Antarctic Peninsula - Mountaineering in Antarctica - Damien Gildea - ebook

Antarctic Peninsula - Mountaineering in Antarctica ebook

Damien Gildea

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A beautiful work dedicated to mountain addicts and to amateurs who like to travel far from home!Climbing Antarctica is a unique experience. It is a dream that only few mountaineers have had the privilege to fulfill and that you can now skim, thanks to this very nice book, richly illustrated and remarkably documented.Damien Gildea will let you get be dragged into the rich history of Antarctica mountaineering adventure, from the first explorations in the 19th century until the achievements of today extreme climbers. He will lead you at the very heart of the most impressive and remote mountains of the South Pole…Discovering the incredible Antarctica Mountains, emerging from the white hugeness, will let more than one reader speechless. It is hard to figure out that we are still on Earth !In this volume you can find all the information about the Antarctic Peninsula.This book is an absolute must-have for all climbers and travellers!ABOUT THE AUTHORDamien Gidea is a polar mountaineer and explorer. He successfully led seven expeditions in the highest Antarctica Mountains, from 2001 to 2008. He is the author of the book entitled Antarctic Mountaineering Chronology, published in 1998, and of detailed topographical maps of the Livingston Island (2004) and Vinson Mountain (2006). His articles and photographs were published in many periodicals around the world, as the American Alpine Journal or the American magazine called Alpinist. He also led a skiing expedition to the South Pole and took part in several expeditions in the Himalayas, in Karakorum and in the Andes. When he is not exploring, Damien Gildea lives in Australia.EXCERPTThis is the most popular and accessible part of Antarctica, and arguably the most beautiful. To many people the Antarctic Peninsula, with its icebergs, penguins, seals, whales, snowy peaks, and glaciers dropping into the sea, is Antarctica. No longer unexplored, the Peninsula now draws tourists and other adventurers due to its great natural beauty, a melding of mountains and sea, of rock and ice, of twilight, colour and warmth, far from the vast monochrome inland.The early years of exploration in the Peninsula region mainly consisted of commercial trips by sealers and whalers, with geographical discovery a secondary aim. The first party to visit the Antarctic for purely geographical exploration was Adrien de Gerlache’s 1897-99 Belgica expedition. Their ship became trapped in pack ice and they were thus the first people to spend a winter in Antarctica. The expedition not only included a young Roald Amundsen, who would later return south for the Pole and greater glory, but also Frederick Cook who was the ship’s doctor. Cook, part of a long and continuing tradition of dishonest polar adventurers, would gain notoriety for making fraudulent claims to have reached both the North Pole first and to have made the first ascent of Alaska’s Mount McKinley. Cook would also later spend time in a US prison, where Amundsen was a famous visitor.

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Introduction

Climbing in Antarctica is a special experience that never fails to affect those fortunate enough to do it. For most of Antarctica’s human history this experience was restricted to those who worked as part of national government Antarctic programs, requiring great financial and logistical efforts. Visitors – and in Antarctica we are all visitors – were a small cog in a vast scientific and political machine. The scope and quality of work done by these programs has been incredible and continues to be so, providing us with critical insights into not only Antarctica but also our world as a whole. However, in purely mountaineering terms, the activity of such operations was understandably limited. Mountaineering merely enabled scientific work, with recreational climbing discouraged and usually unrecorded. In the following pages I hope to preserve at least some of those ascents, as often they have proven to be more significant to those involved than the official scientific record may indicate, and they are part of the rich human history of Antarctica that should be recorded for all to enjoy.

