Cybercast of a Mount Vinson Massif Expedition
Alpine Ascents International Guides the Highest Peak in Antarctica
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(photo: AAI)
Join The Mountain Zone as we follow chief guide Wally Berg and the 1998 Alpine Ascents International expedition on an attempt to climb 16,076' Mount Vinson Massif, the highest point on the Antarctic continent.

The Updates
  • Ongoing '98 Expedition
  • Archived '97 Expedition

  • The Mountain
    The summit view from Mount Vinson is unlike any in the world: thousands of square miles of ice caps and glaciers fade into a distinctly curved horizon. Set amidst this tremendous ice-scape are hundreds of unknown and unexplored mountains. Mount Vinson, which was discovered in 1957, is considered the most inaccessible of the world's big mountains.

    The Expedition
    The Alpine Ascents International Team is scheduled to depart Punta Arenas, Chile, at the southern tip of South America. All travel plans are contingent on the weather, which can be unpredictable in polar regions. The following is a tentative schedule.

    Team members will travel aboard a C-130 Hercules aircraft during the six hour flight from Punta Arenas, which ends on an ice runway at Patriot Hills, Antarctica, approximately 100 miles from Vinson. After spending a night at Patriot Hills, the team transfers to a ski-equipped Twin Otter for the one-hour flight to the Vinson base camp.

    Mount Vinson is located 600 miles from the South Pole (see map: 38kb || 192kb), and the climbing base camp is located on the lower part of the Branscomb Glacier at 7,000' on the west side of the Ellsworth Mountains.

    From Base Camp, the team will sort equipment and ferry the gear via sled and backpack to Camp I at 9,100'. This camp makes for a magnificent setting, with the summit of Vinson rising dramatically above while the neighboring peaks of Shinn and Gardner add majesty to the mountain's landscape.

    From Camp I, the team will climb to the foot of a headwall at 10,100' to establish Camp II. An emergency food cache is to be left there before the team ascends the 2,300' up the headwall to a col between Vinson and Shinn, where Camp III is established at 12,300'.

    From Camp III, the view includes the incredible Ronne Ice Shelf, Mount Shinn and Mount Vinson. Alpine Ascents Founder Todd Burleson describes the view from this camp as one of the most magnificent high mountain camps he has visited. The team will rest here for a day to acclimatize prior to attempting the summit.

    Summit day begins with a 3-mile traverse and 3,000-foot gain in elevation, and finishes on boiler-plate-hard snow to the roof of Antarctica, at 16,076'.

    Peter Potterfield, Mountain Zone Staff

    Just the Facts

    Antarctica, as the coldest, windiest, highest, and driest continent, is mostly uninhabitable.


    38 kb
    192 kb

    Set Your GPS:
    54° 50' S, 68° 10' W

    Chill Factor: from 10°C on the coast in midsummer to -89.2°C or -128.6°F (the lowest temperature ever recorded in nature); milder temps (slightly below freezing) occur in January along the coast. Mean annual temperature of the interior is -57°C. In the winter extreme, metal can stick to flesh, kerosene turns to jelly and fillings can fall out of teeth.

    The Real Estate:
    Total area: 14 million sq. km (just less than 1.5 times the US)
    Arable land: 0%
    Permanent crops: 0%
    Meadows and pastures: 0%
    Forests and woodland: 0%
    Other: 100% (ice 98%, barren rock 2%)

    Then there's the wind.
    The cold of the interior, the domed shape of the continent and intense low pressure systems around the coast combine to create Antarctica's powerful katabatic winds, some of the strongest winds on earth, often exceeding hurricane force (120 km/h) for several days at a time. Maximum gusts of more than 250 km/h have been recorded.

    Survival: Heat loss increases dramatically with increases in wind speed. You can walk outside in short sleeves in -40°C if it is absolutely calm but you may require the thickest of layers at -5°C if the wind is above gale force. Even the wind generated by walking can cause frostbite. Fingers, toes, ears, cheeks and nose freeze most easily.

    We knew it had to be somewhere. Ninety percent of the world's ice (29 million cubic km) and 60 to 70 percent of its fresh water is locked up in the Antarctic ice-cap.

    Tagging the Pole: In 1911, Roald Amundsen, with four companions and 18 dogs, was the first to reach the South Pole after a 57-day journey. He planted a Norwegian flag at the Pole and left a note for competing explorer Captain Robert Scott whose team, bitter with disappointment at finding they had been outpaced, were trapped by severe weather on the returning trip and perished.

    Burleson and team on the summit of Mount Vinson, 1996
    Todd Burleson, Director and founder of Alpine Ascents International, has achieved unparalleled success in the mountain guiding industry and is considered to be one of the top climbers in the world. Todd spent most of his childhood in Alaska where his prowess and love for mountaineering was developed. He has led seven expeditions to Mt. Everest (summiting twice) and has led successful expeditions on every continent, including the Seven Summits. Todd boasts 100% success leading climbs of Mount Vinson.

    Alpine Ascents International, Inc.
    Mount Vinson Massif Expedition

    Todd Burleson

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