Are you an adventure-seeker, looking to climb to the highest point of Antarctica?
This trip is a bucket-list-ticker if ever there was one, especially if you’re one of the ambitious few who are tackling the world’s Seven Summits, of which Mount Vinson is one.
Although not the most technically challenging, climbing Mount Vinson depends largely on the weather on the day and the logistics of planning the trip.Below is a detailed, comprehensive guide which provides hikers with useful information about the typical route and itinerary you can expect, the best way to prepare for your hike, the best time for which to plan your trip, and the equipment that you will need to buy and pack.
Mount Vinson Overview
Mount Vinson is situated in the Sentinel Range of the Ellsworth Mountains, deep in the heart of Antarctica.
The summit rises to an impressive 4,892m above sea level at which point you will see vistas of vast glaciers and snow-covered mountains gently blurring with the white skyline in all directions.
Mount Vinson was first summited in 1966 but did not become logistically accessible to the average climber until relatively recently.
Although a handful of individuals have summited the mountain from East Face and another route, the “standard route” really the only advisable way to the top.
Mount Vinson Typical Itinerary
There is really only one way to the summit of Mount Vinson. Below is the typical itinerary of the climb.
To give you a better idea of what lies ahead, this itinerary starts with the journey to the mountain from your home country, as so much of the challenge is simply getting there.
Day 0-1: Arriving in Punta Arenas, Chile
You will have to arrive in Punta Arenas at least two days before your departure to Antarctica. These days will allow you to prepare for the approaching adventure, and allow for a bit of leeway in case the weather in Antarctica is unruly on the planned day of departure. During this time, you will undergo a thorough gear check to make sure that you have everything you will need on your climb.
Day 2: Preparation for Departure
The day before your departure, you will be sorting out your luggage and making sure that you within the airline allowance. You will also probably receive a safety briefing from your tour company before you set out.
Day 3: Flight to Antarctica
Remember that the flight schedule is highly dependent on weather and delays are common. The flight is 4.5 hours long and lands on Union Glacier, from where you will be shuttled to the Union Glacier Base Camp.
From here you will either continue directly on to Vinson Base Camp by ski aircraft or you will spend the night at Union Glacier beforehand.
Day 4: Vinson Base Camp
Vinson Base Camp (2,140m) is situated on the Branscomb Glacier where you will meet with the experienced mountain guides.
You will spend time here to acclimatise and for your guide to evaluate each individual trekker’s strengths to develop a strategy to optimise the chance of everyone’s successful ascent.
Day 5: Vinson Base Camp Acclimatisation
On Day 5 you will pack all your personal equipment and fuel for the journey.
You will also be briefed on the hiking strategy and the terms of your participation in the mission. This includes the responsibility for everyone to assist in tent set-up.
Day 6: Base Camp to Low Camp
You will leave Vinson Base Camp and trek up the Branscomb Glacier to Low Camp (2780m). The gradient is gentle and you usually pull sleds along to lighten the load of the walk.
The hike to Low camp takes about 5 hours, where you will be met with cached tents and a large dining tent for dinner.
Day 7: Low Camp Acclimatisation
You will rise late, when the sun hits the tents. The day will either be spent on a lower section of the standard route to familiarise the team with the fixed ropes, or you might go on an expedition to an easily accessible viewpoint.
If your party is particularly experienced and fir, you might ascend Knutzen Peak (3,373m) as a 6-hour round trip.
Day 8: Low Camp to High Camp
When the weather is deemed suitable, you will trek and then climb from Low Camp to High Camp (3,780m), which takes approximately 7 hours. For this journey, you will be carrying all your equipment on your back, without sleds to ease the load.
The route you will follows the spur at the northern side of the Branscomb Ridge, with awe-inspiring vistas of Mount Shinn and the surrounding glaciers.
The trek to the fixed ropes is less than an hour long, at which point you will start the 4-to-5 hour, 45° ascent up the snowy slopes. The terrain ranges from soft snow to hard and icy, and includes a half-way ledge where people stop for lunch and a well-deserved rest.
After the fixed lines, there is a relatively gentle 1.5-hour hike to High Camp. The wind on this section can, however, be brutal. Care must be taken to prevent cold injury.
When you arrive at High Camp you will notice that the facilities are much more basic than those of Low Camp. Your guide will probably prepare a plain meal which you will likely be forced to eat inside your tent.
Day 9: High Camp Acclimatisation
An extra day is generally spent at High Camp to recover from the previous day’s taxing climb and to acclimatise.
