Polartec Challenge Team Visits Queen Maud Land, Antarctica

Antarctica: The Frozen Frontier

Queen Maud Land: the adventure starts in sun-soaked South Africa, in late spring.

On the evening of November 11, 2012, a little after dinner hours, a group of men steadily forms in the back corner of the departures terminal of the Cape Town International Airport. Most are clad casually, in blue jeans and windbreakers, work pants and ski jackets. Some might be oil riggers flying home after a two week work stint, others lawyers, off on a ski holiday. If you were rushing by to make boarding call, you wouldn’t give them a second glance…

…but if you looked twice, you might notice the backpacks and pelican cases — and the high-topped, over-sized duck boots tucked conspicuously under everyone’s arms. So it was that our four-man team of Mike Libecki, Cory Richards, Keith Ladzinski, and I joined them and checked in for flight # YRY9173, or “D1”, shorthand for Dromlan 1, the first jet plane of the season to land on the blue ice runway near Schirmacher Oasis, Novolazarevskaya Station, Antarctica.

The rough estheticism of frontier life has always attracted strong personalities. Over the next six weeks, I came to know my companions very well. We laughed like billy-goats and swore like sailors as we explored a range of razor summits in the Wolthat Mountains of Queen Maud Land. At each turn in our journey, the latent physical power of the landscape dictated every aspect of our lives.

We returned to Cape Town on December 21st, having consumed approximately 200 kilograms in food weight, destroyed three tents, climbed two new routes to likely unclimbed summits, and made a ski circumnavigation of the range to further explore.

This was team leader Mike Libecki’s third trip to the mountains of East Antarctica, and it did not disappoint.

“The rock we climbed on seemed to be created by Dr. Seuss himself,” Libecki writes. “My previous trips there were simply stepping stones that led to this incredible challenge of wind, cold, and the wildest rock features and formations I have climbed on.”

One key difference: the Wolthat Mountains are located approximately 150 km east of the more popularly visited Fenris area around Ulvetanna, and subject to frequent blasts of katabatic winds. “For some reason, this region of the Wolthats serves as a major tunnel for winds coming off the polar plateau. It set the tone for an entire expedition of hard work and surreal beauty.”

Libecki continues: “I would like to send bow-down, ultimate appreciation and thanks to the team, all of our family, friends, supporters, including The National Geographic Society and the NG Expeditions Council, as well as the Polartec Challenge Grant and the Copp-Dash Inspire Award. It was not just our team of four that succeeded and climbed these towers, it was also hundreds of other people that made this possible, and I appreciate this with all of my heart and soul.  We would not have stepped out the door without countless people and their time and energy.”

Route Info:

Bertha’s Tower: 5.11R A3+ Grade VI

(Libecki, Wilkinson [Richards, Ladzinski])

Grammie Hannah’s Tower: 5.6 2000+ feet.

(Libecki, Richards, Wilkinson)

The full story will launch in September 2013.



Text by Freddie Wilkinson, photos by Mike Libecki

(This piece is also featured on National Geographic’s Adventure Blog)

Trip Report — Rimo III

Simon, Malcolm, and Paul on the summit of Dunglung Kangri, Photo credit: Simon Yearsley

Trip report compiled by: Malcolm Bass

We arrived in Delhi on the 11th of August, having flown with all our kit as excess hold baggage. This meant that we could avoid the joys of Indian customs: on past trips we have spent at least two days liberating our freight from customs. Hold luggage is the way to go.

We met Satya and the rest of the Indian team at the IMF. Whilst Satya lives close to Delhi, the other Indian members had flown from Leh, travelling very lightly. This meant that they could carry some of our excess luggage on the flight to Leh. We were still overweight for the flight, and had to pay extra. Luggage weight is carefully controlled on the Delhi-Leh flight, and pre booked excess is much cheaper, so it is worth planning this part of the trip with some care.

The flight to Leh was short and spectacular, and it was an excited party that arrived in Leh. I started to feel ill with a viral infection almost immediately and took to my bed. The rest of the team shopped for hill food (noodles, soups, nut and namkeen) to supplement the High Five products we had brought from the UK. We stayed two full days in Leh (3524m) to begin our acclimatisation.  Once the hard work had been done I rallied and was able to join the team for a day trip to a nearby monastery on the second day. Raj Kumar, our highly experienced and effective LO, worked hard during these two days doing the needful with local military and civilian authorities. We discovered that a joint IMF/Indian Army expedition to Rimo I was already in the field: hopefully they would have dealt with the Terong River crossing.

