ANTARCTIC SUMMIT SPREE CONTINUES

Posted on: January 16, 2007


Peaks at the northern end of the Sentinel Range, Antarctica. From left to right: Bentley (4.137m); Sisu (ca 4050m); Anderson (4144m). Marked is the route taken by the Omega expedition on the first ascent of Anderson via the west face. [Photo] Damien Gildea

The success of the Omega Foundation expedition in climbing the previously virgin Rutford (GPS surveyed at 4477m) on December 9 and 10, 2006—see the December 12 Newswire—left Anderson (ca. 4157m), toward the northern end of the Sentinels, as the highest unclimbed mountain in the range. This situation was to change exactly one month later when Omega members Jed Brown and Damien Gildea climbed a fine mixed route up the west face to the summit. Leaving their Trimble 5700 GPS on top after a 13-hour ascent, Brown and Gildea descended and the following day their teammates Maria Paz Ibarra and Camilio Rada summited again via a slightly different route and brought the GPS safely back to camp. Data collected confirmed the altitude as 4143.6m.

Jed Brown climbing the upper west face of Anderson (4144m), previously the highest unclimbed mountain in the Sentinel Range, Antarctica, during the first ascent. [Photo] Damien Gildea

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After climbing Rutford, the team sledged back to Vinson base camp, where they rested for a few days, in which period Ibarra and Rada climbed a new route on the south face of Mt. Shinn (4661m). All four climbers were then flown on to the Embree Glacier, east of the Northern Sentinels—only the third visit to this glacier by any party. After an attempt on Mt. Todd (ca. 3600m), the team went for Mt. Bentley, which they climbed on December 29 (Brown and Gildea; Ibarra and Rada climbed it on the 30th) via a new route up the northeast ridge. This gave a largely moderate climb, finishing with a very sharp arete above the steeper upper face. Bentley, which had been previously estimated at 4145m, was first climbed in 1998 by Patrick Degerman and Gustafsson via the south ridge, and the same year Bob Elias and Wally Berg were forced back on the northeast ridge just a handshake from the summit. When processed, December's GPS data showed the height to be 4137 meters, only eight meters lower than the USGS estimate.

On New Year's Eve all but Gildea made the first ascent of Mt. Press (USGS 3760m), the other main Embree climbing objective on the Omega hit list. However, a second round on Todd triggered a nasty windslab avalanche and the peak remains unclimbed.

In the first few days of January, the team pulled their sleds down the Embree Glacier, crossed a couple of cols to reach the huge expanse of flat ice on the west side of the Northern Sentinels, then headed back south to establish a new base camp below the west face of Anderson. The obvious line is a big open couloir on the left side of the face leading to the upper north ridge. However, this now looked more broken and dangerous than photos from previous years, and given the fright team members had experienced on Todd, they opted for the safer, rocky mixed face to the right. This turned out to be ca 1500-meters high and quite sustained, though not really difficult at any point. The steepest climbing was found on the last few meters to the summit: a body-length or two of near-vertical rock on huge, positive holds. Gildea, who has now been on eight expeditions to the Antarctic, feels this is the best route he has ever climbed there. However, when low on the face during the descent he experienced unprecedented hot temperatures: the whole lower wall was shiny with melted ice and running water. While the lower west face of Anderson receives a lot of afternoon sun, there is simply no doubting the effect of climate change in this part of the world.

Jed Brown with the GPS on the summit of Anderson after the first ascent. Date processed from the receiver confirmed an altitude of 4143.6m, 13 meters lower than its previous USGS estimate. [Photo] Damien Gildea

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