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Mountain of Ice

TV Program Description
Original PBS Broadcast Date: February 11, 2003

 

Mountain of Ice homepage

In January 2001 an eight-person NOVA team stood atop the highest peak in Antarctica, having arrived by a difficult, unexplored route over glaciers that hold clues to the future of Earth's climate. Shot in high definition, "Mountain of Ice" recounts this expedition to one of the most stunningly beautiful parts of the planet.

NOVA's expedition up the unclimbed east face of Vinson Massif included Into Thin Air author Jon Krakauer and was led by noted mountaineer Conrad Anker. In 1999 Anker discovered the body of legendary 1920s climber George Mallory on Mount Everest during a search that produced the acclaimed NOVA film "Lost on Everest."

Also participating in the adventure were veteran Antarctic guide Dave Hahn, who has climbed Vinson more times than anyone else; glaciologist Dan Stone, who was along to measure the precipitation rates at various altitudes on the mountain and to confirm the mountain's height; extreme skier Andrew McLean; and a three-person NOVA crew headed by producer Liesl Clark, the only woman to climb Vinson via this new route.

"Mountain of Ice" contrasts NOVA's experiences in 2001 with those of Norwegian adventurer Roald Amundsen, who led the first successful expedition to the South Pole in December 1911, and British explorer Robert Falcon Scott, who reached the pole a month after Amundsen and then perished with his surviving team members a few miles short of their last food cache.

The NOVA team battled 60-mile-per-hour winds and temperatures as low as 35 degrees below zero to obtain exclusive footage of one of the last unexplored places on Earth. According to Clark, the greatest challenges were surmounting a perilous 3,000-foot wall of house-sized blocks of ice and shooting the first high-definition aerial photography over Antarctica's highest mountains from a Cessna-185.

With only 40-year-old maps to go on, the team was venturing into a world almost as uncharted as that which confronted the original explorers of the continent. The 42-pound high-definition camera was among the 1,200 pounds of food, fuel, and equipment that the crew carried on sleds over their 30-mile trek into the unknown.

In the course of NOVA's journey, glaciologist Stone obtained the first ever high-precision GPS reading from Vinson's summit—pegging the mountain at 16,067 feet, ten feet higher than previously measured. Stone also directed the excavation of numerous six-foot-deep snow pits at different altitudes. The pits were sited in pairs to create a translucent wall of ice, giving a record of the amount of snow accumulated on the continent's highest mountains over the past few years.

Despite a rate of precipitation that classifies Antarctica as a desert, the southern continent has 70 percent of the world's water locked in its glaciers, which could drastically affect global sea level and climate as the ice calves into the ocean at the continent's edges. Stone's measurements are part of a concerted effort by scientists to monitor the growth and movement of Antarctica's glaciers, which so far appear to be in a state of equilibrium, neither increasing nor decreasing significantly.

Only time—and further monitoring—will tell if this last unknown place will affect the planet in as-yet-unanticipated ways.

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Expedition leader Conrad Anker on the eastern flank of Vinson

Expedition leader Conrad Anker on the eastern flank of Vinson




Mountain of Ice Web Site Content
Krakauer in Antarctica

Krakauer in Antarctica
Jon Krakauer on what sets the White Continent apart.

The Producer's Story

The Producer's Story
Liesl Clark on making this film while scaling Vinson.

Expedition Panoramas

Expedition Panoramas
View 360-degree photos of NOVA camps en route to Vinson.

Life Cycle of a Glacier

Life Cycle of a Glacier
Follow a snowflake as it lands on a glacier and goes for a prolonged ride.

If Antarctic Ice Melts

If the Ice Melts
See the world's coastlines if Antarctica's ice melted.



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