American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Antarctica, Dronning Maud Land, South Georgia, Various Activity

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2003

South Georgia, various activity. Bad weather thwarted attempts by a team off the 15m ketch Gambo to make three first ascents on South Georgia, and a new route up the island’s highest peak, Mt. Paget. During the team’s month-long stay, mass balance and radar data of the Nordenskjold Glacier and a bathymetric survey of its front were also gathered in support of a scientific research program to quantify the impact of climate change and water-quality on the southern high- latitudes. We called ours the Antarctic Convergence Zone Expedition: South Georgia ’03.

The international team of seven, led by myself, a Welsh glaciologist and mountaineer, set out from Cape Horn for South Georgia in mid-February on the second year of this adventure- research program. After a challenging voyage made interesting by an above-average density of large (up to 120km) tabular burgs surrounding the island, and compounded by the complete loss of the yacht’s auxiliary diesel when an unmarked line became entangled in its prop, Gambo arrived at Grytviken on March 3. From here, two attempts were made on three unclimbed mountains: Paulsen Peak (1,877m), Quad Five (1,693m), and Marakoppa (1,840m), that lie above the Lyell Glacier in Cumberland West Bay; whilst a second party focused its attention on the unclimbed east ridge of 2,993m Mt. Paget, the island’s highest peak. A third party explored smaller peaks on the overland route to St. Andrews Bay and cleared discarded jerry cans and other detritus.

Stuart Holmes, Grant Redvers, and Davie Robinson made two attempts on Paulsen Peak, Quad Five, and Marakoppa. They First aimed for the col between Paulsen peak and Quad Five, from where access to both summits appeared to be relatively easy. However, after climbing up the Lyell Glacier, their progress was blocked by an icefall at around the 600m level. Their second attempt a week later and focused on ascending the Geikie Glacier to the col between Marakoppa and Quad Five. Seracs and an intimidating icefall were encountered, and in failing conditions, with significant avalanche risks, they turned back.

The second team led by myself (who had pulled, split, and attempted repairs on the diesel) focused on Mt. Paget. Tim Hall, Hamish Millar, and I skied up the eastern margin of the Nordenskjold glacier towards the col between Paget and Roots at ca 1,800m. After five days dug into a crevasse in atrocious weather, we eventually hit the col on March 25. With a cloudless dawn, Millar and I set off for the final four km’s to Paget’s summit along an airy and corniced but straightforward ridge, in conditions varying between soft sugary snow and excellent water ice. Below Paget’s sub-peak, we climbed through seracs and up a small south face that ended with a steep ice pitch. We then skirted south of the sub-peak on 40° snow slopes, up another steep ice pitch to regain the ridge, leaving easy ground to the summit. At ca 2,550m, with an ominously rapid deterioration in weather we retreated. A prudent decision given the total whiteout and phenomenal winds of the next fraught five hours. With little food and fuel we eventually made it back to Cumberland Bay East on 28 March. Gambo left Grytviken a few days later enjoying a brief spell with a fully functioning diesel which sadly, was not to last and spelt a frustrating three- week voyage back to Mar del Plata, where we made landfall on Easter Sunday.

Alun Hubbard, U.K.

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