One year on and it seems that Ralf Laier’s thirst for making first ascents in the Ellsworths is undiminished. This season, Laier, an ANI guest, continued his 2011 quest for adventure by making the first ascents of Mount Allen (3430m), Mount Liptak (3052m) and Robinson Peak (2040m). All gave unforgettable experiences: Allen and Liptak are two of the highest unclimbed peaks in the range while the aesthetic peak of Robinson was climbed during a marathon exploratory outing. All routes involved steep rock, ice and mixed climbing and are the first routes done to date in this part of the Sentinel Range.
This season, Laier was joined by ANI guides Todd Passey and Maria Paz Ibarra. Passey, who holds the IFMGA carnet, had accompanied Ralf during his extraordinarily successful 2011 season when they made 10 first ascents in the range. Ibarra was a new addition to Laier’s team this year. One of Chile’s most accomplished guides, she is also a very prolific alpinist and has done dozens of new routes in the Ellsworths – perhaps more than any other person to date.
The trio first warmed up on the first ascent of the south-west ridge of West Pyramid, a peak which lies just north of Mount Sporli (which Laier had previously made the first ascent of). They were then flown by Captain Monica Dauenhauer and First Office Parker Pysik to their base camp on the ‘Fran’ Glacier (informally named after legendary ANI staff member Fran Orio) below Mounts Allen and Liptak on 23rd December.
The trio’s first attempt on Mount Allen on Christmas Eve was turned back less than 50 meters from the summit due to difficult conditions on a narrow unprotectable ridge. After a festive break for Christmas, their second attempt met with better luck. Climbing a small couloir running through a rock band provided access to the upper face. Simul-climbing 60º snow allowed them to gain the knife-edged summit ridge which was so narrow, the climbers had to resort to climbing it ‘a cheval’ to cross it. Not a peak to give up its secrets easily, even the last moves to the summit involved steep climbing. The climbers descended by rappelling and down-climbing, finally skiing back to camp in the finest powder any of them had experienced in Antarctica. Laier said that the ascent of Mount Allen was the highlight of his climbing career to date, both mentally and technically.
After a day’s rest, they then made the first ascent of the neighboring Mount Liptak via its north face. The route was straightforward in comparison to the climbing on Allen and involved 50-60º snow and ice with some rock climbing thrown in for good measure at the top. The summit gave incredible views of Mount Craddock, Vinson and the Heritage Range with the Antarctic Plateau in the distance. “The pristine, untouched landscape was awe-inspiring” Laier later said. However just like Mount Allen, the round-trip on Liptak took 10 hours and the climbers descended the route in 15 rappels.
Returning to Union Glacier in late December, the three next headed off to the Schneider Glacier for a ‘quick route’ before Laier’s planned departure on the next Ilyushin flight from Union Glacier. Looking for a suitable objective, they travelled on linked snowmobiles to Inferno Ridge and spied the beautiful pyramid of Robinson Peak which lies in the Pioneer Heights region of the Heritage Range. A long ski traverse across the Rennell Glacier brought them to the base of Robinson’s south ridge, with the added spice of a crevasse fall en route! The ridge gave a high quality mixed route – thankfully with good protection as they had to climb 5.5 rock in their ski-mountaineering boots. After summiting, rather than get involved in time-consuming rappels, the climbers chose to traverse Robinson and descend its snowy north ridge. Ending up on the far side of the mountain, they then had to climb back over the col to where their skis were depoted.
Tired but exhilarated by the climbing, they skied down the south face in “excellent powder” and made the long traverse back to their base camp, which they eventually reached 17 1/2 hours after setting off. After a short sleep, the team returned to UG and Ralf flew out the next day. Not bad for a quick trip out from camp!
It seems that the hallmark of Ralf Laier’s Antarctic climbing is true exploration combined with great adventure. Thankfully the Ellsworths have a seemingly unlimited potential for both.
This was a Custom Expedition based around ANI's Climb Antarctica Experience.