"It seems to me, now that more than 10 years have passed, that this is for me the most beautiful place on Earth."
Huge harmonious white spaces unpolluted by human presence. The last never touched virgin landscapes. Antarctica. Haiku of ice and snow. For most, it’s a harsh lifeless area they’d never want to stay in. Rare scientists are witnessing the lowest temperatures ever measured on Earth and frightening wind speeds. Antarctica.
During the summer in the Antarctic, when the sun shines continuously 24 hours a day, the temperature never rises above -20 degrees. Anyway, I reckon, if we are lucky, the temperature at the top of Mount Vinson should not be lower than -50. Unlike the Arctic, which is actually a frozen sea surface, Antarctica is a real mainland with distinct mountain areas of which the highest chain is the Elsworth Mountains.
Apart from me and HRT cameraman Joško Bojić, the expedition to Antarctica consisted of three other Slovenes: Viktor Grošelj, Stane Klemenc and Rafko Vodišek. On January 1, 1997, our team arrived in the Argentine city of Punta Arenas in southern Chile. This place is said by many to be at the end of the world, but from there I travel even further to the very bottom of the globe to Antarctica. My goal is to climb the highest peak of Antarctica and thus realize the dream of conquering the highest peaks of all seven continents. We flew along the Strait of Magellan which was first discovered by the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan.
The strait stretches between Tierra del Fuego in the east and Magellanic Land in the west it was the first and only passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean to the digging of the Panama Canal. After 6 hours of flight, "Hercules" landed without much difficulty on the natural runway, which is actually an endless ice plain near the Patriot Hills. A light wind was blowing and it was terribly cold.
We immediately reloaded our equipment into one Twin Oter and immediately continued towards Mount Elsworth. Only from this small plane that flies much lower than the "Hercules" can I see the real Antarctic landscape furrowed by huge glaciers above which are the giant steep peaks of the Trans-Antarctic mountain range to which the Elsworth Mountains belong. There are hundreds of peaks that do not yet have names nor have anyone climbed them. I finally saw Mount Vinson, the highest in the Sentinel Mountains. The steep ridges that collapsed beneath Mount Vinson’s peak from the plane looked horrible. After we did one lap around the mountain the pilot aimed the plane at the Nimitz glacier and landed on the virgin snow with astonishing ease.
The weather was like a fiction, no breeze and the sun caressed us like on a beautiful day at a ski resort. The pilots still covered the aircraft engines with special covers and quickly joined us in setting up the tent and setting up camp. At the same time, they dedicated most of their stumps to the toilet, which they covered with ice cubes for ice protection, which they made with ice saws. There is one incredible persistence of all who come to Antarctica and that is that no rubbish should be left behind our departure from that icy Continent. All human waste, including feces, should be taken back and Antarctica left as it has been for centuries. Waste is disposed of in special containers and transported to South America, and excess equipment and equipment is stored in large caves under the ice that can accommodate even small aircraft flying to the South Pole or under Mount Vinson.
January is the middle of summer on Antarctica, the weather is the best then, which means that strong winds do not blow, and the most important thing is that the sun is constantly shining day and night. For climbing, it is a gift from God because the climber does not have to worry about lodging or bivouac. Looking at the top of Mount Vinson from the base camp at an altitude of 2000, it seemed very close at hand, which is due to the clean air, a kind of optical illusion more than 3000 meters separated us from the top. Previous climbers have followed the Browscomb Glacier to the saddle between Mount Sheen and Mount Vinson where the passage is very dangerous due to cracks and hanging glaciers on both sides.
I suggested to Vicky that it is best to try to climb the South Rock directly, following the right icy tongue that leads all the way to Vinson's shoulder.
We followed a steep rocky ridge climbing the smooth icy slopes that leaned against it. The line of the ascent direction was almost ideal because the ridge protected us from possible avalanches. After 5 hours of climbing, we reached the middle of the rock where we found small shelves in a rocky ridge where we found rest areas. He sat down on his backpack and fell asleep quickly. The Anarchic sun warmed me on the one hand, but I was quickly awakened by the cold on the other, which was in the shade. At midnight, after 10 hours of climbing, we climbed out of the rock onto the shoulder of the Mountain, a plateau from which the peak of Mount Vinson could be seen in the midnight Antarctic sun. Again after a short sleep, we headed uphill, now an even steeper rock towards the top which was only 500 meters above us. Finally, after more than 15 hours of climbing, we come to a flat but very sharp ridge adorned with snowy eaves. The very top of Mount Vinson rose about twenty feet above the ridge behind which the peaks of Mount Tyree, Gardner, and Sheen appeared.
We took the last few steps towards the top. It's over! I thought. The last of the highest continental peaks is under my feet. And what a peak! As far as the eye can see, the virgin white peaks of the Elsworth Antarctic Mountains can be seen. The air was crystal clear, like nowhere else. To the right to the north is the Rutford Ice Stream, a glacier measuring 40,000 square kilometers. To the south, all the way to the Patriot Hills, there is a chain of Transantarctic mountains, and its western flanks are covered like the sea by an endless ice sheet 3,000 meters thick in places. The view from the 5145-meter high peak of Mount Vinson is the most beautiful of all I have seen so far. At the same time, I felt the eerie loneliness and power of nature at the top. On the other hand, the speed with which we performed the ascent, only 15 hours of climbing, was fascinating, which created in me a second feeling of strength and joy of victory, which was further emphasized by the moment of hoisting the Croatian flag at the very top.
Story by: Stipe Božić, professional mountaineer and Himalayan climber