Day 10: High Camp to Summit
Your team will wait for the weather forecast to predict low winds and good visibility before attempting the summit. The round trip to the summit takes 9 to 12 hours.
Most of the route follows the gentle Vinson summit valley, with a steep icy section which leads to the rocky summit pyramid.
The final summit pyramid can be approached from the eastern or western sides, with the latter being slightly steeper and more challenging. Your guide will decide which is the most appropriate ascent route for you.
To reward your effort, you will see magnificent views of Mounts Gardner, Epperly, Shinn and Tyree as well as other peaks that rise from the snow out into the distance.
You will then trace your steps back to High Camp.
Day 11: Descent from High Camp to Vinson Base Camp
You will follow the same path along the Branscomb Glacier back to Vinson Base Camp, where you’ll celebrate your summit with your team.
Day 12: Travel to Union Glacier
You will travel to Union Glacier Base Camp where you’ll spend a day or two before your flight back out to Chile. At the Base Camp, you will receive a certificate acknowledging your Mount Vinson achievement.
Day 13: Return to Chile
If the weather permits, you will fly out of Antarctica back to Chile on Day 13, from where you can make your own way home.
Best Time To Climb Mount Vinson
Travelling to Antarctica is only really possible between November and March, and climbing Mount Vinson is limited to the period from December to February. This is the summer period, when the days are 24 hours long.
However, the temperatures are far from balmy, and the average temperatures during this time of year are between -12 C and -4C. In early November, temperatures are as low as -30 C and they commonly fall to -40 C during extreme storms.
It is therefore prudent to expect the worst, and pack accordingly. Read our Gear List below to find out what equipment you will need to help you best deal with the extreme cold.
How Difficult Is The Mount Vinson Climb
Mount Vinson is rated “extremely strenuous” by mountaineering experts – this adventure is not for the feint-hearted.
The expedition takes place at one of the most remote locations on the planet, with little back-up assistance available in case of emergency.
Climbers can expect to remain at altitudes above 3350m for days on end and the temperatures are known to fall below 40 C during extremely windy storms.
Climbers will be physically active for 8-12 hours per day for 5-9 days, with their heavy load of personal equipment to carry along which weights up to 22 kg each.
Apart from the technical skill physical fitness, and stamina necessary to undertake this task, you will need significant levels of mental strength to come up against the intensity of the journey. You will need to be able to dedicate yourself absolutely to a pre-trip training schedule as well.
Training For The Climb
Tour companies will expect clients to have previous climbing and mountaineering experience. You will have to send in a resume of your previous ascents, and high altitude, cold climates are specifically expected. Experience on mountains like Denali or Mount Logan, as well as winter alpine climbing, ice-climbing and ski touring is recommended.
Some tour companies are willing to evaluate your experience on a case-by case basis, while others have strict rules about the kinds of expeditions that you will need to have completed prior to this journey.
For those of you who do not quite meet the previous experience requirements, it is possible to organize personalized Antarctic-specific training sessions through teams such as Antarctic Logistics. This option is generally recommended for those who have the basic skill set required, but need to hone certain areas of their repertoire.
On top of the climbing skills and techniques with which you will need to be familiar, you will need physical strength, endurance, cardiovascular conditioning and high-altitude tolerance. Training like a regular person four to six times a week will simply not be enough to ensure your successful ascent. Even people capable of running marathons might not be in the “right kind” of condition to attempt this summit.
Some of the exercises that we suggest prioritizing in your training are:
- Walking on stairs and up hills carrying heavily-loaded back packs
- Strength training: muscular training for your legs and core. Include weight training and exercises such as lunges, squats, and sit-ups.
- Cardiovascular training: both aerobic and anaerobic training without pack weight is also important. Get your heart rate up.
- Flexibility training: stretching exercises
Most people will need to train for at least 4 months, off a relatively solid baseline of fitness, prior to departure.
During training, the intensity of your work-outs will need to be incrementally raised by about 10% per week in terms of time, elevation gain and distance.
Do not attempt to hasten the training strategy as this will likely only result in injury and under preparation.
Altitude sickness is a real risk at anywhere above 3,000m elevation above sea level.
The effects include headaches, fatigue and nausea but it can be fatal if left untreated. It is therefore important that trekkers are aware of the danger imposed by climbing at high altitudes, and that they are attuned to its potential symptoms.
Because prior experience of climbing is necessary for those attempting to summit Mount Vinson, it is likely that you will be aware if you suffer particularly from altitude sickness.
Nevertheless, the extent to which people experience this issue is largely unpredictable and cannot be determined by their age, fitness levels or gender.