In general the earliest climbs were done on the Antarctic Peninsula, as it was the most accessible part of the continent and it remains popular to this day, the mountains set against the sea as beautiful as ever. As human activity spread to other parts of the land, scientific stations were established and they became bases for exploring any nearby mountains, most notably the vast Transantarctic Mountains from Scott and McMurdo bases on Ross Island. However, with the advent of private travel to inland Antarctica in the 1980s, other areas became popular solely for their value as climbing objectives. Thus the continent’s highest mountain, Mount Vinson in the Sentinel Range, has become a commercially viable destination on an annual basis and the stunning rock towers of Queen Maud Land are visited with some regularity. But other areas also contain interesting peaks, particularly the southern Transantarctics – home to Antarctica’s highest unclimbed mountains – and the relatively unexplored ranges of Alexander Island, too far down the Peninsula to sail to, not popular enough to fly to. Scattered around the continent are other worthwhile objectives, such as the big rock walls in the Ohio Ranges and Sarnoff Mountains, the remote peaks of Mac Robertson Land and, of course, the storm-swept giants rising out of the sea on South Georgia.

STEPHEN CHAPLIN CLIMBS HIGH ON THE WEST FACE OF MOUNT CRADDOCK, Sentinel Range, Ellsworth Mountains. Beneath, the Bender Glacier drains south into the larger Nimitz Glacier, beyond which are the smaller peaks of the Bastien Range.

No one mountain or route in Antarctica could be said to be anything greater – higher, longer, harder, steeper – than some other route or mountain on another continent. The location is the difference. There is only one Antarctica. Climbing in Antarctica is the closest that most of us will get to climbing on another planet – on Earth, but not of Earth. To walk the Vinson summit plateau is to tiptoe across the roof of a great ship adrift in an endless white sea, suspended above every other thing on the continent. You cannot walk out to a village or road, as in the Himalaya or Alaska. You can never walk home.

It would be wrong to discuss the future of the continent for Science only in the loose, emotional language of modern environmentalism, or through the selfish justifications of adventurers and sportsmen. But just as Antarctica should not be a political fiefdom for diplomats, it is more than just a giant laboratory and requires more than just science programs to ensure a safe future. We should all care about Antarctica; it is too important not to.

JED BROWN ON AN UNNAMED SUMMIT ABOVE THE EMBREE GLACIER. Behind is the dangerous northeast face of Mount Anderson, Sentinel Range, Ellsworth Mountains.

CLIMBERS AT THEIR BASE CAMP in the Orvinfjella Range, Queen Maud Land.

Climbing in Antarctica is not essential to humanity: it is a luxury. It is also a way in which we can see, understand and connect with a continent that is so important to the rest of the world. By opening up both the history and future of these faraway Antarctic mountains to a wider audience I hope that more people will come to love this place and hence care more about it.

Antarctica presents us with a challenge: to interact more responsibly with the natural environment of which we are all a part, not above. We must not damage that on which we rely for our survival, we have to make use of it without destroying it, and to share it without conflict. Our choice defines us, as will our stewardship of Antarctica.

Climbing, at its best, is about desire, passion, partnership, integrity, commitment, excellence and joy. Antarctica deserves no less.

ANTARCTIC PENINSULA

This is the most popular and accessible part of Antarctica, and arguably the most beautiful. To many people the Antarctic Peninsula, with its icebergs, penguins, seals, whales, snowy peaks, and glaciers dropping into the sea, is Antarctica. No longer unexplored, the Peninsula now draws tourists and other adventurers due to its great natural beauty, a melding of mountains and sea, of rock and ice, of twilight, colour and warmth, far from the vast monochrome inland.

The early years of exploration in the Peninsula region mainly consisted of commercial trips by sealers and whalers, with geographical discovery a secondary aim. The first party to visit the Antarctic for purely geographical exploration was Adrien de Gerlache’s 1897-99 Belgica expedition. Their ship became trapped in pack ice and they were thus the first people to spend a winter in Antarctica. The expedition not only included a young Roald Amundsen, who would later return south for the Pole and greater glory, but also Frederick Cook who was the ship’s doctor. Cook, part of a long and continuing tradition of dishonest polar adventurers, would gain notoriety for making fraudulent claims to have reached both the North Pole first and to have made the first ascent of Alaska’s Mount McKinley. Cook would also later spend time in a US prison, where Amundsen was a famous visitor.

