Different than some other outfitters, all of our trips are led by Alpine Ascents guides (not just guides hired for the season) and we incorporate teaching into every guided climb. We strive on each expedition to be unique, adding a level of personalization and care that continually can set us apart from other outfitters. Our lead guide, Vernon Tejas, has likely led more climbs on Vinson than any other guide.
Our history on Vinson is long and rich, beginning with our commercial expeditions in 1992 (indeed, there were some commercial flights back then), Alpine Ascents has led and cultivated Mt. Vinson climbing practices along with our flight service partners. With nearly 100% success over these past 20 years, we have developed logistics, environmental procedures, climbing routes, camps, and communication protocols that have helped facilitate our high summit and excellent safety record. While items such as extra days on the mountain and satellite phones have become standard practice, our experience in number of seasons and in trip logistics is unsurpassed. Alpine Ascents’ ability to lead multiple trips per season puts us in position to adjust to changing conditions and have the resources available that a one-guide, single expedition does not have. As always, we encourage you to ask questions of Alpine Ascents and other guide services before embarking on an expedition of this magnitude.
Please remember you are part of a climbing team and, as with any team, your ability to contribute not only helps your chances for success, but also mitigates some of the climbing risks and increases the likelihood of a highly enjoyable experience for all. Our office is at your disposal to discuss training, gear, prerequisites, and logistics. You may want to check out our Training regimen, as this will also serve as excellent preparation for Vinson.
We strive to provide a balanced diet while on the continent of Antarctica. This includes time spent at Union Glacier Camp and time spent on Mt. Vinson during the climb. The breakfasts usually consist of eggs, pancakes, oatmeal, and some cereals, along with a hot drink. Dinners usually consist of a carbohydrate, a vegetable, and meat. Examples are rice, pasta, mixed vegetables, chicken, fish, or beef. Our hot drinks selection consists of hot cocoa, apple cider, tea, and coffee.
It’s a long way to Antarctica, and making the pre-trip planning as easy as possible makes for one less worry for the climber. We pride ourselves on being available for your phone calls and emails, and we have a 24-hour emergency number. We prepare the necessary documents in a clean and precise manner. We are happy to walk you through our application forms, bios, necessary insurance, and flight service paperwork. We can discuss and help plan training regimens (catered to where you live) and work closely with you on locating the right gear and discussing clothing options. We have an excellent travel agent who can get you out of Punta Arenas as quickly as possible with 24-hour call service. Our guides will personally contact you before your climb.
Depart Your Country of Origin. If possible you may want to arrive on this day, in case of lost luggage or flight delay.
Arrive Punta Arenas, Chile. From the airport in Punta Arenas, you’ll be escorted to your hotel. We’ll schedule a time to check your Antarctic clothing and ensure that nothing has been inadvertently forgotten. We’ll discuss Leave No Trace principles and how best to preserve the pristine Antarctic Wilderness. Please arrive early in the day if possible as we try to complete gear check on this day in early afternoon.
Gear Check, Final Prep; Slide Show, Gear Weighing, City Exploration. After final gear preparations; we usually have time to explore the city. Late in the afternoon, we will have an Antarctica slide show and lecture conducted by ALE. The lecture includes information on your flight south, the current weather situation, and what to expect on your arrival in Antarctica. We will also be weighing gear, as all gear that will fly to the glacier will be checked in at this time.
Depart Punta Arenas, Chile. Fly to Antarctica. Fly 4.25 hours to Antarctica by private transport jet. Transfer to ski aircraft and continue to Vinson Base Camp at 6,900 ft. (2,100 m) on the Branscomb Glacier.
You’ll be notified of our departure time as soon as we have a clear weather forecast, and given around two hours before we pick you up at the hotel. Make sure your bill has been settled and that your “city” clothing has been left at the hotel. After completing customs and immigration formalities at the airport, we’ll proceed to the aircraft for a photo session before climbing on board. We’ll fly to Union Glacier Camp. If the weather permits, we’ll transfer our equipment from the Ilyushin 76 aircraft to the Twin Otter and fly an hour to Vinson Base Camp. The pilot will be in constant contact with the base for weather updates. There have been occasions when deteriorating conditions after departure from Union Glacier have forced us to turn around and await better flying conditions. Once we land at Vinson Base Camp, we’ll review the climbing route and rearrange the loads for the journey.
Vinson Base Camp: Acclimatization and Preparations. This is a day to relax and recover after several days of travel. In the quiet surroundings of Vinson Base Camp, we can appreciate the beauty of Antarctica while preparing for our climb. We will load our sleds for the days ahead and, if time allows, we will take a short hike to gain familiarity with the Antarctic environment and to refine our clothing and equipment choices for the climb.
Vinson Base Camp to Low Camp. 2,150 ft. (650 m) of elevation gain, 5.5 miles (9 km) of distance, 4–6 hours travel.
