New Route in Antarctica – Stage 6 out of 7 Completed!

Mt Cloos is a mountain of approx 1200m that rises about two miles east of Deloncle Bay in the Lemaire Channel of The Antarctic Peninsular. The mountain was climbed on the 8th December by Phil Wickens, Derek Buckle, Mike Fletcher and myself. The route we took went under a hazardous serac band on the east face. It then traversed above the seracs and the crux of the route was pulliing from a verticalish ice funnel onto the summit snow slopes. We summitted at approx 8pm on the 8th and were back in basecamp at around about midnight.

I’ve pasted some pictures and a diary extract from the day of the ascent.

Thank you to all of our sponsors for supporting this. Thank you also Cath Hew and Darrell Day from yacht The Spirit of Sydney, The Mountaineering Council of Scotland, The Gino Watkins Memorial Fund and to Lyon Equipment.

tomorrow is a day when I know I will climb hard and climb well. The day began; and it was one of those days when it just all comes together. By midday we have climbed an unclimbed summit. Me, Phil, Richmond McIntyre, Derek and Mike on the sub summit of Mt Cloos that is called Cape Cloos. From below it looked like it might be the highest point. ‘There’s only one problem with this’ says Derek as we sat on the summit. ‘It ain’t the highest point.’

There is however an unfortunate ‘Houston; we have a problem’ kind of an issue with the highest point – The large seracs that shield the first pitch of the route. Rich decided to go back to base camp at this point and it was just myself; Phil Wickens; Derek Buckle and Mike Fletcher who were up for the route. It was such a beautiful mountain; a real climber’s mountain; steep; flanked with rock buttresses and seracs – I really wanted to pull this off. Underneath the seracs I am deafened by their pregnant silence. Just a few feet above me Derek and Phil are leading boldly out across the steep ice. They climb well; pioneering the first ascent of this beautiful mountain on good ice. The wind is howling but now the Seracs of Damocles below us it feels like gravity will lessen her force for us today. The team in front leave screws which are thankfully clipped by Mike and me. The wind is strong, the temperatures are around -25 degrees; but we’re having a day that will be burned into our memories forever in these remote mountains. It’s something I’ve always known…. I love it; I just love it.

Pitch 2 takes us across the face. Pitch 3 features some spicy vertical ice, then a difficult move to pull from the vertical ice onto the summit snow slopes with a good screw below and then we are on the summit slopes; greeted by Derek and Phil who are back on the way down. For the ascent myself and Mike have been swapping leads; but Phil and Derek have had a rope to themselves ahead of us and they have placed all the gear.

We all agree that the key to getting down is to simply reverse down-climb pitch 3 and pitch 2 because the traverse above the seracs means that it makes no sense to abseil. Derek goes first; then Phil on a hastily arranged snow stake belay that I’m still equalising as he downclimbs and Mike pays out the rope. Then Mike leaves me to downclimb the route crux and I’m keeping him on a tight rope and and I’m all so alone on the summit slopes with what feels like a final exam in climbing below me.

There are various options to protect me on downclimbing the crux of the route which went at about Scottish V. I could place a backrope or get Mike to place some extra gear below the crux. It feels like the best option is to keep things very simple; be bold; and just reverse the moves I climbed about an hour ago. I know that I won’t be able to communicate with Mike because of the sound of the wind and I calculate that there is far more chance of me having issues with a backrope when out of communication with my partner than there is of me falling off. ‘You can do this’, I tell myself.

I’ve asked the rest of the team to jack-boot the crux of the route (the place where the ice goes from steep summit slopes to verticalish) into submission; which they have done to fine effect and I force myself to keep my mental state as icy cool as the wind that howls around us with chilling frigidity (even tho’ in reality I am actually scared stupid). Now I have have downclimbed the crux and I’m back on the traverse; as the wind howls like a squadron of 747’s and the bitter cold snarls my layers of clothing like a wild animal.

Derek has already set up an abseil for the ice pitch under the seracs now and now there is a call over the radio. It is 8pm and we are still on the mountain. It’s Stu Gallagher. ‘Everthing ok up there?’ he says in a voice that sounds worried ‘You’ve been a while’. Derek’s response was short and simple. ‘It’s hard.’ We rap the final pitch. I faff coiling the ropes and then we’re skiing down; just cruising on the ski’s; over the gentle slopes down to our camp and it feels good. Back in the tent I get a plate of hot food from Rich and I collapse into my sleeping bag.

We may be out on a bit of a limb. The Lemaire Channel may be ice choked. We may have to wait on the shore and make Shackleton-style improvisations until we can get out of here; but we have climbed the route; and it feels so good. In the morning we get more info on ice conditions in the Lemaire Channel from Darrel over the radio. The words that I hear make my heart go on an express-elevator into my shoes. We might not be able to get picked up today. In the words of Shackleton; it is time to; ‘Put foot of hope into stirrip of patience.’….

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