Tell us the story, what happened down there?
Conrad: After the guiding rotation, we were held back by the weather. Hilaree, Jim, and Jimmy were not able to fly in to the base camp due to inclement weather. Once they landed, we set out the next morning for a one-day ascent of Vinson via the Central Ice Stream. From 1992 to 2002, I worked as a guide on Vinson. In between rotation, I climbed this route. While on the second ascent, we found snow conditions to be vastly different than what I remembered in 1998. Where I had encountered crampon crunching never, we had knee-deep snow. We were lucky in that we reached the summit, which for both Hilaree and Jimmy was a first.
Hilaree: Jim, Jimmy, and I arrive a day early to Union Glacier, excited for the adventure ahead. Conrad was at Vinson Base Camp post-summiting but stuck as inclement weather prevented planes from retrieving any climbers. Four days passed, with the three of us stuck at Union Glacier. This dampened our spirits a bit, but we made the most of the time by riding bikes, reading up on Antarctic mountaineering history, sleeping, and copiously eating.
Finally, the weather on Vinson cleared enough that we were able to make the flight to base camp. We met up with Conrad and were reenergized, both by him and seeing the route for the first time. We set out that day for the base of the climb to drop a load of gear. The next morning, we set out from our base camp to the summit some 10,000 feet above us at over 16,000 feet. Conrad nailed the timing by saying it would take us upwards of 14 hours to summit.
Climbing in ski boots with skis on our backs, the going was slow, especially with really poor climbing conditions. We reached the summit in about 15 hours but weren’t able to ski the way we climbed due to avalanche conditions. Jim, Jimmy, and I skied the regular route—a much safer way, as it’s generally stripped of snow and well-trodden by standard route climbers.