PolarExplorers teams with Madison Mountaineering!
Ski to the South Pole and climb one of the Seven Summits in the same month. If you're headed to 90 degrees south, you might as well climb Vinson Massif since you're in the neighborhood (and vice versa!) Vinson rises 4,897 meters (16,067 feet) above sea level, and offers outstanding views of Mt. Gardiner, Mt. Shinn and the wondrous Antarctic landscape.
PolarExplorers is proud to partner with Garrett Madison of Madison Mountaineering for our Vinson expeditions. We've partnered to deliver the best South Pole / Vinson combo expedition of the globe. With PolarExplorer's expertise in polar travel and Garrett's expertise in mountaineering you will be joining the best.
Why join our combo expedition? Because we do it right.
We start with the Last Degree Expedition, skiing from S 89 degrees to S 90 degrees, the Geographic South Pole. The last degree has a physiological altitude of around 12,000 feet. This means that you'll be well acclimatized when you finish the last degree and head to Vinson. This makes for a safer, quicker and more efficient Vinson expedition. Most companies climb Vinson first. Which means several additional days of acclimatization and a less comfortable and less efficient ascent.
On our expedition you'll be the with the same guides and the same team for the duration. This means that by the time you reach Vinson you will be a well oiled and efficient team. Most other guide companies have separate Vinson and then South Pole teams and frequently separate guides. This means starting all over with a new team between expeditions.
Doing your combo expedition with PolarExplorers and Madison Mountaineering gives you a big advantage over doing it the standard way. Join us for this outstanding adventure!
- Equipment List
- Dates & Rates
- Trip Insurance
Vinson Massif Mountaineering Daily Itinerary
The following itinerary begins in Punta Arenas.
(Participants on the South Pole/Vinson combination will meet up with the group on day 3)
- Day 1
- Upon arriving in Punta Arenas you'll shuttle to your hotel and have time to unpack and get comfortable. A PolarExplorer guide will contact you and establish a time to review your kit to ensure that you have all the necessary items. Punta Arenas has a few outdoor stores and it is possible that you may be able to find any last minute necessities in town.
- Day 2
- A pre-flight briefing and reception in the late morning will provide an opportunity to meet other people on your team. You'll also have an opportunity to review the upcoming itinerary and ask remaining questions about the coming days. In the afternoon your luggage will be weighed and collected for the flight to Antarctica. The rest of the afternoon can be spent exploring Punta Arenas and the surrounding areas.
- Day 3
- From Punta Arenas you will travel by charter aircraft across the historic Drake Passage to the Antactica and the Union Glacier basecamp. Total flight time is approximately 5 hours. This flight is very weather dependent. It is not uncommon to be grounded in Punta Arenas due to the weather, or have to return to Punta Arenas if conditions near Union Glacier deteriorate. Weather permitting, we will land on the ice runway at Union Glacier and make our way to the basecamp. After setting up our camp, we'll have a chance to explore this unique basecamp and meet the staff who call it home for the season. There is a possibility that we will set off immediately for Vinson Massif. Make sure to have your camera handy! This is an incredible flight with outstanding views of the Sentinel Range as we approach Vinson.
- Day 4
- Upon reaching Vinson basecamp we will set up camp and make ourselves at home, giving ourselves time to acclimatize. Vinson basecamp is positioned on the west side of Vinson, on the Branscomb Glacier. It lies at about 7,000 feet (2,133 m). At basecamp we will reorganize our gear, review the route, and make last minute preparations for our ascent..
- Day 5-12
- For the next seven days we'll ascend & descend the Vinson Massif. Though we rate the climb as "moderately difficult", the extreme temperatures (-10°F to -40°F), and the likelihood of strong winds combine to make this a potentially very difficult climb. Given the remote location of the mountain, caution is the order of the day! Contact us for a detailed description of the route and to get more information here email@example.com
- Day 13
- Back at Vinson basecamp, we'll ready ourselves for our flight back to Union Glacier and onwards to Punta Arenas.
PolarExplorers Vinson Massif Expedition: Equipment List
Upon registration, you will receive a comprehensive gear that explains the importance of each item as well as gear recommendations from our past participants. Please contact us for our Vinson equipment list!.
The Vinson Massif Mountaineering Qualifications
Vinson is not considered a very technically demanding mountain, but what it lacks in technical difficulty it more than makes up for with extreme conditions and a very remote location. As a team member on our Vinson expeditions you should be ready to handle basic mountain / glacial travel, roped team travel, fixed line ascension, self arrest and crevasse rescue, all while managing your layers and physical needs. You should be able to carry 30 kilo (65 lbs).