South Face of Rimo III, Photo credit: Rachel Antill

The next day the expedition set off by road in two jeeps and a lorry, the road climbing steeply into the Ladakh Range north of Leh. Half an hour later a mobile phone call from the Army ordered us to stop. We knew that the expedition would be accompanied by two Indian Army representatives, and the halt was required whilst it was clarified where we would link up with these soldiers. A couple of anxious hours followed, but it gave us a chance to take an early lunch whilst Satya and Raj worked the ‘phones. Once it was established that we would meet the Army guys at Siachen Base we were on our way for a great day’s driving over the Khardung La (5395m) into the Nubra Valley. The last section of the drive in the soft evening light to our guest house near Panamik was particularly memorable.

The next day we continued up the Nubra Valley towards the Siachen, soon passing the limit of civilian travel. A few miles short of the glacier snout we were met by the Indian army with a generous packed lunch and hot tea which we took in the shade of the scrub willows growing on the vast flood plain of the Nubra. After lunch we drove a short leg to a camp site that the Army had identified for us on the flood plain. It was idyllic.  Little streams of clear water gurgled through clean sandy channels, willows gave shade, and birds and butterflies flitted about. A phone discussion took place between the team and the base commander as to how long we needed to remain camped here for acclimatisation. We agreed on two nights, longer than we had planned, but very short by the Army’s acclimatisation protocol which would suggest four nights. We suggest future teams factor this into their plans; negotiation might not always be possible on this point.

As soon as we found the huge granite boulders lying on flat sandy landings we knew our stay would be worthwhile. Uncompleted projects made our eventual departure bitter sweet.

Two days later, accompanied by an Army escort, we drove up to the Army Base near the snout of the Siachen glacier. Again the army were generous hosts providing us with tea and biscuits as we readied ourselves to begin the walk in. Our porters arrived, and we met Kanchan Singh and Vinay Kumar who would be the Indian Army representatives on the trip.

It was an amazing privilege to start walking up the immense Siachen glacier. In deference to our Indian hosts need to maintain good security this report will not say much about this part of the journey.

Base camp and upper North Terong glacier, Photo credit: Rachel Antill

By midday we were descending the side of the Siachen to the Terong valley and the turbulent Terong River which sinks into the Siachen glacier. We found the lower Terong Valley to be particularly beautiful. Steep granite cliffs on both sides would provide many lifetimes of rock climbing. The valley floor is sandy and lightly vegetated at the edges, with wide banks of water worn cobbles on the river’s edge. The river meanders across the valley and at several points runs directly under the cliffs. Because of this, in normal to high flow, progressing up valley means either crossing the river or traversing the cliffs on steep rock. On our trip the Rimo I expedition ahead of us had crossed the river (using ladders) where it was braided, and then fixed a Tyrolean traverse which was there for us to use. We therefore dropped off the Siachen glacier onto the true left bank of the Terong River, then followed this bank till further progress was barred by the river running under the cliffs, at which point we crossed using the Tyrolean. Having crossed we stayed on the true right bank till we met the Terong Glacier.

We camped in a superb spot amongst willow scrub a mile or two short of the Tyrolean. This became known as Jungle Camp. (In 1985 it was known as Dust Camp). The next day we crossed the Tyrolean (time consuming with all the loads) and walked up the other bank to camp at the foot of the Terong glacier.

Two days later on the 22nd of August  we arrived at base camp (4950m) on the North Terong glacier on a site we shared with the Rimo I expedition, a marginally flatter than average section of medial moraine beneath Safina, an ugly shale peak on the true left side of the Terong. Not the greatest base camp, but we could see our objective, the gorgeous south face of Rimo III. By this stage, although we had arrived, we had virtually no porters left, and loads were scattered all along the approach march. This never delayed our progress, but Tashi, Thinless, Dan Singh and all our camp staff had to work very hard throughout the first week of the trip to get everything up to BC.

Our base camp was still a good distance from Rimo III and so our plan had always been to run two staffed camps, base and advanced base. We would have preferred to staff the one camp, but there is a certain gravity to a base camp, and once one is established there will always be someone who wants to stay there. And they will need a cook, who will need an assistant and so on. So two staffed camps it would be.  Over the next few days we established ABC at 5350m at the foot of the steep glacier (almost an icefall) leading up under the west face of Rimo I to the cwm below the south face of Rimo III. ABC consisted of six small tents and a stone built kitchen shelter with a tarpaulin roof.

