It’s a desolate, glacial emptiness with bone-chilling temperatures that can range anywhere from -10°C to -80°C
Christine Amour-Levar was one of the women that climbed two new mountains in Antarctica to raise awareness of women’s and environmental issues
LOCATION: Union Glacier Camp, Antarctica
CHALLENGERS: Her Planet Earth, an NGO from Singapore
Her Planet Earth was on a quest to discover new routes and peaks in the Heritage Mountain range, Antarctica and raise awareness of environment issues. It’s clear that Antarctica is fighting for its own survival. The continent is losing large chunks of ice that are the size of cities from its coastline as a result of global warming, and when these icebergs melt and increase sea levels, this could have catastrophic consequences for our planet.
Man has never permanently inhabited this remote landmass. It is accessible only during its warmest months, from November to March. It has no metropolis or village to speak of, no habitat except perhaps the odd expedition shed or research station. It’s a desolate, glacial emptiness with bone-chilling temperatures that can range anywhere from -10°C to -80°C during the colder months.
Their expedition took place in January. However, they would still be facing a climate that is extremely volatile as conditions in Antarctica can often change dramatically and suddenly.
The team spent its first few days at Union Glacier brushing up on climbing skills and getting acclimatised to the Antarctic conditions. The team practiced rope work, crevasse rescue, navigation, weather observations, and polar camping skills. During this period, the six climbers also planned their objectives with their mountains guides.
Over the next few days the team set out on multiple exploratory climbing trips that varied from hard technical ascents to ridge traverses with views over the Ronne Ice Shelf and Polar Plateau. They attempted steep ice and snow couloirs, classic ridge traverses, icy crests, rock pyramids, hidden valleys, and then took on unclimbed peaks.
“Our days of climbing were long and draining and we were constantly alert for hidden crevasses on the route,” says Christine Amour-Levar. “On two occasions, one of us fell partly into a crevasse, but as we were roped together at all times in groups of three, 15 metres apart, we didn’t lose anyone to the ice.” The team encountered unpredictable weather at times, with low clouds and icy winds causing the temperature to drop to minus 25 degrees Celsius and forcing them to turn back on several occasions. “Even when the summit ridge seemed so close that we thought we could almost touch it, we knew that if the weather continued to worsen we could endanger the team if we kept climbing, so we did the right thing, and descended back to camp,” Amour-Levar explains.
However, the team was blessed with good weather for the most part and this gave them the chance to establish several new routes, claim the first female ascent of one peak and the two first ascents of unclimbed mountains. “The sense of achievement and pride is truly indescribable,” says Amour-Levar. “As we were the first to summit the mountains, we were given the right to name these two new peaks.” The first, they named ‘Mount Gaia’, ancient Greek for the Goddess Earth. The second mountain they named Mount Malala in honour of the Nobel Peace prize winner, Malala Yousafzai. “The whole experience was unbelievably rewarding,” says Amour-Levar. “Antarctica, has a raw, natural beauty that surpassed all of our expectations.”