This expedition will likely encounter extremely cold and windy conditions. Living in such conditions 24 hours a day can be very challenging. This expedition demands that you stay well-fed and hydrated. You need to be proactive about keeping yourself healthy and free of injury. Every ounce of training and preparation will help to make the expedition more enjoyable and safer. Please contact us with further questions here.
Mount Vinson (in combo with Last Degree Ski Expedition) Dates & Rates
2018-2019 Tentative Dates
December 31, 2018 – Jan 20, 2019
Please contact us for pricing
Includes all accommodations and meals while in Antarctica, guide(s), permits, communication & safety gear.
Expedition Trip Insurance
Trip cancellation insurance is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for every PolarExplorers expedition.
Medical Evacuation insurance with a minimum coverage of $300,000 USD is REQUIRED on every PolarExplorers expedition.
Ensure that your policy covers your activity, destination and any pre-existing medical conditions (to cover pre-existing medical conditions you may need to purchase your policy within 14 days or less of your initial deposit).
If you are mountaineering check that the policy covers roped technical mountain travel and the elevation limit that you will have.
Ripcord Insurance (For non-US residents use the Offer Code "ripcordintl" which will enable you to receive quotes and/or purchase policies.) If your expedition is more than USD $30,000 you may need to send an email to: ClientServices@redpointresolutions.com or call them at +1 617-307-4636
If you live in the USA you have additional options.
Travelex Insurance - Choose the TRAVEL SELECT policy and add the ADVENTURE PLUS PAK to receive appropriate medical evacuation coverage.
Travel Guard has comprehensive policies that include trip cancellation or you can purchase a Single Trip Medical Evacuation Important! You must include the optional Adventure Sports coverage upgrade if you are climbing any mountains or traveling in rope teams. (Pre-existing medical coverage is not available with this policy.)
Heading back to Punta Arenas
Great news! We have received word that Jim and Garrett will return to Punta Arenas tonight. The Ilyushin departed Punta Arenas mid day bound for Union Glacier. With at least an hour turn around time on the ground at UG we expect a late-night return to Punta Arenas. We are thrilled for them that the Vinson expedition was safe & successful (and pretty darn quick!)
It's a great feeling to board the Ilyushin knowing that the return to family and friends is close at hand. The four hour flight offers an excellent opportunity to reflect upon Antarctica and experiences had on the White Continent. Upon stepping off the plane at the Punta Arenas airport it is immediately apparent that you are no longer in Antarctica and not because of the view or the temperature. Rather the scents... of Earth and floral aromas, and the humidity. It's a wonderful treat to take a few deep breaths as you walk to the terminal.
It will be a late night, but no doubt it will feel GREAT to sleep in a proper bed and have a hot shower. Enjoy it Jim and Garrett, you deserve it!!
This will be the last post for our Last Degree / Vinson Combo expedition. We want to congratulate Jim and Garrett on a job well done, and give Jim a virtual bear hug for his Seven Summit success.
Be sure to join us again in April for our North Pole season!
Below: The Ilyushin at Union Glaicer's blue ice runway. The view from the cockpit is incredible! (previous expedition)
Back at Union Glacier
Jim and Garrett made it down safely from High Camp and all the way back to Union Glacier in one day (yesterday). No doubt the trek down was one filled with satisfaction. The anticipation and nerves that are often present on the ascent are gone allowing you to take in your surroundings with a new appreciation. And then there's the incredible flight back to Union Glacier which is stunning in every regard.
Union Glacier can feel like a small town after being gone for a while, and the creature comforts it provides make it a wonderful place to spend time.
If weather cooperates they hope to make it back to Punta Arenas today. This will be the completion of a very long journey for Jim (the Seven Summits) and one step closer to a different goal (the Grand Slam).
We will keep you posted. Hopefully the next blog will be posted from Punta Arenas!
Below: Union Glacier basecamp
We just received word that Jim and Garrett reached the summit of Mount Vinson today at 1:35 CST. We are so happy for them and especially proud of Jim for whom this marks the completion of his Seven Summits.
More to come later, when they are back at High Camp and have had a chance to rest. Check back again soon!
Below: The summit of Mt. Vinson (from previous expedition)
Rest Day At High Camp
Jim and Garrett had a nice and relaxing rest day though the nylon on the tent was surely flapping. They awoke to cold temperatures of -25 F with a stiff 15-20 knot wind. There's nothing sweeter than awaking to foul weather and being able to sleep in knowing you don't have to go outside. The tent takes on an oasis feel to it and you count your blessings all the more.