There are some precautions which can be taken to alleviate this risk, however.
Firstly, it is necessary to spend time at the series of base camps to allow your body to adjust to the changing altitude. This extra time will be included in the itinerary planned by the touring company, so for Mount Vinson it is not really necessary for individuals to worry about it.
Drinking plenty of water is also necessary to reduce the chance of feeling the symptoms of altitude sickness and on hiking days it is recommended to drink at least 2 – 3 litres per day.
You should avoid taking any drugs (including sleeping pills), or drinking alcohol, as each of these are known to push those at risk over the edge into a raging head ache.
If you are feeling the effects along the hike, it is important that you communicate this with your guide, as it may be necessary for you to descend slightly to deal with it.
Finally, if you are feeling anxious about altitude sickness, for example if you have experienced it before, consult a doctor before your departure. They will be able to advise you on the best way to tackle the problem and to prescribe a preventative medication.
Mount Vinson Gear Check List
Most of the gear required for climbing Mount Vinson can either be bought or rented. The items on the following list are required unless specifically stated otherwise.
To choose the best gear available today, check out our detailed Gear Reviews & Ranking.
Depending on your operator, you should check what's included in your expedition price.
- Waist leash: to keep your ice axe attached to your body
- Ice axe: Standard mountaineering axe. Choose the size according to your height.
- Accessory Cord/Pre-cut prussiks: 40 ft of 6mm accessory cord for climbing rigging such as prussiking. Pre-tied prussiks will work if you already have them
- Crampons: General mountaineering crampons. Modern steel 12-point crampons with anti-balling agents are recommended. Avoid 10-point, aluminium or single-piece crampons. The traction, and boot-fit is generally superior in the former option.
- Carabiners: 2 large auto-locking carabiners to use with your harness, as well as 6 non-locking carabiners (standard or wiregate will work).
- Alpine climbing harness: make sure your harness fits well over your hiking clothing, includes gear loops, adjustable leg loops and a waist belt. The legs and the waist must be able to fully separate. Newer models of harness which feature a belay loop and do not necessitate “doubling back” your wait belt are recommended for convenience
- Trekking poles: collapsible (preferably 3 sections) skiing or trekking poles with snow baskets
- Ascender: choose one ascender to use in your dominant hand (right or left). Make sure the ascender is not damaged or worn out.
- Wool or synthetic socks: three pairs of medium to heavy socks, preferable of merino wool
- Gaiters: full-length waterproof gaiters should fit over your mountaineering boots. Avoid short trekking gaiters as these provide inadequate coverage
- High-altitude double boot: double boot with hard plastic or soft synthetic outer to use with a high-altitude liner. Not required if you are using a high-altitude, all-in-one boot
- Insulated overboots: under-the-knee neoprene overboots. Fit should be tight over your boots and be suited to your crampons. Not required if you are using a high-altitude, all-in-one boot
- High-altitude all-in-one boot: option instead or the high-altitude double-boot, this integrated system can be used without overboots or gaiters
- Booties: Synthetic or down camp snow booties for comfort
Handwear and Headwear
- Lightweight liner gloves: wool or synthetic gloves with a comfortable fit. Light colours offer better UV protection
- Softshell gloves: Midweight gloves to use when mittens are too warm. Ideally choose a model fitted with a robust leather palm
- Insulated shell gloves: One pair of shelled gloves containing removable liners. Look for models with a durable leather palm.
- Expedition mittens: Expedition-rated mittens are the warmest model offered by any manufacturer.
- Neck warmer: A UV neck gater is really useful for a wide range of functions. Replaces the need for a bandana and can be used as a scarf, balaclava or hair-holding device.
- Sunhat: Any foldable, protective sunhat is appropriate.
- Balaclava system: Two full balaclavas are important. One that is lightweight and the other heavyweight. Important in addition to the buff.
- Ski hat: Wool or synthetic beanie that covers ears and head
- Face mask: If your balaclava does not have an in-built face mask, you will need to buy one separately. Neoprene models are suitable – make sure it fits you snugly before bringing it along
- Glacier glasses: Glacier glasses with full protection around eyes and across nose is necessary.
- Ski goggles: High-quality goggles for protection from the wind and sun. Visible light transmittion (VLT) should be no more than 30 %. Photochromic models are particularly helpful.
- Nose guard: optional but useful to use instead of constant sunblock application.
- Short underwear: two to three pairs. Synthetic or wool only – avoid cotton! Make sure the style of underwear is comfortable
- Baselayer bottom: Non-cotton baselayer with a good fit. We recommend merino wool.
