Guest Blog from Brother Mike: Pico Luigi

Steve Powell
Tue 18 Jan 2011 01:03

Arriving into Port Lockroy on a perfect sunny, still evening Rich and I, the two climbers on UHURU, couldn’t help but be captivated by the dominating bulk of Pico Luigi and his Seven Sisters (The Fife Range). We had both braved excess baggage bills and disgruntled airline checkers to bring ski mountaineering and climbing gear with us. There was no guarantee we would ever use the gear but just in case we had a weather window and the time, it was worth the effort.

Pico Luigi (left) and the Seven Sisters to the right.

Here it was, perfect weather for a day or two and a safe harbour to base from. There were several options for climbing and skiing all well within our ability to ensure a good day and lots of fun but the chance to do a peak that was just on the edge of unsure in a place where most peaks rarely if ever get climbed made the decision to go for the prize an easy one. A decision I questioned a several times the next day while climbing.
Setting off in the rib the next morning at 5am across a frozen bay we were looking forward to a long day in the hills. Almost as soon as we crested the first ridge to look at our long route we had a reminder as to why the route we would travel up was called Thunder Glacier. A huge avalanche broke free of Pico Luigi’s face and swept right across the route we would take, fortunately only light powder snow covered the route and the hard bits stayed under the face, so had we been there we would only have suffered a laundry bill.

 Luigi reminds us who’s boss.
We had a long trek to get the base of the East Ridge that we planned to climb as it was on the opposite side of the mountain from our anchorage. To get there safely across the glacier and not fall into any crevasses without an option out we skied roped up using skins on our skis that allow us to travel up hill, the opposite to how most people enjoy the sport but a great way to “earn your turns”.

Rich putting in the miles in front of Pico Luigi
Four hours of meditative skinning up the glaciers and we were up on the ridge swapping the skis for crampons and ice axes.
Rich and I have both done a fair bit of climbing in the past but to be honest we where both admittedly a bit out of shape and hadn’t climbed much of anything in the last few years. We where both a little anxious to see how our heads and legs would stack up today and agreed that we would break the day down into sections and if at any time we where too knackered or a bit wobbly about the climbing we would just bag it and agree that we’ve had a great day. This plan worked out perfectly.
The few leg cramps we had skinning up the hills soon shook out as we started the long slog up the ridge to get to the real climbing. A long slow ascent had us gaining altitude and views as we went. It’s like no where on earth here and couldn’t help thinking it was like climbing surrounded by a thousand Chamonix’s ( a very famous French region in the alps) but with no other climbers on any of the mountains, pure isolation in an region that if it were anywhere else on earth would be crawling with mountain enthusiasts.
The final summit ridge of Luigi.
As we approached the final summit ridge Luigi burped again and sent a huge avalanche down it’s face. I must admit at this point I was close to calling it a day but we re-evaluated the route and talked ourselves back into it. The route went over the top of the offending seracs so apart from lots of noise we would be out of the way.
So onto the ridge and into some great steep snow climbing. Rich thought it was like getting lost in a billions gallons of ice cream, Chris would have liked that. Up steep ridges over crevasses (big holes in the ground) under giant hanging waves of snow and ice. We never knew if the route would go but every time we went around the next corner we found another reason to slog on, despite the dry mouths and wobbly legs.


Finally after sneaking under a perfectly formed frozen 60 foot North shore Hawaiian wave of snow Rich has me on belay and asks me to send back some good news as I turn the next corner and I did a few more meters and there was no where else to go but down in all directions and views of mountains and ocean in all directions. We had reached the summit.

For the first time on the climb we got to use the radio and call back to UHURU. Steve, Buzz and Chris were visiting the Port Lockroy station and we got congrats from all at the base too which was great. We were so far up we could barely see the station from the summit but it felt good to know that safe harbour was just back down the hill.
The down side of climbing a mountain is you have to down climb the whole thing, which is never my favourite but you have to just get on with it. The up side is that when we got to our skis we get to have a little fun. The ski back down was great, despite the wobbly legs from the effort a little adrenaline kicked in and we skied the big glacial bowl putting perfect figure eight turns down the face in silky spring snow then a high speed straight line for miles across the Thunder Glacier ‘till our thighs screamed for mercy.

One last slog up the final hill and over the top to see Uhuru and call for a pick up and long dreamt for food and beer.
A great day in the mountains that rarely give you the privilege.

Mike on the summit of Pico Luigi with the Seven Sisters looking small in the background.