With an expedition team comprised of Alex Honnold, Anna Pfaff, Jimmy Chin, Conrad Anker, Cedar Wright and Savannah Cummins, the expectations for The North Face-sponsored December expedition to Queen Maud Land, Antarctica, were high, to put it mildly.
And the all-star line-up delivered.
After nearly a month spent in the icy, shifting shadows of the Fenriskjeften massif, in the Drygalski Mountains, the six American climbers, as well as Colombian documentarian-adventurer Pablo Durana, returned to civilization with news of summits via new routes and old.
Reporting on Instagram, Wright wrote, “It was by far the most productive trip to the alpine I have ever had. Partnered with [Alex Honnold,] we established 7 first ascents, and tagged 13 summits, including all the major summits in the range, except for Ulvetanna, which Conrad and Jimmy established an epic first ascent on in bigwall style. That means as a team we climbed essentially every major tower in the range!”
Summits were never a foregone conclusion climbing in the “Wolf’s Jaw”—the English for the Norwegian “Fenriskjeften”—what with violent winds, bone-shattering cold, and sections of exfoliating rock of the poorest quality. The team spent much of the time split into pairs, dividing and conquering as they roamed among the spires.
Early in the expedition, Honnold and Wright enjoyed success on Fenris Peak. Standing below the tower, Wright reported on Instagram, “the hardest part psychologically, was just committing to trying.” But once they were on the wall, the duo relied on their Yosemite schooling to get them up the 1,400 vertical feet without any major snafus, and made the first ascent of the mountain’s North Buttress. “The route was only 10+,” Wright wrote, “but the huge 60 foot run outs on the marginal to crumbly arete made it feel like a 5.12 experience.”
Another first ascent saw the entire team tag the summit. Savannah Cummins reported on Instagram that eveyone went for a trip up the Penguin, a previously unclimbed 300 foot tower.
While Pfaff, Cummins, Honnold and Wright spent their time formation-hopping, Conrad Anker and Jimmy Chin spent theirs toiling away on Ulvetanna—the “Wolf’s Tooth”—the largest, and most famous tower in the massif. At 9,616 feet in elevation, with a vertical prominence of some 3,600 feet, Anker and Chin applied big wall tactics to the peak. “Taller than El Cap, it is a complex mountain with a history of epic ascents and numerous failed attempts,” Anker wrote on Instagram. “Every aspect of the mountain can hold your gaze for hours as you try to decipher the maze of ridges and lines and the type of climbing required to navigate it all.”
The mountain was first climbed by the Norwegain team of Sjur Nesheim, Robert Caspersen and IVar Tollefsen in 1994 via the Northwest Face. A number of other strong teams established new routes on Ulvetanna in the ensuing years, including the Alexander Huber, Thomas Huber and Stephan Siegrist (who made the first ascent of the Northwest Buttress in 2008), and Leo Houlding, Alastair Lee, Sean Leary, Jason Pickles, David Reeves, and Chris Rabone (via the Northeast Ridge in 2013).
Details of Anker and Chin’s ascent thus far are sparse, but suffice to say that they made it to the top via a new route on the Northwest Buttress.
Check back at rockandice.com and all of the expedition members’ Instagram accounts for more updates in the coming weeks.