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The Ellsworth Mountains are so remote and isolated that if they did not contain the highest mountain in the continent, they would have only been visited by a handful of intrepid explorers. Antarctica is the world’s last great wilderness and remains virtually completely undeveloped and unpopulated due to the hostility of its climate. It is a land of extremes and epitomizes the very idea of remoteness, harshness and isolation. But it is also extremely beautiful and those who are drawn by Antarctica’s mystique can be richly rewarded with experiences and panoramas powerful enough to alter a person’s whole perspective. In the early days of its exploration, it was a forcing ground for bravery and endurance. Such qualities are synonymous with Antarctica’s explorers, like Scott, Amundsen, Shackleton and Oates. Even now, apart from a few scientific research bases, Antarctica would remain the domain of such people were it not for Vinson Massif.
Vinson is a technically straightforward climb with a few steep 40 degree sections of snow climbing. In recent years, expeditions have enjoyed a good success rate and over 200 people have now climbed it. As an expedition experience, climbing Vinson can be likened to the top 10,000ft of a major 8,000-meter Himalayan peak, with the cold and commitment but without the altitude. From Base Camp on the Branscomb Glacier, we follow the glacier easily to a headwall two hours from Camp 1. Steeper climbing through this leads to the col between Vinson and Mount Shinn, a prominent mountain on the north. We set up high camp on the large plateau of the col. The summit day is long, starting up a long valley, heading south away from the top camp. At the head of the valley stands the summit pyramid of Vinson. The final slope to the summit can be climbed from the left or right, the former being easier but longer. Our expeditions usually take the right-hand slope, which is steeper but gives quicker access to the top and allows the left-hand ridge to be followed in descent, thereby completing a traverse of the mountain.
Although comparatively modest in terms of height, Vinson offers a major challenge due to the harshness of its climate and its extremely remote location. Climbers wishing to join the expedition and have a good chance of success must be able to: demonstrate good mountaineering skills with no less than 20 previous alpine climbs, or winter mountaineering days, be well organized and self-reliant, show previous expedition experience, carry a 20kg pack and pull a 25kg sled at the same time, perform self-rescue from a crevasse and participate actively in a crevasse rescue. Despite a relatively easy technical grade, climbing Vinson is tough in all other respects, temperatures of -40°C are likely to be encountered and climbers should be both psychologically and physically prepared for this. The remote situation and harsh conditions provide the real challenge of this climb. However, for those who can meet this challenge, we can promise an experience that will be much more than just another mountain.
Day 1: Arrivals in Punta Arenas
Team members should meet at our hotel in Punta Arenas, Chile’s southernmost seaport. From the dockside, it is possible sometimes to see icebreakers, preparing for or having just returned from the Antarctic Ocean. We stay at the very pleasant Isla de Rey Jorge Hotel, which is the best hotel for our expeditions, not least of all because the staff is friendly and helpful. It has a good restaurant where we can try some of the fine Chilean cuisine, especially seafood, and wine. Alternatively, there are many restaurants in town that provide the opportunity to taste the catch of the day.
Day 2: Gear Check
In the morning, the Expedition Leader checks your equipment to ensure nothing is forgotten and that you are properly equipped. There will then be time to visit the sights of Punta Arenas and or take a visit to see the Penguins. We can then enjoy the evening visiting one of many restaurants in town that offer excellent local dishes.
Day 3: Final briefing
Today we attend a morning briefing, covering all aspects of the flight to Union Glacier, Antarctica and the onward flight to Vinson Base Camp. This is also an opportunity to meet our pilots and the other climbers and adventurers, who may be visiting the South Pole, or even making solo journeys across the Antarctic continent! Our equipment is collected at mid-day for loading onto the aircraft. From the evening onwards, we are on standby for our flight to Union Glacier.
Day 4: Depart for Union Glacier
If weather conditions in both Punta Arenas and at Union Glacier Blue Ice Runway permit, we fly by a Russian jet-powered Ilyushin-76 over Tierra del Fuego and out across Drake’s Passage, towards the frozen lands of Antarctica. This is a four-hour flight and there will be an opportunity to visit the flight deck for some incredible views. On arrival at Union Glacier we erect our tents and enjoy a good meal in the mess tent. Alternatively, if the Twin Otters are ready to fly and conditions for landing are good at base camp, we may head off within a few hours for the mountain we have travelled all this way to see and to climb.
Day 5: Flight to Vinson Base Camp
If we have not flown the previous day, we will hopefully fly by Twin Otter aircraft to base camp. This is situated on the Branscomb Glacier, to the south of the Ellsworth Mountains. During the flight we should have excellent views of Vinson and the other spectacular peaks, which make up this remote mountain range. After unloading our aircraft, we receive our base camp briefing, set up camp and prepare loads for our first foray onto the mountain tomorrow.
