A Good Way To Spend A Rest Day
Today was planned to be a rest / acclimatisation day at High Camp. Thankfully one of our guides agreed to take myself and one other guy from our group on a side trip across to Mt Shinn.
The views from High Camp are spectacular but it’s not the sort of place you want to sit around and just admire the view. You either want to be moving to generate body heat, or tucked up in a sleeping bag in a tent. It’s too cold to just sit around outside all day. And I’ve done enough lying in the tent so thankfully our guide agreed to go for a walk with us.
Mt Shinn, at 4660m, is the 3rd highest in Antarctica. Vinson, while being the highest in Antarctica, is not overly attractive. It is part of a much larger massif with Vinson summit really just being a high point along a broad ridge. Shinn on the other hand is a beautiful looking mountain. It rises high above the surrounding terrain with broad, moderately steep, snow side slopes leading to a pointy, prominent, rocky summit pyramid. A much more attractive climb.
We set off at about 12:30 when the sun was high and warm. From High Camp we had to take a large loop skirting around a crevasse field to reach the base of the mountain. From there we had to traverse sideways across a relatively steep, icey slope to gain an easy line to the base of the summit pyramid. With the section we traversed providing a natural slippery slide off a cliff it was not a place to lose your footing. With every step I stomped hard ensuring my crampons had good purchase in the icey slope before weighting my foot and taking another step.
At this point the three of us were roped together so if one of us slipped all three of us would likely go. I understand the logic of being roped up on flatter glaciers to protect against falling in a crevasse. If one person goes in the others have a reasonable chance of self-arresting and catching them before dragging everyone in. But I’ve never understood the logic of being roped up on this sort of terrain; steep, icey terrain with precarious drops. With the momentum of someone falling and the impact on the rope the others would have Buckley’s of holding them back and likely just go down with them. All-for-one and one-for-all I guess.
Terrain Getting Trickier. Winds Picking Up.
Once at the base of the summit pyramid we dropped our packs, put on an additional layer of clothing and continued on up. It was a mix of steep rock scrambling interspersed with snow patches. At sea level with lightweight shoes it would be relatively easy but up here in big, clumsy, mountaineering boots and crampons it made for tougher going.
Nearing the top, with the winds picking up, we had to pick our way along a knife-edge snow ridge to the final summit dome. It was at this point that the third guy with us lost his footing and went for a slide. He did well to catch himself quickly and pull up before going too far but it was a shock to all of us. Our guide immediately made the call to turn back saying it wasn’t safe to proceed. It was a shame as we had already done the worst of it and the summit was literally less than 100m away but I had to agree with the decision. It was getting a bit dicey. So with the summit in reach we turned back and descended.
A Technical Non-Summit
It would have been nice to have summited as I doubt I’ll ever be back in Antarctica again to give it another shot. We were as good as there and the final summit dome would have been pretty straight forward walk up from where we were but 99% is not good enough. So it will go down on the record as a non-summit.
You win some, you lose some. Tomorrow’s another day.
Video from high point where we turned around:
“Go with the decision that will make for a great story”
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