Rob and Jo Gambi
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Vinson Summit

Height: 4,897 metres/ 16,067 feet
Location: Antarctica


Summit date: 15th December 2003
Our route: Branscomb glacier (normal route)


The most remote of the “Seven summits” by far, the Vinson Massif is situated in the Ellsworth mountain range, deep in the Antarctic continent.

The Vinson Massif was not even discovered until 1957 when it was first seen by US pilots during aerial reconnaissance for the American International Geophysical Year traverse party.

Vinson is normally climbed in the warmest Antarctic summer months, December and January. However, the word ‘summer’ is probably a little deceptive and although there is 24 hours daylight at this time of year, the temperatures can still fall well below – 30 degrees centigrade, even on calm days, making the frostbite a real danger. Sunburn is also a potential problem caused not just by the extended exposure to the sun but also by the thinner ozone layer that sits over Antarctica.

Vinson’s apparent altitude is somewhat higher than its actual altitude due to its proximity to the lower pressure of the South Pole. This lower pressure at the pole also causes the air masses to flow away from the pole outwards and also towards higher altitudes which can result in some violent winds being experienced on the upper flanks of Vinson.

To access Vinson, climbers have to first take an Aleutian Russian cargo plane from Punta Arenas in Chilie which lands on a blue ice runway at Patriot Hills (a temporary summer camp), near the Ellsworth mountain range. Weather dictates life in Antarctica and even waiting for good enough conditions to land on the ice runway can cause delays of weeks. Once in Antarctica a further flight in a small plane is required to get to Vinson Base camp and from there the climbing can begin.

The normal route up Vinson follows the Branscomb glacier initially with a steep climb up its headwall under impressive blue ice cliffs to reach high camp. Summit day is invariably long and extremely cold, but on reaching the summit on a clear day the views over the Antarctic sea of ice are unlike anything else and the sheer scale of what you see is hard to take in. Although the normal route on Vinson offers no technical difficulties its remote location makes it a serious undertaking where a mistake could be costly.

Under the Antarctic Treaty, inaugurated in 1959, no one country owns any part of Antarctica, but each country administers a specific sector. The original treaty doesn’t mention tourism, which would include climbing parties, however the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO), of which ANI (Adventure Network International) was a founding member, was established for self regulation within the industry and to ensure the Antarctic Treaty was followed by its members. In order to maintain the pristine nature of the Antarctic environment this means that all waste, even all human waste, has to be removed from the continent.