Andy Kirkpatrick has just climbed a new route on Ulvetanna (the mountain Leo Houlding and team climbed in The Last Great Climb) in Antarctica. Andy joined a team of Norwegians including two BASE Jumpers, a Camerawoman, and Aleks Gamme, who Andy had climbed the Troll Wall with last winter (UKC News Report). Despite a big storm looming, the team managed to summit successfully and get down safely.
Andy was invited on the expedition just after a trip to the Towers of Paine had been cancelled and he did not have enough work coming up to finance another one. Although it meant missing christmas, when Andy told his children of the offer of this new trip from Aleks Gamme, they told him he should definitely go.
Soon, Andy was in Norway meeting the team that consisted of; Aleks Gamme, a professional skydiver, record holder for the longest solo polar trip, and had partnered Andy on his Troll Wall ascent last winter. Jonas Langseth, an 8a+ sport and ice climber, Ingerborg Jackobsen the camerawoman. In addition, two BASE jumpers were also part of the team; Kjerski Eide and Espen Fadnes, who were on the expedition due to the television series that was due be made on the expedition.
Andy struggled with a few members of the trip to begin with, especially Jonas Langseth, with Andy commenting on his relationship with Jonas to UKC:
"They say never to go on a trip with a soloist, and from the start of the trip I seemed to be bumping heads with Jonas. I had great respect for him as a climber, a nurse, and as a guy who’s strength and ability was always in demand - but as a climber of cold, loose and dangerous rock, I just found I could not find that subtle connection, where I felt safe climbing with him.
To be fair I was an asshole, and suspect the more I focused myself on testing and questioning Jonas, the more and more doubt he felt about himself. But somehow, Jonas and I found a way to either overcome or ignore these problems and climb together."
The team finally arrived and Andy and Jonas spent the first 10 days climbing the West Face of Holstinnd, which was climbed in 10 60m pitches in terrible weather. The route involved A4, Scottish mixed and awful offwidth climbing, and Andy named the route Zardoz after a Sci-fi film starring Sean Connery.
The whole team then began to tackle the main objective; the South Ridge of Ulvetanna, which had been tried three times previously by a Spanish team, a French Military team and a team led by Robert Caspersan. The route consists of a 300m big wall on good rock with bolt belays to a large snowy shoulder and then a long, technical ridge consisting of poor rock. With the safety of the team to consider, Andy decided to attempt the route in a capsule style using fixed ropes as the style of all previous ascents of Ulvetanna have been, despite Caspersan asking them to climb it in a single push with no bolts.
The team were soon on the shoulder and after hauling a few hundred kilograms of food, clothing and fuel up, they began readying themselves to tackle the ridge. Andy commented on the ridge:
"Aleks and Jonas arrived, bringing up our fixed ropes to use on the upper route (making escape back down to camp impossible without a total retreat). The idea was Jonas, Aleks and I would now climb the upper ridge, and once we where on the summit, Kjersti and Espen would base jump, but within one day Jonas came down with food poising from eating some dodgy mince at base camp. And so we mixed and matched, until after about 13 days since beginning I climbed the second to last pitch - up a mind-blowing horn of rock pasted with wind sculptured rock on one side.
I was unsure if I could free climb up this feature, as any object sticking from the rock invariability snapped off when pulled on, but half way up I found a worn hole going through the rock spire and managed to squeeze through (I got my weight up to 100kg before the trip, and lost 15kg in 50 days, so it was lucky this feature was encountered at the end, not the start of the exped!). Once through, I climbed up a snow ramp and pulled onto a tiny flat area and saw the summit for the first time, just 30 metres away (an easy scramble). The goal had always been for us all to reach the summit together, and I had experienced a real sense of pride at how well the team had worked together, learning new skills, and often putting aside their personal ambitions. I could have so easily climbed up and bagged the summit, but instead knew I had to wait until tomorrow."
However, early the next morning the team got a call on the satellite phone from a Russian base at Novo on the coast of Antarctica, informing them of a bad storm heading their way the next day. Having been pinned down in storms before, Andy was keen to get off the mountain as quick as possible, but in order to descend the first 300 metres of the route, the upper route had to be stripped. Andy commented further:
"'I think we should set off now' I said, fearing that now the clock was ticking. We had to hope we had time to climb to the top (4 hours), then clean the upper route, in order to fix the lower wall to get off the mountain. It was a tall order, and was going to require no sleep this day, and working into the rest of tomorrow."
This also meant that the BASE jumpers could not jump, as they would end up on the wrong side of the mountain and were needed to help strip and descend the mountain quickly. Andy described summiting on Ulvetanna:
"True to the mountain even the last few metres felt serous and bold, rock lumps the size of footballs crumbling and falling away as a moved up without any protection. And then I was there. A summit with large fractured pinnacle, that I looped with the rope to stop me falling off, and then used myself as an anchor to allow the other to jumar up.
We stood there, a new route on what has been called ‘the hardest mountain in the world’ (due mostly to its locality) and I think we all felt the same - flat and sad. If the guys had had their rigs they could have jumped. Conditions where perfect, and the exit was mind-blowing. I felt no sense of achievement at all. As with all summits all I wanted was to get the hell out of there."
You can watch a video of Andy's trip here:
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