False Cape Renard, Zerua Peak, Azken Paradizua. From Cape Horn on December 10, my brother Iker, filmmakers Jabi Baraiazarra and Gotxon Arribas, and I sailed the legendary, harrowing, Drake Passage to Antarctica in the Northanger. Four long days from Argentina made it clear why no one wants to make this crossing by sailboat: nausea, dizziness, boredom, and anxiety—overwhelming anxiety when the waves crash over the boat, or when icebergs show up on the radar. Skippers Greg Landreth and Keri Pashuk call this crossing the “climber filter.” Most mountaineers never even get on board. Of those who do, many arrive too weak to do anything. And those who aren’t too weak are often too traumatized by the trip to climb. We reached Antarctica close to the latter group, but determined to stand our ground and fight.
Between Deception Island and Port Lockroy we saw many interesting concluding objectives for Iker’s and my 7 Walls 7 Continents Project, but unfortunately, none where the Northanger could lay anchor. We weren’t happy with what we saw at Port Lockroy, either, and decided to keep sailing southward. We finally found our objective at False Cape Renard: an aweinspiring ensemble of three unclimbed peaks known to sailors as the Three Piggies. We set our sights on the one closest to the sea, which was the most accessible and the most beautiful, and landed on December 20 in good weather with low swell. Then the Northanger left in search of good anchorage. We had appallingly bad weather for the next four days and finally called the Northanger to bring more food. They arrived after four hours of sailing, but they could not stay long at anchor because of the wind and icebergs pushing against the boat. After landing supplies in a rubber dinghy, a dangerous operation, we had a Christmas Eve party with plenty of drink. In the evening Iker went out to pee. This call of nature changed the course of the expedition. He asked me to come outside. We looked up at the sky: it was the best in the last four days. After five minutes of discussion, Iker and I rushed out to pack our backpacks. We were going up! Jabi and Gotxon still couldn’t believe it. They said they’d wait in the tent until we reached the base of the wall, when we could call to tell them if we decided to go up. The forecast was still terrible, but we were in Antarctica and couldn’t pass up a single opportunity.
It was very cold when we started to climb, but the light in Antarctica is incredible. With no night, we would be able to fight the cold by not stopping until we reached the summit and returned to base camp. Americans call this style “single-push.” To shed all weight, we left behind our sleeping bags, bivouac sacks, tent, bolts…. If everything worked out and we didn’t have to bivouac, the result could be perfect. But if we had to stop for any reason, at least some frostbite would be guaranteed.
The fourth pitch hit a snag: 7a with verglas. It was good this one was up to Iker, because in the cold I couldn’t grip the rock and both my feet slipped on an ice sheet and I fell several meters into space. Higher, when I reached a ledge, I had to stop and warm my fingers because the pain was unbearable and my eyes were filled with tears. It hurt so badly that I arrived dizzy at the belay. My next two pitches were gorgeous 6a’s. Iker led the pitch after that: verglased 6b+. The ice on the rock was giving us hell, but we were making it. After another couple of pitches we came to a snow ramp and then bad rock. Every so often, Iker repeated the same question: “How are we going to get down?” But after several pitches of shattered rock and steep mixed climbing up to M6, made harder by only having two axes between us, we embraced on the summit.
We still couldn’t believe we had made it, that the 7 Walls 7 Continents Project was finally complete. The panorama up there was breathtaking, with hundreds of virgin mountains, channels of water packed with icebergs, and a solitude like nothing we have ever known. We felt fulfilled.
The rappelling was tense: the rock crumbled and we wracked our brains trying not to make mistakes. Problems flourished on the final rappels, including an anchor piton pulling out and a near-death escape during an overhanging rappel, a brush with disaster. After eight hours of dangerous rappelling, we felt overcome with tension and extreme fatigue when we finally embraced Jabi and Gotxon, who had fearfully watched the events play out. When we reached base camp we were too weak to celebrate anything. We had a bite and went to sleep. It had been 24 hours from camp to camp, and we could take no more.
Eneko Pou, Spain