It was time to start acclimatising to higher elevations, so Malcolm, Paul and Simon packed climbing kit and a few days’ food and gas and set off up towards the face. The steep glacier/icefall was most unpleasant, and, despite the small cairns erected by an earlier scouting party from the Rimo I expedition, route finding wasn’t easy. The whole place was in a state of gradual disintegration. Over the course of our trip a major ice bridge collapsed, forcing a change of route, and rolling rocks were a feature throughout, one catching Simon a nasty blow on the elbow later in the trip.

We spent three nights in the upper cwm at about between 5800 and 6000m, finding our way round the maze of crevasses and bergschrunds. On the third day we climbed up to 6400m on the ground beneath the RimoIII/RimoII col, finding the steeper ground to be brittle ice with little or no snow cover. We scoped what we thought was the best line on the south face of Rimo III, declared ourselves acclimatised, and went back down to ABC.

Whilst we had been away Satya and Rachel had explored various aspects of the upper North Terong and indulged in a frenzy of photography. There had been hopes of finding a reasonable way onto the Teram Shar ice cap from the head of the Terong, but all possible routes looked to be menaced by massive seracs.

After a couple of days rest Malcolm, Paul, Simon, Satya, Thinless, Tashi and Dan Singh went back to the upper cwm. On the evening of the 2nd of September, after the afternoon rock fall had quieted, the three British climbers set off for the face. We carried five days food and gas, one single skin tent and a bivvy bag, but no sleeping bags;   our plan being to rest in the heat of the day. We had chosen a route to the left of the crest of the central spur on the face. The bergschrund was more complex than anticipated, but after that we made good progress up moderate slopes of brittle ice. The air was warmer than it should have been at night at 6000+metres, and the number of fallen blocks embedded in the ice disturbed us, as did the humming of rock fall from a loose area to our left, so we climbed in pitches. Then, down valley, the stars started to go out. We climbed on. Then, as we reached the foot of the large couloir (c6200m) that we anticipated would take us half way up the face, it began to snow. Not being in the best place for snow, and it still being early in the trip, we quickly decided to go down and return in clearer, colder conditions. Our decision was vindicated when it started to rain as we abseiled. Rocks were starting to fall down our line as we reached the bergschrund, and there was water in the v thread holes we drilled. Tashi and Satya made us soup for breakfast as we reached the tents. We left one tent pitched, filled it with food, gas and gear, and went back down to ABC.

A rather dull ten days followed. It snowed every day, and sometimes it rained. The sky was constantly grey and everything dripped. The peaks were shrouded in cloud. But we clung on to our foothold at ABC until the last possible moment, until we knew that there wasn’t time for the face to clear and us to climb it before the porters arrived. Then we went back up to the cwm to retrieve our gear. The upper cwm was thigh deep in snow, and we were lucky to find our tent; only a couple of inches showed above the drifts.

Paul and Simon on Dunglung Kangri, Photo credit: Malcolm Bass

We wound up ABC and everyone went back to BC. But we were still optimistic about finding something to climb. There haven’t been many expeditions to the North Terong, and whilst Harish Kapadia and other members of the 1985 expedition had climbed several of the 6000ers in the basin, there are plenty more still to be climbed. We didn’t have much time, so we needed an accessible objective. We also needed to avoid open snow slopes as they were all laden by now. The unclimbed peak at the west end of the Sondhi-Sundrbar ridge, marked on Harish’s sketch map as 6330m, fitted the bill. It is an attractive, largely rocky peak with a noticeably lower sub peak to its west. The south west face, conveniently close to BC, consists of several broad couloirs, or narrow ice fields, separated by rocky spurs. These lead to a gendarmed ridge, which in turn leads to the sub peak, then slightly down to a col below a steeper final summit pyramid. Our spirits rose, a plan was hatched, and on the afternoon 13th of September Malcolm, Paul, and Simon were scrambling up scree, then an easy rocky ridge, to a superb bivouac site. It was fun to be moving upwards again in the rare afternoon sun. It snowed overnight, but not enough to cause concern, so just after dawn we set off at a fair pace, soloing up and across the ice fields and couloirs, and the ridges and ribs that separated them.