What do you do on a rest day? Rest! Or write, play cards if you have them, chat with a friend, read if you have a book or watch a movie on a device. The main goal is to let your body recuperate and acclimatize to the higher altitude. Jim and Garrett did all those things today and they are ready for their summit attempt. The forecast is for improving conditions overnight. If they awake to good weather they will go for the summit. If the weather still has some improving to do they'll wait until the next day. We will keep you posted!
To conserve their sat phone battery they opted not to send an audio dispatch tonight. They want to relay to everyone that they are comfortable, warm, rested and excited for the summit.
Check back again tomorrow!
Below: Another view of yesterday's fixed line ascent, approaching the top (previous expedition). Thanks to PE guide Taylor Sweitzer for the pic.
Ascending to High Camp
Today Jim and Garrett ascended from Vinson's Low Camp to High Camp. This is a fairly significant climb of nearly 3,000 feet up a steep slope with fixed lines. While not a complex ascent it is certainly not easy, with burdensome packs and steep pitches. It's slow work with a lot of heavy breathing. One step, then another, then maybe a short pause before repeating, over and over again. By the time you reach the end of the fixed lines and ascend a little further into the camp it is common to be completely exhausted. Fortunately the view (when you find the energy to look around) is incredible with the vastness of Antarctica spilling from of the mountains below.
High Camp is typically a small tent city, with multiple teams in various stages of their summit attempts. We like to climb Vinson after our Last Degree expedition for a few reasons: one of them is that by the time we get there most other Vinson teams have completed their climbs and we tend to have the mountain to ourselves (or at least almost to ourselves). It's certainly not the hustle and bustle of earlier in the season. This makes it all the more special.
Jim and Garrett plan to take a rest day at High Camp before attempting to reach the summit the following day. Weather is always a factor and they will keep their eye on the forecast. After today's ascent a little R & R will be good for the body (and soul!)
Make sure to listen to Jim's audio update here & check back again tomorrow for another update from the team.
Below: The top of the fixed lines before heading towards High Camp. (From a previous expedition - that's Keith in the photo)
Vinson team makes it to Low Camp
After receiving a "no-go" on the flight to Vinson Base Camp last night (poor visibility at Vinson) they awoke at Union Glacier to good news - the weather had cleared and the flight was on. If you want a recap of what the flight is like to Vinson Base Camp read yesterday's blog. In short it is AMAZING. Absolutely stunning - and we are so glad they had perfect weather to enjoy it at its best. After arriving at Vinson Base Camp the boys (Jim and Garrett) headed up the valley to Low Camp. For Jim it was likely a refreshing change to have something to look at with every passing step. It's not that the Last Degree has no views, but it's a lot of white! White and blue...or white and grey... or just plain white. But today on Vinson it was a bluebird day. This surely made the trek to Low Camp phenomenal. Mountains flank the sides of the valley that they ascended and every time they looked up they were surely thinking to themselves "this is awesome!" Tomorrow they plan to ascend to High Camp. They will likely have a morning that's not rushed. Low Camp is in a shadow in the early morning making it a cold place. As soon as the sun appears over the peaks of the surrounding mountains everything feels easier and more welcoming - a good reason to sleep in an extra half hour or two!
Jim posted two wonderful audio dispatches. Make sure to have a listen!
Below: Vinson Base Camp, which they left this morning. Thanks to SP/Vinson Alum Michael Creasy for the photo
En route to Punta Arenas and Vinson Basecamp!
When we last heard from our team they were back at Union Glacier, briefly, before they continue on to their next destinations. For Jim Holliday, Steve, John and Keith the next destination is Punta Arenas. For Jim Lumberg the next destination is Mt. Vinson.
The team departed the South Pole for the Union Glacier basecamp around 10:30 this morning. The flight across the interior of Antarctica is amazing if you can grasp the enormity of what is passing below. Often the passing shades of white lull you into a deep state of meditation or sleep and the flight passes quickly. Other times the flight provides the perfect opportunity to reflect about life on the polar plateau - skiing in white-outs, pulling a sled, the camaraderie of tent life, and the simplicity of expedition travel. The same is true for the flight back to Punta Arenas, which is roughly four hours. It's a good time to reflect.
When the team lands in Punta Arenas they'll transfer to their hotels where they can soak in the luxury of indoor, civilized living!
This is not the case for Jim Lumberg who continues today to Mount Vinson, the tallest mountain in Antarctica. Jim is in the good hands of guide Garrett Madison and together they plan to depart Union Glacier today for the roughly 40 minute flight to Vinson Basecamp. This must be one of the most scenic flights in all of Antarctica. Mountains everywhere. Big glaciers. Craggy peaks. It's stunning, and a great start to this amazing climb.
