American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Antarctica, Heritage Range, Union Glacier, Various Ascents

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 2011

Union Glacier, various ascents. This was the first full season of operations at ALE’s new camp on the south side of the Union Glacier. Situated in the southern Heritage Range, itself the southern section of the Ellsworth Mountains, the camp is much closer to a multitude of climbing objectives than the old camp at Patriot Hills, 60km further south. This section of the Heritage was first visited in the summer of 1962–63 by various U.S. personnel, exploring and surveying the entire Ellsworth Mountains. Very little mountaineering was done in these early years, but in subsequent seasons some minor ascents were made during the course of work. The area was visited again in the mid- 1970s by a Norwegian geological expedition with USAP support, and it is believed that members probably climbed a number of peaks.

ALE undertook a lengthy process to establish the suitability of the Union Glacier’s blue ice for large aircraft landing and ground operations. This required permissions and inspections from various governmental authorities. Some clients operated from the base in the 2009–10 season, but in the recent summer all clients and expeditions used the new facilities, which are reportedly a significant upgrade over the Patriot Hills camp, versions of which ran every summer from 1986–2010. At the new camp, tracked vehicles are used more extensively for client transportation, including access to nearby peaks, thereby enabling enjoyable day climbs.

The peaks on the south side of the glacier had been visited by ALE guides and clients in the 2009–10 season, but last summer teams made more substantial climbs. The main feature is Mt. Dolence (1,950m), a large peak on the western side of Connell Canyon, a southern tributary of the Union Glacier. On January 7 the Swiss guide Kaus Tscherrig and client Markus Ineichen made its first ascent. In a 16-hour round trip from a drop-off point near the feature unofficially known as Elephant Head, this pair climbed a 1,200m mixed route on the rocky north face.

Just to the south of Dolence is a shorter but very impressive rocky spire, Linder Peak. Prolific British guide Victor Saunders and client Nick Wilkinson bagged the first ascent on January 11, climbing easy but loose rock on the north ridge before passing through a steeper rock band and out onto the west face to reach the top (Tower of Winds, AD).

East across Connell Canyon lies a chain of summits, the highest being the unclimbed Hoinkes Peak (1,890m). Northeast of Hoinkes is a slightly lower summit of 1,850m that Saunders and Wilkinson climbed on the 14th via the north face (AD) in a round trip of nine hours from their tent, giving it the unofficial name Waterloo Peak. West of Hoinkes, jutting into the head of Connell Canyon, is an attractive snow face leading to a rocky summit. On the 17th, during a three-day round-trip from the ALE camp, Dana Coffield and Jocelyn Dufour made its first ascent via a direct route up the north face (snow and ice to 60°). The duo named it Lyskamm Peak after its more famous Swiss likeness. They descended by traversing the spectacular rocky ridge back east to below Hoinkes Peak, then going north down an intervening gully.

However, this season it was Mt. Rossman that received the most attention. Rossman is an elongated massif with three obvious summits, the eastern one being the highest. The north face of Rossman overlooks the new ALE camp and provides an accessible venue for short, moderate climbs. Due to weather and flight delays this season, an unusually large number of climbers were stuck in camp for some time. They generally made the most of the situation. Many ascents of Rossman were completed, including several new routes. Most of the lines were a combination of steep couloirs and slopes of snow and ice, though on occasions there were sections of moderate climbing on poor-quality rock. The western buttress of Rossman forms a triangular rock face less than an hour on foot from the camp. This aspect of the peak was particularly popular (see accompanying photodiagram); five different lines were climbed by the Saunders party alone.

Charles Peak (990m) is an obvious objective on the north side of the Union Glacier. It gives good views of the surrounding area, is easily accessed by vehicles from the ALE camp, and has an ALE VHF repeater unit on the summit. The smaller summit west of Charles was used as a USGS survey station in the mid-1960s, and there is a good chance the main summit of Charles was reached in the 1960s and/or ‘70s. The peak received dozens of ascents this season, mostly via easy routes, though with some variations.

On the south side of the Union Glacier, west of Rossman, and north of Mt. Dolence at the mouth of Connell Canyon, three small summits, named the Gateway peaks, also received their first ascents this season. Gateway I (by the Lily Couloir, PD) and II (by the north ridge, F) were climbed on January 9 by Dominic Jude, Saunders, and Wilkinson in a five-hour round trip from the so-called Elephant Cove. On the 15th, Saunders and Wilkinson climbed Gateway III by the KFC Couloir at AD.

In behind the Rossman massif are a number of lower peaks that were visited in 2009–10, but last season one notable feature received its first ascent. On the 17th, American guide Caroline George, along with Jude, Saunders, and Wilkinson, made a 10-hour round trip from the Union Glacier camp to climb the east ridge of Midnight Peak at AD.

Early in the season a team from the UK-based Fuchs Foundation hauled sleds northeast across the Union Glacier toward the Nimbus Hills, where they planned to conduct scientific studies and ascend small peaks. On November 27, partway through this journey, they climbed the highest point of Buchanan Hills (ca 1,100m), and two days later a slightly lower peak. On December 1 they reported climbing a peak of 1,494m, and then reaching another summit, before continuing north through a pass west of Mt. Capley (1,830m) the next day. Poor weather, then high winds, kept them tent-bound for several days in the upper Flanagan Glacier.

Eventually they were able to cross back south via a high pass between Mt. Sporli and Ronald Ridge. The team encountered bad sastrugi on the lower Driscoll Glacier but climbed Charles Peak on December 13 before returning to the ALE camp next day.

Damien Gildea, Australia

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