Livingston Island, South Shetland Islands, second ascent of Mt. Friesland and New Altitude. Livingston Island is around 60km long and much of it is gentle terrain. However, at the eastern end rises an impressive range of snowy peaks that I had first seen while visiting the area in 2001. Though mapped by the British Antarctic Survey in the 1950s, there was some ambiguity over the height, names and locations of some of the peaks. Myself and John Bath of Australia, with Rodrigo Fica and Osvaldo Usaj of Chile, sponsored by the Omega Foundation, aimed to climb several of the main peaks and ascertain their height (as Rodrigo and I had done on Mt. Shinn the previous year). In addition we wanted to match various peaks and features with names in existing Antarctic databases, such as the Composite Gazetteer of Antarctic Place Names compiled by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR).
The Omega team first flew to King George Island in a Dash-7 aircraft chartered by the Chilean airline DAP as part of their expansion of tourist activity in the area. We then transferred to a new DAP BO-105 helicopter and in three flights were transferred to a predetermined base camp site on Livingston. During the 26 days we spent on the island, only three days were really suitable for climbing. Two of those days were taken for flying in and out! The other good day was spent making the second known ascent of Mt. Bowles, a rounded peak north of the main range, which the Omega team measured at 822m. After the work on Bowles, we spent nearly two weeks unable to climb high due to combinations of wind, light snow, constant low cloud and fog, and two periods of severe blizzard conditions lasting several days. During this time some short ski journeys were made in the vicinity of the plateau and also to make a cache at the start of the ramp that led up to the east ridge of Mt. Friesland, the primary objective of the group, as it is the highest peak on the island.
Friesland was first climbed in December 1991 by two Spanish climbers from the nearby King Juan Carlos I base. Though Bulgarian scientific personnel had been active in this part of Livingston in the intervening period, they confirmed to us that they had not climbed any of the high peaks.
On December 19 John, Rodrigo, and I left camp in the evening to make a final attempt on Friesland. The long snowy ramp up to the ridge was much more crevassed than we had assumed and took time to negotiate in visibility that was usually around 20 meters or less. Upon reaching the ridge the weather deteriorated further, but we continued up until we came to a point where we could not see the way ahead due to low light levels (it was 2 a.m.) and a light snowfall. We then spent a cold and uncomfortable night bivouacked in a two-man tent with no sleeping bags, then continued to the top later that morning in slightly better weather. The ridge was severely crevassed and corniced, but otherwise held no difficulty. Fortunately, the weather held for around three hours while we were on the summit, enough time to run the GPS and eventually obtain a new height of 1,700m for Mt. Friesland. At various clearings in the weather, and on the spectacular helicopter flight out on December 22, we were able to confirm visually that Friesland is indeed the highest peak on the island. The Omega Foundation will use the new information from this expedition and other sources to produce a new map of Livingston Island later in 2004. More information can be found at www.theomegafoundation.org.
Damien Gildea, AAC, Australia