For this leg of the trip, we would be flying the 100 miles (approx.) from Union Glacier to Vinson Base Camp in a Twin Otter (twin propeller) plane. We were in the third plane (of three) along with 3 other climbers and a guide from the MountainTrip company, whom to date, we had established quite a crossword rivalry with and were glad to have them keeping us company. Our guide (Jon) was also good friends with their guide (Jacob) and there was some sense that there was safety in numbers and if we kept the same schedule, that if anything were to go wrong, collectively, we would have options, in effect feeling like one bigger team with two guides, rather than the more limited options afforded to two smaller teams, each with one guide.
While Union Glacier had many mod cons and incredible food, you could quickly be lulled into a false sense of security – you were still in one of the wildest, most remote places on earth – and if you didn’t take care of yourself, (very) bad things could happen to you. Bravado aside, our guides do all the hard work and in my opinion, literally lead us “clients” by the nose (almost) to the summit. It is they that deserve the real credit.
So, on a bright and sunny Sunday morning, we happily made our way to the plane on what was a perfectly clear day, joining our luggage and headed for Vinson Base Camp.
Approximately 60 minutes later, after some of the most stunning views I had ever seen, we were landed, unpacked and getting our camp set up at Vinson Base Camp.
Moonscape shots from the plane (above) and the Twin Otter lands at VBC (below).
Several other teams had arrived earlier that day and weren’t sticking around – they had heard the weather window was good for 4-5 days and were moving straight up the hill to camp 1 in an attempt to summit during the good weather and get out ASAP. We were doing the opposite – staying at VBC tonight and then moving to C1 tomorrow. Already there was some concern we might be missing our opportunity to summit – but seemed too early to tell – and more importantly, I (if not the other 3 on my team) had climbed both on Aconcagua and Everest with our guide, Jon, so trusted his judgement calls. We rest tonight, then rope up, along with our backpacks and sleds and haul our gear to C1 in the morning.
At this point, it’s probably a good time to give you a reminder of the route (below). This clearly shows you Vinson Basecamp, where the Twin Otter lands squarely in the middle of that space and you can see the steep headwall and Mt. Vinson summit that is visible behind basecamp in the photos above. The route takes us on a long trek with packs & sleds, slowly ascending from VBC to C1, followed by a trip from C1 to C2 (high camp) via the fixed ropes – less mileage but more vertical that day. We then will rest for a day at high camp – as we hit ~12k feet there, before making a push in what can be quite a long summit day with 3,500 feet of ascent/descent over approx 8-10 miles.