On the 2nd January 2009 Japanese Climber, Yasayuki Okobu, became the first deaf person to climb Mount Vinson in Antarctica. His Guide was BMG aspirant Rob Jarvis who takes up the story in Southern Patagonia waiting for a flight South on to the Ice.
Mount Vinson (4892m, S 78° W 85°)
Ellsworth Mountains 2008/09
An anticipated White Christmas on ice turned into a sunny bbq in Southern Patagonia as strong Katabatic winds in the Antarctic delayed our inbound flight for 11 days.
No problem for those with the time and patience to enjoy the fascinating geography of the Southern Chilean port town, Punta Arenas. Situated on the Magellan straits, which separates the South American mainland from Tierra del Fuego, Punta once enjoyed the wild west notoriety of a town with more brothels per head of population than anywhere else in the world!
Since the opening of the Panama canal in 1914 things have calmed down a bit and now Punta is a pleasant town with a whole host of decent bars, restaurants, museums, a cinema with English language films and even a decent new climbing wall.
Whilst our Christmas was sunny and pleasant, new year, spent at High Camp on Mount Vinson (3770m), would be distinctly chillier.
I was in the good company of Japanese client, Yasuyuki Okobu, the first ever deaf climber to attempt Mount Vinson and fellow Guides from U.S. based guiding company, Adventure Network International.
Not only was it a pleasure and privilege to be back guiding in this wild and pristine environment it was also a new and fascinating experience to be climbing with a deaf partner.
As most folk I have 'inflicted' my French language 'skills' on would would agree, I'm not exactly a natural linguist and picked up basic sign language a lot quicker than I would have picked up basic Japanese! Pretty quickly Yasuyuki and I were able to communicate the essentials of Antarctic mountaineering quite effectively. What time does the sun hit camp? How many layers to climb / sleep in? What are the names of all those fantastic peaks out there? Which of these delicious frozen Norweigan cooked meals do you fancy for dinner?
Like most expedition peaks the communication required on Vinson summit day isn't terribly subtle. Keep walking, slowly - for 50 minutes, stop for 5, drink, eat, pee, drink again, adjust clothing and go. Repeat to summit with stops less frequent on descent.
We kept this rhythm up fairly stoically untill near the summit ridge, about 6 hours after leaving high camp. Yasuyuki was stalling a little and I huffed rather impatiently and brought the rope in, thinking - this is only 25 minutes after our last stop - we'll lose our rhythm, man. At this point our thus far effective communication process seemed to be failing us and I really couldn't quite work out what the problem was. I thought I'd better have a look at Yasuyuki's eyes as they are often a good give away as to how folk are fairing on a big summit day. I got tired but bright eyes looking back and almost even a smile before I realised the insides of his goggles were completely matted with thick, opaque ice.
We were at 4600m in the Antarctic, it was -35°C with a 15 knot wind blowing, Yasuyuki was not an experienced mountaineer and now could now neither hear or see - but had been plodding on nonetheless.....if ever there was any doubt about his commitment to get up this mountain.....it flashed away, this guy was determind.....and we were going to the summit.....
Yasuyuki not only climbed Mount Vinson he also demonstrated that being unable to hear or speak in no way precludes the ability to enjoy simply being in this remarkable but harsh environment.
Perhaps his ascent will provide inspiration to others. Perhaps he will go on to be the first deaf climber to complete the 7 summits. Either way Yasuyuki is unlikely to forget his time under the magical spell that Antarctica casts on all it's lucky visitors.
Those with time and energy left after climbing Vinson should think about making an ascent of the nearby Mount Shinn. At 4660m Shinn is one of the 5 highest peaks in Antarctica and provides breathtaking views North along the rest of the Ellsworth chain. The extremely pleasant final mixed ground and airy alpine ridge demands concentration. However it's hard not to be distracted by the views South to the Vinson massif and beyond to the seemingly infinite, horizon bending expanse of flat and white stretching out to the South Pole.....
Those with even more time and energy, not to mention hard cash, could have a closer look at the tough and technical challenges required in climbing Mount Tyree, the 2nd highest peak in Antarctica. In a similar theme to the differences between K2 and Everest, Tyree is a long and difficult climb and has only received 4 ascents. All were by strong teams including U.S. super alpinsits Conrad Anker and Alex Lowe, a remarkable solo ascent by Mugs Stump and an ascent by a very strong French team in 1997. There are various exciting possibilities for new lines as well as the first British ascent so if anyone out there has $100000 or so to spare and fancies sponsoring a British Tyree expedition.....please do get in touch!
Thanks to Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (A.L.E.) and Adventure Network International (A.N.I.) for an excellent seasons guiding work in Antarctica. ALE run an impressively strict environmental policy on Vinson which includes the removal of all human waste. So, despite the presence of numerous other teams on the mountain, it still feels like you are climbing in a pristine environment.
Rob Jarvis, Punta Arenas, Southern Chile, Jan 2009