This will be the last post for the Last Degree Ski Expedition. Great job guys! We are proud of you! And for Jim Holiday a very special congratulations on the completion of your Grand Slam. Your mom is surely smiling :)
Check back regularly for the latest on Jim's ascent of Mt. Vison. If we receive any additional information tonight we will post it.
Below: The view from Union Glacier
A day at the South Pole
Welcome back! The team spent the day at the South Pole, taking pictures, reflecting on their experiences and relishing in their accomplishment. While they are still "rouging it" they have the luxury of heated tents that they can stand it (!!) and a basecamp chef who makes excellent meals. No doubt it feels like five star luxury to them! Everyone is doing good. They LOVE the messages that many of you are sending through to them. Soon (tomorrow if all goes as planned) four of the five team members will be returning to Punta Arenas, Chile, where hot showers, a real mattress and all the creature comforts of civilization await. Jim Lumberg will continue on to Mount Vinson where he will attempt to summit this tallest mountain in Antarctica. You can follow his progress here. We'll also post a final dispatch from Jim H, John, Steve & Keith in Punta Arenas.
We have three audio dispatches today and they are all excellent! Have a listen to their very heartfelt messages with touching shout outs to friends and family.
Below: Last night's celebration
Below: At the Geographic South Pole
The South Pole!
We are very proud to share that our South Pole Last Degree team reached the Geographic South Pole today at 4:30 PM local time today. This is a huge moment for all of our team members and we can't be more happy for them. For Jim Holliday it marks the completion of his Explorers Grand Slam (climbing the seven summits and skiing to both poles), an endeavor he started in 2005. Congratulations to all of our team - Jim, John, Steve, Jim and Keith for this remarkable achievement. Well done!
You might wonder what exactly is "local" time when you are standing a spot where all the time zones on the planet converge. The short answer is that it can be anytime you want! The longer answer is that people and organizations (such as the National Science Foundation or our Last Degree Ski team) choose the time zone that makes the most sense for them. The South Pole station runs on New Zealand time because all people flying to the Pole with the National Science Foundation are coming through New Zealand. Our team is on Chilean time, because they originally came from Chile. The 24 hour sun means that anytime can be morning, or night, or happy hour!
Here's a review of our team's day. They woke up to relatively clear skies and milder temperatures (around -15F), but still had a persistent wind. This wind kicked up the ground snow into a bit of a "ground blizzard" meaning that while there was blue sky overhead the visibility of the horizon was limited. It wasn't until they were 5 nautical miles from the Pole that they got their first glimpse of the station. The the wind died a little allowing for better view during their final approach. All in they skied 11 nautical miles today - which is their longest day yet - and a full day of skiing by any standards! As if to make the last day extra special they were rewarded with a double sun dog to their left for much of the day (see below if you don't know what this is).
The plan is to be at the Pole for two nights before flying back to Union Glacier basecamp on the 14th, and making a quick transfer of planes to get back to Punta Arenas same day. Jim Lumberg will be staying in Antarctica to climb Mt. Vinson, Antarctica's highest mountain, and we will continue to post updates from the expedition here. In the meantime there will be more stories to share, including their time at the South Pole.
A couple audio dispatches came through but they we cut off. As soon as we receive another dispatch we will post it. Additional photos to follow in tomorrow's post.
Below: A sun dog is a type of halo around the sun, caused by refraction of ice crystals. If often makes it look like there are three or four suns. This pic was taken at the South Pole, but not by our team. Hopefully they got some good shots of the double sun dog they saw today. (Image thanks to NOAA, Lieutenant (j.g.) Cindy McFee, NOAA Corps)
It warmed up today for our South Pole Last Degree ski team - but only by a few degrees! Even though it was warmer the wind was a constant companion, as it often is. Antarctic is the coldest, windiest, highest and driest continent on Earth.
The team is narrowing in on the pole. They expect to get there tomorrow if all goes as planned. Today they learned that the kite they saw yesterday was one of two French kiters who skied from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole. The skiers stayed for a couple days before turning around to kite-ski back. The winds, which typically flow from the Pole towards the coasts, will allow them to travel greater distances with the use of a kite, but it's a lot of work!
If the visibility improves tomorrow they can expect to see the station as far away as 7 or 8 miles (sometimes ever further). At first it feels like a trick on the eyes: a mirage-like blip that is vague, and seems to disappear if you look directly at it. Then, as you get closer, it begins to take shape. Large antennas and radar stations... then buildings... then smaller structures like trucks, then windows on the buildings. Maybe a person or two. It seems very surreal, sort of like the rebel station on the frozen planet of Hoth in the Star Wars series. Their approach to the station will be very deliberate, following a series of waypoints to avoid sensitive areas that are a part of scientific studies.
