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Caroline George Joins Teams for First Ascents of Gratitude, Diagon Alley in Antarctica
Posted on January 24, 2011

By Caroline George

This is day six at Union Glacier. The weather is stellar with not a cloud in the sky. The first plane out to Punta Arenas flew out last night, and we just found out that we won’t fly tonight because the Punta Arenas airport is out of … fuel! Hard to believe, but so it goes.

People are chomping at the bit to fly out, but I really can’t complain. My time at and around Union Glacier has been really amazing. I have done three new routes in the past three days on Mount Russman. One was an easy but steep snow couloir to the summit of Mount Russman (1,428 meters). I left camp after breakfast in a full-on white out, with cold temperatures and snowy weather, but after missing out on climbing a new peak the day before with Seth and Jake, I wanted to climb no matter what.

The team—Gordon and Simon (two British Army men we had met on Vinson) and I—skied the flat 3 kilometers to the backside of Mount Russman, roped up and left our skis at the base of the face. We couldn’t see the peak but decided for a couloir and made it to the top. I wish I could have seen camp 3,000 feet below, but the clouds prevented us from enjoying the view. Yet, it was a beautiful day just for being on the summit of the most obvious and closest peak to camp.

Yesterday, we woke up to beautiful blue skies and warmer temperatures. Victor—my friend with whom I did that first ascent the first day at Union—was going up his 10th first ascent in two weeks and asked me if I would join him and guide Richard Parks, a famous retired rugbyman who is trying to climb the seven summits and two poles in seven months. From camp, Mount Russman offers a plethora of steep snow and mixed lines, and lots of the first ascents have gone down in the past two weeks, but there were still a few lines to plum.

We headed for a V-shaped line, which offered up to 65-degree snow and ice. It was Richard’s first “first ascent” and I was so excited to guide him up it. He got to pick the route name: Gratitude. A beautiful name which describes perfectly how I also felt about climbing yet another new route in Antarctica and getting to be here all together with a great team and getting to hang out with amazing people. While I was climbing, Jake and Kent were also doing a first ascent on the same face, and Seth skied from the summit, putting amazing tracks down the face, visible from camp.

It was colder this morning, and when Victor, his client Nick, and I headed for what could be our last climb here, we weren’t sure we should start up the climb in such polar temperatures. As soon as the wind died, it was warm again, and we made quick progress up the 300 meters of snow and ice to the start of the route. There, the route switches from rock to ice and back to rock and is the only line, angling left, across the steep north facing wall (Read: south facing in the northern hemisphere). The rock was of poor quality but the line was so nice: I only wished I had more of these readily accessible lines in my backyard. We named it Diagon Alley, which coincided with finishing my audiobook, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. We headed back down to camp hoping for the news that we would fly out.

Hopefully, we will fly tomorrow. Otherwise, there are many other lines awaiting first ascents to keep us busy for another few days.

Author: - Monday, January 24th, 2011
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