Mountain Climbing in Antarctica, Part 2

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December 27, Camp 3 13,000 feet
The climbing is spectacular! The view is almost indescribable. There are icefalls that rise from the ground and huge seracs everywhere. Further on is vast whiteness with a smattering of dark peaks that look like islands piercing the clouds. It’s simply amazing.

The climb took 4 hours and 15 minutes to reach camp 3. One climber was struggling and decided to turn back to Camp 2. As soon as we reached camp, the wind picked up drastically. It’s bitterly cold and not going to be a nice campsite. Hopefully we will summit tomorrow so we don’t have to stay here too long. The sun is blocked by the hill to our left. The sun in the Antarctic really just goes around the sky in a small circle. It’s very strong; however once the surrounding mountains block it the temperature drop is profound.

December 28, Camp 3 – Summit Attempt
Wake up is at around 8AM. We slowly get dressed and eat breakfast in our tents. Roping up, we are ready to climb at 10:45. The trail is steep at first then turns into a gradual climb. It is around 10 to 25 below but with everything on it feels ok. My feet and hands ache, so I try to wiggle my toes and fingers as much as possible. The mountain looked great for a while then it started getting cloudy and very windy. At 2 PM and 14,870 feet high, we decided to turn around. 2,000 feet of climbing in 3 hours 15 minutes is fast, actually that’s more of a decent pace, I think. Our team is really psyched to make the summit tomorrow, and it feels good. On the way down, my hands start getting extremely cold and I use 2 chemical heaters. Now I only have 2 more left for tomorrow’s attempt. I’m going to bring a ton of these on Everest.

December 29, 2nd Summit Attempt 16,863 feet
Extreme temperatures kept us tent bound again last night. Rob woke us up at 8AM for a light breakfast, and then it was time to get roped up and start climbing. Here’s what I’m wearing for our summit attempt: Patagonia light weight underwear top and bottom, cool weather top and bibs, expedition weight underwear top and bottom, Marmot pile bottoms, Moonstone Gore-Tex bibs, North Face Gore-Tex Mountain jacket, expedition weight glove liners, “heater gloves”, REI pile hat, Hind polar 100 stretch hat and sunglasses. In my pack I have 2 more jackets and 8000 meter down pants. We are making great time, I feel strong mentally and physically. Everyone on our team is really doing fantastic and we pass our high point from yesterday. There is a steep section past the “football field” which Rob said is around 35 degrees. It feels more like 45 to me. The next section is even more killer. We unrope because it is so steep. Jan and I head up the steeper section instead of making a traverse to come up some rocks. I like the direct access to get it over with quicker and faster. From on top of this ridge you could see Base Camp. Aleyo, one of the guides, signal us with his mirror and we all wave.

He must have been watching all afternoon for us. It’s amazing how the mirror catches your eye. We put on one more parka and ditch our packs on the rocks. The climb to the summit isn’t really far and doesn’t take long. The view is magnificent and the weather is perfect. I quickly snap off a role of film. I always bring along a small flag from Quincy College, my alma mater, the flag goes to all the summits with me. There’s a Sierra Club metal tube with a summit register inside.

Not too many names in here! I think we are around 150 or so. Today there are 18 climbers including 5 women summiting. It’s windy but we stay almost 45 minutes.

That’s the longest I’ve ever stayed at any summit. We start down to the saddle. I put on more clothes and packed my stuff up for descent. I hate going down! My hands are frozen by the time we reach our packs. Dolly warms them up in her armpits. Hey, that works well! Nothing spectacular on descent just slogging away for hours. At snails pace, we finally reached Camp 3, at 10:15 PM, but of course, the sun is still shining.