8 January, 2013

The Col of False Hopes

Categorised under:
Alastair Lee, Athlete Blogs and News, Jason Pickles, Leo Houlding, Ulvetanna

The Col of False Hopes

Location: Mavericks, Ulvetanna Base Camp, S 71 49.146′, E 008 21.867′

Temperature: 8 C, clear, sunny, no clouds, 0 knots.

Date: 7/1/13

It’s hot, hot, hot here in sunny Antarctica. That means the temperature has soared above the freezing level and the wind has dropped off entirely.

On Ulvetanna looking down on advanced base camp

Although the slightest air movement will have you reaching for your down jacket and face mask. This is mid-summer, Queen Maud Land, Antarctica and conditions do not get any better than this. Judging by the size of the task in hand we are going to need them and a little bit of luck to achieve our objective.

Al Lee with cmaera on Ulvetanna

After a much needed rest day Stanley, Chris and me headed up the fixed ropes on the initial crack system from where Stanley free climbed the stunning final 60m hand crack to the ridge itself and I managed to get some shots and footage of the ascent, whilst my forearms cramped and my guts churned.

Expedition life looks glamorous but the reality is it’s hard, enduring and tough. The air here feels rarefied and many of the team have been suffering from symptoms similar to altitude sickness. The morning that I was to make my first contact with the wall it was my turn to have the constant sensation of wanting to vomit, feeling light headed and low energy.

Sean Stanley leary climbing on Ulvetanna

Even the gallons of adrenaline I produced throughout the 250m jumar to the high point wasn’t enough to flush the sickness out of me and by then I had the fatigue and dehydration to deal with. Even holding the camera and unclipping a carabina would have my arms going into spasm. Fortunately Stanley is made of sterner stuff and his almost bionic-like physical prowess saw him send the crack in fine style with no rests and minimal cursing.

Sean stanley leary climbing on Ulvetanna

From here Leo and Jason took up the reigns and pushed the rope up further along the ridge another 200m or so.

Leo Houlding climbing Ulvetanna

Yesterday Stanley and Chris once more headed up to the high point to try to reach the col on the other side of the massive Gendarme (pinnacle). This was a point where we had sighted our next camp, we were hoping for a good ledge system and for the ridge to be easy enough to ferry loads back and forth to stock the first wall camp. Stanley and Chris left at 7am and were out of radio contact all day until they finally appeared back over the ridge at the top of the crack system some 12 hours later and made the long abseil back to the relative comforts of advanced base camp.

Leo with ropes on Ulvetanna

The news wasn’t good, another epic day of stretching the ropes out, climbing loose and hollow flakes on crumbly rock in ice filled cracks only to find the col was barely big enough to stand on never mind set up a camp. Stanley described the col as ‘one of the most amazing spots I’ve ever been to, but not somewhere you’d want to hang out’.

Dave Reeves and Sean Stnaley Leary on Ulvetanna

It’s also a lot more exposed to the icy wind on the ridge and loses the sun earlier than the north face… Plus the ridge was waayyy longer than anticipated and not so technically straight forward as it appears from the ground. Even if the col had been big enough for a camp how would be get all our kit there? A tactical debate about the climb was to dominate the evening’s hang out and proved inconclusive. More dehydrated food, hot chocolate, protein mix and sleeping through the midnight sun followed.

Jason Pickles on Ulvetanna

We’re almost halfway through our time on the ice, and still so many questions remain as to how we are to make the ascent of the north-east ridge of Ulvetanna.

‘I still haven’t figured out how to solve this problem’ Leo told me whilst being filmed last night back at advanced base camp.

Ulvetanna team freezing

Today Leo and Jason have headed up the ridge again to try and unlock Ulvetanna’s secrets, have we missed something in the cold and fatigue, is there an option not yet considered?

I can only tell you the team’s spirit is holding strong and if anyone can figure this out, its Leo and the boys.

Team relaxing at Ulvetanna advanced base camp

Signing off Al Lee

Ulvetanna map

Berghaus Store

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You can find a wide range of gear for climbinghill walkingmountain biking and other activities.

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