[NOTE – Since writing this blog I have been provided with further information about ascents of Mount Sidley. A more up to date list of those who have climbed all of the Volcanic Seven Summits can be found here (as of January 2019) and here (as of February 2020).
The previous blog provided a snapshot of my impending expedition to Mount Sidley. This one expands on that and provides further background on the Volcanic Seven Summits.
Mount Sidley is the highest volcano in Antarctica. It is probably not the most famous volcano on the continent. Mount Erebus holds that honour because it is active and because it is more accessible. Mount Sidley is a dormant strato volcano situated at the southern end of the Executive Committee Range, a line of five volcanoes in Mary Byrd Land. The range is around 100km (60 miles) long and is located a long way from the South Pole – in fact it is many hundreds of miles away. You will see the Executive Committee Range to the left of the Ross Ice Shelf in West Antarctica on this map.
Vinson Massif, which is the highest mountain in Antarctica, can be seen on the map in the Ellsworth Mountains near the Ronne Ice Shelf (just in the top left quadrant of the map). Mount Erebus, which is the highest active volcano in Antarctica, lies at the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf.
Next is a satellite picture of the Executive Committee Range. Mount Sidley is the one near the bottom with the obvious crater that casts a shadow.
Mount Sidley’s summit stands at around 4,285m (14,058ft) and the mountain has a main caldera that is 5km (3m) wide. There is also a smaller caldera immediately to the north east, not easily seen on these photographs, which sharpens the summit ridge. The American, Rear Admiral Richard Byrd, discovered the mountain in 1934 on an aerial expedition. He named the mountain after Mabelle E Sidley who was the daughter of a contributor to Rear Admiral Byrd’s expedition, William Horlick. The mountain did not receive an ascent until 11th January 1990 when a USAP scientific field party was in the area and a New Zealand guide, Bill Atkinson, climbed it.
Here is a closer view of Mount Sidley. You can clearly see the principal crater.
Although five volcanoes pop up through the ice sheet in this range, in 2013 a further, active, volcano was discovered. This one was hidden beneath the ice only 50 or so kilometres (30 miles) from Mount Sidley. The discovery came about as a result of some earthquakes that had been detected in the area a couple of years earlier. This newly discovered volcano is presently about 1km beneath the ice. It is unlikely to burst through any time soon, but what it is likely to do is to melt ice near to it and so increase the flow of water running out to the sea beneath the ice. In turn this added “lubrication” may increase the rate at which the overlying ice itself flows off the Antarctic landmass. This part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has many other volcanoes
Mt Sidley is remote, very remote. It is over 940k (580 miles) from its nearest higher mountain (Mount Gardner in the Ellsworth Mountains). It rises over 2km (1.25 miles) above the surrounding ice sheet. The only way of getting there is through the logistics of Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (ALE), an American company that runs regular flights into the continent. Access to the upper reaches of the mountain has been up through the main crater. I believe that most, if not all, previous ascents have then been along the eastern rim of the crater.
The Volcanic Seven Summits
And, of course, the reason why I am writing about this mountain is because it is one of the Volcanic Seven Summits, the highest volcanoes on each continent. These are recognised as being:
Ojos del Salado – Chile/Argentina – 6,893m
Kilimanjaro – Tanzania – 5,895m
Elbrus – Russia – 5,642m
Pico de Orizaba – Mexico – 5,636m
Damavand – Iran – 5,611m
Mount Giluwe – Papua New Guinea – 4,368m
Mount Sidley – Antarctica – 4,285m
Kilimanjaro and Elbrus receive thousands of ascents a year. Pico de Orizaba and Damavand will receive a few hundreds of ascents a year. Ojos del Salado will be climbed 50 to 100 times a year. Mount Giluwe will be climbed perhaps 20 times a year.
There is some debate as to whether one of the volcanic cones in the Kunlun area of Tibet (which are 100-200m higher than Damavand) might count as the highest volcano on Asia. They are pyroclastic cones through which volcanic activity vents. The only one with any significant prominence (Dahei Shan – c400m prominence) is lower than Damavand at c5,104m). Kunlun itself is c5,800m but has a prominence of only around 120m (400 feet). So the general consensus is that they are not volcanic mountains.
The seven listed above are not as hard as the Seven Summits (the highest mountains on each of the seven continents), though two (Kilimanjaro and Elbrus) are on both lists. But the volcanoes do take you to some interesting parts of the world!
