Alpine Ascents on Mount Vinson
This expedition was by far the best experience I’ve had while on a climb. Antarctica is a magical place, and Alpine Ascents delivered that each day we were there. Exceptional guides— the knowledge and skill level was amazing to watch. It was like an ongoing lesson in mountaineering, the history of Antarctica, and social responsibility. Fabulous teachers. —2019 Climber
The Vinson expedition was top notch on all dimensions and exceeded my high expectations. My son and I enjoyed every minute. It was a memorable and moving experience on multiple fronts; one for a lifetime. —2019 Climber
Ben Jones and Jangbu Sherpa led 4 teams in 2019/2020 with just under 100% success and we look to have them back for next season along with Vern Tejas. Our 2018/19 season had all teams reaching the summit and followed our 100% success of the 2017/18 season.
– We have been guiding Mt. Vinson for nearly 30 years with about a 97% success rate.
– We likely have the most experienced guide staff (Vern Tejas, Ben Jones and Jangbu Sherpa) among Vinson guide services.
– We provide excellent logistics and office staff including Alpine Ascents led gear checks and pick ups in Punta Arenas and hotel assistance including a meet and greet in Punta.
– Assistance with delays and 24 hour contact with climbers.
– See Why Climb Mount Vinson with Alpine Ascents for more.
Different than some other outfitters, all of our trips are led by Alpine Ascents guides (not just guides hired for the season) and we incorporate teaching into every guided climb. We strive on each expedition to be unique, adding a level of personalization and care that continually can set us apart from other outfitters. Our lead guide, Vernon Tejas, has likely led more climbs on Vinson than any other guide and Ben Jones (also leading 2 trips) is one of the premier high altitude guides in the world leading trips from Vinson to Everest
Our history on Vinson is long and rich, beginning with our commercial expeditions in 1992 (indeed, there were some commercial flights back then), Alpine Ascents has led and cultivated Mt. Vinson climbing practices along with our flight service partners. With nearly 100% success over these past 20 years, we have developed logistics, environmental procedures, climbing routes, camps, and communication protocols that have helped facilitate our high summit and excellent safety record. While items such as extra days on the mountain and satellite phones have become standard practice, our experience in number of seasons and in trip logistics is unsurpassed. Alpine Ascents’ ability to lead multiple trips per season puts us in position to adjust to changing conditions and have the resources available that a one-guide, single expedition does not have. As always, we encourage you to ask questions of Alpine Ascents and other guide services before embarking on an expedition of this magnitude.
Please remember you are part of a climbing team and, as with any team, your ability to contribute not only helps your chances for success, but also mitigates some of the climbing risks and increases the likelihood of a highly enjoyable experience for all. Our office is at your disposal to discuss training, gear, prerequisites, and logistics. You may want to check out our Training regimen, as this will also serve as excellent preparation for Vinson.
We strive to provide a balanced diet while on the continent of Antarctica. This includes time spent at Union Glacier Camp and time spent on Mt. Vinson during the climb. The breakfasts usually consist of eggs, pancakes, oatmeal, and some cereals, along with a hot drink. Dinners usually consist of a carbohydrate, a vegetable, and meat. Examples are rice, pasta, mixed vegetables, chicken, fish, or beef. Our hot drinks selection consists of hot cocoa, apple cider, tea, and coffee.
It’s a long way to Antarctica, and making the pre-trip planning as easy as possible makes for one less worry for the climber. We pride ourselves on being available for your phone calls and emails, and we have a 24-hour emergency number. We prepare the necessary documents in a clean and precise manner. We are happy to walk you through our application forms, bios, necessary insurance, and flight service paperwork. We can discuss and help plan training regimens (catered to where you live) and work closely with you on locating the right gear and discussing clothing options. We have an excellent travel agent who can get you out of Punta Arenas as quickly as possible with 24-hour call service. Our guides will personally contact you before your climb.
High quality guiding and logistics across the board. And the food was fantastic! Soy burgers, scrambled eggs, ramen, pizza, hashbrowns! We were pampered! —2019 Climber
Should we believe that the unexplored exists, then we must view the isolation of Antarctica as an explorer’s final frontier. Unparalleled in its pristine and absolute beauty, the journey to the Antarctic continent and the climb of Mt. Vinson ignites man’s primal instincts for wilderness, the elements, and conquest. The sheer magnitude of the continent and the exquisite nature of the ascent is an extreme and remarkable experience. Mt. Vinson, located 600 miles from the South Pole and 1,200 miles from the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, is the highest peak on the continent. Vinson is part of the Ellsworth Mountains, which rise majestically from the Ronne Ice Shelf.
Obviously unique in location, Vinson presents more than an off-the-beaten-track climbing trip. The entire journey is surreal in texture; from the land’s-end departure point of Punta Arenas to the five-hour flight to a continent with no permanent inhabitants, and to the Union Glacier Camp amidst the giant arctic desert. While it may be inclusion in the Seven Summits that spurs the initial attraction, most climbers find Vinson to be one of their most memorable climbing experiences and a chance to capture once-in-a-lifetime images.
