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. - 2015 Climber. More comments
Alpine Ascents had 99% climber success on Vinson this year! Congrats to the climbing teams!
Alpine Ascents on Mount Vinson
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. Also see Why Climb with Alpine Ascents?
Guides and Experience
Guides include legendary Polar guide Vern Tejas, who has successfully guided Vinson more than anyone, is our scheduled lead guide on our V3 and V5 climbs (subject to change for the 2015-2016 season). V4 will be led (subject to change) by the team of Lakpa Rita Sherpa and Sam Hennessy. Our guides are medically trained (avalanche certification and WFR- or EMT-certified, LNT-trained) and have experience guiding in the Antarctic and other extreme climbing environments. This quality of our guide staff has been the hallmark of our acknowledged expertise. We strive to educate climbers on each and every expedition, an area in which we can excel more than most outfitters. When we say 'educate', we mean safe, resourceful, successful, sensitive climbers with a real appreciation for wild places and the cultures that inhabit them. More about our guides
About Our Team Leaders
Vern has been guiding in Antarctica since 1988 and has a wealth of experience on the ice. Vern has 32 successful ascents of Mt. Vinson, including the first solo ascent and the first paraglide descent of Mt. Vinson (he even got married on the summit!). Vern was the personal guide for Colonel Norman Vaughan (88 years old) on the first ascent of Mount Vaughan, which was documented by National Geographic. Vern has guided skiers of the Last degree to both the North and South Pole and has worked for the National Science Foundation as a polar guide, scouting new routes to the South Pole. His first ascent of the Northernmost Peak of the World in Greenland stands out. In his spare time on the ice, Vern loves to kite-ski in the Ellsworth Range near Mt. Vinson.
Lakpa's climbing and guiding achievements are significant, with 17 summits of Mt. Everest on over 23 expeditions (a record 253 climbers on the summit under his leadership) seven guided summits of Cho-Oyu and numerous other peaks in Nepal. He also been our high camp manager and guide on Aconcagua and Denali and has guided numerous peaks in the Cascades including Mount Baker and Rainier. Currently, Lakpa and his family reside in Seattle. He is a guide, leader and friend of the highest quality. Lakpa summited Mount Vinson twice as a leader of our 2003-2004 Vinson Team. He also is known as "The Best Sirdar in the Khumbu", and has been working with us for the past twenty years. His legendary strength is veiled by his charm and humility. As Sirdar (Sherpa captain) he directs and organizes our team of Sherpa for every Himalayan expedition. Possessing unparalleled expertise in the mountains, Lakpa is one of the only Sherpa working as a full-time Mountain Guide around the world. In February 2009, Lakpa became the first Sherpa, and first Nepali to climb the Seven Summits. Recently Lakpa guided our successful 2011 & 2014 Cho-Oyu Team and 2013 Everest Teams. Lakpa was named one of Outside Magazine's "Adventurers of The Year" for 2013. More
Sam Hennessy: A native of Port Angeles, WA, Sam's outdoor career began at a young age in the small yet rugged Olympic Mountains. These days, he lives seasonally in Bozeman MT, making the most of the incredible ice and mixed climbing in the greater Yellowstone region. His favorite routes tend to be big walls or alpine rock and ice climbs. He guides for Alpine Ascents in Alaska and the Cascades, and has been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica. A former college athlete, his non-climbing interests include distance running, reading, and traveling to new places. Sam is excited to return to Vinson for another season.
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. Mount 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 chances 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 -20°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.
Those wishing to embark on this unique journey should possess previously established climbing skills and be prepared for harsh conditions of extreme cold and, at times, ferocious winds. Climbers must be in strong physical condition and be able to carry 45 pounds. Mountaineering skills required include self-arrest, glacier travel and crevasse rescue. Climbers should have successfully completed at least a week-long training course as well completed some other climbs such as glaciated peaks in Washington state or Alaska.
Climbers also need to be skilled at personal maintenance and hygiene. This is more than just having the right gear, but a sense of one's working body, an ability to detect cold and other issues, and a willingness to communicate your level of health with your guide.
Vinson, at 16,067 ft., is an extreme, high-altitude climb. You should be comfortable climbing eight hours per day. Summit day is the most demanding portion of the climb, typically involving eight hours for the ascent and three to five hours for the descent. Generally you carry 35 pounds in a backpack and 25 pounds on a sled.
Alpine Ascents is one of the few outfitters allowed to cache at Vinson Base Camp, Low Camp and High Camp, and thus we have a full set of cookware, stoves, tents and climbing equipment. This greatly reduces the pack weight that climbers need to carry (now 45 lbs.). This substantially changes the climb, in that much less weight will need to be carried by Alpine Ascents groups.
Our expeditions require strength and endurance. The better your physical condition, the more likely you are to perform well and have an enjoyable experience. The most frequent comment we have heard over the years is that climbers have underestimated the fitness level needed to fully enjoy their trip. Inadequate fitness will affect the atmosphere, pace, and enjoyment of the climb for all participants. We recommend checking with your physician before undertaking any strenuous activity. Vinson Training Guide
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 e-mails, 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 ALE (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.
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 Geographical 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 pole, allowing you to literally 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 3,000m (10,000 ft.) thick. This journey can be made independently or in conjunction with our Mt. Vinson climb.
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.
We regularly organize private climbs for individuals, corporate groups, families and friends. We encourage you to book these climbs early, to help us be better able to fit these climbs to group-specific desires. Contact us to further discuss the benefits of private courses.