When we talked to the team they were having crackers and salami and preparing for bed. They are looking forward to an exciting day tomorrow. Our fingers are crossed that they reach the Pole!
We are hoping for an audio update but it has not yet arrived. We'll post it if/when it arrives.
Check back again tomorrow for another update from the team!
Below: If you could view our team from a distance as they ski to the Pole this is what they would look like:
Below: A typical tent kitchen scene cooking up an all-time favorite: Surf and turf!
Coldest Day Yet
It was a cold, cold day for our Last Degree skiers. The coldest yet, with a 10 kt wind straight out of the south. That means it was a headwind for Jim, John, Steve, Jim and Keith. But they did a good job of closing the gap to the South Pole, and they were rewarded with two signs that they are getting close. The first was a column of exhaust that, for a few moments, floated up from the horizon due south of them. Was it a plane taking off from the station? A different kind of exhaust? They couldn't tell but it was definitely something artificial to the environment and they are guessing it's from the station. The second thing they saw was a moving kite, likely from a kite skier. It was very far away, but distinctly a kite. Who was it? They don't know.
Days with a cold wind, like today's headwind, are especially difficult. The wind seems to constantly batter you and the cold always finds its way past your inner layers during breaks. Everything is harder including eating and drinking. Your muscles get tense early and stay that way. You have to consciously try to relax. Despite the challenging conditions they made good progress. They were even able to appreciate the beauty of the day as you'll hear in Jim Holliday's audio dispatch (below). Now that they are in their tents, enjoying hot drinks, quesadillas and dinner, they are slowly recovering and relishing the comfort provided by the thin nylon walls. On sunny days the tents can be remarkably warm, thanks to the large amounts of solar radiation in Antarctica. Like a greenhouse, the tent traps the heat and it can be quite comfortable. We wish them a great night's sleep under the 24 hour austral sun!
Jim Holliday hosts the audio dispatch today, in two parts. Have a listen!
If you'd like to send messages of support or ask questions to the team feel free to email Annie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Make sure to check back again tomorrow for another update from the Antarctic plateau!
Brrrr... this morning's thermometer reading!
The Team Is On A Roll
Our guys on the Last Degree are really finding their stride. Today they achieved another 8 nautical miles at a faster pace than yesterday AND with more challenging weather conditions! The team now has only 24nm standing between them and the Geographic South Pole. The weather this morning was clear and calm, but a weather system caught up with them in the afternoon bringing blowing snow and zero contrast conditions. The good news is that the weather system looks to have passed and there is more clear sky behind it. They rewarded their efforts with a dinner of hamburgers and laid down for an early sleep. Jim Lumberg describes the day very eloquently in the latest AUDIO UPDATE below. Have a listen!
For those of you unfamiliar with "zero contrast" conditions, here is an example from a previous expedition. As you can see, you can't see anything but the person in front of you. These conditions are particularly difficult due to the eye strain and occasionally vertigo that come with zero contrast visibility.
Almost Half Way To The Pole
The team had another momentous day travelling across the Antarctic Plateau. They covered 8 nautical miles in 9 hours of travel, taking short breaks every hour or so. The weather has remained beautiful and crisp with a light wind and temperatures cooling off in the afternoon to around -20. One of the ways they pass the time during the long hours of skiing is by trading riddles. John Gluckman shares the riddle of the day in today's AUDIO UPDATE. Have a listen below! The guys are all in good spirits and excited to be crossing the halfway mark tomorrow. Stay tuned for more!
January 8th South Pole Audio Update: Featuring Keith Heger and John Gluckman READ MORE...
Skiing Through a Wall of Weather
Today was the third day on trail for our Last Degree Ski team and they already have their camp systems dialled-in. They were on skis at 8:45AM; two hours after waking up. It was a beautiful bluebird day for the first several hours, but afternoon brought with it a wall of clouds approaching quickly from the horizon. Before long they were skiing in zero visibility (Jim Lumberg describes the experience in the AUDIO UPDATE). Luckily the clouds didn't last any they skied out the other side, back into sunshine... READ MORE
Getting Acclimatized on the Last Degree
The team had an excellent first full day on the ice today. As planned, they took the pace slow and skied for just under 5 hours covering 5 nautical miles, allowing several hours for rest and acclimatization in the afternoon. The weather has been stunning. -8°F in the sun this morning with a light wind from the South and mostly clear skies. After their afternoon naps, the guys gathered together for a dinner of whitefish, veggies, and pasta then settled down for the evening...READ MORE