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Omega Foundation Makes First Ascent of Mt. Ryan

Damien Gildea and Maria Paz “Pachi” Ibarra climb to the virgin summit of Mt. Ryan (ca. 3890m), Sentinel Range, Antarctica, in bad weather. The Omega Foundation team was able to tag this previously unclimbed peak, but bad weather may keep them from their final objective of the 2007-8 expedition, Mt. Tyree, which lies just south of Ryan. [Photo] Damien Gildea collection

Editor’s Note: Correspondent Damien Gildea sent Alpinist the following transmission about the Omega Foundation team’s progress in Antarctica. Previous reports of their 2007-8 Antarctica expedition are the December 25 and January 3 NewsWires.

We were forced back from our attempt on Mt. Tyree. Friday and Saturday, January 4-5, were nice in camp but with clouds and wind high on Gardner. Sunday came clear, though, as expected, so we set off in the afternoon up the normal route on Gardner.

We’d climbed this route two years ago, summiting Gardner and re-surveying it, but now we had heavier packs as we hoped to set a small camp high on the east side of Gardner from which to launch an attempt across the adjoining ridge to Tyree–the original way Tyree was climbed in January of 1967. The weather was fantastic, maybe too hot, and we climbed strongly, feeling great, and made good time up to a point high on the east side of Gardner. Finding a nice flat spot we pitched the Bibler at 4120m, only a bit later realizing that we were only about 20 meters from the remains of the 1967 high camp, where we found a Thermos, wands and various foodstuffs. The wind was gusting a bit by this time, but things still looked good, and we were really positive.

We spent a long time melting snow for water, having drinks and something to eat, then trying to get some sleep. Pachi and Camilo both brought their sleeping bags; I just lay in the middle in my down jacket and Primaloft pants with my feet wrapped in another jacket–all toasty warm, even waking up too hot. Clearly it was getting windier outside but there were long lulls too, so we still felt confident. Probably only a half hour before we got out to start, around 2 p.m. on Monday, Tyree clouded over quite quickly from the west, the summit disappeared, and lots of clouds moved in, now with some snow blowing in the wind.

We decided it was not on; we’d have to go down and try again later, but we agreed to recce the route ahead a bit anyway for next time. This we did, though not too far, as it was clear we needed to climb higher before descending to the adjoining col, and the weather was getting worse. So down we headed, now pretty much in total whiteout, following the GPS. But at the point we turned west to descend off the plateau, we decided to take the opportunity, as meagre as it was, to head north across the big plateau and make the first ascent of Mt. Ryan (ca. 3890m), a newly-named and designated peak at the northern tip of the Gardner massif. This was a very easy climb from this side, though the southern side is extremely steep and overhung with a massive cornice, so we were quickly on top and running the GPS.

More descending in whiteout brought us to our turn-off, but now the winds had blown the snow off vast sections of the plateau, and we had to cross a big expanse of concrete-hard, slippery blue ice. One section we rigged an Abalakov ice thread and did an almost-horizontal rappel across.

Damien Gildea nearing the top of the Gardner couloir. [Photo] Damien Gildea collection

The surface was too slippery, and a fall here would be too serious, as the slope gently dropped away out of sight. Glad to have that done, we found our way back down into the top of the big couloir and made good time down, though it was hard on the knees as always. The weather cleared up nicely on the way down, making us think we’d made a terrible mistake, but we could still hear the wind howling up high in the clear sky, and it again got worse later in the evening. We regained the tents at 2 a.m. on Tuesday, January 8, after another look at the 1966-7 cache, now very exposed by more wind and less snow. That whole area is now much more exposed than it was two years ago, with lots of crevasses now obvious (and some only thinly bridged) and much more of the cache visible.

So we’ve been resting and eating ever since; the weather was forecast to be bad for a couple of days, with severe winds up high. We can’t see the top half of the mountains right now, and we’ve had light snow for most of the last twenty-four hours. We can only stay a couple of days more before we have to leave; we’ve already extended beyond our original date, so if it doesn’t get better in the next forty-eight hours or so, then it’s all over.

AUSPOS processed our data from Mt. Epperly, with the result that Epperly (minus the rock pinnacle!) is 4508 meters high, likely 4511m high atop the pinnacle. This puts it in sixth place overall, though the 4528m for Kirkpatrick (currently fifth highest in Antarctica) is possibly too high.