From Vinson Base Camp to Low Camp we follow the gradual rise of the Branscomb Glacier. The gentle climb is ideal for pulling sleds allowing us to lighten the loads in our packs. Due to crevasse hazard, we will travel roped together today and throughout our time on the mountain. At Low Camp (elevation 9,000 ft./2,750 m) the guides build a cooking/dining shelter for our group. Depending on conditions, we may overnight here or cache equipment and return to Vinson Base Camp. The following day we will re-ascend from Vinson Base Camp, acclimatize at Low Camp, or continue our climb up the mountain.
Low to High Camp (this includes some extra days). 3,350 ft. (1,020 m) of elevation gain, fixed ropes on slopes up to 45 degrees, approximately 6–10 hours travel.
We ascend to High Camp (12,400 ft./3,770 m) when conditions are suitable and the forecast indicates stable weather ahead. We may carry all of our equipment in one push, or we may choose a “load carry,” overnighting back at Low Camp and re-ascending the next day with lighter loads. These choices will depend on weather and group fitness.
Our route takes us up the broad mixed spur at the northern end of the Branscomb Ridge, offering fantastic views of Mount Shinn and the glaciers below. We ascend fixed ropes on snow slopes up to 35/40 degrees. Snow conditions can vary from soft to hard and windblown with icy patches. From the top of the fixed lines to High Camp takes about 1.5 hours ascending the gentle snow slopes of the summit glacier. This section of the route can be very exposed to the wind, requiring care to prevent cold injury.
The facilities at High Camp are more basic than at camps below. We cook and eat simple, dehydrated meals in our tents, or outside if the weather is calm. Our next day is normally spent resting and acclimatizing at High Camp to give everyone the best chance of summiting.
High Camp to Vinson Summit. Return trip from High Camp – 3,670 ft. (1,120 m) elevation gain, 9 miles (14 km) distance, 9-12 hours travel.
We make our summit attempt on the best weather day possible as the route is exposed and subject to high winds. The majority of the route is along the Vinson summit valley, with a short, steeper snow and ice slope leading to the spectacular, rocky, summit ridge. The views from the summit are breathtaking. Mount Gardner, Tyree, Epperly, and Shinn dominate the foreground, surrounded by impressive peaks that rise from the vast ice sheet below. Here, at the top of Antarctica, the true scale and majesty of the continent are overwhelmingly apparent. We’ll take time to savor the experience and take photos before retracing our steps to High Camp.
Descent to Vinson Base Camp. The descent to Vinson Base Camp is usually achieved in one day from High Camp, retracing our route down the fixed ropes and along the Branscomb Glacier. At Vinson Base Camp, we celebrate our summit with a hearty meal and a toast to our team.
Return to Union Glacier by Ski Aircraft.
Once we’re back in Base Camp and a full aircraft load is ready, the guide will inform Union Glacier and an aircraft will be dispatched to collect you. There will be opportunities to meet and trade stories with other adventurers and, if conditions allow, we may explore the scenic peaks nearby camp (these can also be used as extra climbing days as needed).
Return to Punta Arenas, Chile. Weather permitting, the aircraft from Punta Arenas will arrive with a new collection of avid explorers and you depart for the final leg of your Antarctic experience. Our staff will meet you at Punta Arenas airport and transfer you to your hotel.
Depart Punta Arenas
Arrive Home Country
No two Antarctic experiences are exactly the same. This is part of the excitement and adventure of Antarctic travel. The itinerary above highlights typical activities and experiences. Exact timeline and details will vary from trip to trip. Trip length may vary by departure.
Please anticipate delays and do not plan anything for at least a week after your scheduled return. Allow yourself to enjoy this unique experience without the stress of pending commitments.
Note: Every effort will be made to follow the above itinerary, but it is subject to change at the discretion of our staff, based on weather and local conditions. Some departures may be slightly longer or shorter based on flight schedules to Antarctica. If you are interested in extending your trip to include the South Pole Ski Tour or flight to visit the South Pole, email our director of programs, Gordon Janow.
Those wishing to embark on this unique journey should possess prior climbing skills and be prepared for harsh conditions of extreme cold and, at times, ferocious winds. Climbers must be in strong physical condition and be able to carry 65 lbs. Mountaineering skills required include self-arrest, glacier travel, and crevasse rescue. Climbers should have successfully completed at least a week-long training course as well as completed some other climbs, such as glaciated peaks in Washington State or Alaska.
In addition, climbers need to be well-skilled at personal maintenance and hygiene. This is more than just having the right gear, but a sense of one’s working body, ability to detect cold and other issues, and be willing to communicate your level of health with your guide.
Vinson at 16,067 ft. is an extreme, high-altitude climb. You should be comfortable climbing eight hours per day. Summit day is the most demanding portion of the climb, typically involving eight hours for the ascent and three to five hours for the descent. Be prepared to carry a 55-lb. pack, but weight may be substantially lighter when we use sleds. Generally you carry 35 lbs. in a backpack and 25 lbs. on a sled.
Along with the required climbing skills, review cardio training on the Vinson Training guide. We strongly recommend following the advice of our guides to acclimatize properly. We have nearly 100% success on this climb.