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Top Climbers Heading to Antarctica for Big Walls

At least two teams of top climbers are heading to Antarctica for some big wall climbing this austral summer season

One team consists of Anna Pfaff, Savannah Cummins, Conrad Anker, Cedar Wright, Jimmy Chin, Alex Honnold with assistance from Pablo Durana and Tay Keating.

Their exact objective isn’t known, but Wright posted on Instagram about the late 1990s expedition by Alex Lowe and Anker. Surely Anker has a number or possible objectives he took note of from his earlier trip.

When I first paged through this 1998 edition of @natgeo featuring @conrad_anker and legend Alex Lowe climbing a big wall first ascent in Antarctica, I had just started climbing, and I remember turning each page with amazement and wonder. Gordon Wiltsie's photographs sparked my imagination. The landscape was otherworldly to me, and Conrad and Alex seemed like astronauts. For years now, going to Queen Maudland Antarctica to climb these wild granite big walls that leap improbably out of the barren icy landscape has been on my climbing bucket list. Antarctica is the last continent I haven't climbed a big route on, but it's hard and expensive to get to, and it was in serious doubt whether I would ever be able to finagle a way to get there. Today, thanks to @thenorthface I leave for Antarctica with a crazy badass team including @jimmy_chin @pfaff_anna @alexhonnold @sav.cummins …and…. this is surreal to say… @conrad_anker …the guy who sparked this crazy dream of mine in the first place!!! With the mega assist from @pablo_durana and @tay.keating, I will be directing a short film about the adventure! I'm so excited!!!

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Another Antarctica returnee is Leo Houlding, who has his eyes set on The Spectre in the Organ Pipe peaks of Gothic Range at the southern end of the trans-Antarctic mountains. As Houlding points out, it’s “probably the most remote mountain on earth.” He is going with Jean Burgun and Mark Sedon.

Houlding, 37, isn’t bringing a drill to add bolts and isn’t planning on fixing any ropes. About his decision, he said: “It greatly increases the difficulty, significantly reduces the certainty of success and makes the ascent far more complex and committing.”

They say their mission is as follows: “Antarctica will be reached aboard an Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE) flight from Punta Arenas, Chile to ALE’s logistics base, the Union Glacier Camp in the Ellsworth Mountains on 15th November 2017.

“A ski equipped Twin Otter aircraft will fly the team 600 kilometres south to ALE’s Theill Skiway fuel depot. After refuel the aircraft will fly to a drop off point at 88˚S, 110˚W, 300 kilometres towards the Gothic Mountains, the aircrafts maximum return payload range.

“For the next 69 days the team will be unsupported and self sufficient. A 20-day food & fuel depot for the return journey will be cached at the drop off point.

“Kites will be used to travel the remaining 350 kilometres to the Gothic Mountains. 20 days will be spent climbing first ascents and exploring the most remote mountains on Earth. All climbs will be made in Alpine style. No fixing rope, No drill & No bolts will be carried.

“The team will then kite 100 kms down the Scott Glacier to the Ross Ice shelf; the edge of the Antarctic continent. The return journey will require man-hauling uphill, into wind for 450 kilometres towards the South Pole back to their depot at the original drop off point.

“Favourable wind patterns can then be harnessed to kite a further 1000 kilometres to Hercules Inlet on the Ronne Ice shelf on the opposite edge of the continent. If conditions allow the team will attempt to go via the South Pole.

“A final kite / man-haul journey of 100 kms will bring the team back to the Union Glacier Camp returning from Antarctica late January 2018.” Follow along on their updated-daily website here.

The Spectre was discovered in December 1934 by the Byrd Antarctic Expedition geological party under Quin Blackburn. The name was suggested by Edmund Stump, leader of the United States Antarctic Research Program (USARP)-Arizona State University geological party in the Gothic Mountains in 1980 and 1981.

Edmund is brother to alpinist Mugs Stump, who died in 1992 falling into a crevasse on Denali. The two made the first ascent of the Spectre in the 1980/81 season.

Edmund wrote a book about the Transantarctic Mountains called The Roof At The Bottom Of The World. In it he talks about their Spectre ascent. You can read an excerpt here.

Date = 20/11/2017 Day =  1 (Expedition) – Day 6 (Antarctica) Location = middle of nowhere Coordinates – 87.9808S, 131.6591W Altitude =  2908m Temperature = -33C Wind speed / direction = 12 knot gusts to 18knot Windchill = -45C Distance travelled = 1100km by plane Distance remaining = 2000 km Part 1 We’re in the Twin Otter plane heading south. My god this is big country! The scale is overwhelming. Why do I choose to repeatedly put myself through these epic trials? We just flew past the Pirrit Hills, an impressive group of nunataks – rocky peaks protruding through the ice about 160kms from Union glacier. They were our plan B if we hadn’t managed to raise enough money for the Spectre.  The plan was to ski in from Union Glacier,  climb and kite back.  A similar trip but almost half the cost and about 10% of the distance. Right now I’m wondering if we should have just bitten off that small mouthful, it still looks pretty far. Spectre is ten times that distance and our trip will be ten times as tough. Be careful what you wish for, it may just come true! I can’t believe people walk, all that we are now flying over, to the pole. It’s so far and so featureless. It looks like an ocean, small waves of sastrugi texture the surface that is apparently completely flat although in fact it rises for 3000m in altitude. There are a fair few teams in their way from Hercules Inlet to the pole right now, including my friend Carl Alvey for the 4th time. The Ice Maidens team left Union last night and are currently on their way to the Ross Sea. They have 1700km to travel and no kites! Ben Saunders is walking solo for a similar distance in the opposite direction. Their endeavours give me confidence in our own. There’s no way I’m psychologically strong enough for such a long, monotonous walk. The part of our trip I’m most concerned about is the 350km walk. Respect to all of them and we wish them all the very best. Wind assistance will make our journey far easier and faster, which is fortunate as we have more than twice as much stuff as any of those teams, and a major climbing objective enroute! CONTINUED at www.spectreexpedition.com/my-god-what-have-we-let-ourselves-in-for

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