Sections of loose, snowed up rock on the ribs demanded care, and soon snow began to fall again. A final steepening took us onto the gendarmed ridge. The wind began to pick up as we moved together along this attractive feature, and snow squalls blew in on dark clouds from the south west. The summit pyramid came in and out of view as the clouds blew across. It was exhilarating to be there at over 6000m in such dramatic conditions. We reached the col where the massive snow basin of the east face swept up to the ridge. We would not be descending that way. We set off moving together up the brittle ice of the summit pyramid, but the climbing soon became too insecure for that. An increasingly deep layer of loose snow was somehow adhering to very hard, very shiny ice. To get decent purchase for tools or crampons required a hearty blow, and the muffling snow had to be mostly cleared before striking. So the climbing slowed down just as the wind sped up.  Malcolm was leading and got very cold hands. Paul and Simon just got very cold. Morale faltered, questions were asked. The issue hung in the balance. Another snow squall blew in to rime our beards. It was all very Scottish. We would go on. And there was the summit, closer than we’d feared, and then we there, catching awful glimpses through the clouds down the north face. The altimeter read 6365m. It was about 4pm on the 14th of September. We didn’t stay long before Simon set the first of many abseils he’d set that night and we were on our way down.

Had we just been going straight down the south west face to the glacier by the straightest line we would have got down very quickly. But we’d left our bivouac kit on the hidden side of one of several rocky spurs, exactly which we weren’t sure. And by now it was dark. We didn’t find the right spur till it got light again. When we got back to the glacier we were overjoyed to be greeted by Rachel and Satya bearing hot juice and pakora.

We had one day of decent weather at base camp before the clouds came again. The first day of the walk out through black moraine slag heaps in constant rain was particularly grim. And so our last camp, the one we made next day at jungle camp, was particularly joyful by contrast. We were all safely across the river. The sun shone through the late afternoon and the warmed ground gave off earthy, herby, living smells. Rachel painted with Paul by her side. Malcolm and Simon scrambled on the massive granite slabs of the sidewalls. People gathered drift wood from the river side, and in the evening we built a fire around which the whole team gathered. Nothing special was said; some socks were dried and some were burnt. But we all knew that it was special.


Polartec Challenge Winner – Nobody’s River Campaign

Polartec Challenge Winner – Nobody’s River – needs your help!  This all-women team of modern day adventur-ettes are embarking on an epic expedition this summer, paddling the Amur River in Asia.  The Amur is a free-flowing river across northeast Asia beginning in Mongolia, passing through Russia, and into China.  The 3-month-long journey will begin this summer.  You can follow these gals on their 4,400-km source-to-sea adventure as they document their trip at: www.nobodysriver.org.  The Amur River is so special because it remains undammed and the team, made up of a river ecologist, a Grand Canyon guide, a wilderness physician’s assistant, and an adventure photographer, plan to bring back their findings regarding species diversity and water quality measurements to help ecologists better understand the lasting effect damming can have on rivers.

How can you get involved?  Nobody’s River is holding a fundraiser and giving away some fabulous gifts in the process!  Visit their fundraising page to learn more about the project and see what’s up for grabs at: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/339114/

Mongolia or Bust!

Polartec® Alpha® coming to consumers fall 2013

We’re returning from the Outdoor Retailer, SIA and ISPO trade shows where we launched Polartec® Alpha®, the first-ever breathable puffy fabric, to media. It’s an entirely new class of fabric technology that rounds out Polartec’s offering of over 300 performance fabrics – from lightweight next-to-skin, to insulation, to extreme weather protection fabrics.

Essentially, Polartec Alpha is a puffy fabric that’s not a vapor barrier – a lightweight, quick-drying insulation that allows air exchange for breathability and comfort in more dynamic situations. Unlike down or existing synthetic insulation bating, Polartec Alpha is a highly stable layer allowing for the use of more open and breathable fabrics on the outer and inner layers of puffy-style garments. Classic puffy garments require “down-proof” or high-density woven layers that create a vapor barrier. Although they work well in static conditions, these classic puffy garments trap moisture inside the garment during even minimal activity.

In addition to unprecedented levels of breathability and moisture vapor transport in a puffy, Polartec Alpha maintains insulation values while wet and offers dramatically faster dry times than existing puffy-style fabrics on the market. Highly compressible, it also provides inherent wind resistance and warmth without weight.

Polartec Alpha was developed to meet the performance requirements of the U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF). SOF required something that was warm, wind resistant, highly durable, quick drying, and more breathable than existing insulation products. Polartec Alpha received the highest testing results of any Polartec product ever tested by the SOF evaluation team. The SOF garment made of Polartec Alpha (by Patagonia) will replace two to three layers, reducing costs, saving weight in the field, and improving combat effectiveness.

