Mount Vinson (4892m / 16,045ft) is the highest peak in Antarctica, situated in the Sentinel Range of the Ellsworth Mountains, 600 miles from the South Pole, Mount Vinson was first summited in 1966 by climbers led by Nicholas Clinch.
It was named after US Senator and Antarctica supporter, Carl Vinson. Just getting there is an adventure involving a 4 hour, 20000 mile plane trip on a Russian IIyushin 76 cargo plane from the tip of South America to the snow camp of Union Glacier Hills. Once there climbers are ferried via a Twin Otter to base camp. Climbs usually take place between December and February.
The climb is normally scheduled for about three weeks with the summit taking place around the middle of the time. However once there, weather can be the worst on the planet often stopping teams in their tracks for weeks. Similar to Denali, climbers carry all their personal gear plus a share of the group gear - no porters in Antarctica! The climb itself is a series of long snow slopes not requiring significant technical skills or gear
Vinson is a spectacular climb in an unique area. While not technically challenging, there are issue with weather and logistics. However, just getting to go there was a privilege.
The only reasonable way currently to get to Vinson is with ALE / ANI
ALE operates from Punta Arenas in the far south of Chile, the Magallanes region. Punta is well serviced by regular commercial flights from Santiago.
From Punta Arenas ALE operate an Ilyushin-76 aircraft which takes around four and a half hours to reach their camp at Union Glacier, in the southern Ellsworth Mountains. The ALE camp has impressive dining, medical and preparation facilities. Climbers erect and sleep in their own tents but eat in the ALE dining tent. Luxury!
Expedition Basics by Alan Arnette
Q: Which route is most popular?
A: There is really only one primary route from the West side which follows the Branscomb Glacier with two intermediate camps. In 2001 a team climbed via the East Face. In late 2008, one team climbed via the Dater/Hinckley glaciers to the Shinn Col before joining the normal route.
Q: How long will it take?
A: A Vinson climb can be incredibly short. With zero weather delays, you can arrive at Union Glacier, fly to Vinson Base Camp, climb to Low Camp then High Camp and summit plus return in about a week. But this almost never occurs. Count on three weeks with weather delays.
Q: How much does a standard climb cost with and without a guide?
A: The costs can range from $34,000 to $50,000 depending on who you use. See my Guide page for more details. The cost is so high due to the logistics of just getting to Antarctica. Once you are there you can see why .
Q: Do I need a permit to climb?
A: There are no permits but you must use Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions(ALE) to fly to Antarctica since they are the only ones to fly there.
Q: Do I really need a guide for Vinson?
A: Yes, ALE requires a guide to climb unless they approve you as an exception with proper experience and a team of 3 or more - don't count on it. They can provide a guide or any of the other guide companies will provide one. You must bring a two-way radio and a sat phone in my opinion and have the frequency or number of the local rescue resources already programmed in.
Q: How do you get on an expedition to climb Vinson?
A: Most reputable guides ask for your climbing resume and require some climbing experience. Ideally they want to see climbs of Rainier or Colorado or California 14ers. But most anyone can get on a Vinson commercial expedition these days without many questions. The guide services all run the same basic formula and are very conservative with weather, safety and risks. I believe ALE has a minimum age of 18 to fly to Antarctica.
Low Camp (2800m) is further up the Branscomb Glacier,
near the northern end of the west face of Vinson.
The fixed ropes up the rib start not far beyond camp
High Camp (3775m) is situated on a mostly flat spot at the top
of the west face of Vinson, at the northwestern edge of the vast
cwm leading up to Vinson's summit