Photo: © visualimpact.ch | Thomas Ulrich

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Expedition in
Queen Maud Land,
Antartica

First ascents on Holtanna
and Ulvetanna

Setting the Scene

One of the most beautiful moments in my mountaineering career was finally setting foot on Queen Maud Land. The impact left from this indescribable instance was a unique moment I felt privileged to share with my fellow climbing colleagues.
In 1994 I saw a photograph of Holtanna for the first time… from that moment on, my fascination with the mountain preoccupied me. . It would take over 14 years to realise my dream.

At the time I began assembling the first documents for an expedition to Antarctica, I had only heard of the Huber brothers through various magazines.
It wasn’t until our first expedition together in 2005 that Thomas, Alexander and I realised we shared the same dream; to one day put together an expedition on the white cotenant.

There was one looming problem, how to finance a project of this nature. Even with years of personal savings, the possibility of making my dream come true alone was unrealistic.

The idea grew in our minds and we were motivated to make it happen. We kept true to our mountaineering motto- where there’s a will there’s a way, and sure enough the possibilities presented themselves. With the collective support from our sponsors, together with our private savings, our dream slowly became a reality.
November 2008, we would start our journey to Antarctica.

The Plane touched done

Joining our trio would be cameraman Max Reichel, a German from Bayerisch-Gmain who had previously worked with the Hubers on the film “Am Limit”. Max would be charged with the meticulous task of documenting our climbing lives through the harsh Antarctic cold.

It wasn’t long after our plane touched down that we were overcome with joy at the realisation of how privileged we were to be standing on Antarctica’s Norwegian Territory, Queen Maud Land. The landscape that lay before us was simply beautiful.

We had finally arrived, but unstable weather and unusually low temperatures for the time of the year of -30° to -50° would hinder our project and keep our plans hinged on hopes of better conditions.

Harsh conditions

Repeated storms, sub-zero temperatures never rising above -5° and a sun that never set: all extreme conditions we needed to become accustomed to.
But the 750-meter high granite wall that awaited us, and the possibility of being able to free climb the face, was a scenario that kept us motivated. We mustered the patience and invested all our energy into adapting to the conditions we were given and making our project happen.

No other place than Antarctica’s Queen Maud Land can protruding teeth of rock, and towers of stone that break through a sea of ice be found. These Nunataks, or islands of stone set in the ice, are merely the peaks of spectacular granite mountains that lay inland buried under kilometres of ice.

Climbing in a different world

Unquestionably and without doubt, the most imposing of mountains in Queen Maud land is 2931 meter high Ulvetanna. A perfect pyramid, the mountain presents challenging possibilities from all sides. For this reason it is also considered to be Antarctica’s most difficult mountain.

Holtanna

Next to Ulvetanna, our sights were set on the west-face of Holtanna: an extreme 750-metre vertical big-wall, sheer and standing amidst the Antarctic cold.
We had given ourselves a window of 6 weeks for our trip into the unknown. Despite extensive research and first hand accounts from previous expeditions, we weren’t sure we would be able to realise our free-climbing ambitions until we actually stood at the foot of the face and began climbing the first pitches.
We were able to climb the 750-metre west-wall of Holtanna, but our initial hopes of free-climbing the face fell through due to the extreme cold. The freezing temperatures were so extreme that climbing was harder and more difficult than we had imagined. As a result of the unique conditions in which the west-face of Holtanna is situated, climbing our route has become a real gem in our careers. “Eiszeit”- 24 pitches, difficulties up to 7+ and aid climbing up to A4.
A week later we were able to complete the first free ascent of Holtanna’s north-pillar. Although it’s difficulty is moderate, the route we named “Skywalk” difficulty of 7, is truly beautiful; an “Eiger Mittelegigrat” in Antarctica.

Ulvetanna

December arrived and the weather worsened. Again, we had to wait… patiently hoping for better, more stable conditions. Our ambitions were set on our next big target- Ulvetanna. With luck at our sides once again, the weather improved enough for us to find a small window, allowing us a shot at climbing the mountain before time ran out on our expedition. In just two days we climbed the north-pillar of Ulvetanna. The first ascent of “Sound of Silence” 8-/A2 was the icing on the cake and ended the most beautiful expedition in our mountaineering careers!
We were unable to fully achieve the goals we had initially set for this expedition to Antarctica. In truth, the temperatures were far colder than we had ever anticipated, and with an average wind-chill of -20°, a 7 became a 9 and a 9 became impossible!

We attempted everything we could, and ultimately were able to do more than we had planned. Our dream became a reality, and we left happy!
Simultaneous to our expedition in Queen Maud Land, a French expedition was underway: Thomas Faucheur, leader of the ‘Groupe Militaire de Haute Montagne along side colleagues Lionel, Francois, Didier, Dimitri and Sebastian. The group climbed a difficult route on the north-pillar of Holstind baptised, “Choundens Renard” 650 Meter, A2/A3.



Information about the French expedition can be found at: www.gmhm.terre.defense.gouv.fr

Additional information can also be found at: www.huberbuam.de