Day 6: Move to Camp 1
If the weather permits, we set off up the glacier, pulling sledges and carrying rucksacks for camp 1. This will probably be pitched about 5 hours up the glacier. Although the glacier is not steep, this is a tough day as hard ‘sastrugi’ (wind scoured flutings of snow) can make the going awkward and pulling the sledges difficult. Although crevasse danger is minimal, the team needs to be roped together as a precaution. As we progress up the glacier, the scenery changes all the time. However, the summit of Vinson, while being visible from base camp, cannot be seen for most of the climb. After arriving at camp 2,700m/9,100ft we spend the next few hours establishing our camp and building snow walls to protect us from the wind. The snow is so cold that it is easily sawn into perfect blocks and handles like polystyrene. A smaller wall is also made for the kitchen area, where the leader prepares the meal. A toilet area is made so that any contamination is kept within a well-defined area. All waste is removed from the mountain and out of Antarctica. When all the camp is established we then settle down to eating a well-deserved dinner prepared by the leader.
Day 7: Rest Day at Camp 1
As the sun doesn’t arrive at camp until 11.00am we get a well-deserved ‘lie in’ after our strenuous day yesterday. We will spend the day organising our equipment and sorting the food in preparation for moving up the mountain. The logistical organisation of the team’s equipment is very important on Vinson as at any time the weather can deteriorate making progress from a camp impossible. If time and energy permit we can take a trip to look around the corner to the headwall, which gives access to high camp. We can also visit a small pass where we can enjoy extensive views of the Antarctica plateau. On return to camp 1 a daily radio call to base camp is made to report the team’s location and well being. These daily radio calls are essential and part of daily life on Vinson to ensure the group’s safety.
Day 8: Load Carry to High Camp
If there is no wind and the weather is settled we set off to take our first visit to high camp 3,945m/12300ft (Note that ‘camp 2′ at 3,080m/10,100ft is typically only used by teams as an emergency food cache). Carrying heavy loads we continue up the Branscomb Glacier to the headwall. From here a climb of 750m/ 2,300 ft up the moderately steep wall (40 degrees in angle) through spectacular scenery leads to a serac barrier. Our high camp is situated on a broad col between Vinson and Shinn.
On arrival at high camp (6hrs) we will stash our equipment in a snow pit marked by a flag before returning to camp 1. Today is an essential part of our acclimatization program and although Vinson is moderate in altitude the effects will be felt. Once back at camp 1 the team will have a chance to rest before resuming daily camp life radioing in to Vinson Base and preparing an evening meal.
Day 9: Move to High Camp
If the weather permits, we will strike camp leaving some food and equipment behind and move on up to high camp. After yesterday’s visit to high camp, the effects of altitude are much reduced and the team should be well prepared for the day ahead. The journey to our stash at high camp takes around 5 hours. On arrival it is important that we spend time preparing our camp to make it as secure as possible, so that we can sleep well, even if adverse weather keeps us here for several days whilst attempting the summit.
Day 10: Summit Day Mt. Vinson
After a good night’s sleep, we make the summit attempt. Roping-up once again, we climb an easy ice slope above the camp to reach a long glaciated valley leading to the mountain, which stands at its far end. As we progress, we place marker wands, to ensure we can find our way back down if the weather deteriorates (we also carry GPS). The route contours up the left side of the valley to the base of the triangular summit pyramid. From here there are two possibilities. We can either climb a short but steep snow slope to the right to reach the West Ridge and the summit or, longer but easier, we can continue up the glacier to the left of the summit pyramid and climb the ridge to the summit from the east. Our preferred option is to go right to climb the steep slope and the West Ridge to the top followed by a traverse of the summit and a descent following the easier angled ridge to the east. This has proved to be an excellent combination, providing a challenging ascent with a straightforward and fast descent. The summit itself is a broad sloping ledge, topped by a cornice with makes for excellent photographs! We hope to have fantastic views across the Ellsworth Mountains and, to the south, across the endless Antarctic plateau towards the South Pole. The ascent from high camp takes between 6- 9 hours, with a further 3 hours for the descent.
Days 11 – 12: Contingency Days
Spare summit days. Although it only takes one day to reach the summit and return to camp, we have three days available in case of bad weather or if we have been delayed by bad weather days on our journey to high camp.
Day 13: Spare day or ascent of Mt. Shinn
A spare day to safeguard against unforeseen eventualities that might delay the summit attempt or the return to base camp. Past teams have opted to ascend Mount Shinn (4,660m) from High Camp. This is a 12-hour climb up moderate snow slopes except for the top 200-250m where the climbing is about Alpine PD+ up snow filled gullies with ample protection from rock spikes.
