The Rainbow Summits Project

Headed Down South…Vinson or Bust!

Well, it’s that time of year again: Expedition Number 6 kicked off today in Punta Arenas. This is my sixth Seven Summit climb, and hopefully will be my fifth successful summit. I am climbing Vinson Massif, the highest peak in Antarctica at just over 16,000ft ASL. It’s not exactly easy — the temperatures average -40˚ C this time of year (the Southern Summer). But it’s not as tough as McKinley or some of the other mountains I’ve climbed, but I guess I’ll have a more accurate impression in a couple of weeks.

I left Princeton Friday at 3pm and then proceeded to spend around 36 hours in transit before I finally arrived here at the Southern tip of South America. I almost had a heart attack when the United employees checking me in asked to see my Brazilian visa. Because I was flying to Brazil, I needed a visa…and I didn’t have one. Luckily, because I was really just transiting through, they were able to work their magic and route my bags all the way to my final destination even though that was technically a different ticket with a different airline. Suffice it to say I was majorly relieved when my bags showed up soon after I landed in Punta Arenas. (Huge shoutout to Robyn Aguesseau and John Ferreira, the wonderful United employees who saved me — and more importantly my bags — from getting stuck in Brazil!)

The Southern-most city in Chile: Punta Arenas

Punta Arenas is a quiet town that really does feel like it’s perched on the edge of civilization. Located on a peninsula near the Straits of Magellan, it is perennially chilly and windy. Even now, in the height of summer, it is only around 10˚. The town has some quaint colonial style architecture and a couple of very nice restaurants. I’ve been chowing down on steak and dulce de leche to bulk up (read: fatten up) before I head down to Antarctica.

Our team is small, with only three climbers and one guide. Jacob, our guide, also guided me on Aconcagua in February and I have the utmost faith in his guiding abilities and mountain knowledge He’s a great guy! The other two clients are Mike and Ed. Mike is from all over the place and has done a ton of climbing on his own and with his wife, and Ed is the 22-year-old British guy I climbed Carstensz Pyramid with in August. So we’re a tight group and I can tell that we’re going to get along great.

Today we did our gear check, ate a bunch, celebrated my birthday (which was yesterday, December 2nd! I can’t believe I’m 20 years old!), and hung out. Tomorrow we meet all of the other Vinson climbers and have our official briefing. I’ll give you more details on the ALE (Antarctica Logistics and Expeditions) briefing tomorrow, but essentially is a multi-hour presentation on everything from the history of the continent to preserving its natural unspoiled state. Then, assuming we get good weather, we’ll head out on a Russian-made Ilyushin jumbo jet for the four-hour flight down to Union Glacier, Antarctica. Union Glacier is ALE’s massive base on this side of the continent, and it’s the second busiest airstrip after McMurdo. From there, we wait for a weather window and then fly to Base Camp of Vinson and proceed up the mountain!

All in all, this is looking like another great adventure. I’m so lucky to be here. Thank you to everyone who sent me birthday wishes and donations to Rainbow Summits to honor the occasion. It means a lot to me! (If you wanted to donate and forgot, it’s not too late! Just go here to make your contribution.)

Keep following my blog here on the website and you can actually track my physical location in between posts by clicking the link on the right side of the page that says “Follow Cason’s Progress on the Mountain.” After tomorrow’s post, it’ll be a couple of weeks before I can update the blog. In the mean time, you can listen to our expedition dispatches on

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