GUEST BLOG: Simon Yates' Antarctica expedition
- Monday 23rd March 2015
Simon Yates is one of Britain's most accomplished mountaineers. His insatiable appetite for adventure and exploration has taken him to some of the world's remotest mountain environments. Here, he reports back from his recent climbing expedition to Antarctica.
I heard the bang and felt the boat shudder.
‘Whale,’ Marcel announced casually, as the beast surfaced to the stern and I wondered if it was nursing a headache after colliding with twelve tonnes of steel yacht. Moments later penguins started jumping from the water and a huge iceberg appeared on the horizon. We had arrived at the Antarctic Peninsula.
Four days earlier, as we passed the craggy outline of Cape Horn on a cloudy dawn, I felt distinctly nervous as we started our crossing of the Drake Passage – one of the most notorious stretches of ocean in the world. We were lucky: there was nothing more than a stiff breeze – sometimes favourable, sometimes not – to deal with. On the third morning the sun shone, the sea so calm that the swell looked like molten glass.
We were five on the yacht Lorana – my Belgian friend Marcel, his friends John and Maud, and fellow climber Andy Parkin. We had a loose climbing plan, which became even looser as pack-ice prevented a landing beneath out first-choice objective.
After two long days of sailing down the peninsula we reached a sheltered anchorage behind a small island, with an approachable small peak on a larger island alongside. Our opportunity had arrived.
The following day Marcel dropped us by dinghy on a small beach across the bay and we started our approach. The skiing was easy enough and after a couple of hours we arrived below the summit pyramid. It looked like it would give a few pitches of decent mixed climbing. We abandoned the skis and roped up. The climbing was pleasant, with the added bonus of warm afternoon sun. I ran out the rope and belayed, taking up the slack as Andy climbed, mesmerised by the panorama. A bang was quickly followed by a scream and as weight came onto the rope I was wrenched from my stupor. Andy was swinging on the rope, a boulder dropping beneath him. The rock landed in the snow at the base of the wall and slushed to a halt. Then silence returned.
‘Andy,’ I yelled repeatedly at the limp figure hanging on the rope. It was many minutes before he replied. Somehow, the boulder had dislodged just above him, landing on his thighs. His legs were not broken he was sure, but he was unable to walk. I lowered him down to the snow below before digging the radio from my rucksack.
‘You’d better get your skis out,’ I told Marcel down on the boat, ‘and bring up the sled and a sleeping bag.’
Our improvised sled rescue was surprisingly slick considering that neither Marcel nor I had done one before. By late evening we were back on the yacht.
Over the following days I became a tourist, while Andy’s thighs developed hideously colourful bruises as he lay confined in his bunk.
As we left Antarctica on a grey, stormy morning, riding through a heavy swell, it occurred to me that it had been a huge effort for a pitch of climbing. That afternoon the storm cleared and the outline of Smith Island appeared fifty miles to the south. While I watched the unique and surreal sight of mountains seemingly hovering above mist and ocean, I knew the journey had been worthwhile.
Simon is the author of Vertebrate title The Wild Within. See below for a list of Simon's upcoming tour dates.
'My Mountain Life' tour dates
Hear more stories from Simon's adventures by catching one of his talks. There will be copies of his three books and a selection of posters for sale at all venues:
Monday 4 May – Trento, Italy – www.trentofestival.it
Wednesday 6 May – Mold – www.clwyd-theatr-cymru.co.uk
Thursday 21 May – Barrow-in-Furness – www.theforumbarrow.co.uk
Wednesday 27 May – Buxton – www.buxtonoperahouse.org.uk
Wednesday 3 June – Darlington – www.darlingtoncivic.co.uk
Thursday 4 June – Derby – http://www.theatresonline.com/theatres/derby-theatres/derby-theatres.html
Wednesday 10 June – Malvern – www.malvern-theatres.co.uk
Wednesday 17 June – Kendal – www.breweryarts.co.uk
Friday 26 June – Harrogate – www.harrogatetheatre.co.uk