At the time of writing this blog, over 400 people have climbed one or other versions of the Seven Summits, i.e. the highest mountain on each of the seven continents – see this link. Only nine or ten people have climbed all of the Volcanic Seven Summits. My research indicates that just 24 people or so have ever climbed Mount Sidley. Set out below are more details on each. It is worth stating at this point that information on Mount Sidley is relatively hard to come by. If any of the facts set out in this blog are incorrect, I am happy to be corrected!
First I list those who have claimed to climb all seven of the volcanoes. The details include nationality, age when the individual climbed the final volcano, the date of the final ascent (and of the first ascent in brackets) and the volcano last ascended.
Mario Trimeri (Italy) (58) 24th January 2011 Mount Sidley
(23rd August 2005)
Crina Popescu (Romania) (16) 24th January 2011 Mount Sidley
(23rd July 2008)
Vyechaslav Adrov (Russia) (50) 18th January 2013 Mount Sidley
(8th January 2010)
Aleks Abramov (Russia) (47) 13th September 2013 Mount Giluwe
(3rd May 1991)
Olga Rumyantseva (Russia) (36) 9th December 2013 Ojos del Salado
(14th August 1994)
Vitaliy Simonovic (Russia) (42) 19th December 2013 Ojos del Salado
(26th February 2012)
Sophie Cairns (UK) (32) 10th June 2014 Elbrus
(28th December 2013)
Paul Nicholson (Canada) (50) 5th December 2014 Ojos del Salado
(7th August 2005)
Liana Chabdarova (Russia) (28) 12th January 2015 Ojos del Salado
(29th August 2013)
Andrey Filkov (Russia) (49) 16th September 2015 Damavand
(2nd May 2007)
The first two to complete did so together. One was a Romanian girl who was only 16 at the time. You can also see that there is a preponderance of Russians in the list. In fact six of the ten are Russians.
I met Paul Nicholson very briefly on the day I summited Ojos del Salado. He was in a group on an acclimatisation climb that I passed as I was descending. He reached that summit two days later. As I did not let on as to what my objective was, I very much doubt if he remembers me!
In relation to Sophie Cairns, I take the following information from her website (http://www.sevenvolcanoes.com/home/summary):
“The second attempt of Ojos del Salado took place on March. This time my very, very supportive husband came with me for the first week. I had been quite down at the thought of two extra weeks away from home, and being together helped enormously.
This time I also found a much more experienced guide and assistant guide, and thankfully it did not cost my sponsors too much extra. After acclimatising properly this time, we set off for the summit on March 21.
We all felt strong. The weather was fine. Just as I was telling myself that everything was too good to be true, our progress suddenly broke down.
It could have been any combination of factors. Long story short, we ended up taking a route which was utterly gruelling. I’d never put myself through such physical exertion in my life. We just about managed to struggle through and arrived at the crater, in howling wind, in the early afternoon after leaving camp at 5am.
The actual summit of Ojos del Salado is not on the crater itself, but at the top of a rock 30 metres tall protruding from it. To climb it requires pulling yourself up a vertical rock face with the help of a fixed rope. It’s very technical and requires a lot of strength at the best of times. That day the pitch was iced over.
Long story short, after a lot of tears and heartache it was decided that we were too far gone to make the final push. I could barely walk in a straight line, and my guide was sitting on the snow shuddering from cold and exhaustion. I felt more than a little frustrated as I stood right under the nose of the summit rock staring up at a point which seemed both just above our heads and 100 miles away.
In the end our guide was right. If we had attempted the rock climb in our condition, we could easily have injured ourselves or worse. We got back down to 5,800m camp after dark.
Next morning I woke early and lay in my camp bed, cursing the way things had gone. It felt horrible to have missed getting to the top by such a small margin. But I also felt that to waste more time and money, just to gain the final 30 metres, would be pure egomania. It seemed really, really silly to splash out on another attempt when the whole goal of the project was to raise funds for cancer research, not satisfy some sort of personal vanity.
…., during the first attempt of Ojos del Salado a stranger from another group, after hearing that I had mountain sickness and asthma to boot, came over and volunteered to take my Cancer Research UK banner with him on his climb…….. So even if I never personally made those last 30 metres, at least the banner did. (Either way, we had still climbed 99.6% of that hulking mountain!)”
Rather oddly Trimeri and Popescu on their respective websites claim the first ascent of Mount Sidley. The following is taken from Mario Trimeri’s website (http://www.mariotrimeri.com/antarctica/mount-sidley/ with helpful assistance from Google Translate). Unfortunately he no longer maintains this website:
“The volcano is located in the West Antarctic and is part of the Executive Committee Range. The first crossing of the area was carried out in 1958-59 and the chain has been visited by an international scientific expedition in 1990 where it seems that the New Zealand Bill Atkinson has made the first ascent (unofficial).
