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Reaching the Summit of Vinson Massif and back

It’s Wednesday morning – Summit day – and the sun is out! I have gotten used to it being daylight 24 hours a day, but somehow the sun shining over high camp is particularly special.

Getting ready to go to the Summit, was the same as with all other climbs: our guides wake us up early – well, in Vinson its 8:30am and bright daylight – so no need for a headlamp! We get ready, have breakfast and start moving.

Tre-C suggested we put hand warmers inside our mittens, accessible in our backpacks, ready to be used as it gets cold on the Summit Ridge. I do as she suggested.

We continue our climb roped in our teams of 4, and we gain another 1000m by the time we reached the Summit.

Unlike Elbrus where we dropped our backpacks for the last Summit push, here we keep our backpacks and I am happy we did, as it ensured I had all my flags!

Just before the Summit, for about 15-20 minutes we had to walk on a thin ridge, snow iced and snow covered, with rocks, and a few boulders thrown into the path. This was daunting, but the excitement inside was mounting.

Because we are roped together, each team, the fellow climber that is in front of me keeps pulling me forward, no doubt in his own anxiety. But that increased my anxiety and I am surprised to find the thin ridge, where I find I have to ‘self talk’ myself to, “Keep moving Ema!” “Don’t look down.” I kept thinking that the Summit of Vinson Massif was just in front of mw. Just in front of me.

And then we are there! When we reach the Summit, it is clear. It’s beautiful!

There is a larger area, like a small plateau. It’s wider than I ever imagined and we are allowed to unclip from each other, and take our backpacks off.

I am elated. I feel like I am on top of the world. Wait a sec, I AM on top of the world! Or some will argue the bottom of the World! Its Antartica!

Lakpa Sherpa and his rope team are still there, as they were just ahead of us, and he graciously becomes my photographer for all my flags.

Sebastian mentions to me that this is the first Summit ever for him to have anyone wear such thin gloves, as he gestures to me just wearing my liner gloves. I don’t need my mittens and hand warmers inside my backpack today. Our parkas are also accessible in our backpacks, but there is no need for them at the top of the Summit on this particular day. I can’t believe I am at the Summit of Vinson Massif.

Then it’s time to leave and make our way back, so we can make room for other climbers that are making their way as well to the Summit.

It’s a long way back to high camp and we don’t arrive until 8:30pm. We are tired. I welcome the comfort of my sleeping bag in a way I can’t describe. We are planning to get an early start down the next day as the weather is promising to turn.

The next morning, the plan was to descend from high camp, with a quick stop at low camp, all the way to basecamp – it was going to be a long day.

The next day it was not the hiking on the snow, or the wind that had picked up exactly as our ALE guides had read the weather, that fazed me or scared me, it is was getting on and coming down the fixed lines.

My fear of heights got the best of me, for the first 2 to 3 ropes. I was scared as I saw a chocolate bar fall from David’s’, one of our fellow climber’s pockets or backpack into the abyss as he was getting on the fixed ropes.

The first rope is so tight, with tension that it is hard to clip in.

At the first rope, Emmanuel was going backwards and told me to go backwards, while our guide told me to turn around and face forward. And I listened to Sebastian of course, he was our guide, but turning around in an upright angle, in such a small space of snow only served to increase my anxiety. I know Emmanuel was trying to get me not to see how high we were – but my mind knew!

I have a mini panic attack in the second line, as I need to transfer from one rope to another, and as I see my feet needing to be precise in their positioning, or I fall. I know I am tied in and our guide has the line secure on his prusik, but I also know if I fall it will be a big deal for me mentally to get up again. I panic and it is hard to breathe. I feel my airways suffocating me.

Emmanuel tells me to focus and relax, and breathe and that I can do it and that I am ok and I am not going to fall. It was kind of him to say so. He knew I needed help in that moment.

I relax after a few breaths and we continue down, slowly, line after line.

I know I need to calm myself down and moving forward to other mountains, believe more in myself. I got this. And Jesus has me!

Once at basecamp a celebratory dinner awaits us, with 3 bottles of champagne to celebrate our successful summit the day before. I have a glass, but somehow alcohol does not taste the same in the mountains, its kind of anti-climatic.

We were hoping the next day we could fly to Union Glacier and get on the scheduled flight back to Punta Arenas, so we can fly home as planned on December 10th.

But the weather does not cooperate and we wait. The next day is the same thing, more waiting.

But unlike in Carstensz Pyramide I am not ill, the food is amazing and the pure silence and beauty that surrounds us, relaxes me and fills me with awe.

On December 9th we finally had a break in the weather and we fly back to Union Glacier. As ALE clients we are on the first flight from base camp to Union Glacier.

It is disappointing we missed the Ilyushin, even though it had not flown into Union as scheduled. Its delay was not enough for us to catch it. At this point, we get scheduled to leave Union back to Punta Arenas on the 12th.

 

When we arrive back at Union Glacier, we line up for a shower! Ahhhhh …. clean again. I am reminded of life’s simple blessings.

Afterwards we get a behind the scenes tour of Union Glacier.

We also meet Richard Parks, who was the first person to do a grand slam – complete the 7 summits and ski the North and South Poles – in less than 1 year. Is that humanly possible? Apparently so!

He was trying to beat his solo record from the Hercules Inlet to the South Pole, a distance of 1140 km. He had been trying to do it in 25 days. However, due to illness, his solo attempt ended prematurely, early in the New Year.

We spoke for a bit during the couple of days we were waiting, and in one of our conversations he commented: “Courage is how you act and face your fears and learn from it”.

My fear of heights is still present. I need to learn how to control it more. I am learning.

Not only am I meeting amazing people on these climbs, I am facing things and growing in ways that surprise and delight me. I am becoming a climber!

Four down; three (well hour) to go – after all the 7 Summits are 8!

Aconcagua, next…..

Ema Dantas

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