Alpine Ascents Vinson Expedition Itinerary
For Travel Arrangements call Charles Mulvehill at Scan East West Travel: 1-800-727-2157 or 206-623 2157. firstname.lastname@example.org
Travel to Antarctica
Our expedition begins in the Chilean town of Punta Arenas. After a night of lodging (not included), we'll join our partners (a local flight service) in an extensive briefing before flying to the Antarctic continent. In recent years we have seen fewer flight delays, but time enough to tour the city.
Often considered the most interesting city in Patagonia, this commercial fishing port town boasts handsome turn-of-the-century architecture, financed by the bustling wool industry of a bygone era. A walking tour will lead you past the great mansions that currently house the Club De La Union and the Sociedad Menendez Behety (now Citibank) found around the Plaza Munoz Gamero. Punta is also known for its fine dining and exquisite wines. Time permitting, one should visit the Museo Regional De Magellan's, the original Punta Arenas mansion, and take a tour of the penguin rookery to view the colony of Magellan penguins.
Note: Upon arrival in Punta Arenas, most foreigners will be asked to pay a $160 entrance fee.
Flying to Antarctica
The flight time from Punta Arenas to the Union Glacier landing strip is approximately 4.5 hours, depending on the winds. The initial part of our flight passes over Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost point in South America. The section of ocean we'll fly over has been notorious for its wild storms, violent winds and heavy seas. Waves higher than 100 feet have been encountered in the Drake Passage by several ships, and many early seamen lost their lives to these waters.
At approximately 60 degrees latitude, we'll reach the winter limits of frozen seas. This area of ocean is called the Antarctic Convergence and is rich in plankton and other tiny creatures that form the bottom of the food chain for Antarctica's rich bird and wildlife colonies. This area is governed by the Antarctic Treaty.
At 66 degrees latitude, we'll cross the Antarctic Circle. Along this circle the sun never sets at the austral summer solstice and never rises at the austral winter solstice. Further south, these Antarctic days and nights lengthen as we get closer to the South Pole, where the sun rises and sets only once a year.
Further south, we'll fly over tabular icebergs and the ice shelves from which they calve. Some of these bergs can be the size of a small country and serve as a method of transport and a home for penguins and seals. The icy continent appears at Charcot Island, close to Alexander Island, at 71 degrees latitude. The ice sheet continues to stretch inland until in the distance, appear the spectacular Ellsworth Mountains, the highest range in Antarctica. Passing over the Ellsworth Range, our runway comes into sight. The wheeled aircraft lands on an area of blue ice 3,300 ft. (1,000m) above sea level. The blue ice remains clear of snow because of the Katabatic winds that tunnel down from the mountains with great force.
Union Glacier Camp
This one-of-a-kind private camp is 1,800 miles from the nearest city. Union Glacier provides a warm welcome to the frozen landscape. We'll have access to a heated and insulated dining hall, where we'll cook and eat all meals. It is also a great place to hang out, read a book, or talk with other explorers. Union Glacier is composed of large "weatherport tents" that provide comfortable dining and resting areas. Should we need to spend some days at UG, we will sleep in tents and, if possible, explore the surrounding regions with a guide. If the weather is good, we may only stop briefly at Union Glacier en route to Vinson Base Camp. Union Glacier camps also contain a small library and medical facility.
Day to Day Itinerary
Please note these are approximate days, to be adjusted to the actual arrival date in Antarctica and climbing schedule.
Day 1: Depart your country of origin.
Day 2: From the airport in Punta Arenas, you'll be escorted to your hotel. We'll schedule a time to check your Antarctic clothing and ensure that nothing has been inadvertently forgotten. We'll discuss Leave No Trace Principles and how best to preserve the pristine Antarctic Wilderness.
Day 3: Join us for an Antarctic slide show and lecture, conducted by ALE. We'll discuss your flight, the weather, and what to expect when you arrive in Antarctica. We'll also check in and weigh your gear, and answer questions. After that, you are free to explore the city.
Day 4: You'll be notified of our departure time as soon as we have a clear weather forecast, and given around two hours before we pick you up at the hotel. Make sure your bill has been settled and that your "city" clothing has been left at the hotel. After completing customs and immigration formalities at the airport, we'll proceed to the aircraft for a photo session before climbing on board. We'll fly to Union Glacier Camp. If the weather permits, we'll transfer our equipment from the Ilyushin 76 aircraft to the Twin Otter and fly an hour to Vinson Base Camp. The pilot will be in constant contact with the base for weather updates. There have been occasions when deteriorating conditions after departure from Union Glacier have forced us to turn around and await better flying conditions. Once we land at Vinson Base Camp on the Branscomb Glacier (7,000 ft.), we'll review the climbing route and rearrange the loads for the journey.
