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Antarctic Peninsula, Various Ascents

The 2010 Alpine Club expedition set sail on November 25 from Tierra del Fuego aboard the Australian yacht Spirit of Sydney, skippered by Darrel Day and Cath Hew. On board were seven climbers: Derek Buckle, Mike Fletcher, Stu Gallagher, Richard MacIntyre, Olly Metherell, Dave Wynne-Jones, and me as leader.

During the course of my work I had become very familiar with the mountains of the Peninsula, and had come to suspect that several were significantly higher than marked on official maps. The most prominent of these, named Mt. Matin by Charcot after the Swiss newspaper, dominates the southern skyline of Flandres Bay and appears much higher than all other peaks to the east of Lemaire Channel. We made landfall at the southern tip of Anvers Island and, after making a quick ascent of the popular Jabet Peak (552m) above Port Lockroy (southwest face and south ridge, PD), sailed into the Lemaire Channel. Immediately to the north of its narrowest point is Deloncle Bay, where we landed and followed steep but relatively crevasse-free slopes to the Hotine Glacier. We established our main camp at 850m, below the pyramidal Mt. Nygren, and the rumbling southwest face of Mt. Matin.

December 3 was overcast, and we headed up the east ridge of Nygren (1,454m, all altitudes in this report are the average of readings recorded by two GPS and one altimeter), which was not threatened by seracs. A broad snow slope gradually steepened and narrowed to form an elegant snaking ridge, which we followed past several large cornices to reach the small conical summit (AD-). Next morning the clouds were more broken, so we skied southward across Leay Glacier to reach the north face of what is erroneously marked on the map as Mt. Shackleton. Starting up the face, we crossed several large crevasses before the slope steepened to 60° and led to the broad east ridge, a giant whale-back rising to the summit. There the clouds occasionally parted to reveal amazing views of Nygren, Matin, and the Wiggins Glacier. This was the probable second ascent of “False Shackleton” (1,476m, AD+), but by a new line. We have submitted a new name, Mt. Faraday, to the UK Antarctic Place-names Committee, to commemorate the former British base (where the ozone hole was first discovered).

From our camp, Matin seemed to rise in two distinct steps. An early foray up the southwest ridge, just after we first arrived, had taken us to a slightly higher altitude than the summit height as marked on the map. However, the peak had continued far above. On the 5th, with skies now devoid of both wind and cloud, we headed back up the southwest ridge, quickly reaching our previous high point. The rounded summit looked deceptively close, but the broad ridge continued on. What seemed like another 300m became 1,000m. When the ridge ended, we headed up the summit dome, which was frosted with rime ice. From the 2,415m top, in bitter cold, the view was breathtaking, with the mountains of the Peninsula extending in all directions. All but the highest peaks of Brabant and Anvers Islands were below us. The route was PD, and the descent back to camp gave over 1,400m of sensational skiing. The next day we relocated camp five miles to the west at the base of Mt. Cloos. This twin-sum- mited peak forms the dramatic east wall of the Lemaire Channel and had dominated our view since we arrived. The east side appeared straightforward, except for the top 300m, where a line of very steep and active seracs blocked access to the main top.

After a day of poor weather the sky again cleared and, although strong katabatic winds buffeted the tents, we headed out on the 8th and were soon above the wind. We reached the lower, south summit (935m, F) without difficulty, but the main top was blocked from this direction by large crevasses and ice cliffs. After climbing another high point between south and main tops, we headed east of the summit mass. Between the cliffs and the north face was an ice slope that led past the seracs. Although it was initially threatened, we were soon to the side of the seracs, and the climbing was enjoyable. A large wall of gently overhanging ice capped the slope, but a narrow ice chimney led around the steep terrain and onto gentler summit slopes (D+). We reached the 1,200m main top in afternoon sunlight and were visible to Cath and Darrel on the yacht in Pleneau Bay.

Having climbed all the major summits surrounding the Hotine Glacier, we arranged a pickup the following morning. During our second night in Pleneau Bay, heavy brash-ice moved in from the south, and we had an exciting few hours working our way out to open water. Since it was too risky to remain near the ice, we sailed to Paradise Harbor to sit out bad weather.

High above Paradise Harbor stands the huge mass of Mt. Inverleith. Marked at 2,038m on maps, it is one of the highest Peninsula peaks north of the Antarctic Circle and remained unclimbed. It is difficult and dangerous to access from Paradise Harbor, so as the weather started to clear, we sailed into Andvord Bay and were set ashore in high winds at Steinheil Point. After weaving through a broken icefall, four of us skied up snow slopes in search of somewhere sheltered to camp. We eventually tucked ourselves behind a sharp spur at 600m, protected from katabatic blasts.

Thankfully the winds dwindled overnight, allowing us to start early on the 14th. We zigzagged around enormous crevasses to a col, from which there was a direct descent to Paradise Harbor. The slope above was broken with crevasses and seracs, but a safe line led through them all and gave interesting climbing that included steep steps and tenuous snow bridges. We reached a shoulder high on the north ridge of Inverleith, the main difficulties below us but the summit still several kilometers away across endless slopes of breakable crust. It took forever, but we finally stood on top (AD+). Beyond lay the rolling tops of the Peninsula and Forbidden Plateau, the dramatic granite cliffs of Mt. Theodore, and a sea of mountains all the way to Deception Island. Beyond them all stretched the Drake Passage, across which, after a day’s rest, we would return to Argentina.