Expedition Antarctica – Rock climbing in the perpetual ice
In December, Alexander and Thomas Huber, better known as the ‚Huber Brothers’ along with Stephan Siegrist managed an ascent of Ulvetanna and the first ascent of the West Face of Holtanna.
Six weeks in the perpetual ice. Temperatures as low as -50°Celsius, heavy storms, surprisingly instable weather, no sunset. Sheltered by nothing but clothing, sleeping bag and a tent. For many this goes already beyond all imagination. Climbing a 750-meter high vertical granite wall under such circumstances, preferably in a free manner, is a setting that gives Thomas and Alexander Huber the necessary motivation to passionately approach a new adventure.
In November and December 2008, the two mountaineers and extreme climbers from Berchtesgaden, Germany, travelled together with fellow Swiss mountaineer Stephan Siegrist to Queen Maud Land amidst the Antarctica. German cameraman Max Reichel (“To the Limit”) accompanied the alpinists to document the extreme and ice-cold expedition firsthand.
Like nowhere else in the Antarctica, amazing rock formations stick out of the Antarctic ice shield in Queen Maud Land. These towers are only the tops of a mountain range of which the highest summits have pierced the kilometre thick continental ice sheet to form unique and spectacular granite mountains that tower like missiles amidst the seemingly endless, white glacier desert. The highest and most impressive mountains in Queen Maud Land are the 2931-meter high Ulvetanna, one of the most difficult mountains in the world, and the slightly lower Holtanna (2650 m) with its West Face, one of the steepest and most difficult faces of the Antarctica.
Apart from the impressive Ulvetanna („wolf tooth“), the three Alpinists were mainly attracted by the challenge of a first ascent of the West Face of Holtanna („hollow tooth“). „It’s an extreme Big Wall, 750 metres high, altogether more than just vertical, in the iciness of the Antarctica“, Alexander Huber describes the challenge.
No less than six weeks was the time frame the Huber Brothers set themselves for their trip into the unknown. Despite in-depth research and talks with members of former Antarctica expeditions, no one knew if free climbing in these cold temperatures would actually be manageable.
The Huber Brothers ascended the 750-metre high West Face, but had to put their free climbing ambitions on hold due to the glacial temperatures. „It was very, very cold”, Thomas Huber says, “but despite these extreme conditions our first ascent of the West Face was a gem: “Eiszeit” (“Ice Age”), 24 pitches, difficulty up to 5.10+ and technically up to A4”.
Only one week later, however, the extreme climbers were able to claim the first free ascent of Holtanna via its North Buttress. “Even though the difficulties were fairly moderate, the beauty of the route „Skywalk“, 7-, cannot be outmatched”, raves Thomas Huber.
The three alpinists had their sights on yet another great goal. “Towards the end of our Antarctica expedition we were once again lucky with the weather”, the Huber Brothers recount. “So within two days we ascended the Ultanna via its Northwest Buttress. The first ascent of “Sound of Silence” 5.11-/A2 was the cherry on the cake of what we think is our most beautiful expedition to date. Judged from the outside we might have not been able to realize our goal - a difficult free climb amidst the Antarctica - one hundred per cent, but with an air temperature of -20°Celsius a seven becomes a nine and a nine becomes virtually impossible. And most of the time it was even colder than that! We have tried everything, we have managed everything and we are very happy!”
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