At around 11:00 pm on December 7, Brit Leo Houlding, Frenchman Jean Burgun and Kiwi Mark Sedon reached the summit of the Spectre, a blade of rock jutting upward 6,630 feet from Antarctica’s endless ice. Theirs was the second ascent of the peak, located in the Gothic Mountains, almost exactly 37 years after Mugs and Edward Stump’s 1980 first ascent.
Thee team’s success came on the 17th day of their Spectre Trans-Antarctic Expedition, a planned 69-day, unsupported, multisport odyssey involving kite-skiing, manhauling (essentially pulling a sled) and alpine climbing.
After getting dropped off by a plane at the beginning of their expedition, the trio kite-skied 350 kilometers to the base of the Spectre.
Houlding, Burgun and Sedon originally planned to climb a new route up the Spectre, but decided conditions were too dangerous. In a blog post titled “Difficult decision, where to draw the line?” on the expedition site, Houlding writes, “There is a stunning line up the South spur of The Spectre that I have had my eye on for a long time. It looks almost within reach, given a few days of solid weather. But it’s [much] more of a big wall than an alpine rock climb. At least 500m of steep, clean granite with the upper section looking particularly complex and hard.”
Instead, they opted to repeat the Stumps’ first ascent line up the North Face, a more manageable objective given weather conditions and time constraints. The three left Base Camp at 8:00 am. Climbing in -10 degree Celsius conditions, along the route they encountered “extremely difficult and technical climbing,” according to a blog post from Mark Sedon, “and often poorly protected” stretches. Though they found relics from Mugs and Edward Stump—a piton and an old, tattered sling—they believe that they ultimately climbed a good deal of new terrain in addition to portions of the first ascent route.
Fifteen hours after setting off, Houlding, Burgun and Sedon reached the top. Another six hours after that, at 5:00 am on December 8, they were back in Base Camp. “I haven’t had such a full on, mental and physical challenge like that since climbing a new route on the Balfour Face of Mt Tasman with Guy Cotter 15 years ago,” Sedon writes in a blog post. “Today every bone in my body aches, every muscle hurts, but I’m stoked to have climbed the Spectre. Nothing is easy down here!”
A few days later Burgun and and Houlding made the first ascent of another formation, Organ Pipe A, at the beginning of a planned attempt of a “skyline traverse” of all the Organ Pipe peaks. But after rappelling that first summit, they determined it was, again, too ambitious of a plan given conditions and an expedition schedule with little wiggle room.
“It seems the summit of Organ Pipe A is the turning point of our expedition,” Houlding writes in his most recent blog post. “We begin our long journey back towards home. It’s a warm thought; I miss my family terribly and am glad to be heading in their direction. We came, we climbed and now we must refocus for the long march out.” Now the three men will kite-ski and manhaul a combined 1,650 kilometers across the continent, with a potential detour to the South Pole.
To follow their progress throughout the rest of their journey, look for updates from the team at http://spectreexpedition.com/.
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