On my way to Leeds to launch Jonathan Pitches’ Mountainsides Series. Wednesday, March 1. 17.00
Following last month’s first ascents of Starbuck Peak and Mt Baume, I am delighted to have completed nine tenths of the Shackleton Traverse with the Crean family, at the end of an extraordinary spell of calm weather in the Southern Ocean. It was just a shame that an unfortunate accident stopped us completing the final part.
When I first did the Traverse in 2000 Reinhold Messner broke his foot on the Crean Glacier. Last week Aileen Crean O’Brien broke her leg at almost the same place, tripping on her sledge just below the famous impromptu toboggan ride made by her grandfather Tom Crean, with Shackleton and Worsley 100 years ago. Unlike Messner, Aileen was too badly injured even to hobble. However, she was able to complete most of the Traverse lying down, towed on a sledge by Crag Jones and me, with Cian, Morgan and Bill sharing out her luggage on the 16 km ski journey to the nearest evacuation point at Fortuna Bay. It all went very smoothly, blessed with calm weather and generally good visibility.
Once we reached Fortuna, skipper Alec Hazell did a brilliant job of getting Aileen back on board Pelagic, in a fairly testing swell. By lucky chance our return to Grytviken coincided with a visit by HMS Clyde, whose captain agreed kindly to give Aileen a speedy comfortable lift to Stanley hospital, 800 miles away. The rest of us hope to go back round to Fortuna Bay during the next few days and complete the final section to Stromness, before sailing more slowly back to Stanley.
The detailed prospectus for an Antarctic Expedition led by Stephen and taking place between 4 Jan to 1 Feb 2018 based on Pelagic Australis can now be viewed at:
If you are interested in taking part please contact Stephen as soon as possible to reserve a place on this trip.
After a summer in Andalucia and Edinburgh, Stephen leaves this week on his seventh expedition to South Georgia. In fact he is doing two expeditions, back to back. The first trip, aboard Pelagic Australis, is to the southern Salvesen Range, where he and Skip Novak are leading a team hoping to make first ascents of peaks which Stephen first admired 26 years ago when he made the first ascent of Mt Carse.
South Georgia bivouac
Then, around the second week of October, Stephen and Caradoc Jones are jumping ship to Pelagic, to join a grand-daughter and great-grandsons of Tom Crean, who are hoping to follow in their ancestor’s footprints, 100 years after he made his legendary crossing of the Island with Frank Worsley and Ernest Shackleton. With a reasonably generous window of opportunity, Stephen is very optimistic about managing to do the traverse successfully before sailing back to the Falklands at the end of October.
Following the success of his recent Antarctic Peninsula expedition, Stephen is planning another similar ski mountaineering trip for January 2018. If you are interested in joining him, either for skiing or on the boat-based support team, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
In the meantime he is getting ready for this year’s South Georgia expedition, departing in September. There are still two places available on what will be a great adventure – visiting South Georgia at the end of winter, before the regular cruise ships arrive.
Video of Antarctica Mountaineering Trip January 2016
Yesterday we tied up in Puerto Williams, Tierra del Fuego, at the end of another magnificent Antarctic expedition. Departure at the beginning of January was delayed by missing baggage and adverse weather, but our skipper, David Roberts, managed to sneak out into Drake Passage during a brief acceptable weather window. Four days later we tied up in the Melchior Islands – the first of many magical anchorages amongst the islands and channels of the Antarctic Peninsula.
There was a lot of old winter sea ice this year. At Port Lockroy, Pelagic Australis was driven, bows up, onto an ice sheet where she usually anchors in clear water. During one passage up the famous, picturesque Lemaire Channel, the boat became a virtual icebreaker.
The support team, Stephen Davis, David McClean and Joakim Ramen, visited numerous wildlife sites, put in some cold hours laying shorelines at difficult anchorages and did a lot of kayaking. The mountaineering team had a near miss on Mt Luigi di Savoia, sent back by cold winds and an apparent break in the weather. On Anvers Island we had better luck. After a two day approach over the Marr Ice Piedmont, Stephen, Jamie Pearson and Geoff Heigh spent a long day (15 1/2 hours) skiing over the Menelaus Ridge and up the Iliad Glacier to the summit of Mt Francais, highest peak in Grahamland. The descent was fantastic. As our New Hampshire snow addict, Geoff, put it, ‘Holy Shit. Six thousand vertical of powder!’ Actually, it was more like seven thousand feet. What a treat.
A few days later the three of us were joined by Mark and Sally Dravers, and Kim from the support team (Chung Kin Man’s skis were still at Istanbul airport), on a traverse of Hovgaard Island, before returning to the boat to help with efforts to tow a large ice floe out of the way of another boat – Icebird – which was locked in her anchorage. The towing failed, but the floe did move later that night, of its own accord, allowing Icebird to escape.
The next day the six of us climbed what must be one of the world’s finest ski mountains – Mt Scott. Apart from the last few hundred metres of unfathomable slush, the whole descent was on powder snow – a perfect end to the trip, before the return passage across the Drake, reaching Cape Horn on January 28th for the celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary of the first rounding of the Horn. A big thank you to our wonderful crew – skipper David Roberts, Thomas Geipel and Lizzie Fitzsimmons – for another excellent adventure aboard Pelagic Australis.
Strange to be back in Puerto Williams and seeing Charlie Porter’s Gondwana moored out in the bay. Last time I was here, almost twenty years ago, I was heading to Monte Sarmiento with Charlie, Jim Wickwire, John Roskelley and Tim Macartney-Snape.
Bizarre, also, to see the local teenagers out playing in their dinghies, while the port outside is closed and we are delaying our departure for Antarctica because of a big blow in Drake Passage. The beautiful 1930s oak fishing boat in the foreground is Arved Fuchs’ Dagmar Aaen.
Chung Kin Man ‘s skis, meanwhile, are believed to be in Santiago and his boots in Istanbul. But kind Darrell in Ushuaia is lending some replacements which will come over the Beagle Channel tomorrow if the port is opened. (Any veterans of the Empire Strikes Back, Jade Venture, Shishapangma East Face expedition of 1987 will remember Chung).
News from Stephen’s current activities will appear here.