Seven Summits: Vinson Massif

The highest mountain in Antarctica, Vinson Massif, stands 16,050 feet above sea level. It lies in the Sentinel Range of the Ellsworth Mountains. The massif extends between several glaciers, the most well known being the Hinkley Glacier to the east. Vinson Massif comprises both the high central Vinson Plateau and several side ridges.

Vinson Massif was first seen in 1958 and first climbed in 1966. The current height, 16,050 feet, resulted from a GPS survey by the 2004 Omega Foundation team. The team was led by Australian Damien Gildea and comprised of two Chilean climbers, Rodrigo Fica and Camilo Rada.

The climate on Vinson Massif is mostly controlled by the polar ice cap's high pressure system and creates reasonably stable conditions. As in all arctic climates, high winds and snowfall are still a possibility. Traditionally, the annual snowfall on Vinson Massif is low. The summer season of Vinson Massif is during the months of November through January and there are 24 hours of sunlight.

Before 1958, Vinson Massif, previously known just as 'Vinson', was suspected to be part of the mountain ridge in west Antarctica, but it was not actually seen until January 1958. It was spotted by a US Navy aircraft from the Byrd Station. It was named after Carl Vinson, a United States Georgia Congressman who was a supporter of funding for Antarctic research.

The first ascent happened in 1966 by the American Antarctic Mountaineering Expedition. The expedition was sponsored by the American Alpine Club and the National Geographic Society. It was also supported by the US Navy and the National Science Foundation Office of Antarctic Programs. Ten scientists and mountaineers participated in the expedition.

Vinson Massif offers little technical difficulty on the climb. The most dangerous part of climbing Vinson Massif is the remoteness of the area. As of 2010, nearly 2000 people have summited Vinson Massif.


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