These Climbers Are Forging New Routes in Antarctica

After waiting out a massive storm for a week, this team of six climbers is taking on new summits in Queen Maud Land.

By Andrew Bisharat
Published 9 Apr 2019, 00:41 BST

After enduring a week of storms that kept them bunkered down in Russia’s Novo station, Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, Cedar Wright, Alex Honnold, Anna Pfaff, Savannah Cummins, and cameraman Pablo Durana finally arrived to basecamp on December 1, well over a week later than originally planned. The team has been making up for that lost time by climbing constantly and taking advantage of every moment the sun is shining to climb.

“We have been here for a week and a half, climbing our asses off,” reports Wright in a voice dispatch. “The objectives are super inspiring: wild, spiky granite peaks sweeping up out of a never-ending ocean of ice.”

Thus far, the team has reached around eight summits, which include a number of smaller formations in addition to some of the more prominent ones. Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright established a 1,200-foot rock route on the north ridge of Mount Fenris (8,136 feet; 2,480 meters), a major peak west of Ulvetanna, the “Wolf’s Tooth.” (The mountain is named after Fenrir, the most infamous wolf in Norse mythology.) They’re considering naming their route “Wolf Hybrid.”

Pfaff and Cummins, likely the first all-female climbing team and perhaps even the first female climbers to visit Queen Maud Land, summited Philiptanna via a ridge of rock and snow for their initial objective. They’ve since been scouting out other objectives to tackle as an all-female team.

On the biggest day of the trip yet, Wright, Honnold, Pfaff, and Cummins climbed a pre-existing 1,476-foot-long (450-meter-long) route called “Skywalk,” located on the narrow north buttress of Holtanna (8,694 feet; 2,650 meters), one of the most prominent big-walls in the range. Cummins said the route involved climbing “one of the most exposed knife-edged ridges I’ve ever seen.” The four climbers were also surprised to find no rappel anchors and had to down-climb the entire route. The mission ended up being a 16-hour round-trip push from basecamp.

Meanwhile, Chin and Anker have been hard at work in pushing a first ascent on the awesome north face of Ulvetanna (9,696 feet; 2,931 meters). They’ve fixed ropes nearly to a ridge and plan to soon launch on a big-wall-style ascent to finish the remainder of the route, which they expect will take at least four days.

This story is part of National Geographic's Expedition Antarctica series, which follows a team of climbers exploring Antarctica in an effort to summit untouched peaks and forge new routes in Queen Maud Land's Wolf Jaw massif.

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