We’re continuing the dual reporting from our in time parallel, yet directionally opposite adventures in Antarctica. Things haven’t quite been going as planned neither in the horizontal nor vertical directions, and both teams have had to deal with the consequences of very delayed starts, and have had to change their plans.
Stein P Åsheim and jan-Gunnar Winther have aborted their attempt to ski to the South Pole.
photo: Norwegian Polar Institute
THE SOUTH POLE 2011 EXPEDITION
On the horizontal plane, our four man team has since long begun to fear that they would not reach the South Pole as planned, on the same day as Amundsen and in time for the centennial ceremony for Amundsen’s discovery of the South Pole. With just one day and only 80km left, after a total of 1231 skied kilometers, two of the team’s members, director of the Norwegian Polar Institute, Jan-Gunnar Winther, and Norwegian adventurer Stein P. Åsheim, were picked up by plane and flown to the Pole in order to take part in the ceremony, and even go for a little ski with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. The two others, Olympic Gold Medalist and World Cup Ski Champion, Vegard Ulvang, and historian Harald Dag Jølle, continued on skis and managed to arrive at the south pole on the same date as Amundsen did one hundred years earlier, thus fulfilling the expedition’s mission of following Amundsens route and timing as closely as possible. Congratulations!
Multiple Olympic cross country skiing gold medalist Vegard Ulvang together with Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (right), after finally making it to the South Pole. Photo: Jens Stoltenberg on facebook
ULVETANNA 2011 EXPEDITION
The vertical expedition is going even further from planned. Robert Caspersen and his team have learned that their original objective, the East Ridge, is not within reach. After waiting a long time before flying out from the Russian base “Novo”, and even having to abort the first attempt to fly into the mountains, only getting to see the top of their objective through the fog, Robert has now reported that large parts of their originally planned route is covered in snow, which would make it impossible to complete this climb, at least in time.
Robert describes the part of their original planned route causing problems for them now, in our previous post, like “…a long section of low angled terrain. This terrain can at times be partly covered in snow, depending on conditions. We know from experience that in this case the snow will be unconsolidated, and on top of friable, slippery and compact slabs it will be interesting…. We don’t really know the length of this section along the gradually sharpening ridge, but we estimate it to be between 700 and 900 metres long.” And is also well prepared for this situation: “…last time, in 2006 we also had a clear plan to climb the east face but ended up climbing the north face – so who knows what’s going to happen this time? This is part of the adventure.”
The small Basler BT-67 aircraft with skis that has taken Robert and his team into Fenriskjeften on the second attempt.
New objective: After skiing to the other side of the mountain with all their equipment, and setting up a new base camp, Robert reports they have had 500 vertical meters of fantastic climbing on the South Wall, and that they have set up advanced camp from where they are planning a one-push attempt on their new objective, the South Ridge. This is, according to the “Climbing History Queen Maud Land” by Robert Caspersen himself, below, the same as French climbers Dimitry, Sébastian and Didier attempted during the 08/09 season, when they had to turn back 150 meters from the top.
Ulvetanna, with the expedition’s originally planned route on the left, and two other routes to the right.
Arial overview of Ulvetanna, with the South Wall and South Ridge to the left in the picture being the team’s new objective, as far as we understand.
Enjoy Robert’s historic summary below, and stay tuned for new updates from Fenriskjeften.
“Climbing History Queen Maud Land, Antarctica
The climbing history of Queen Maud Land started the southern summer of 1993/1994 when Ivar Tollefsen led an expedition to Orvinfjella and Fenriskjeften. After months of studying old maps and thousands of aerial photographs from The Norwegian Polar Institutes survey expedition 1956-60, he discovered what would prove to be a climbers’ paradise; a fantasy world of vertical rock faces set in a frozen landscape. The thirteen man expedition where the first people ever to explore the area on foot.
After the first ascents of “Norways” highest mountain Jøkulkyrkja (3148m) (renamed Kong Olavs Fjell by the expedition) and the slightly lower, but much steeper, Gessnertind (3020m), their attention shifted to the spectacular mountain range Fenriskjeften, 60 km east. Amongst a large number of majestic peaks, Ulvetanna (2931m) is undisputable the Queen of the range – highest, freestanding and with kilometre high walls on all sides. Naturally Ulvetanna became the main goal of the expedition. They first tried to ascend via the north face, maybe the most aesthetic face on the mountain. But after days of difficult climbing, low progress and following frustration, the team split and Ivar Tollefsen, Sjur Nesheim and Robert Caspersen skied around Ulvetanna to try to climb it from the west side. Meanwhile Trond Hilde and Thomas Cosgriff continued undaunted on the north face. Later, following a storm, and after nearly three weeks and not more than 150 metres vertical gain, Trond and Thomas gave up the attempt to climb Ulvetanna via the north face. Sjur, Ivar and Robert had more luck on the less steep west face and reached the summit on the 2nd of February 1994, after nine days of climbing, including two days waiting out a storm on the face. After the aborted attempt on the north face, Trond and Thomas teamed up with Jan Åge Gundersen, and made the first ascent of Kinntanna (2724m), the second highest peak in the Fenriskjeften range. In addition to these major climbs, the expedition also ascended two dozens of smaller nunataks and the majestic peaks Hel and Holtanna North (renamed Holsttind by the expedition).
