One mountaineer, two guides, three weeks, ten first ascents. Exploratory alpinism at its finest.
In December 2011, when the rest of Antarctica was celebrating the centenary of the first journey to the South Pole, Ralf Laier made his own contribution to the history of Antarctic exploration. Over a period of three weeks, he and ANI guides Simon Abrahams and Todd Passey made 10 first ascents in the Heritage Range of the Ellsworth Mountains.
Ralf had previously skied to the South Pole with ANI in 2010 and the experience had left him wanting more. An avid ski-mountaineer, he was drawn to the stunning peaks surrounding ANI's Union Glacier camp and was inspired to discover that many were still unclimbed. In the company of Abrahams and Passey – “the best two guides I could have wished for" – he decided these would be his next Antarctic adventure.
The trio made an unprecedented series of first ascents, new routes and first ski descents. The “breathtaking and awesome” Heritage Range left Laier “humbled by the pristine beauty of the surroundings". One of the many highlights was the first ascent of Mt Sporli, (7398 ft/2255m), previously the highest unclimbed peak in the region. This was soon followed by the first ascent of Guarcello Peak, a crenellated ridge overlooking the head of the Union Glacier. The trip was rounded off with the second ascent of Mount Bursik (8202 ft/2500m), the highest peak in the Heritage Range.
Simon and Todd were also suitably impressed, “this program is a dream come true for us. We love the savage beauty and the remoteness of the mountains here. But this really is exploratory mountaineering, trying to find a way up these peaks and adapting to what we discover along the way is very rewarding.” Both hold the prestigious IFMGA Carnet, the highest qualification for mountain guides, and have climbed in Antarctica for many years.
His appetite suitably whetted, Ralf is now proposing a traverse of a major unclimbed ridge in the Ellsworths for his next expedition. It seems that once you’ve got the bug of being the first person to stand on a virgin summit, it’s hard to shake off. “ANI could not have done a better job. These were some of the best weeks in my life. I am longing to go back".
Despite the successes that Ralf’s team had, there is still a huge amount of unclimbed peaks for alpinists wanting to leave their mark. Come join ANI and discover the true heritage of mountaineering. More about ANI's Climb Antarctica Experience
The team's 2011 climbs:
- First ascent and first ski descent of Mount Sporli, 7398ft/2255m
- First ascent of Guarcello Peak, 6726 ft/2050m
- Second ascent via a new route and first ski descent of Mount Bursik, 8202 ft/2500m
- New route and first ski descent of Chappell Peak 6102 ft/1860m
- New route and first ski descent of Schoeck Peak 5938 ft/1810m
- New route and first ski descent of Sutton Peak 4626 ft/1410m
- Three first ascents of satellite peaks on Ronald Ridge and descent by ski
- Two routes (one first ascent) on Gateway Peak and descent by ski