So after our first evening at VBC, we were delighted to see the good weather continue and ourselves and our companions from MountainTrip all roped up and began the slow and steady trek to C1. IMG had promised that the Vinson climb would be like a mini-Denali, and I could now partly see why. For this leg of the trip, we 5 (4 climbers and Jon guiding) would be roped together, hauling our sleds behind us – much as you do in the first few days on Denali, as while the route is well traveled, you are still crossing over crevasse-ridden territory, and being on a roped team would help mitigate any issues in the event one or other of us ran into trouble.
The scenery was terrific, as we crested the hill above base camp, looking ahead at the head wall and ice fall and beyond to the upper mountain, and back at the view out past VBC and beyond to a sea of white as far as the eye could see (below).
Happy to report, that other than the usual joys of roped team travel – i.e. getting used to one another and synching our individual paces, the day itself passed off without any issue. While hauling a sled uphill is no treat, it can oftentimes be far more preferable to pulling one downhill, as in the latter case, the momentum of the sled takes on a life of it’s own, and without a diligent rope partner behind you to belay the sled, you can be in the unfortunate situation of having the sled repeatedly hit the back of your legs and/or move ahead of you – which makes for a trying time (speaking from experience!)
We successfully navigated the 6-7 miles, stopping en route several times for breaks, tracking along the bottom of the head wall, for the most part, just out of reach of the avalanche danger zone and arrived at C1 approx 5-6 hours later – a good day by an standards. As you can see from the photos, this was not a cold day – if anything we needed to strip down layers to base thermal and maybe a fleece – and I was sweating. In Antarctica. Let that sink in 🙂
C1 itself is situated at the foot of where the head wall ends, in the far left corner of the valley where the Branscomb Glacier emanates from.
First glimpse of the head wall itself, and the tiny dots that were climbers ascending to C2 that day, was a little intimidating. It just looked big and likely to take quite a while. Photo below shows you three different teams in various stages of traveling up the head wall on our rest day (Tues) highlighted with red circles – as you can see, the white on white of the snow & landscape belies the sheer scale of the place.
We later heard some horror stories of teams taking up to 12hrs+ that day in reaching high camp – a feat we did not plan to replicate. Jon’s plan was to take another rest day (Tues) here at C1, ascend to C2 the following day (Weds), followed by rest day (Thurs) there and summit the day after (Fri) – all weather permitting, of course.
For those keen observers, the small avalanche in the above photo was triggered around 1AM Tuesday (I believe) when the North Face skiers made a line down the face. Happy to report we could see the ski tracks for everyone descending back on down to VBC, so no one injured and they then flew out to tackle some other mountains.
We were certainly more than a little impatient whiling away the hours at C1 that rest day, but everyone champing at the bit now and happy in the knowledge that instead of a more typical carry/move involving two trips up the head wall over two days, we would simply do one heavier, single move – and be done in a day. Every cloud, right?!? Speaking of – see below for his & hers loos with a view…