LIFE AT THE BOTTOM
Exploring Antarctica's Wolthat Mountains
Getting in over my head has never been a problem, I feel like I've made a career out of it. When I agreed to join Mike Libecki, Freddie Wilkinson and Cory Richards on a trip to Antarctica's Wolthat Mountains on a climbing expedition I had no idea what I was in for. Cory and I would be documenting the trip for National Geographic, whatever the weather or mountains had in store, we had to keep the cameras rolling as well as be active members of the expedition. We were heading into the unknown.
There's nothing simple about getting to the Wolthat Mtns. It's literally at the bottom of the earth. Once you get dropped off, you're on your own. The -30 degree weather hits you hard on arrival.
Day 1 of 50
Cory standing near a small portion of the 1800lbs of gear required for our expedition. Listening to the sound of the plane fly away and the howling wind only deepened the reality of the days ahead.
Time is of the essence here, the sun doesn't set here but the weather is completely unpredictable. We immediately started working on basecamp, building a large perimeter of snow blocks 6 feet high to protect us from the wind. It took about 18 hours in total and by the end of it things started looking pretty good. We had no idea what we were in for.
Finding the Route
Before you can start to climb, you have to find the route. Our first 5 days were spent circumnavigating the 60 mile mtn range. Kite skiing was the idea, but the wind was way too strong. So we set off on foot.
Katabatic Wind Destruction. A storm had came in our absence and had its way with camp.
The ice cap proved to be too brutal of a place to live. We had no choice but to find a new base camp and moving into the rocks was our only hope for survival.
It took 3 blue collar days to move all 1800lbs of equipment 3 miles across the ice cap and into the talus fields. It was hard work, but it had to be done. Things were looking up again.
Mike looking into the unclimbed towers picking a line.
The final recon. Mike and Freddie checking out the various angles of the tower they had set their sights on.
It took 17 days of work and punishment to find our objective and to settle in. Finally it was time to climb. Mike and Freddie organizing climbing the rack.
The tower on the right would be our road. 2,200 technical feet of sharp, sculpted granite.
There was nothing straightforward about the terrain
In this virtually lifeless world our only company were nesting snow petrels. These incredible birds nest hundreds of miles from the coast and were a welcome sight to us.
The reality of home. Climbing was curbed regularly as rogue storms punished our camp forcing us to hunker down.
Katabatic Hell 3 days of brutal storms with temperatures reaching -50
Nesting snow petrels fighting the weather
Day 33: A welcome break in the storm, higher we go.
Rescue isn't an option
As we entered into the 40 day mark, Mike and Freddie were making huge strides on the tower. Weather had hindered progress but in spite of the relentless conditions they kept a slow and steady fight. On the media side Cory and I were fighting frozen fingers in the consistent -30 degree conditions. Everyday was a new challenge but the summit was near.
Day 46: Summit Day After a long and hard fight the summit is reached
Freddie, Cory, Mike, and myself 12/21/2012
After 50+ days of living on the bottom of the planet in Katabatic conditions we were no worse for wear. Climbing in Antarctica is deadly, freezing cold, taxing and a hell of a lot of fun. Especially when it's with good friends. One of the best things you can do in life is step out of your comfort zone, forcing yourself to push harder to experience conditions and places you never imagined you would. For me, that summed up Antarctica.
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