Mt. Vinson – Day 8
It turns out that the second time is the charm! With the weather similar to the preceding day, we began to retrace our steps back up to the top of the mountain. As we walked, the wind began to pick up a bit more and we all put on our face masks and goggles to protect our nose and cheeks from frostbite (interestingly, a climber’s face is one of the most common places to get frostbite on an expedition because people don’t realize that their face is numb until it’s too late).
There were a couple other teams summiting concurrently to us, so it gave the mountain a slightly less isolated feel. That said, it’s hard not to look around at the solitary Antarctic peaks and endless glacier and not feel painfully and utterly alone.
At around the halfway point, we did a group check and everyone was feeling good so we continued on and decided to attempt a more difficult variation of the summit ascent. Instead of rounding the back of the mountain and climbing the Southwest Ridge, we instead traversed over to the Northeast ridge and ascended its steep, rocky spine.
Though this was more of a challenge, it gave us something to focus on other than the bitter cold and the exhaustion that was beginning to creep into our limbs. When we were more than ¾ up the ridge, one of my teammates – the one who had suffered from hypothermia the previous day – sat down to rest. He had been struggling with the altitude more than anyone else the entire expedition, and it seemed like it was catching up to him now, only a couple hundred meters from the summit.
We pumped him up and gave him some energy bars and then continued on for another 15 minutes. At that point, we stopped again so that he could rest and refuel. We continued this stop – start – stop –start rhythm until suddenly we were standing below a cornice and then we pulled ourselves up and stood on top of the Antarctic continent. We had done it! This was my sixth successful climb of the Seven Summits – Mt. Vinson!
We stood atop the peak in a flat area roughly 10 sq. m and took pictures, hugged, called our families from the sat phone, and celebrated our achievement. The view was incredible. The continent stretched out around us for hundreds and hundreds of miles. To the immediate north were the third and second largest peaks on the continent, and hundreds of others only slightly smaller.
Due to the frigid temperatures and rapidly rising wind, we made a speedy descent following the normal Southwest ridge route and then had a relaxing walk back to High Camp.
It wasn’t until we got back into our sleeping bags that we really realized how tired we were. The adrenaline rush one gets on a summit day is unparalleled, but the downside is that when it goes away, you crash. And we did crash – I don’t think I’ve slept so well in my entire life.
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