The weather was great and both Mike and I felt better, so we decided to ascend from Vinson low camp to high camp, which lies at 4000 m. It was an elevation gain of 1,200 meters. The walking distance that day was very short, about half a kilometre, before we reached the start of the 45° slope and the ropes fixed to the cliff face. We put crampons (snow spikes) onto the bottom of our boots, and put all of our equipment into our rucksacks, clipped our harnesses to the ropes and then spent almost four hours climbing up the 45° slope. The route took us up the broad mixed spur at the northern end of the Branscomb Ridge through rocky sections and areas of blue ice.
It took us five and a half hour to get from low camp to high camp, and when we finally reached high camp, we were so exhausted. Mark was feeling dizzy and I had a thumbing headache from exercising at altitude. Both are typical symptoms encountered at altitude and is part of the body’s reaction to the lower oxygen pressure. The amount of oxygen available to our bodies is determined by the atmospheric pressure we climb in, which decreases the higher we get up, leaving fewer molecules of oxygen per breath. The atmospheric pressure at high camp where we are now is only about 60% that of sea level, and at the Mount Vinson summit it will be down to around 50%, making the climb that much harder.
The combination of extreme weather, low temperatures and high altitude has a great impact on our bodies, and the steep slopes often require quick, accurate decisions, which is even harder under these circumstances. It is therefore extremely important that we give our bodies rest days and time to acclimatise in between the climbs in order to fully get used to the new atmospheric pressure.
With only five to six hours climbing every day, we have a lot of spare time during the expedition. We do not do much in between the climbs, maybe go for a short walk, but otherwise spend most of the time sitting in the tent, eating and drinking hot drinks and simply letting our bodies rest. At low camp we had a cooking tent, well more precisely a square hole in the snow with a big pole in the middle and a bottomless tent over it. The food we ate up until low camp was prepared and carried from Patriot Hills. High camp is more basic and we cooked simple, dehydrated meals and ate them in our tents just like at the North Pole expedition. The snow is so clean and pure here, that we melt it and use it for both cooking and drinking.
Climbers and guides are coming and going in their own pace and with their own agenda and it varies from camp to camp how many we are. At low camp it was only Mark, our guide Scott and I. Although, just before we left low camp for high camp, another two rangers came along; Rob and Patchy, following us to high camp.
Tomorrow is a new exciting day. If the weather is good and our bodies are sufficiently acclimatized in the morning, we may be able to climb the last 14 km, taking Oman and the Renaissance Services Antarctic Expedition to the top of Antarctica!