Mount Carrara rises out of the 500 meter thick azure ice of Sky Blu. The base of the mountain sits several kilometers from the melon huts where we were laid up for almost a week. One of the first days in Sky Blue, the weather cleared up and all the jobs in the station were done, so we packed our ice axes and snowmobiled over the Carrara. The ride out is across the blue ice, a ten kilometer long sheet of perfectly polished ice covered in light snow.
Our hiking part consisted of four field guides – Al, Allie, Cheese, and Blaire. Field guides are hired by the British Antarctic Survey to lead field parties across cravassed regions and up unexplored mountains. Joining these experienced mountaineers were Sam, the engineer helping me recover SPIDER, and myself.
Mt. Carrara rises up about 1000 m above the ice (If you look at wikipedia, it says Carrara is 1700 m tall. There’s about 500 m of ice rising up from sea level, leaving about 1000 m of ascent.). The safest route is along the ridge line. The initial ascent to the false peak consisted purely of ice and loose rocks that would slide out underneath our feet if we put too much weight on it. I slipped every other step and was exhausted after walking 100 ft. While I trudged slowly uphill, my traveling companions swapped stories as if on a pleasant stroll. Humbling.
But all of them were incredibly kind. They broke though the snow so that I could step in their compacted footsteps. Advice was provided without pretense or judgement. I learned how to properly hold an ice ax and kick into snow. I learned how to read the lines of the mountain and how to identify hidden sheets of ice.
As we reached the the false peak, I was full of excitement and empty of energy. My companions sensed my exhaustion, although “sensing” is probably not the right word. I was hunched over gasping for air. They generousl suggested that we stop for a rest and discussed the formation history of the mountains while I caught my breath.
We trekked past the the false peak, descending briefly until we reached the next incline. The ground turned from ice and loose rock to powdery snow and loose rock. I pressed on, uncertain of each step, stumbling often. My companions pressed on as if they were climbing a staircase.
After many fits and slips, we reached the summit and were greeted with an amazing view. Carrara is the tallest peak in the local area. Sky Blu was just a few dots breaking the perfect white landscape. The other mountains rose out of the sea of pristine snow and ice. We exchanged high fives and took pictures then started heading down.
I had assumed that the ascent was the hardest part, but I was only partially correct. The physical exertion was largely over, but now it became an exercise in balance and focus. Descending down loose rocks is terrifying. Each step you lower yourself slowly, making sure the ground beneath your feet is secure before putting your full weight down. Even my skilled compatriots slowed down and I moved at a snails pace. But step by step we made our way down.
At the base I looked back at the mountain and could just barely make out the peak. What a beautiful site! And now I can say I mountaineered in Antarctica.