63 - 13/01/02
Published to web
Port Lockroy area, Wiencke Island.
63° 30 W
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satellite picture of the South Atlantic Ocean....
rising sun cast a magical light around us, the Promised Land
called, but the mountain was not beaten yet."
reader may well know from either observed or personal experience that
supper parties are often a source of inspiration and even plans.
So it was aboard John Laing as we entertained the resident
guardians of Port Lockroy to supper on the evening of 8th January.
The wine and perhaps even the Laphroaig had flowed (although in our
current circumstances not to excess; even a small tipple is sufficient to
produce a warm inner glow). Outside
the sky changed from red to pink with every shade between.
Ephemerally we gazed upwards to savour the grandeur of
this unique anchorage and its surroundings.
Gazing down on and dominating the scene, Mount Luigis snow
capped summit rises to nearly 5000 feet and more than 1000 feet above its
surroundings. The near vertical north-western face plunges directly
into the sea. No route
here for us to be sure, but perhaps its eastern ridge would yield to our
efforts as it already had to previous mountaineering parties including one
earlier this season. Their
success in no way diminished the undertaking however every day is
different in the mountains and every climb a new and intimating prospect.
there was a challenge and an inspiration.
We were resolved and galvanised;
the Expeditions next mountaineering venture proposed and
unanimously agreed by hosts and guests alike and all without leaving the
comfort of the saloon table! It
called for a 08:00 am start and a long arduous day.
The supper party broke up early.
- What a difference a few hours can make.
Cloud and spindrift obscured the upper reaches of the Thunder
Glacier. With a mixture of
relief and a tinge of frustration the climbers hauled themselves back into
their bunks grateful for at least a few more hours of sleep and warmth.
Midday came and went and by now the warmth of the sleeping bag had
given way to the myriad of essential jobs that keep equipment and the
Expedition alive. The
afternoon wore on; the prospects looked bleak and thoughts turned to
supper. Then, late in the
afternoon, as enthusiasm and opportunity appeared to have passed, Luigi
showed his face through the cloud, taunting
the motivation of those far below.
But we havent come through 5 years of planning and sailed 9000
miles to be laughed at by him and that tantalising glimpse was
enough to sound the starting cannon. Even so, it always takes longer than you hope to
complete the final preparation of equipment and to load the inflatable
boats, but these are the essential preparations that underpin success.
was therefore 7:45 pm before the party finally set off ski-ing across the
sea ice that still guards the end of the glacier and coast line.
Above us, the Thunder Glacier, like a motorway stretches into the
distance and pointed the way forward. After 2 hours of gentle climb,
height and distance had easily been gained and a steep snow ramp offered
the prospect of a chink in the
ridges defences. Crevasses
and avalanche debris still offered resistance and the bergschrund (the
sometimes substantial gap which forms between snow and rockfaces) high
above would need to be crossed before the ridge gained.
Higher still on the route above an icy slope defied ski edges but
with harscheissen (small crampon like teeth fitted to skis) progress was
once more made. Shortly
before midnight the ridge was gained.
Before us, away to the north The Reclus Peninsula, Brabant Island,
The Danco Coast, Paradise Harbour and The Gerlache Straight lay like a
model of the Expeditions previous exploits.
In reality the scene stretched more than 30 miles distant but it
felt as if one could reach out and touch these now familiar sights.
The temptation to stand and stare was quickly overcome by the
bitter cold and the more demanding issue of how to scale the steep narrow
step that barred further easy progress.
It was no more than 200 feet high but its sides plunged down
several thousand feet below us.
Skis were discarded and crampons fitted to boots, brews and
chocolate gratefully devoured and a belay (secure anchorage for a safety
system) established. Then the
off. Tim Hall (-
not just a photographer youll notice; a key lead mountaineer too)
kicked his way into the gradient as his axe plunged into the snow.
He made steady progress as the rope snaked its way reassuringly
behind him. But things are
never that simple. Frustratingly
close to the top, he ran out of rope. A hurried conference in the wind,
and a decision to join two ropes was quickly enacted.
Tim moved on and moments later the step was conquered. A second belay was quickly made and soon the next and
subsequent climbers were ascending the step with their safety ensured by a
fixed rope. It took an hour
for the entire party to gain the step by which time frozen climbers
eagerly re-roped and moved off once more. The
ridge broadened again and we plodded on.
As we did so the cloud descended and soon we were enveloped back
into its clutches.
An hour and a half later we broke free from the cloud and now the route stretched
relentlessly ahead of us; but for the first time with its entire summit
ridge exposed to view. The rising sun cast a magical light around us, the Promised
Land called, but the mountain was not beaten yet.
steps, knife edges (where the ground drops almost sheer on either side of
a ridge) and airy traverses marked the way. One by one, with care and confidence, each yielded to our
assault until at last the ridge broadened to a wide shoulder that led to
the final summit block. Here
600-700 feet of steep climb and traverse stood between us and our set
prize - The mountain had kept its strongest defence until last.
Now we knew it could be beat but still it refused to
surrender its summit without a last counter.
In a selfless gesture, Jim, already slowed by cold and fatigue,
elected to rest below the last hurdle.
He dug himself a snow scrape to escape the wind and awaited our
return thereby maximising the chances of the remainder.
Fortified by a bite and brew the rest of us moved on.
Steep slopes quicken the heart but not the pace.
It was 04:30 am before the first pair stood on the summit.
Soon Nobby, Harry, Will, Tim, Jo and Dick stood on top of their own
little world. Like a sulking
child that has lost the game Luigi called on his friend, the cloud, to
play hide and seek and wreck the occasion.
Reluctantly it appeared, but slowly enough and with insufficient
enthusiasm to deny us views of The Lemaire Channel to the south and to
spoil the overall satisfaction of the moment.
Further afield, as if in solidarity with its mountainous friend,
the northern edge of the sea pack ice could be seen; also seemingly in
defiance, as if challenging our future further progress south.
Further to the West, Mount Francois gazed down on us from nearby
Anvers Island. In one last bid to spoil the game the mountain called
on his friends the wind and cold to redouble their efforts; to bolster the
cloud and freeze the camera. It
hardly mattered to us, we had won the game at half time, experienced
one of Luigis moods and now with light hearts set off to exploit our
advantage in the second half of the match; the descent which separated us
from safety, warmth, food and rest.
hours later we dropped off the summit ridge and broke out of the cloud.
1000 feet below us the Thunder Glacier welcomed us back and 2 hours
later and 14 hours after our delayed departure,
we laughed with our friends in the cockpit of the yacht. Below decks, breakfast, companionship, congratulations
and satisfaction reigned. Tiredness
was temporarily subdued, aching
muscles ignored. Outside
the saloon windows Luigi showed its summit.
In the words of Bill Murray (pioneering Scottish climber of the
30s-60s) Luigi had given us the three defining features of
mountaineering; beauty, battle and friendship.
But now it was time for sleep, which we did with relish. Later that
night and well into the small hours, we celebrated in the unique
surroundings of Base A, Port Lockroy. There could be no more
fitting way to conclude the venture, indeed for some the celebration was
the venture . . . . .but that is another story!
hope that your next supper party and its aftermath are as memorable.
Joint Expedition Leader
by Tim Hall
(Roll mouse over photos for captions)
& Web Design by Tim Hall
(Roll mouse over photos for captions)
our younger viewers:
Willy' the expedition's friendly chinstrap penguin seen here being viewed suspiciously
(perhaps for his lunch) by a Leopard Seal.
It's cooler on the
John Laing than at Rothera Point!
temperature at Rothera)
67.6° S 68.1° W