Polartec Alpha jackets, vests and hoodies will become available to consumers fall 2013 in the collections of Polartec partner brands 66º North, Eddie Bauer, Eider, Mammut, Marmot, Montane, Mountain Equipment, Rab, Ternua, Terry Cycle, The North Face, Trangoworld, Vaude and Westcomb.

Check out these recent awards and recognition given to Polartec Alpha, as well as other innovative products coming out fall 2013:

GearJunkie ‘Best in Show’ Awards

Gear Institute ‘Best in Show’ Awards

ISPO Awards

SNEWS Editors’ Picks

Polartec Scufoneda Balderdash Giveaway

Happy Holidays Polartec fans! Seeing as everyone has their own DEFINITION of holiday traditions and how they ring in the winter season, we figured it was only fitting to play a little game of Balderdash as this week’s giveaway. For those of you unfamiliar with the game- you make up a definition for a gibberish word and the best definition wins.

This week, Polartec partner, Land’s End, gave away a trip to the Polartec Scufoneda ski event in Italy. The true definition stems from Moena, Italy and a love for freeriding and is celebrated by locals and all types of skiers and snowboarders annually in the Italian Dolomites.

So- this week’s contest is to come up with a new definition of ‘Scufoneda.’
Post your entry into a comment below this post on the Polartec Facebook page and we will announce a winner on Monday, November 26th at Noon MST.

The winning definition will win A Land’s End AirCore 100 1/2 Zip (winner’s choice of either one men’s medium or one women’s small to give away)
The Polartec® Aircore® series of fabrics developed for Lands’ End set a new standard for lightweight warmth and breathability. The fabrics use hollow core yarns that improve the warmth to weight ratio, making them 20% warmer.


Polartec First Snow Patagonia Giveaway

The first snows are falling all over the country in the past couple of weeks, ski resorts in Colorado are already opening and it is officially time to pull the winter gear out of mothballs and see what needs replacing (or washing). So we figured we would help a few of you upgrade your winter gear for free.

This week we are giving away a Men’s and Women’s edition of Patagonia Piton Pullover- The new Piton Pullover keeps things simple: it’s a thermal, no-frills, wicking baselayer. Or midlayer. Either way, it gives stretchy warmth whether worn alone on low-wind days, or layered under a shell. The Power Dry poly/spandex blend feels soft next-to-skin, wicks moisture and is highly breathable, while the smooth jersey face slides easily under layers. The chest-deep front zip allows easy on/off and ventilation, and nylon elastic cuffs and hem seal out weather.

The Piton features Polartec Power Dry fabric- superior stretch, warmth and moisture management in the main body; durable, smooth jersey face slides easily beneath layers.

- simple, versatile baselayer/midlayer
- designed to keep your skin dry when you sweat
- highly breathable
- quick drying
- comfortable next to skin

So- how can you get this great new jacket, you ask?

To enter:
1) Head to the Polartec Facebook page and find the First Snow Giveaway post.
2) Answer this question in a comment below that post- “Instead of snow, what would be your #1 choice for things falling from the sky?”

We will pick a winner at random on Wednesday the 31st at noon (Halloween). GOOD LUCK!

2012 Rimo III South West Face Expedition

British climbers Malcolm Bass, Paul Figg and Simon Yearsley will leave for India in early August to attempt this impressive unclimbed objective. They will be accompanied by artist, Rachel Antill (who will be producing artwork and an independent film, inspired by the landscape and overall environment), and by the Indian expedition leader, renowned explorer and mountaineer, Satyabrata Dam.

The South West Face climbing team is (from left to right): Paul Figg, Simon Yearsley, Malcolm Bass.
Photo: Simon Yearsley

Rachel Antill-Climber and artist
Photo: Paul Harris

The Rimo Group lies in the remote area of the Indian East Karakorum, and whilst Rimo III was first climbed in 1985 from the north by British climbers Dave Wilkinson and Jim Fotheringham, the beautiful South West Face remains unclimbed. It is considered by many to be one of the great longstanding challenges of the Karakoram.

The imposing South West Face of Rimo III (7233m) dominating the approach up the North Terong glacier, Indian East Karakoram.
Photo: Doug Scott

The 2012 Rimo III Expedition is sponsored by Polartec, Montane, Lyon Equipment and High5; and supported by grants from The Alpine Club, The British Mountaineering Council, and The Mount Everest Foundation. The expedition is also supported by Needlesports and Swaledale Outdoors.