The climb of Mt. Vinson is moderate by technical standards. It is similar to other alpine routes, with its moderate slopes and glaciated terrain. What separates Vinson from all other peaks is the sheer isolation of the mountain and the extraordinary views from its summit. As we approach the top of this remote continent, we peer across thousands of square miles of ice caps and glaciers that fade into a distinctly curved horizon. From the summit, we are blessed with views of neighboring Mt. Tyree, Shinn, and Epperly, and a multitude of unexplored peaks.
The climate on Vinson is generally controlled by the polar ice cap’s high-pressure system, creating predominantly stable conditions. But, as in any polar climate, high winds and snowfall are possible. Though the annual snowfall on Vinson is low, high winds can cause Base Camp accumulations of up to 18 inches in a year. During the summer season (November through January), there are 24 hours of sunlight. While the average temperature during these months is minus 20 degrees F, the intense sun will melt snow on dark objects. As of 2010, a new runway and camp has been established at the Union Glacier (replacing the Patriot Hills camp), and has led to a lower rate of flight delays. Climbers need to be prepared to travel in extreme cold environments, and be properly geared and skilled in self-care.
Fixed Line Use
Between our low camp and High Camp on Mt. Vinson is a section that involves climbing with the assistance of a fixed line. The elevation gain is roughly 1,800 ft. and it takes several hours to ascend this section. The slope angle does not surpass 40 degrees and is best climbed with crampons, ice axe, and the use of an ascender. The fixed lines are regularly maintained and are constructed of high-quality climbing ropes and anchors. We take breaks regularly during this portion of the climb, as we do for the entire expedition.
Antarctica in Brief
With 5.5 million square miles of solid ice, the mass of this continent — twice the size of Australia — creates a remote wilderness unrivaled on the planet. While the size of the continent expands and contracts with seasons, the topography remains stunning with natural sculptures finely crafted by the barrage of wind, snow and cold. It is this ice age environment that constantly attracts intrepid travelers and explorers. While Antarctica has no native population, Emilio Palma (Argentinean) was the first to be born on the continent in January 1978. The lowest temperature recorded by a thermomenter on Earth was minus 128.6 degrees F at Vostok Research Station on July 21, 1983. Though not considered “official,” a NASA satellite measured a temperature of minus 135.3 degrees F in east Antarctica in 2010. With less than two inches of precipitation per year, Antarctica is best characterized as a desert. Antarctica currently has a number of permanent research stations supported by several cooperating nations.
It was nearly 200 years after James Cook circumnavigated Antarctica that the summit of Mt. Vinson was reached (1966). It was the last of the Seven Summits to be conquered. The American Alpine Club and the National Geographic Society sponsored an American team which summited Mt. Vinson two weeks after their arrival, on December 17, 1966. The team, led by Nicholas B. Clinch, remained about a month on the continent and summited a number of peaks, including the extremely technical Tyree, as well as Shinn and Gardner. This expedition is well-documented in the June 1967 National Geographic Magazine. Soon after their return, US policy encouraging travel to Antarctica was changed to discourage travel to this region.
This is a highly recommended shortlist and we would be happy to pass on a longer reading list for those interested. These links will bounce to Amazon.com with reviews.
Ski the Last Degree
Alpine Ascents now offers the opportunity for climbers and adventurers to ski from the 89th degree to the 90th degree at the South Pole. This incredible journey was once reserved for explorers on lengthy expeditions but is now accessible via this unique guided trip. We travel by ski-equipped aircraft to the 89th degree. From that point, we ski the final length, 60 nautical miles, across windswept terrain and sastrugi in an effort to reach the geographic South Pole. This trip takes approximately 10 days. You will have hearty meals and snacks along the way, and a comfortable camp each evening to enjoy a group supper prepared by our guides. The prerequisite for any adventurer considering the South Pole ski trip is good physical condition and moderate randonee (cross-country) skiing skills.
An extremely small number of tourists have visited the South Pole, allowing you to figuratively make a historical crossing. Reach the geographic South Pole and realize that you are now standing at the most southerly point on Earth where, beneath your feet, 360 lines of longitude collide and the ice is almost 3,000 m (10,000 ft.) thick. This journey can be made independently or in conjunction with our Mt. Vinson climb.
Day 1: Depart your country of origin.
Day 2: Arrive Punta Arenas, Chile.
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. Please arrive early in the day if possible, as we try to complete gear check on this day
Day 3: Slide Show, gear weighing, city exploration.
In the morning you are invited to join us for an Antarctic slide show and lecture conducted by ALE. The lecture includes information on your flight South, the current weather situation and what to expect on your arrival in Antarctica. We will also be weighing gear as all gear that will fly to the glacier will be checked in at this time. There is time for questions and meeting your fellow travelers. After that, you are free to explore the city.
