The Basque traverse: 'Horizontal Alpinism' in Antarctica

Posted: Nov 12, 2011 02:04 am EST

(C. Coetzer/A. Benavides) They plan to kite across the entire continent with a stop over in the mountains of Queen Maud Land. After all, Alberto Iñurrategi, Juan Vallejo and Mikel Zabalza are climbers.

Basque climbers.

8000er climbing elite

With nearly 30, 8000ers between them, this trio of alpine style advocates avoid media but enjoy well-deserved acclaim among fellow Spanish climbers.

14x8000er summiteer Alberto Iñurrategi and mates Juan Vallejo and Mikel Zabalza climbed Gasherbrum IV, traversed Broad Peak's 3 summits, attempted Everest's Hornbein Couloir, Makalu's West Pillar, etc.

After a life devoted to high altitude climbing, earlier this year they switched to what team leader Alberto calls "horizontal alpinism" - swapping ice-picks and ropes for sleds and kites.

Queen Maud Land: too cool to pass

Following a preparatory S-N Greenland crossing the mountaineers are ready to go south in a big way. Departing from Spain to Cape Town today, the expedition's main goal is a complete Antarctic traverse from Novolazarevskaya Base to the South Pole, and then to Hercules Inlet. They'll use kites but no airdrops.

However, as the song goes the slender spires of Queen Maud Land are an irresistible force for the natural born climbers who plan to give the peaks a try as well, Juan Vallejo told ExWeb's Correne Coetzer:

"We are in a time crunch so we plan to climb only a couple of routes, something fast and easy. We'll decide there, pending conditions," Juan explained. "The main goal is still the traverse."

"Going to the Poles is a dream for any mountain- and adventure lover," Juan said. "While we consider ourselves climbers, this is a great chance to try something new and I'm sure we'll be glad to be back to the mountains after the Antarctic experience."

"Climbing and polar skiings are so different - more than people think. Polar traverses are monotonous, demand persistent effort, and take the best of you. Mountains are intense, demanding commitment and assumption of risk."

"And the feeling of reaching a summit can't be compared to anything."

Weight, winds and distance biggest challenge

Juan thinks biggest challenge will be the huge distance - 3,700kms - the changing winds, the heavy man-hauling required early on and keeping spirits high. "In such conditions, it's gonna be extremely hard," he said.

Weight is Mikel Zabalza's biggest issue. His trim frame - result of intense, daily workouts - is ideal for rock climbing but less so for polar skiing. Unable to pile on the pounds, Zabalza told home media Diario de Navarra he'll have to go it at his regular 67kgs.

"Let's hope there'll be much kiting and less hauling," he said, admitting that the three trained, "as we ususally do before a mountaineering expedition; there was no tire-hauling or anything."

The three mountaineers are motivated but also grateful. "We want to make the best of our chance to experience a place that very few people can afford," they said.

Loaded with 180kg sleds and 3 kites (12, 6.8 and 8 meters) the skiers hope to set off from Novo on November 15. The traverse is expected to take 70-80 days.
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(L/R) Juan Vallejo, Mikel Zabalza and Alberto Iñurrategi after a S/N Greenland crossing this spring.
courtesy Basque BAT team, SOURCE
The Basque BAT team in Bilbao press conference prior to departure. L/R: Alberto Iñurrategi, Mikel Zabalza and Juan Vallejo.
courtesy Basque BAT team, SOURCE