Vinson Massif – My 4th Continental Summit

  • Elevation : 16,050 feet (4,892 meters)
  • Continent : Antarctica
  • Location : Antarctica
  • Mountain Range : Sentinel
  • First Ascent : 1966 by Nicolas Clinch, Barry Corbet, John Evans, Eiichi Fukushima, Charles Hollister, William Long, Brian Marts, Peter Schoening, Samuel Silverstein, and Richard Wahlstrom
  • My Ascent : January 2000

Vinson Massif was my fourth continental summit. It is one of the world’s most remote peaks, and just getting there is half the battle. After traveling to Punta Arenas, the southern tip of South America, we flew on a big C-130 cargo plane six hours over the Drake Passage, the most notorious section of ocean in the world. We landed at Patriot Hills, a temporary summer encampment near the Ellsworth Mountains.

During the winter (February – October), the camp is abandoned, and supplies are stored in deep ice caves cut by chain saws. Our plane landed on a natural blue-ice runway formed by katabatic winds which begin at the South Pole and flow thousands of miles to the coast, along the way picking up speed and cold air mass until they are at hurricane force. From there, we flew smaller Twin Otter planes to Vinson base camp. The summit of Vinson Massif is a very cold place, often -50 degrees Fahrenheit!

Excerpt from “The Adversity Advantage”

Five hundred feet higher, we were still moving too slowly. The wind was now picking up, forcing us to brace against it. Finally, Chris and I made the decision to drop our packs altogether and go for it. I stuffed an energy bar, a little water, and the extra pair of gloves into my down suit. We had climbed higher and gotten closer to our goal, and my perspective on the things I really needed had sharpened and narrowed – just like the pinnacle itself.

Right below the summit, we faced the greatest test, a narrow rocky ridge. The frigid wind hammered us as I carefully felt my way across, but I felt secure and strong. I had been freed from “The Pig.” I thought about all the weighing, considering, and contemplation that had gone into each part of the ascent, and realized it’s no coincidence that the word “deliberation” contains within it the word “liberation.”

On the summit, the weather was close to fifty below zero. My legs were cramping and Chris told me my lips were blue from cold. Believe it or not, when I took a leak, it actually froze before hitting the ground, and that became my new, personal definition of cold.