Today we were intending to move from Vinson base camp to low camp, which is a 9 km distance and 700 meters (2300 ft) elevation gain. It should have taken us five to six hours, however, the day before we had gone for a short 3 hour walk in the nearby hills and I had really struggled to keep up with Scott, the guide, and Mark, the other climber. In the end we returned before we reached the top of the hill, because I was struggling so much. So I was very nervous before setting off on today’s climb.
The combination of the cold, the snow, the weight of the rucksacks we were carrying on our backs and of course the altitude, made it much harder, in fact, maybe four times harder than Kilimanjaro. It is important that climbers prepare properly to be able to carry moderately heavy loads over the course of fairly long days. Contrary to the North Pole, where we were dragging our equipment behind us on a sledge, we here have to carry our personal equipment, food and share of the group gear on our backs while climbing, which in combination with the altitude, makes it a lot harder.
Scott, our guide, is very experienced. He has almost done the Seven Summits four times and Mark, the other climber in my group, is also a very good climber, so before setting off, I was very nervous about holding everybody back and being very slow by comparison, easily get out of breath and not being able to cope. However, there is only one way forward!
The best time of day to start the climb is around early afternoon. Although we have 24-hour daylight and the sun never sets, then the moment the sun is behind the mountain and we are left in shadow, the temperature drops considerably. Therefore we try to time our days to take advantage of the sun and warmest part of the day.
Our guide told us that it is a comparatively warm climate for an Antarctic summer. He also mentioned that there have been comprehensive studies of the ice glaciers in the Antarctic showing that the ice has been melting for the past three years at a much faster rate than ever before, which is a bit worrying. The Antarctic ice cap has 29 million cubic kilometers of ice, which is 90% of all the ice on the planet and between 60 and 70 % of all of the world’s fresh water. If Antarctica’s ice sheets melted, the world’s oceans would rise between 50 and 60 meters.
Our route from Vinson base camp to low camp followed the gradual rise of the Branscomb Glacier. We started out heading east, and then after about 3 km turned north under the West Face of the mountain. Climbing mountains is not without risk and due to crevasse hazards; we travel roped together all the time.
It only took us about four and half hours to walk from Vinson base camp to Vinson low camp, and I was relieved I had no problem keeping up. Today was a very positive day for me!