- Heavy baselayer bottoms: Heavy baselayer bottoms that are specifically designed for climbing expeditions in extreme cold conditions. Fabrics such as Polartec Power Strech, Capilene 4 and Polartec Power Dry are suitable.
- Baselayer top: One or two non-cotton, long-sleeved base layer shirts. Merino wool recommended. Light coloured, hooded baselayers help with sun protection.
- Midlayer top: A form-fitting, midweight fleece layer to wear over baselayers. We recommend a hood on this layer
- Softshell trousers: comfortable, uninsulated trousers that should be able to fir over your baselayer bottoms easily, and fit well without the baselayer too. Avoid “zip-off” style trekking trousers, which are generally too light
- Softshell jacket: A breathable, wind-and-weather proof softshell jacket is critical to your layering. A hood is suggested. Must fit snuggly over the mid and base layers
- Lightweight insulated jacket: an insulated jacked filled with down or synthetic insulation is vital
- Expedition down parka: 8000-meter rated. Must be in perfect condition, fully baffled and recently cleaned with Nikwax Down Wash for optimal loft. We advise that you consult with your touring company your parka choice as this item is such a critical item.
- Insulated trousers: Insulated trousers with full-length side-zips. Avoid ski trousers and one-piece suits.
- Expedition climbing pack: 75 -105 L climbing pack with internal frame. If you opt for a smaller pack make sure you know how to pack your gear very effectively
- -40 Down sleeping bag: Should be rated as -40 degrees sleeping bag. The fabric must be down and not synthetic, as synthetic options of this grade are far too bulky
- Foam pad: ¾ or body length foam pad is needed. Closed cell foam or specifically designed pads both work
- Inflatable sleeping pad: Full length, ultralight inflatable pad recommended. Bring a valve repair/body patch kit in case of puncture
- Water bottle parkas: two insulated water bottle parkers with zipped opening. Neoprene is not recommended as it does not provide enough insulation
- Spoon, knife, mug and bowl: Durable, hard plastic. Longer spoon and knife stems helpful for eating with gloves of. Mug should be insulated. Collapsible bowl will work.
- Water bottle: two or three one litre bottles. BPA free. No water bag or bladder which freeze over too easily.
- Pee bottle (and funnel for women): 1- 1.5 L capacity with a wide mouth, clearly marked.
- Rubbish contractor bags: three bags for waterproofing pack. Can use a waterproof pack liner.
- Small Duffel bag: to store any items you are not bringing on the mountain. 40-50L capacity. Pack a travel lock in case.
- Expedition Duffel bag: 150 L expedition duffel bag for all gear
- Toiletry bag: containing toilet paper, hand sanitiser, toothpaste, floss and wet wipes.
- Sunblock: SPF 30+ and Lipscreen (SPF 30+).
- Small First Aid kit: containing basic painkillers, Moleskin, tape and antiseptic wipes
- Personal medication
- Hand and toe warmers: bring 3 sets of each.
- Food: contact your expedition provider to decide what food to bring. This requires a little research
- Travel clothes
Mount Vinson Climb Permits & Costs
There are no permits required for the Mount Vinson expedition as of yet, but the cost of the overall trip is steep. The price is mostly due to the logistics of getting to Antarctica and the cost of maintaining the Base Camps in such a remote location.
The costs of the Mount Vinson expedition ranges from $34,000 to $50,000.
Generally, in this price the following is included:
- Airport transfers while in Punta Arenas, Chile
- Flights from Punta Arenas to Antarctica and back
- Flights from Union Glacier to Vinson Base Camp and back
- Meals and tents in Antarctica
- Group climbing and camping equipment
- Speciality guide
- The celebration dinner back at Mount Vinson Base Camp
Frequently Asked Questions about Mount Vinson
Is Climbing Mount Vinson Dangerous?
Of course. Remarkably though, there have been no deaths on the mountain. However, there have been serious cases of frostbite, and the risk of climbing remain significant even with the optimistic statistics. Most importantly, the remoteness of the location means that serious medical attention could be many days away. This factor contributes significantly to the risk of the climb.
Do I Need a Guide to Climb Mount Vinson?
Mostly, yes. Unless you are a professional climber, the Antarctic Logistics team will not approve your mission without a guide. If you are dead-set on climbing without a trained guide, you will still need to go with at least 3 other climbers with serious experience.
How long does it take to climb Mount Vinson?
It takes between 5 and 9 days to climb Mount Vinson. You should expect to climb for about 8 to 12 hours per day. Summit day is the longest day of the climb involving an 8 hour ascent and 3 - 5 hour descent.