The southern summer of 1996/1997 Ivar Tollefsen again led a group of climbers into another unexplored area of Queen Maud Land, the mountain range Sør-Rondane, about 600km to the east of Fenriskjeften. Ivar Tollefsen, Håkon Staver, Aslak Aastorp and Robert Caspersen made the first ascent of the freestanding eastern tower of Horna (2427m), named Rondespiret (The Ronde Spire) by the expedition. They climbed the 800 meters high north face in continuously high winds, measured to more than 150 km/h. The climb took 17 days and they summited on the 6th of January 1997.
The same season a team of profiled American mountaineers, Conrad Anker, Alex Lowe, Rick Ridgeway, John Krakauer, Gordon Wiltsie and Mike Graber, backed by National Geographic, climbed Rakekniven on the Trollslottet in Filchnerfjella, west of Fenriskjeften. The route was named “The Snow Petrel Wall” (600m, VI, 5.10, A3).
In 2000/2001 an international climbing expedition with two Frenchmen, two Germans, a Swiss, a Scott, and an American led by the Belgium Alain Hubert, spent more than two months in the Fenriskjeften. They ascended most of the distinct summits in the range, except Ulvetanna. The most noteworthy being their ascent of Holtanna South (2650m) via the incredible sculptured southeast buttress (800m). Also notable was the Swiss André Georges solo ascent (later reports (French GMHM 2008) tell that he actually turned back two ropelengths before the “top” of the “Tabernacle”…?) of a 300 meters high wall on Ulvetannas southern ankle, which he named “Le Tabernacle”.
The same season there was also a Spanish team visiting Fenriskjeften, but according to sources they did not complete any significant ascents, though they did climb halfway up Holtannas west face (later completed by the Huber brothers in 2008/2009).
In the season of 2003/2004 the Americans Josh Helling and Mike Libecki spent 16 days climbing the west face (700m, VI, 5.10, A4) of a summit they called “Fenris”. The name probably appeared through a misreading of the map (on the map Fenris- in “Fenris(-)kjeften” stands alone beside this peak). This is actually a summit that the Hubert-led international team in 2000/2001 first ascended via the much easier south ridge (10 hours) and named Le Dent Noir (2460m).
In November 2005 Libecki was back again, this time alone. He travelled to the unexplored Holtedahlfjella, thirty kilometres east of Fenriskjeften. Here he climbed a route called “Frozen Tears” (450m, VI, 5.10, A3) on a relatively small but very pointed spire, which he named “The Windmill Spire”. Later he climbed the “Dragon Back Ridge” (750m, 5.5) on Andersnuten (2136m) in one day.
In November 2006, Ivar Tollefsen, Trond Hilde, Stein-Ivar Gravdal and Robert Caspersen came back to Fenriskjeften to settle an old score – to climb the thousand-meter vertical north face of Ulvetanna. The ascent took 16 days and involved difficult aid climbing up to grade A4. This is the highest big wall climbed in Antarctica to this date, and was the second ascent of Ulvetanna (thirteen years after the first ascent). After this the team skied east to Holtedahlfjella where they ascended six more peaks: Kubbestolen (2070 moh), Store Gruvletind (2254m), and four unnamed summits along the Vinten-Johansen ridge (nn. 2193, 2235, 2200, 2200m), and continued even further east and ascended the freestanding Sandneshatten (2200m) before they returned to Fenriskjeften, where they finished by climbing Stetind (first ascended by the international team in 2000/2001).
The 2008/2009 season saw two highly competent teams visiting. The strong German climbing brothers, Alexander and Thomas Huber, together with Swiss Stephan Siegrist, climbed a new route on Holtannas west face (“Eiszeit”, 750m, 7+, A4), after Ulvetanna the largest rock face in Fenriskjeften. They also made another new route on Holtanna, via the easier but exposed north buttress (“Skywalk”, 7-). Finally they climbed Ulvetanna via a new route, the northwest ridge, in a two-day sprint (“Sound of Silence”, 5.11-/A2), making the third ascent of the mountain. The route has the same start as the original Norwegian 1994 route, but heads up the northwest ridge where the original route traverses into the west face.
The same season, six climbers from the French Groupe Militaire de Haute Montagne, led by Thomas Faucher climbed a new route up the north face of Holtanna North/Holsttind (second ascent after the Norwegians 1994-ascent up the easier south side). A steep 450m rock face, with a 200m low angled start. After this, three of the climbers (Dimitry, Sébastian and Didier), attempted to climb Ulvetanna via the long south ridge. They fixed ropes on the 300 metres vertical south wall (almost climbed by Georges in 2000/2001), and then tried for the summit in one push from there. They turned back approximately 150 metres below the summit, exhausted and with still more difficult terrain above.
In the 2009/2010 season the first base jump in Antarctica was done in Fenriskjeften. A French team of four, led by Sam Beaugey, climbed Holsttind via the “normal route” (Norwegian 1994 – original) and base jumped off (Jumpers: Sam Beaugey, Géraldine Fasnacht and Sébastien Collomb-Gros, second climber Manu Pellisier). Later, Beaugey and Pellisier repeated the “international teams” 2000/2001 route up Holtannas southeast buttress (with a five pitch variation in the beginning of the route). The teams’ three basejumpers jumped from the summit.
In the 2010/2011 season the experienced Russian climber Alexander Ruchkin led a team up the Huber brothers’ route on the northwest ridge of Ulvetanna (the easiest route to the summit), making the fourth ascent of Ulvetanna, and Valery Rozov basejumped from the top of the north face.
Overview of the Fenriskjeften range.