SIX months of training – which included copious amounts of hiking and a few days of acclimatising – paid off for a Plettenberg Bay doctor and four fellow climbers, who were the first to successfully summit Antarctica’s twin peaks this year.
Veteran arctic explorer Dr Peter Berning, 64, and friends Ken Watt and Iain Buchan, and Buchan’s sons, Zack and Barney, made history when they climbed an icy peak that has never before been summited on January 4.
The group, who styled themselves the Ultimate Twin Peaks Expedition, climbed with no designated route, knowing only the main direction was up.
As the first to tackle the mountain, Berning and crew named it Mount Peace.
Berning said the climb was no easy feat, but it was also not a technical one.
“It was absolutely exhilarating at the top and amazing how far you could see. Absolutely beautiful.”
Berning said the trip was the coming together of a challenge set three years ago, when they went to the South Pole and decided they had “unfinished” business in the Antarctic.
In preparation for the climb, the group would do “a lot of hiking” while carrying heavy backpacks and wearing big boots worn during the icy climb.
Zack Buchan said he felt privileged to have been among the first to stand at the top of Mount Peace.
“The adventure aspect was mind blowing as we had to discover each section, make decisions, backtrack if necessary, and basically thrash out a route from nothing.
“To then name that mountain, and to do that with your brother and father, is just incredible,” he said.
His father Iain said it was the opportunity to do it as a family that made it unforgettable. “Summiting at the same time as my sons was the most memorable moment of the expedition. We just hugged each other in silence for ages,” he said.
Iain said they were met with many challenges during the climb.
“Climbing an ice wall that has a 40 degree slope and goes 950 metres up on fixed ropes and each carrying about 22kg, is really tough.”
The group also climbed Mount Vinson – the highest point of Antarctica and the coldest and most remote of the Seven Summits – before Mount Peace.
The group is planning its next expedition for 2017, when they plan to tackle the North Pole.
Berning said it usually took about two years to prepare for such an adventure, which costs as much as $50 000 (R610 000) per person.
“It’s very difficult to do it without a sponsor and ours was The Ultimate,” he said.