My Christmas in 2010 was spent in a tent on the coldest and most windswept continent on earth whilst climbing Vinson Massif in Antarctica. I wouldn’t have wished for it any other way.
Tales of the great British polar explorers such as Shackleton and Ranulph Fiennes lined my Dad’s bookshelf when I was younger. As a result, Antarctica has always intrigued me. It is a land that defies proper explanation; a pristine environment of vast proportions and extremities. For half of the year, there is 24 hours of daylight and a consistently beautiful emptiness.
After a maze of flights to the southern tip of Chile, our team of four joined a Korean expedition aboard a former Russian cargo plane and fortunately found a weather window to land us onto the ice. From the moment you arrive in Antarctica, prepare to be astonished, there’s no other place like it in the world.
After a few days acclimatisation we got a twin otter place to Base Camp and sledded our kit up the mountain. The climbing was not the most demanding, the primary concerns are based on the vicious chill and variable winds. Christmas Day came around and what a remarkable place to be to celebrate it. I had a selection of Christmas cards from friends, family and my girlfriend which, as they always do, make one realise the strain that these expeditions place on those close to you.
My favourite time of day on that Vinson expedition was at about 3 a.m. If I woke up I’d make a cup of hot chocolate, throw on a down jacket, warm hat and make my way outside. With the 24-hour sunlight (it takes a bit of getting used to) you can just sit there and reflect on this vast expanse stretching out before you. I don’t know if I’ll get the opportunity to go back to Antarctica but I have that sense of tranquillity inked into my memory bank and I’m extremely grateful for that.
After some wind induced and bitterly cold nights while acclimatising, the wind dropped significantly for our summit attempt and the temperature was fairly mild. We traversed the summit ridge having made excellent time and our team of four had a chance to savour the moment atop the highest mountain on the continent. It was truly one of the most beautiful views I can remember.
We were greeted back at Base Camp in suitable Russian style. They had a team ascending at the same time and knowing our fatigue and cravings for water, they handed over a 1lt bottle, which, only after I took a plentiful gulp did I realise it was Russian Vodka – I should have guessed. Back at Union Glacier Camp, we had a good multi-national and alcohol-fueled celebration, added an Antarctica stamp to our passports and had the chance to reflect on a remarkable place.