Vinson Challenge

is climbing the highest mountain in Antarctica in support of the CINI and Marie Curie charities...


On top of the world at the bottom of the world... summiting Mount Vinson.  Credit: David Hamilton
Climbing the highest peak in Antarctica by the standard route usually takes between five and nine days. It begins at Vinson Base Camp at 2,150m (7,000 feet) on the Branscomb Glacier, on the western side of the Ellsworth Mountains. The summit pyramid is clearly visible from the Camp, along with the peaks of the neighbouring mountains.

Because Lord Forsyth's challenge will take place during the Antarctic summer, there will be 24-hour daylight during the climb. However, temperatures can plummet in the shadow of the mountain.

Lord Forsyth and his guide David Hamilton will set two intermediate camps prior to their attempt on the summit. The route to Low Camp follows the gradual rise of the Branscomb Glacier as it sweeps to the north below the steep western face. The pair will travel roped at all times due to the danger of crevasses. After 9km (5.5 miles), Low Camp is reached at 2,880m (9,100 feet).

The Why? question...
The route above Low Camp traverses the broad spur at the northern edge of the Branscomb Ridge and usually takes between six and eight hours travel. The climbers must ascend fixed ropes on snow slopes of up to 45 degrees, with some
parts rocky and some covered in blue ice.

High Camp is reached at an elevation of 4,000m (13,200 feet) and the route then rises approximately 900m (3,000 feet) to the summit in 7km (4.5 miles) of travel. Depending on weather and fitness, the climbers may continue or stay overnight at High Camp.

The final route to the summit at 4,892 metres (16,067 feet) is exposed and subject to high winds. The majority is along the Vinson Summit Glacier, with a short steeper snow and ice slope, and a spectacular rocky summit ridge. On a clear day the view of the other Ellsworth mountains from the summit of Vinson is unforgetable (see above). Mounts Gardner, Tyree, Epperly and Shinn dominate the foreground, surrounded by a multitude of impressive peaks that rise from the vast ice sheet below. Here at the top of Antarctica, the true scale and majesty of the continent are overwhelmingly apparent.

Climbers on Mount Vinson are required to follow a stringent environmental policy. Unlike other peaks around the world, the snow on Vinson does not melt in the summer, so any signs of the climbers' passing will remain for decades. For this reason, nothing is left on the mountain. All rubbish and solid human waste is returned to Base Camp, and from there it is transported back to ALE Camp and onward to Chile for disposal. Urine and grey water are concentrated in designated sites.


The key to success in these conditions is to wear multiple lightweight layers, allowing climbers to adjust to temperature and wind changes over the course of a day so that they get neither too cold nor too hot and begin to sweat.
The joy of six...

On Mount Vinson the combined effects of the extreme Antarctic cold and wind are exacerbated by the human body's difficulty in staying warm at altitude. The decreased barometric pressure means Vinson's summit feels more like 5,500m (18,000 feet).

Climbers are advised to wear no fewer than six layers of clothing (see panel ), along with boots, gloves and a face mask with goggles. A good-fitting face mask is essential, as the majority of frostbite injuries to the face occur when climbers either have a mask that exposes flesh, or if the mask is moved because the climber's goggles mist-up.

Other personal equipment required includes a sleeping bag and mat, ice axe, ski poles, carabiners, ascenders and crampons.


Anyone attempting to climb Mount Vinson must have good mountaineering and glacier travel skills. Lord Forsyth is an experienced climber, who started rock, snow and ice climbing in his teens. Within the past five years he has successfully climbed two of the other 'Seven Summits' – Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa and Aconcagua in Argentina.

During 2010, Lord Forsyth is undertaking a rigorous customised training programme in preparation for climbing Mount Vinson, involving practice climbs in Scotland, ice-climbing on Ben Nevis and Mont Blanc, and an exercise regime designed to build upper and lower body strength.

The weather

Snowfall in Antarctica is so low that the continent has been called 'the world's coldest desert'. The interior receives less than 3cm (1 inch) of precipitation a year, making it the driest continent on Earth. Some scientists believe that no rain or snow has fallen in some of the dry valleys in Victoria Land for two million years!

Mean temperatures inland during the coldest month vary from –40°F to –94°F, and in the warmest month from 5°F to –31°F. The lowest temperature recorded in Antarctica was –128.6°F in 1983.

Information courtesy of Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions.         Images courtesy of David Hamilton of High Adventure.