Difficult decisions, where to draw the line?

Date = 10/12/2017
Day 20 (Expedition) – Day 26 (Antarctica)
Location = Spectre Base Camp
Coordinates  – 86 03.376, 150 25.400
Altitude =  1263m
Temperature =  -20 to -7C
Wind speed / direction = 0  gusting 40+ knot !!!
Windchill = variable 🙂
Distance travelled = 0
Distance remaining = 1736km

In the last 48 hours we have experienced drastically changeable weather from 40+ knot gusts in the night that we feared may damage the tents, to dead calm with clear skies, but biting cold below -20C, to cloud cover and -7C; reasonable climbing conditions.

Jean and Leo sorting through the climbing hardware

We have spent most of the day carefully studying the wall with binoculars and assessing our options.  To stand a chance of completing our return journey on time we need to leave base camp around the 14th December.  Realistically that means we have one shot at another big climb.

There is a stunning line up the South spur of The Spectre that I have had my eye on for a long time. It looks almost within reach, given a few days of solid weather. But it’s a much more of a big wall than an alpine rock climb. At least 500m of steep, clean granite with the upper section looking particularly complex and hard.

To attempt it within the margins of safety, taking into account our extremely remote position, our long journey ahead and the instability/harshness of the weather, we feel would require a much heavier, big wall style approach using a port-a-ledge and 5-7 days.  We have decided that to attempt it in the fast light style we intended, is a level of commitment too far.

Organ Pipe Peaks with The Spectre (3rd from left)

It is with pang of regret that we turn our attention away from the South spur of our desires. But Jean and I can take pride in our decision that whatever we do out here, our priority is to come home safely. We must not push too far. The slightest change in the breeze can mean life or death if you are not equipped for the situation.

Therefore we have decided to focus our attention on a secondary objective. A skyline traverse of the Organ Pipe Peaks from left to right. A proud line and a major undertaking but with the option to escape off the back at each col, it is a far less committing prospect than the South Spur.

Jean and Leo – checking out lines

We have travelled so long, and worked so hard, to get here. I have schemed, trained, planned and grafted with so much energy to get us to this magnificent mountain. But we must accept we are at mercy of the weather. Already this far out, and with such large scale objectives, we need some stability to make a safe attempt at anything …

[Leo Houlding]

Read Jean’s thoughts [French] on Mont Harkness – another potential climb they checked out


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