By now, I was really beginning to suffer. I could not breathe and my head was pounding louder and louder at each heartbeat. Eventually I broke down
for the first time and asked Scott for a break, so I could detach my rucksack. Without the weight on my back and the constriction on my chest from the shoulder straps, I was back on track and just able to keep up with Scott, but I was still hyperventilating from the thin air. The earth is not entirely circular but flatter at the poles and for some reason this makes the air thinner, so for every height we climbed to it actually felt 500 meters higher.
Six hours after starting, we approached the final plateau before the summit ridge. The wind was bitterly gusting 60 km/h from the east and blew up the Vinson Massif and down the other side. There was a pocket of calm as the wind rushed up the summit overtopping the edge and down the other side. It was a small pocket of heaven for us having suffered seven hours of battering in the wind.
We made our final preparations for the push to the summit under the guidance of Scott. I put on every piece of clothing, had some shots of energy gel, stashed all the remaining equipment and steeled myself to ignore the pounding in my head for one final hour. With the conditions we were in, we could only afford half an hour to traverse to reach the summit and half an hour to return, without risking frostbite.
By now the wind was at least 50 km/h approaching up to 80 km/h, making it hard for me to stand up. If I leaned into a gust and suddenly stopped, I would lose my balance making me look unstable on my feet like a punched drunk boxer.
We proceeded as fast as we could along the sharp, thin, rocky ridge. We had the ice axes ready, were roped together for safety and put spiky metal crampons on our feet to help our footing. Each peak along
the ridge brought into view another peak slightly
higher and further along than the one we had just climbed. Frustrating us intensely, making me wonder when this personal hell would end.
After what seemed like at least another hour, but was actually less than 20 minutes, we came to an innocuous 2 meters high pyramid of rock and snow
that was clearly higher than any point we could see for miles. As with the magnetic north pole, it was so nondescript that I could not quite believe it was the right summit.
There really should have been neon lights; an arrow or at least a plaque that lends the location more gravitas and confirmed this was in fact the goal I had struggled so hard to reach.
We circled around the east side of the snowy goal and from the south side of it I paused briefly within decision. Scott handed me the small Omani flag that I had taken to the Arctic and the summit of Kilimanjaro and said something encouraging which was whipped away by the howling wind. As I scrambled up the last few feet from the south side I could see the west side of the pyramid was no more than an accumulation of snow piled up on the leeward side of the slope and if I strayed too far to the left I might be avalanching unintentionally 1,000 meters to my death. So I decided to conservatively stay on the
windward side, which I knew was rock underneath.
All these distracting thoughts contributed to me losing my footing just as I reached the top. To cover up my
clumsiness I dived on the summit like a rugby player scoring a try, planting the Omani flag, at the highest point of snow, on the highest mountain, on the highest continent, in the coldest driest place on earth. The time was 19:12 GMT on 17thJanuary 2010. And I was the first Omani to summit Mount Vinson, one of the seven highest summits on the seven continents.
PS Nabs is writing all this whilst relaxing in London, with both bags safe and sound!