Day 4: Depart Punta Arenas, Chile. Fly to Antarctica
Fly 4.25 hrs to Antarctica by private transport jet. Transfer to ski aircraft and continue to Vinson Base Camp at 6,900 ft (2100m) on the Branscomb Glacier.
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, we’ll review the climbing route and rearrange the loads for the journey.
Day 5: Acclimatization and Preparations
Today is an easy day to acclimatize to Antarctic conditions and become familiar with expedition equipment. We will review expedition logistics with our guide, go for a scenic ski and prepare for our mini-expedition.
Day 6 – 7: Mini-Expedition
We get our first taste of sled hauling with an overnight mini-expedition. We will make several marches and set a field camp on the Union Glacier. This gives us an opportunity to practice pacing and navigation, and to fine tune our clothing and camping systems before heading into the deep field. The next morning we return to base camp.
Day 8: Fly to 89°S
We fly by ski aircraft to 89°S, 60 nautical miles from the South Pole. As the aircraft disappears from view, we are struck by the stark beauty and emptiness of this place. There is nothing but snow and wide horizons in all directions. We ski a short distance, or camp at our drop-off point to acclimatize to the extreme cold and altitude.
Day 9 – 13: Ski to the South Pole
We begin our trek south, a self-sufficient team ‘man-hauling’ all of our equipment and supplies. We start slowly to acclimatize, gradually increasing our travel-time to about 8 hours a day. The journey is physically demanding. Our sleds weigh approximately 66lb (30kg) and the snow may be sculpted by the wind into steep ridges called “sastrugi”, adding to the challenge. As on all expeditions, success is a team effort. The group will travel together and participants will be expected to help set up camp and prepare meals at the end of the day. The Amundsen-Scott research station will be visible from about 15 miles (24km) out – those last few miles can seem the longest!
Day 14: The South Pole
Today we complete the final steps to our goal – the Geographic South Pole – and the most southerly point on Earth. Feel the satisfaction of having arrived here through your own effort and reflect on how it must have felt to stand in this place one hundred years ago, with only the sound of the wind and an endless expanse of white stretching northward in all directions. We will set up camp in the designated camping area while waiting for our pick-up by ANI ski aircraft.
The South Pole has been designated as an Antarctic Specially Managed Area (ASMA #5) to conserve the environmental, scientific and historical values of the area. We ask for your cooperation in respecting visitor guidelines during any time we may spend at the South Pole.
Day 15: Return to Union Glacier
The completion of this incredible journey will be the return flight to Union Glacier over the polar plateau. Once back at Union Glacier Camp we will enjoy a celebration dinner and toast our wonderful achievement. We have journeyed overland to the Pole, joining an elite group who have challenged the ‘real Antarctica’ of polar explorers. At camp you can rest and recover from the expedition, or take part in excursions and activities that will be going on around camp. The choice is yours.
Continue on to join Mount Vinson team or fly back to Punta Arenas.
No two Antarctic experiences are exactly the same. This is part of the excitement and adventure of Antarctic travel. The itinerary above highlights typical activities and experiences. Exact timeline and details will vary from trip to trip. Trip length may vary by departure.
Please anticipate delays and do not plan anything for at least a week after your scheduled return. Allow yourself to enjoy this unique experience without the stress of pending commitments.
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 or flight to visit the South Pole, email our director of programs, Gordon Janow, at [email protected]
Alpine Ascents is deeply committed to maintaining ecosystems at home and around the world, especially in the pristine environment of Antarctica where biosecurity is paramount. With each expedition, trek, and course, we not only attempt to leave the environment as we found it, but strive to assist the local population in protecting the land and people indigenous to that region. Alpine Ascents reaches for the highest ethical business practices at home and abroad. Each staff member is dedicated to environmentally sound alpine ascents.
At Alpine Ascents, environmental stewardship remains one of our core values and we take Leave No Trace ethics and practices very seriously. The mountains are our home and we are unwilling to sacrifice their preservation for human objectives. On every one of our courses and climbs we teach and follow the environmentally appropriate Leave No Trace principles and practices.
Over the years, with the assistance of our Sherpa teams, we have stepped up efforts to clean Mt. Everest. Our Wag Bag® program made a pioneering step in human waste management for the National Park System and Forest Service in the North Cascades. On Aconcagua and Vinson, we pioneered a waste removal system on our climbs, utilizing the WAG Bag® system. And we continue our on-going maintenance and minimal impact plans wherever we guide. We believe that given the proper information most people will do all they can to help protect and maintain the environment. Alpine Ascents is committed to developing safe, self-reliant, and environmentally conscious mountaineers.
Certainly an epic journey that I (and I imagine nearly every other climber) will remember the rest of their life. There is no doubt that AAI ran a well organized, ‘user friendly’ program and has established a great reputation in Antarctica as well as among climbers in general. They seem to own this trip.