Days 5 to 15: We'll attempt to reach the summit. Our success rate is excellent; nonetheless, you should be aware that even though Vinson is not considered a technically difficult peak, the mountain is high, temperatures are well below freezing, and the area is extremely remote. There may be other groups on the mountain at the same time and we'll be in contact with Base Camp by radio throughout the trip. The guide will prepare food for the group each day and climbers will be asked to assist in setting up camp in the evening. Base Camp (7,000 ft.) is located on the lower part of the Branscomb Glacier (west side of the Ellsworth Mountains). After dividing our gear between backpacks and sleds, we'll ascend the Branscomb Glacier for six miles to Low Camp (9,000 ft.). From Low Camp, we'll ascend to the foot of a large headwall and and up the headwall on moderate snow slopes to a broad col between Vinson and Shinn to establish High Camp (12,400 ft.). From High Camp, we'll take in incredible views while we rest to acclimatize for the summit attempt. Summit day is a long journey that includes a 12-hour round-trip climb and a 3,000-foot gain in elevation. The final summit ridge is a spectacular rock and ice traverse. The views from the top are simply unforgettable!
Base Camp to Low Camp:
2,150 ft. (650 m) of elevation gain, 5 1/2 miles (9 km) of distance, 4-6 hours travel
From Vinson Base Camp to Low Camp we follow the gradual rise of the Branscomb Glacier. The gentle climb is ideal for pulling sleds allowing us to lighten the loads in our packs. Due to crevasse hazard, we'll travel roped together today and throughout our time on the mountain. At Low Camp (elevation 9000 ft/2750 m) the guides build a cooking/dining shelter for our group. Depending on conditions, we may overnight here or cache equipment and return to Vinson Base Camp. The following day we'll re-ascend from Vinson Base Camp, acclimatize at Low Camp, or continue our climb up the mountain.
Low to High Camp
3,350 ft (1020 m) of elevation gain, fixed ropes on slopes up to 45°, approximately 6-8 hours travel
We ascend to High Camp (12,400 ft/3770 m) when conditions are suitable and the forecast indicates stable weather ahead. We may carry all of our equipment in one push, or we may choose a 'load carry', overnighting back at Low Camp and re-ascending the next day with lighter loads. These choices will depend on weather and group fitness.
Our route takes us up the broad mixed spur at the northern end of the Branscomb Ridge, offering fantastic views of Mount Shinn and the glaciers below. We ascend fixed ropes on snow slopes up to 35/40°. Snow conditions can vary from soft to hard and windblown with icy patches. From the top of the fixed lines to High Camp takes about 1 1/2 hours, ascending the gentle snow slopes of the summit glacier. This section of the route can be very exposed to the wind, requiring care to prevent cold injury.
The facilities at High Camp are more basic than at camps below. We cook and eat simple, meals in our tents, or outside if the weather is calm. Our next day is normally spent resting and acclimatizing at High Camp to give everyone the best chance of summiting.
High Camp to Vinson Summit
Return trip from High Camp - 3670 ft. (1120 m) elevation gain, 9 miles (14 km) distance, 9-12 hours travel
We make our summit attempt on the best weather day possible as the route is exposed and subject to high winds. The majority of the route is along the Vinson summit valley, with a short, steeper snow and ice slope leading to the spectacular, rocky, summit ridge. The views from the summit are breathtaking. Mount Gardner, Tyree, Epperly and Shinn dominate the foreground, surrounded by impressive peaks that rise from the vast ice sheet below. Here, at the top of Antarctica, the true scale and majesty of the continent are overwhelmingly apparent. We'll take time to savor the experience and take photos, before retracing our steps to High Camp.
Day 16: Once we're back in Base Camp and a full aircraft load is ready, the guide will inform Union Glacier and an aircraft will dispatched to collect you.
Day 17: Weather permitting, the aircraft from Punta Arenas will arrive in Union Glacier with a new collection of avid explorers, and take off with your group for the final leg of your Antarctic journey.
Day 18, 19 and 20: Extra days for inclement weather
Day 21: Return to country of origin
Note: Every effort will be made to follow the above itinerary, but it is subject to change at the discretion of our staff, based on weather and local conditions. Some departures may be slightly longer or shorter based on flight schedules to Antarctica. If you are interested in extending your trip to include the South Pole Ski Tour, your trip will be extended by 15 days. Please contact us for more information.