Otto Nordenskjöld’s Swedish expedition sailed aboard the Antarctic in 1901 and wintered on Snow Hill Island in 1902. They explored the east coast of the northern Antarctic Peninsula and contributed greatly to the early understanding of the basic geography of the region. Yet the expedition endured great hardship, spending the winter stranded in three separate groups after their ship was crushed, and were rescued by the Argentines. They did, however, make some of the early ascents in the area and climbed the high points on Snow Hill Island (304 m) and Robertson Island (Christensen Nunatak, 299 m).

SUNSET ON THE WEST FACE OF MOUNT SCOTT, above the waters of Penola Strait.

In the following decades several expeditions, most notably the Frenchman Jean Baptiste Charcot’s two expeditions (1904-07 and 1908-10) and the Australian John Rymill’s 1934-37 British Graham Land Expedition (BGLE), discussed later, explored further south down the Peninsula, mainly surveying the coastal areas and travelling short distances inland. However, with a few exceptions, there was generally little mountaineering done in these years. World War II provided an even greater lull in exploration of the region, but this was not to last.

A TYPICAL PENINSULA SCENE: climbing ice out of the sea.

OPERATION TABARIN, FIDS & BAS

After World War II the British presence in the Antarctic Peninsula area was rejuvenated with Operation Tabarin, a somewhat secretive expedition named after a disreputable Paris nightclub and launched in late 1943. The alleged reasons for launching Operation Tabarin are various, ranging from reporting on enemy naval activity, protecting the area from occupation as a Nazi war base, reinforcing the British claim against the competing Argentine and Chilean claims, misinforming potential spies to protect other more critical operations and finally, to dissuade a potentially territorial United States from laying claim to the region. In early 1944 small bases were established on Deception Island in the South Shetlands and further south at Port Lockroy, near Wiencke Island. In both instances the British removed Argentine emblems that they found at these locations, believing the British history of exploration in the region gave their territorial claims supremacy over the Argentine claims.

The following season, in 1945, two more stations were established, on Coronation Island in the South Orkneys and at Hope Bay, on the very tip of the Trinity Peninsula, the northernmost point of the Antarctic mainland. The base on Coronation Island was never really used, as another was built on nearby Laurie Island in 1946. That base itself lasted just one year before a new base was built nearby on Signy Island in 1947, which operated continuously for 49 years. Both the Signy Island and Port Lockroy bases were early centres of mountaineering on the Peninsula, mostly in the name of surveying and exploration and increasingly in scientific fieldwork. In 1945 Operation Tabarin became the Falkland Islands Dependency Survey (FIDS), which was then renamed in 1962 as the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), though for years afterwards many BAS personnel continued to refer to themselves as ‘Fids’.

A SHIP RESUPPLIES ROTHERA BASE ON ADELAIDE ISLAND, with Mount Liotard in the background.

AN IMPERFECT HISTORY

Between them FIDS and BAS personnel have been responsible for the vast majority of climbing done on the Antarctic Peninsula, or hundreds of first ascents. The actual number of peaks climbed will never be known, mainly due to the long-standing official attitude that climbing for recreation was frowned upon and that mountaineering should only be employed in the conduct of scientific fieldwork and associated training. The taxpayers of Britain should not be asked to fund the Antarctic holidays of ambitious climbers. Whilst there is fieldwork to justify some of the ascents – particularly those made during the early surveys and some of the geological traverses – countless more FIDS and BAS people have gone climbing on ‘jollies’, their term for short recreational journeys. Many of these involved repeating moderate ascents done in previous years but, particularly in the earlier years, they sometimes also produced a significant haul of summits. On many other occasions the Field Assistant, or General Assistant (GA), would take time off to allow his scientific colleagues to steal away and tick off a nearby virgin summit. Most of these climbs have not been officially recorded, to avoid the ire of the authorities back in England, and as a result much of this ‘history’ exists only as rumour and legend. However, most of the major climbs, either of the highest peaks or very difficult routes, were eventually published somewhere – in books, Alpine journals and field reports – and thankfully not all of this history has been lost. The notable exception to this is Alexander Island, for which almost no climbing history is known.

