climbed in late December 2001 by three members of a British military expedition. Two days later Chapman, Fitzgibbon, Kossart, Morris, and Rymill made the third ascent of Mt. Johnston (2,304m). Ascents of the higher inland peaks are relatively rare and Johnston had only received its second ascent last year, by the same British military group that climbed Harris Peak.

The team sailed further south and on January 15th Hillary, Morgan and Olbery climbed and skied the north face of Mt. Demaria (635m), a picturesque small peak that has been climbed many times and skied by American teams in both February 2000 (see AAJ 2000 p.294) and March 2001, both trips involving the late Hans Saari.

On January 16th, some of the team climbed the northern peak of the popular Mt. Scott, from the easy-angled south side. Hillary, Kossart, Morgan, Olbery, and Rymill made the ascent, then descended the route on skis. While that group was on North Mt. Scott, Chapman and Morris simul-climbed about eight pitches worth of rock and mixed terrain to the summit of nearby Duseberg Buttress (500m) via its west face. This buttress is the obvious dark rocky cone on the south-west side of Mt. Scott, just above the shoreline. In many distant photos of Scott from the west this feature is often indistinguishable against the larger bulk of Scott, but in fact the normal approach to Scott goes between Duseberg Buttress and the south-western slopes of Mt. Scott itself.

Saving the best until last, the highest peak in the area, Mt. Francais (2,822m) on Anvers Island, received its sixth ascent, via the eastern Bull Ridge. This long ridge was named after John Bull, a member of the British Antarctic Survey team that made the 1955 first ascent of the stunning nearby peak Mt. William. It was climbed in February 1999 by the Australians David Adams and Duncan Thomas. This year, Kossart, Morgan, Morris and Olbery ascended Green Spur, climbed to Copper Col (305m) between Billie Peak (725m) and Copper Peak (1,125m), then gained the western side of Bull Ridge, which they followed to the summit. Morgan and Olbery made a ski descent, the second time that Francais has been skied, the first being Greg Landreth’s 1987 expedition aboard Northanger, which made the fourth ascent of Francais.

A ski descent of Francais was also the objective of Americans Andrew Maclean and Doug Stoup, who arrived in the area in early February aboard the yacht Pelagic. Starting from a base slightly further west than the Australian/NZ group, Stoup and Maclean made an ascent of a minor peak known as The Minaret (ca 1,050m), which is part of a small group running east to west from Mt. William. The pair skinned up the first 900m then removed their skis and donned crampons to ascend more broken terrain to the summit. On the descent, they skied from the point where they had left their skis, enjoying their turns all the way back to their base camp. Poor weather prevented any significant attempt on Francais.

The yacht Northanger made a return to Antarctic waters, again skippered by Canadian residents Greg Landreth and Keri Pashuk. On board were Eduard Birnbacher of Germany, Niel Fox and Roger Robinson of the UK and Jonathan Selby of New Zealand. The team experienced a very rough crossing of the Drake Passage in mid-February and Northanger arrived at the Port Lockroy area on Wiencke Island requiring a significant amount of repair work. This was undertaken by Landreth and Pashuk, thus removing them from any climbing activity.

Around the end of February Birnbacher and Fox climbed to the southernmost of the rocky points on the ridge between Jabet Peak (545m) and Noble Peak (720m) on Wiencke Island. They climbed from the eastern side, up a 50°-60° couloir for 400m before climbing two and a half pitches along the loose, rocky ridge to a point they reported as being 700m. This ridge was first traversed on November 16th, 1948 by the British climbers Pawson and Blyth, who had made the first ascent of Noble Peak the previous week. Numerous routes on this massif, and on Wiencke Island in general, have been climbed since the first ascent of Jabet in May, 1948. The Wiencke Island area is now probably the most-visited Peninsula destination for yacht-based climbers, due in part to the good anchorage at Port Lockroy. Though other parties have traversed off this ridge, on this occasion Birnbacher and Fox saw fit to rappel their route of ascent, leaving behind pitons and slings for anchors.

The same pair later climbed to a 650m ridge-point on the north ridge of Wandel Peak (980m). Wandel is the highest point of Booth Island and is unclimbed (see photo in AAJ 2001). Its north ridge was attempted in February 1997 by Greg Landreth, Jia Condon and Rich Prohaska while Keri Pashuk minded Northanger. Booth Island forms the eastern side of the spectacular and popular Lemaire Channel, so Wandel Peak is seen, at least in good weather, by over 10,000 ship-bound tourists a year. Though relatively accessible, it remains one of the most challenging unclimbed objectives on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Though Birnbacher and Fox climbed a significant amount of technical terrain, with ice to 75° and poor quality rock to UIAA V, they were halted by the heavily corniced ridge between their high-point and the summit of Wandel Peak. The pair rappelled and downclimbed their route of ascent and returned to Northanger for a seven-day voyage back to Ushuaia, arriving on March 18th.

Damien Gildea, AAC, Australia