Major New Routes in Antarctica



Jarmila Tyrril climbing mixed ground on her new route on Mt. Vinson. Photo by Maria Paz Ibarra.

An international team has climbed new routes on 16,050-foot Mt. Vinson, Antarctica’s highest peak, and 14,803-foot Mt. Epperly, making the third and fourth ascents of Epperly in the process. 

On December 20, Maria Paz Ibarra (Chile) and Jarmila Tyrril (Slovakia, living in Australia) climbed a 4,000-foot mixed line toward the north end of Vinson’s West Face, and then traversed along the ridgeline to reach the main summit, after about 10 hours of climbing. 

Tyrril, 31, is one of Australia’s best rock climbers, with numerous hard ascents up to 5.13d. Both women are part of an Omega Foundation climbing and GPS survey expedition organized by Damien Gildea, a veteran of seven climbing expeditions to the southern continent. 

The Chilena-Slovak Route on Mt. Vinson. Photo courtesy of Damien Gildea.

On December 27 and 28, Camilo Rada (Chile) and Gildea (Australia) climbed a 6,900-foot new route on the South Face of Mt. Epperly in a 20-hour push. Ibarra and Tyrril followed on the 28th. They called the line The Fifth Element. 

Said Gildea: “The route was longest, hardest, most sustained, and most exhausting of any of the Omega GPS expeditions done in Antarctica, starting at around 2,400 meters and finishing around 4,510 meters, with a few pitches of moderate technical rock climbing at the top and lots of sustained ice, snow, and mixed terrain below. There wasn’t a single remotely flat spot to rest in from the bottom to the summit plateau. Deep, soft snow in the upper couloir made progress even slower, but really the whole face was not in good condition, with a layer of loose, slippery snow over much of the slope.” 

Dangerous cornices and a lack of hardware prevented them from summiting the final 10-foot rock pinnacle at the top of Epperly. Only one other person had climbed the mountain: Erhard Loretan from Switzerland, who did it twice, in 1994 and 1995. 

Jarmila Tyrril climbing low on The Fifth Element, a new route on Mt. Epperly’s South Face. Photo by Maria Paz Ibarra.

As on many previous surveying climbs in the Sentinel Range, the Omega Foundation expedition climbed in two teams so they could leave a GPS unit on the summit and then retrieve it after many hours of data collection. The preliminary data show Epperly to be much higher than previously thought: 4,512 meters versus 4,359 meters (about 500 feet higher), which would lift Epperly from the 10th highest peak on the continent to fifth or sixth. 

The team hopes to climb and survey Mt. Tyree, Antarctica’s second-highest peak, before leaving the ice. The mountain has only been climbed by seven people, and no one has done it in the past decade. 

Dates of Ascents: December 2007 

Sources: Damien Gildea, American Alpine Journal

The Fifth Element ascends nearly 7,000 vertical feet on Epperly’s South Face. The prominent couloir to the left is the line soloed by Erhard Loretan in 1994 and 1995 to make the peak’s first and second ascents. Photo courtesy of Damien Gildea.

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