Nevertheless, there is a danger of overstating these exploits, as the lack of a verifiable history can lead to stories growing out of proportion to the real events. As a result, previous generations are on occasion generously credited with feats that, upon closer investigation, prove somewhat less dramatic. Areas were explored but no climbing was done. Climbs were attempted but no summits were reached. Summits were reached but not as many as planned. Much tea was drunk. Sometimes history amplifies achievement without adding anything to substantiate it and this is particularly true of histories that are largely oral. This chapter is a very imperfect history, but we should be careful to not make it more so. It should also be noted that although many keen climbers have worked on the Peninsula with the FIDS and BAS, most of them have simply not had the opportunity to climb as much as they would have wished, secretly or otherwise. When in the field the work is the priority, time is nearly always short and the weather in this part of the world rarely agrees with ambitious climbing plans. As many GAs have wistfully recalled in later years, when working for BAS a lot of time in the mountains does not equal a lot of time on summits.

This lack of hard facts is not all bad. It creates a sense of mystery, a beautiful void where adventure is still possible for new travellers going south each year. Some in FIDS and BAS have deliberately maintained a silence for their own private reasons, regardless of the authorities’ views. For these people there has been a code of silence amongst colleagues, as a means of preserving good experiences as they remember them, and not having their days of joy cast out into a world to be collected, bested and belittled by the latest record-breaker. Though modern professional media ‘extremists’ may wish it otherwise, adventure is relative; it is in the eye of the beholder. If you’re not claiming to be first yourself, then does it really matter who was?

It is impossible to list all the summits ever reached by FIDS researchers over the decades and this becomes increasingly difficult as generations pass. The fact that an area or mountain is not listed in this book does not mean that no one has been there, although interesting objectives known to be unclimbed are included here whenever possible. But if it lies between 60° S and 75° S and 75° W and 60° W there is a good chance that a FIDS team travelled past it and, if it was not too hard or dangerous and time and weather allowed, maybe they even climbed it. If you need to claim to be first on some piece of Antarctica, you should go elsewhere.

Antarctic Peninsula

1. Mount Bowles 822 m

2. Mount Friesland 1700 m

3. O’Higgins Base

4. Hope Bay

5. Crown Peak 1184m

6. Mount Bris 1673 m

7. Mount Français 2822 m

8. Port Lockroy Base

9. Mount Johnston 2139 m

10. Mount Scott 880 m

11. Vernadsky Base

12. Mount Bigo

13. Slessor Peak 2370 m

14. Mount Reeves 2210 m

15. Arrowsmith Peninsula

16. Mount Mangin 1955 m

17. Blaicklock Island

18. Mount Gaudry 2565 m

19. Rothera Base

20. Mount Liotard 2225 m

21. Pourqoi Pas Island

22. San Martín Base

23. Stonington Island

24. Neny Fjord

25. Les Dents / The Needles

26. Mount Paris 2800 m

27. Mount Calais 2345 m

28. Mount Edgell 1675 m

29. Davies Top 2361 m

30. Mount Faith 2650 m

31. Mount Hope 2862 m

32. Mount Charity 2680 m

33. Mount Stephenson 2895 m

34. Mount Courtauld 2105 m

35. Mount Edred 2195 m

36. Colbert Mountains

37. Fossil Bluff Base

38. Mount Bagshawe 2200 m

39. Mount Jackson 3184m

40. Staccato Peaks

41. Stephenson Nunatak

42. Sky-Hi Nunataks 1753 m

43. Sweeney Mountains

The main mountain regions of the Antarctic Peninsula will be described here from north to south, detailing where possible the significant peaks of those areas and the climbing that has been done there, focusing on first ascents, significant events and remaining unclimbed objectives. For the purposes of this book the term Antarctic Peninsula refers to both the Peninsula mainland itself as well as the outlying islands. The South Orkney Islands and South Shetland Islands, whilst not geographically part of the Antarctic Peninsula, are included here owing to historical connection and for logistical efficiency.

SOUTH ORKNEY ISLANDS