the climbing teams have been away over the Festive Period and only arrived
back on board John Laing late on the 3rd January, yesterday was
our official Christmas Day. Needless
to say, yesterday was not a day for writing despatches. You will
have already read the highlights of our latest trip into the mountains
from Andy. I will therefore
attempt to fill you in on little of the detail and paint a picture of how
the land party spent their Christmas and New Year.
you will recall during our first visit to the Reclus Peninsular we left a
quantity of rations and fuel on what we believed was the route taken by
Sir Wally Herberts party back in the late 50s.
Also during that trip we spotted what looked like an alternative
landing site further up the Reclus Peninsular.
This proved feasible and cut some six hours off the original route
we had taken up from our previous landing point at Portal Point.
So, by the evening of the 22nd December, the nine
members of the climbing team were camped at Haig Camp 800ft below
the ridge leading to Harris Peak. The
following day six of the party set off to move our cache of rations up the
ridge and traverse the past Harris Peak, whilst the remainder of the team
took the opportunity to take some geology samples from nearby rock
outcrops. Unfortunately, the
weather closed in and the cache could only be moved to just below Harris
Peak before the team were forced to retreat in very poor visibility.
awoke on Christmas Eve to continued bad weather with heavy snow and poor
visibility making further progress impossible.
Nevertheless, undeterred, Tim Hall volunteered his team, which
includes Dom Biddick & Steve Ayres (now known as the 'Pigmy Leader
& the Pigmy Pulkers
due to the suggestion that Steve & Dom are vertically challenged) to
return to the drop off point to carry another load of fuel & rations
back up to camp while at the same time taking Sam Greenhill our resident
journalist back to the yacht after his brief taste of life in the
mountains. So it was
later that day as we lay in our tents we heard the strange sound of carols
surly not carol singers no but Tims team returning.
As they entered camp, pulling sledges and singing the sun broke
through and the remainder of us emerged from our tents to greet them.
From somewhere (Dicks rucksack) a bottle of malt whiskey was
produced to help the carol singers voices. And so began the
Reclus Peninsular Christmas Eve drinks party.
As we chatted the skies cleared and we were treated with a view all
the way down to the bay and the islands of Babant and Anvers beyond. However, in freezing temperatures and with a limited supply
of sustenance the party was over in 30 minutes or so with the participants
rapidly disappearing back into their tents, which by this time were
bedecked with various decorations.
morning we awoke to reasonable weather so, after a traditional
breakfast of rolled oats we broke camp and set off up the mountain.
The initial climb went well but as we gained the ridge the weather
once again turned and we were forced to retreat back down to Haig
Camp. We reluctantly set
up camp again and withdrew into our tents for the remainder of Christmas
Day. Fortunately, the Army
ration packs come with turkey pate so we were able to enjoy a traditional
lunch, followed by a game of cards and an after lunch nap!
What more can one ask for from a Christmas Day?
Day arrived with the weather only looking marginally better, but the
weather forecast was good. So
we once again packed up camp and set off up the hill.
By the time we reached our previous
high point just below Harris Peak the weather was glorious a little
windy but clear and sunny. We
therefore pressed on traversing below the peak and above a drop of several
thousand feet to the bottom the Bayly Glacier.
Tims rope hanging back (not literally) to take photos, also took
the opportunity to climb Harris Peak (the rest of us completing the climb
a few days later on the return trip).
After an hour or so of skiing the lead team had reached the Bayly
Glacier this time higher up than our previous attempt and above the
difficult crevassed section where I had had my now well publicised fall
(see the last mountain despatch). Progress from here was excellent with the teams skiing in
beautiful clear weather all the way up to the second ice-fall on the Bayly
Glacier where we established Camp Gordon that evening.
following day we again set-off with high hopes but the weather once again
deteriorated rapidly and it was not long before we found ourselves in the
familiar white-out attempting to make our way up the second ice-fall.
After a fall over an unseen ice ledge by one rope (which fortunately ended
in very soft snow and laughter) and difficulty finding our way across
steep slopes and though crevasses we decided discretion was the better
part of valour and we should camp. And
so we entered another period of enforced rest in our tents keeping an eye
out of the door in the hope that the weather would soon clear.
about midday the following morning (28th
December) I looked out to see the weather clearing so after a
rapid breakfast we once again set-off.
With visibility now much better we quickly picked our way through
the second ice-fall on the Bayly Glacier.
As we moved up the weather became better and better with the cloud
clearing in front of us. Soon
we were treated to the spectacular
sight of Mount Johnston rising out of the cloud that smothered the
Peninsular Plateau. By 6pm
GMT we had arrived on the Peninsular Plateau morale was sky high as we
climbed steadily towards Mount Johnston; at 7580ft the highest point
around on the Plateau.
evening Camp Grant was established in the shadow of Mount Johnston
and after a quick bite to eat we set off to reach the summit whilst the
weather was still with us. The
lead team arrived on the summit shortly before midnight on the 28th December
in what we believe is the second ascent the first being by Mr M B
Bayly (yes, the glacier is named after him) and his team back in 1957.
Unfortunately, the cloud that had stayed away all day once again
engulfed us as we reached the summit only affording us the briefest
glimpses down to Ross Sea on the eastern side of the Peninsular.
After the customary summit photos we beat a hasty withdrawal back
to our camp and a well earned rest.
next few days proved to be very disappointing as we were once again
marooned in our tents by blizzards that only relented once, very briefly,
only to allow us to get ready to move before we saw the next band of bad
weather heading rapidly towards us.
Eating only the minimum rations, so our stay could be extended for
as long as possible, in the hope of the weather clearing,
it was during this time that we were unable to establish radio
communications with the yacht (see Andys despatch of New Years Day).
The main problem was that we could not charge our radio battery
with the solar panel as it was being covered in snow faster than we could
clear it!! Hourly we looked out for a sign of a change for the better but
the weather did not alter and therefore, after four days and with our
provisions getting low (only one days rations left) I reluctantly
concluded that our plans to make the journey to Mount Walker, some 25km
distant along the Plateau, were no longer achievable we therefore had
had informed us from the yacht that there would hopefully be a gap in the
weather with the winds dropping for about a 12 hour period before the
storm once again blew up. Therefore,
on the 2nd January, still in a white-out and with snow falling
but with the winds easing, we broke camp and set off back towards the
Reclus Peninsular and our route home.
Unlike the journey up where route finding was a problem and could
only effectively be carried out in good weather, for the descent route we
could rely on marker poles we had left on the way up and GPS directions to
find them. This meant we
could navigate with pinpoint accuracy in almost zero visibility steering
our way around crevasse fields and sheer drops what a wonderful
system! As we made our way
down the upper ice-fall on the Bayly Glacier we descended through the
cloud base and into sunlight. There
followed a most memorable ski down the Glacier and below Harris Peak all
the way to our first camp Camp Haig.
In total the descent had taken us just over 12 hours the ascent
having taken us a week!
back at Haig Camp and with rations now in plentiful supply (we had left a
re-supply cache at this lower camp) we ate and chatted happily until the
early hours, marveling in the experience we had all enjoyed.
For many in the party this had been their first real encounter with
big mountains and living out in Antarctic conditions for an extended
period. Fortunately, we were
privileged to experienced all the delights that Antarctica has to
offer: the sheer, relentless hard-work of man-hauling sledges; blizzards
and biting wind; white-out after white-out; hours sitting in tents waiting
for the weather to abate and many more privations and discomforts, but without doubt it was all worth it for those few moments
of spectacular views that I am sure will live with all members of the team
forever we were a privileged few.