I recently returned home from a three month stint in Antarctica where I was working as a mountain
guide. We typically guide guests up Mount Vinson, the highest peak on the continent, in addition to
some of the other peaks in the Ellsworth Range. At one point in early December, three of us were able
to take the day off to attempt an unclimbed route on Mount Dolence.
Mount Dolence is a very attractive peak that is seen from our main camp at Union Glacier; and has no easy passage to the summit. Its first and only successful summit was by a Swiss team up the west ridge in early 2011.
Tom Nonis, Jeff Previte and myself had hopes of establishing a new route on this impressive peak. I
had noticed a very direct line up to the East Summit of Dolence a few years previous and we all agreed
this would be our line of ascension. Contrary to popular belief, the weather in Antarctica in the austral
summer can be quite pleasant. However, the day of our climb was not. We left Union Glacier camp in
below zero temps, 30 knot winds and overcast skies. Not ideal for alpine climbing but we were
psyched given it was our day off. We took a very civilized approach via a heated vehicle and got
dropped off at the edge of the moraine and arranged a pickup 10 hours later. Ninety minutes of boulder
hoping got us to the top of the moraine and there we got a great view of our proposed route. We
dropped down a few hundred meters and suited up for a day of alpine climbing. We climbed up 2000
feet of 50 degree snow and ice before encountering our first challenge; two pitches of mixed rock and
Jeff led us through these quickly and soon we climbed up to a col on the east ridge of Dolence; a
few hundred feet below the East Summit of Dolence. After some route finding discussions, I led up
through more rock and mixed terrain for a rope length and we soon found ourselves on top of a virgin
summit in Antarctica! We contemplated calling it a day and heading back down, but the day was still
young and the intriguing East Ridge stretched out in front of us all the way to the main summit. The
allure was too much; we had to keep climbing! At this point, the three of us went into business mode
as we knew we had much work ahead of us. One thing was for sure, it was quite windy and cold and
we had a lot of complex terrain to negotiate. We started by rapping from the summit. However, we
quickly realized the complete ascent of the East Ridge would have to wait for another day; one when
we could rock climb in reasonably warm weather. The terrain was incredibly complex as the ridge was
riddled with rock gendarmes, or towers. These were difficult to overcome and our progress slower than
we had hoped given we were forced to climb with bulky gloves and boots and crampons. We would
climb several pitches and then rappel and climb several more; only to find more rappelling would be
necessary. Given our time constraint and the frigid temps we decided to that our new route on the East
Peak of Dolence was more than we had hoped for in the day and was a fabulous adventure in itself. We
rappelled and down climbed the West Face in a just over two hours.
Once back on terra firma we relaxed, ate and drank, and hiked back to our pick up spot; running late by only a few minutes. It felt great to hop in a warm van and drive back to camp while looking up at our impressive first ascent. I
used the Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack on this climb and found it to be a stellar alpine climbing pack. It was too cold to go bare handed and the pack is very usable with big gloves or even mitts. The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ice Pack had nice beefy gear loops to rack cams; ice screws and draws as well. But ultimately, it is the comfort and lightweight nature of this pack that makes it a superior alpine climbing backpack. Often times lightweight gear tends to be fairly disposable, and cannot withstand continued abuse. However, after three months of constant use, my Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack is remarkably showing little to now wear! I am super stoked on these packs and look forward to using it on my next big alpine adventure.