This, in the opinion of Mario Trimeri and Alex Abramov, is not really believable for the simple fact that Atkinson did not report any photographs to support this assertion, it was not able to provide any information on the ascent route and finally claimed not to be sure of arriving in top.
If to this is added that to climb a volcano like that serves proper equipment and knowledge of mountaineering technique of a good standard, it follows that a man of science cannot improvise this just to be in the Antarctic and in any case should not have doubts if It has come to the summit or not.”
And here from Crina Popescu’s website (http://cocopopescu.blogspot.co.uk/p/realizari-2011.html Google Translate not as good this time!):
“On January 24 are the peak at Mt Sidley, the highest volcano in Antarctic. I was part of the first team to climb Mt. Sidley. I was the first climber in the world to have peaked, the first climber in the world who finished Seven Volcanoes circuit. The team that made the first ascent of this peak: Alex Abramov – Russia, Mario Trimeri – Italy Scott Woolams – USA, Crina Coco Popescu and Romania.”
I will leave readers to make up their minds on this and I would add only that Bill Atkinson may well be “a man of science” but he is also a well-known guide whose achievement was recorded in the American Alpine Journal here – http://publications.americanalpineclub.org/articles/12201119601/Antarctica-Marie-Byrd-Land-Executive-Committee-Range-Mt-Sidley-4285m. He has also been an assessor for the New Zealand Mountain Guides Association from the mid-1980s onwards. It also ignores the fact, as shown in the information below, that there were two further likely ascents in the early 1990s.
Anyway, I now list below details of those ascents that I am aware of.
1 11th January 1990
Bill Atkinson (New Zealand) in support of a USAP scientific field party. I have no evidence that he was accompanied by anyone else.
Bill McIntosh (USA) and Kurt Panter (USA).
A paper prepared by Kurt Panter in relation to his research connected with Mount Sidley is available via this link.
Given the contents of and the acknowledgements in the paper, it is almost certain that a number of the party would have ascended Mount Sidley. The ascent would probably have been in late 1992/early 1993. Note that the paper states that the summit elevation is 4,181m.
And here is a link to a later paper from 1996 which includes material from the earlier one.
The papers include a map showing where samples for the fieldwork were taken, including a number in close proximity to the summit. See also the link under 5 below.
Bill McIntosh (USA) and Nelia Dunbar (USA). See also the link under 5 below.
4 24th January 2011
Mario Timeri (Italy)
Crina Popescu (Romania)
Aleks Abramov (Russia)
Scott Woolums (USA)
This was the first commercial expedition organised by ALE. The first two people to complete the seven volcanoes circuit were on it. Scott Woolums is an ALE guide and he has also made a second ascent. Aleks Abramov runs the Seven Summits Club website and guiding company and I have found some of the information in this blog (or clues of where to look) from there.
Mario Trimeri had done a detailed report of the climb at this website (which unfortunately is no longer maintained):
He again confuses Bill Atkinson as a scientist, though he does repeat the claim that Bill Atkinson could not remember his route or whether he had even reached the summit.
According to the Alpine Journal four ascensionists, probably from Washington University, St Louis, supported by ALE guide, Mike Roberts (NZ), made the climb. See the link here:
6 18th January 2013
Olga Rumyantseva (Russia) has written a blog about the climb. The blog is available via these links (Google translate does not do well with Russian!)
Vitaliy Simonovic (Russia)
Vyachaslav Adrov (Russia)
Paul Nicholson (Canada)
David Hamilton (UK)
This was the second commercial expedition. David Hamilton, a well-known British guide, was employed by ALE. This trip, I believe, saw Scott Woolum’s second ascent though I have not tracked down any direct evidence of this. However the ALE website confirms he has made two ascents:
7 28th December 2013
Liana Chabdarova (Russia)
Andrey Filkov (Russia)
Ilya Bykov (Russia)
Sophie Cairns (UK)
Rob Smith (UK)
Dylan Taylor (USA)
This was ALE’s third and most recent expedition. Rob Smith is a guide engaged by ALE and he lives near Fort William, Scotland. If I have identified the correct Dylan Taylor, then he is an American guide who has also worked for ALE, but I have not been able to confirm this. Here is the entry from The Alpine Journal.
So this blog contains most of the information that I have been able to collect on Mount Sidley. Other than information in other scientific journals and a little on the ALE website there is little more out there on the internet.
In my next blog on Mount Sidley, I will link to a video which gives some idea of conditions at Union Glacier. Subsequently I will deal with my preparations for the trip.