Double 003, Vinson, Antarctica, Vinson massif, Chris Heintz

“I’m not even there yet and I want to come back.” Off to the land of ice in Antarctica

Perhaps driven by an other-worldly environment, difficult access, remote location and cost, Vinson stands out as the most distinctive and memorable of the seven summits.

The journey alone has occasioned the comment from one of my climbing partners, Chris Heintz, still on the airplane as we flew south,  as he looked out the lone porthole onto the Antarctic  Peninsula:

“I’m not even there yet and I want to come back.”

We went on to make the ascent of a rare new route, and then returned again to the Face years later after another.

What is it about the most unforgiving of continents that so draws explorers to it – and back to it.

In 1992, the pre-cursor to ALE were already on to the Ice Princess II. Ice Princess I was a mystery, and there were no more Ice Princess’s after II, the name retired after this one soon crashed as well. Today the service is, from flights, to organization, to staffing in a whole different league – without sacrificing the sense of adventure and the destination itself.


Your take-off is from what is already close to the ends of the earth, or at least South America, is from Punta Arenas, Chile. Even if taking off at night, you soon fly up and out into eternal daylight. The sun then proceeds to spin around the sky, never setting, for the duration of your visit.

That alone is a 24-hour reminder you are in a different land.

Once flying over the ice, the whiteness and expanse of it all sets in. The runway is a swath of glacier cleared down to blue ice, with the landing varying from a crunch to a sensation of sliding along the river of ice, with any slowing taking far longer than seems normal. It is solid ice after all.

The pathway through to heaven, or perhaps another direction, if you are dreaming a plane might ever fly through that to pick you up at Vinson Base Camp.

There always seems to be a palatable sense of expectancy, or perhaps it’s just outright fear, after the plane finally comes to a rest. There is little mass rushing for the door as visitors put another hat on, tighten their boots, lower sunglasses against the glare.

The reality of 50 shades of pure white, rolling hillocks of ice underfoot and the dubious value of a double-boots stiffness encourages a tentative approach.

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The Rolex Ridge leading to Vinson’s summit plateau. I should be somewhere in this photo but have never quite worked it out. Photo: Joe Blackburn

The next move is onto a second plane, realistically ski equipped, which opens up access to Vinson itself. Flying low over the snow, sharp black peaks rise abruptly up, ice is squeezed into cascading ice falls and rotated into frozen whirlpools.


It is a new life framed by the cold, endless vistas of blue sky framing an icy horizon and a purity that permeates every breath, all-encompassing.

Vinson Base Camp – alternative accommodation courtesy of ALE guide and Antarctic guru Tom.