Ballpark Estimate: $30,000 to $35,000
The view from the summit of Mount Vinson has been described as other-worldly. You are likely standing under an indescribably bright blue sky, gazing out at thousands of square miles of ice and snow, against the background of a curved horizon. At 16,050 feet (4,892 meters), Vinson Massif is the highest point in Antarctica, located about 750 miles from the South Pole. Discovered and named in 1957, the mountain was first climbed in 1966 by the American Antarctic Mountaineering Expedition – a team of ten scientists and mountaineers sponsored by the American Alpine Club, the National Geographic Society and supported by the U.S. Navy and the National Science Foundation. Since then, fewer than 1,000 people have stood on the summit.
Gear and Clothing
The weather on Mount Vinson is fairly stable, thanks to the constant high pressure system created by the polar ice cap. The area receives only about 18 inches of snow during the austral summer, but storms are not uncommon, with high winds and extreme cold (-20° to -30°F). Consequently, high-altitude expedition gear is required for the climb, with special emphasis on protection from the cold and intense, 24-hour-a-day sunlight. (See What It Costs For Expedition Clothing And Gear).
On the other hand, be prepared for mild temperatures when you arrive in Punta Arenas, Chile, where daytime temps can reach 60°F during the summer /
Be sure your routine immunizations, such as tetanus, hepatitis, and influenza, are up-to-date. You must pass a standard Antarctic medical examination performed by a certified medical examiner. (Your guide service will provide you with details.)
Passports and Visas – $100+
There are special entry forms and permits required to enter Antarctica, but no passport or visa is needed since no single government owns the continent. The entry permits are often arranged for you by your guide service or travel agent.
You will, however, need a passport for your travels in South America. If you are an American citizen, no visa is required, but a $100 “reciprocity fee” will be charged upon your arrival in Chile.
When to Go
Expeditions on Mt. Vinson take advantage of the austral summer season, and are usually scheduled from mid-November to the end of January, when the average temperature on the mountain will be about -20°F. The sun never sets during this time of year, so be sure to bring plenty of sunblock for your face and lips.
Your flight from the United States will take you through Santiago, Chile and then farther south to Punta Arenas. If all goes well, flying time should be around 24 hours. All prices are approximate.
- $1,300 to $2,350 – Round trip from New York City (LGA) to Punta Arenas, Chile (PUQ)
- $1,500 to $1,900 – Rround trip from Chicago (ORD) to Punta Arenas, Chile (PUQ)
- $1,370 to $1,700 – Round trip from Los Angeles LAX) to Punta Arenas, Chile (PUQ)
Guided Trips – $28,000 to $32,000
Due to the high risks involved in this expedition, there are no unguided climbs on Mt. Vinson. While the technical difficulty is rated as “moderate,” the climb is demanding due to intense cold, possibility of severe weather (wind and snow), and most of all, the extreme isolation of the mountain. Climbers should be highly competent in basic winter mountaineering skills, and cold-weather climbing and camping. Familiarity with equipment and techniques such as rappelling, prussiking, crampon use, and rescue strategy is essential. Endurance training is crucial, and training in cold weather at altitude is ideal. You must be exceptionally fit, and able to carry a pack weighing as much as 65 pounds, since there will be no porter or Sherpa support at base camp or on the mountain.
There are a relatively small number of guide companies to choose from, but most claim to have a very high (98% to 100%) success rate. Look for a service with a reasonably small climber-to-guide ratio (5:1 or less), and a competent back-up infrastructure of communication, transportation, and medical personnel. Your land costs will include all flights from Punta Arenas to the mountain and back; lodging, meals, and support services in Antarctica; all group climbing gear; and all guide services and fees.
After arriving in Punta Arenas, you will spend a few days getting organized and buying supplies. Then you and your team will fly six hours to Patriot Hills, Antarctica. Once in Antarctica, you’ll be sleeping in 2- or 3-person insulated tents. The next day, you’ll have a one-hour flight to the base of Vinson Massif (elev. 2,150 m). The following few days will be spent ferrying supplies from base camp to higher camps, as you acclimatize to the altitude. While at base camp, everyone eats together in a big dining tent. Higher on the mountain, food is prepared and eaten in the smaller, living tents, with everyone helping out with food preparation.
It’s an 8-hour hike from base camp to Camp 2 (2,900 m) and 6 hours farther the next day, to Camp 3 (high camp) at 3,900 meters. Depending on the weather, you’ll spend one or two days acclimatizing further and then make your summit push. Most guide companies allow three extra days in case of bad weather. If the weather cooperates, you may be offered the option of an extra climb – nearby (and easier) Mt. Shinn.
Following your ascent of Mt. Vinson, you descend to base camp the following day, take a day to gather your supplies and break down your camp, and then the group returns to Patriot Hills the day after that. All in all, expeditions usually take around 14 to17 days from Punta Arenas to the summit and back to Punta Arenas. However, weather plays a huge role in scheduling of flights and summit attempts. Trip cancellation insurance is highly recommended, and climbers are strongly encouraged to plan at least two extra weeks into the end of their trip schedules, in case of long delays.