Day 14: Return to Base Camp
If we have not already returned to base camp we need to be back at base camp by today, at the latest, ready for our return flight to Union Glacier. On the return we pick up all our equipment and sledges at Camp 1, making sure we have left nothing behind on the mountain. If we complete the climb in good time and the weather is good, we may be flown to Union Glacier today.
Day 15: Fly to Union Glacier
Toady we fly back to Union Glacier to meet other groups who have returned from the South Pole. There is usually a good party in the dining tent when all the teams are reunited. Conversation continues late into the night, refreshed by plenty of food, drink and the ever-present sun.
Day 16: Fly to Punta Arenas
We will know 6 hours in advance that the aircraft is on its way to take us home. However, so as not a tempt fate and just in case the landing has to be waved off at the last minute, we keep our tents up until one hour before touch down. Then in a mad flurry of activity, we pack up our camp and prepare our equipment ready for loading onto the aircraft. The landing on the ice is a most impressive sight. Around 2 hours later, we take off on our way back to the ‘flesh-pots’ of Punta Arenas. Here we are taken back to our hotel for a very welcome bath! In the evening, it is usual to enjoy a celebration dinner in one of Punta Arenas’ excellent restaurants.
Day 17: Departures from Punta Arenas Airport
After a good night’s sleep and an enjoyable breakfast, we are collected and taken to the airport for our flights home.
This itinerary is illustrative only as the unpredictability of the Antarctic weather and its effect on flying conditions and progress on the mountain will lead to changes. Individual acclimatization will also dictate the rate of progress towards the summit.
The duration of each expedition is based on the flight dates between Punta Arenas, Chile and Antarctica. However, each trip could be longer due to delays brought about by the unpredictability of the Antarctic weather. For example, the flight between Chile and Antarctica may be delayed in either or both directions due to high winds on the Union Glacier Blue Ice Runway. Similarly, once on Vinson, the climb or the flight out of base camp may be delayed due to storms. For these reasons, you should not make any firm arrangements or plans for at least 3 weeks following the scheduled return of the expedition.
Climbers flying from the U.S. usually fly via Santiago, Chile and then onward to Punta Arenas, Chile (PUQ). The flight to Antarctica is aboard a Russian Illuyshin cargo plane which lands on a blue ice runway at Union Glacier. From Union Glacier we board a Twin Otter on skis for the one-hour flight to Vinson base camp. The logistical support needed to get climbers and their gear into position on Mt. Vinson is extraordinary. Travel to Punta Arenas, Chile (PUQ) typically takes 18 – 27 hours from the U.S. depending on your departure city, available connections, and flight times. Flights arriving in PUQ should arrive on Day 1 of the itinerary in the afternoon. We suggest that you take an evening flight to Santiago, Chile, (Day 0) which arrives early in the morning on Day 1 in time for a connecting flight to Punta Arenas, Chile later that day. Please make sure that you purchase a fully flexible airline ticket that allows for change of dates without incurring additional penalties – discount or award tickets are often very limited and can be the cause for many unwanted headaches at the end of the trip. Due to the extremely unpredictable weather the chances are very high that you will not fly on your regularly scheduled return flights, thus having flexibility is extremely important.
A valid passport is required when traveling to Chile. Your passport must be valid for 6 months beyond expected return date. Chilean Visa: U.S. Citizens traveling to Chile do not need a prearranged visa however they must pay a “reciprocity fee” upon entering the country. The current cost is $140 USD and can be paid in U.S. Currency or with major credit cards. A receipt for this fee will be stapled in the back of your passport and is valid until the expiration of the passport. Visitors may stay in Chile for a maximum of 90 days with the tourist visa issued at Chilean Immigration. An extension of stay for an additional 90 days is possible, but requires payment of an extension fee. If you are traveling under a non-U.S. passport please check your country’s specific requirements. Please confirm any current travel advisories/warnings as well as passport and visa requirements with the U.S. Department of State.
Travel and flight information
It can take months to make your travel plans and to obtain the necessary passport for your trip. We recommend that you begin this process as soon as possible.
Travel and Rescue Insurance
Due to the extensive preparation needed and high cost of planning a climbing expedition to Antarctica, we require that you purchase Trip Insurance which includes Trip Cancellation, Medical Evacuation and Trip Interruption to protect your investment in this trip. All climbers on Vinson are required to have medical evacuation insurance of $150,000. Failure of coverage will prevent a climber from leaving Punta Arenas. Evacuations from the Antarctic Continent are incredibly complicated and extremely expensive. Additional cancellation coverage may be available if purchased within 14 days of making your trip deposit.We require the purchase of insurance plans to protect you from the unexpected. Please consult with your insurance company with any specific questions, regarding coverage, and policy details, and if you have any questions contact our offices.
