Expedición Monte Tyree - Antartica

Dec 31

Dispatch #18

Published at 16:45
Dispatch created from email
Hi all,

"He Kept Regular Hours" - imagine having that on your gravestone? Not ours.

Camilo and I left our camp around 330pm on the 27th and reached the summit of Mt Epperly just before midday on the 28th, after climbing continuously for around 20hrs up a new route on the south face over 2100m long. We spent almost as long descending, while Pachi and Jarmila repeated the route a bit quicker to retrieve the GPS. Everyone was back safe in the tents at camp at 0145 on the 29th.

The route was longest, hardest, most sustained and most exhausting any of the Omega GPS expeditions have done in Antarctica, starting at around 2400m and finishing around 4510m, with a few pitches of moderate technical rockclimbing at the top and lots of sustained ice, snow and mixed terrain below. There wasn't a single remotely flat spot to rest in from the bottom to the summit plateau. Deep soft snow in the upper couloir made progress even slower, but really the whole face was not in good condition, with a layer of loose, slippery snow over much of the slope.

Camilo and I had looked at photos of the mountain and this face for years and wondered if the route would go. The key was the top end of the obvious big couloir. It didn't seem to continue up to the summit plateau and would thus require and exit and some technical climbing over rock right at the top to escape - but really we couldn't tell, we just had to go up and see.
So when we got up there it did look like the couloir choked down to nothing, so we climbed left up out of the couloir and wasted (as it turned out) at least two hours stuffing around with dangerous climbing over terrible snow and bad rock along a small ridge. In the end this only got us to a point at the top of the couloir that we could now see was in fact continuous - after rising nearly 2000m the snow and ice narrowed into a short gully just over body-width to finish (the girls went straight up this, avoiding the ridge).
It was after this we did two roped pitches with some rock moves to finish the face and step onto the summit plateau. From there it was a short walk over a hump or two to confront the final summit tower, not as bad as it looked but still a sting in the tail. Or the first sting, at least. We roped up for some more rock moves up the tower and headed to the highest of the three cornices we could see up high. Climbing up and around this, into the sun on the east face, we were on top. But not quite. As we knew, the highest point of Epperly is actually a short steep rock pinnacle, and this was now right in front of us - close enough to spit on and only a few metres above us. Though the ice on it looked OK, the rock moves to get up on it were bulgy and awkward-looking, sort of overhanging and all wildly exposed over a 2000m drop. So we didn't climb it - we had neither the hardware nor the energy.
The top of this rock was around 3m above us, so we didn't quite stand on top of Epperly. We put the GPS on the highest point of the hollow-sounding cornice and left it. I did try to cross part of the cornice to gain the
base of the rock pinnacle but my foot punched through one of Camilo's steps into air and my axe did the same when I tried to steady myself. Not worth it. We could see a piton with a sling on it sticking out of a crack at the base of the pinnacle, no doubt from Erhard Loretan, the only other person ever to have been up here (in 1995). We assume he stood on top, or at least tried to.

So, we feel we 'climbed Epperly' - climbing 2100m of a new route but missing the last 3m - but are frustrated that we could not stand right on top. The summit is the highest point. There is only one. We weren't on it.

The preliminary (still unconfirmed) height of 4512m means that Epperly is significantly higher than anyone thought - the old height was 4359m - which means it shoots from around 10th highest in Antarctica to 6th - maybe even 5th, depending how accurate is the height of Mt Kirkpatrick, way over in the Transantarctics. Could the continent's five highest mountains be all right here in the Sentinel Range?

But those are just facts. The whole climb was quite a mental trip. On the way up the upper couloir there was three of us - at least in my mind. Me, Camilo and some guy whose name I never did catch. He was 'in charge of the couloir' or something - not that he did any bloody trail-breaking for us.
This 'sense of other' is pretty common in extreme situations and high altitude but I'd never experienced it so strongly before. It wasn't even that I was 'convinced' there was someone else with us - I accepted it so automatically there was no question of his presence, I didn't need any convincing, he was just there with us. Then, on the way down, we met the girls on the way up. As we continued down, Pachi became convinced there were three of us - a third person below with me and Camilo. Who was this fifth person in our team? Near the bottom of the route, Camilo was far ahead, out of sight, and I was climbing alone down the huge slope toward the bergschrund. I kept thinking that there was a woman at a desk over at the base of the rock face, monitoring my climbing as she commented to a panel. I could 'see' her out of the corner of my eye and hear their distant voices.
As I approached the three crevasses that constitute the bergschrund at the base, I'd been going around 40hrs with no sleep, very little food and very little fluid. I saw the track over and above the cracks and was convinced that crowds of climbers had made them. I thought "If all these people went this way then I better go this way too" but then had to stop and shake it into my head that only me, Camilo, Pachi and Jarmila had been up here in the last 12 years, and only Camilo had so far gone down. Just the four of us - no crowds. Time to get my shit together. In terrible poor light and contrast I picked my way over the cracks and plunged down to the skis - just me, totally wasted - and a huge sense of relief.

At this stage we're thinking of calling the route "The Fifth Element".

It's now late on New Year's Eve. No party here, but we're gradually less sore and stiff than we were a day or so ago. 4000m of frontpointing takes a toll on feet, calves and everything else and we're still not 100% recovered but are almost there. A week remains and Tyree still to go.

There's some more pics at www.expenews.org and some background on Epperly in the older Updates section at www.antarcticmountains.com
Images:
- The Fifth Element - our new route on the 2000m south face of Mt Epperly
- Jarmila low on the route, taken by Pachi
- The Fifth Element (?) entering Camilo's Cilogear rucksack via a shaft of ligh, on the crappy off-route ridge at the top of the couloir
- Camilo on the summit plateau. Mt Gardner left background, Mt Tyree right background
- Damo on the summit. Mt Shinn summit left background, Vinson summit centre far background
- Damo back in the tent, wasted - and it's not even New Year's Eve yet.

Note:
The name of the new route climbed by Jarmila and Pachi on the west face of Vinson before Christmas is now the "Chilena-Slovak Route".

Happy New Year to everyone.

D.
  • Name: Epperly Camp
  • Elevation: 2352 m
  • Latitude: 78° 2813South
  • Longitude: 85° 5832West

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