Evacuation Coverage – Global Rescue (Evacuation) requires addition of polar extra.
General Trip Coverage – Travel Guard (US Toll Free 800-826-4919) provides coverage to protect against trip cancellation, interruption, or delay due to unforeseeable sickness, injury or death of you or a family member. Coverage also includes trip cost default protection; stolen or damaged luggage; and trip or baggage delay protection.
Coverage should include lost or damaged baggage, BBE is not responsible for the personal items or baggage of its members at any time.
All of the meals served on Benegas Brothers Expeditions Antarctica trips are a specialty items brought from the US. We are happy to accommodate your dietary restrictions and/or allergies. We practice an expedition motto of “happiness through eating!”
We recommend that you bring snacks to supplement the mountain meals we provide. We won’t have a chance to purchase much additional food in Chile. Take snacks that you genuinely enjoy. Eating well is the key to maintaining your strength while in the mountains. And in order to combat the loss of appetite at altitude, it is best to have a variety of foods from which to choose, from sweet to sour to salty.
Breakfast and Dinners
The breakfast menu includes items such as instant oatmeal, cold cereals (granola), breakfast bars, hot drinks (coffee, tea, cocoa, cider).
Healthy one-pot meals, incorporating fresh local food whenever practical, are served as the main course. There are limitations in Antarctica due to weight, but the menu is planned to offer good variety and ample portions.
17 Days +
November 23 2016 – December 11 2017
December 15 2016 – January 2 2017
Only for qualified climbers. Climbers attempting this route need previous ice climbing experience and must acclimatize well to altitudes over 22,000’. They also must have completed an advanced ice climbing course and have completed multiple ice climbs. Essential: Excellent physical condition, previous experience at high altitude such as Denali, carrying heavy loads. Able to follow WI 3, and previous glacier travel (a must).
Gain technical experience, summit the most remote of the Seven Summits
Denali, Everest, South Pole
$40,200 per person (minimum of 3)
Private Guide Cost:
** NB Accommodations are based on double occupancy. A Single Supplement Fee will be charged to those occupying single accommodations by choice or circumstance. The single supplement is subject to availability i.e. a single room is not available in huts and tents, or in all hotels.
Does not include:
Excellent physical conditioning significantly increases your ability to acclimatize. The key to climbing high is proper acclimatization. Our program follows a calculated ascent profile which allows time for your body to adjust to the altitude. In addition to a proper rate of ascent, your performance is often related to how well you have taken care of yourself throughout the hours, days and weeks prior to summit day. Proper hydration, nutrition, and warmth must be maintained on a daily basis throughout the expedition.
Mount Vinson is the coldest of the Seven Summits. The Vinson Massif has a polar climate with low snowfall but high winds and severely low temperatures. The area has generally stable weather conditions that are ruled by high pressure over the polar icecap. Atmospheric pressure, however, is lower at the Poles than elsewhere on earth so air can be pulled over Antarctica, resulting in cold air rapidly descending over the continent, then fanning out as high winds. Temperatures in the Antarctic summer, from November until February, average about -20 degrees F (-30 C). Wind coupled with cold air temperatures results in brutally low wind-chill temperatures, forming the greatest threat to climbers.
Please ask yourself, why are you goals on Antarctica? Try to take an introspective look at the risk vs. reward as you make your decision. Any ascent this altitude involves a certain amount of risk. Our use of conservative, experience-based decision making will help minimize those risks and increase your chances for success, but ultimately, big mountains can be unforgiving require serious commitment and reflection. Team members are ultimately responsible for their own well being. This includes making all the necessary preparations to ensure good health and excellent physical conditioning both be- fore and during an expedition. Our guides will oversee and discuss important issues along the way, but you should arrive in Chile very well prepared.
At BBE safety is paramount, and our proven success rate reflects our decades of experience. In addition to our exceptional knowledge of the routes we climb, backed up by a phenomenal support staff in base camps and weather forecasting via satellite, we are prepared for every outcome, with rescue and medical equipment and support always standing by. Our climbs and acclimatization programs are meticulously planned, for the most enjoyable ascents possible, focussing on our teams’ safely to give you the experience of a lifetime.
Bearing in mind possible delays, a popular option is to combine your trip to Antarctica with an ascent of Aconcagua on your journey home. It is normally possible to join one of our January Aconcagua expeditions, if you book a December Vinson climbs. We will arrange your return flight to travel via Santiago and Mendoza. Please get in touch if you would like to discuss this option.