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Saturday, 27 December 2014

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Leo’s new year challenge? Climb Antarctic peak

DECIDING where to spend New Year can be a difficult decision.

However, one Cumbrian chose somewhere unique to bring in 2013 – Antarctica.

Explorer Leo Houlding is currently on the continent as part of a bid to make the first ascent of a new route along the north east ridge of Ulvetanna, one if its most remote peaks. He will then base jump from the top.

The mountain rises to 9,613ft and the final part of the ascent is vertical.

The 32-year-old, who grew up in Bolton, near Appleby, toasted 2013 in his base camp at the peak with steaks and Champagne.

It was a double celebration for him and his team colleagues. He said on his blog: “It seems in this strange new world the weather gods have welcomed us, at least for now. The cyclone we were braced for stalled before reaching us.”

Novo, a peak just 100 miles away, was battered by a blizzard and winds of more than 100 miles per hour.

If his camp had been hit it would have been devastated. Instead, they found themselves under the sun in temperatures of minus five degrees with no wind.

But the weather still caused a small problem for the team as the Champagne they were drinking froze in their glasses.

Once they woke up on Wednesday, they began the journey in earnest.

Houlding said: “Today we make the committing but exciting move of leaving the comfort and security of base camp to begin the upwards assault.

“Everything and everyone is working superbly.”

The team has an advanced base camp further up the peak, which has its own snow cave.

“Spirits are high but energy is a little low, we have been working hard yet have barely begun,” added Mr Houlding.

“The task we have set for ourselves is huge. Our objective’s character ranges from inspiring friend to terrifying enemy depending on sun, snow and wind conditions.”

Ulvetanna, which translates from Norwegian as ‘the Wolf’s Tooth’, is widely regarded as one of the most difficult peaks in Antarctica to conquer.

The first successful ascent was in 1994.

Three years ago, a Russian, Valery Rozov, made it to the top and then base jumped from it. Houlding plans on repeating this feat once he has reached the top.

The mountain has always fascinated Leo, who has during his career climbed Mount Everest and has been the first person to reach the summit of the sacred Mount Huashan in China.

“Since I first heard of this otherworldly peak more than a decade ago I have dreamed of amassing the skill, strength and support necessary to reach this most elusive mountain,” Mr Houlding said.

“After many years of working towards that ultimate goal it is finally upon the horizon.

“A first-class crew assembled, a wealth of experience gained and crucially for the last year Berghaus [his sponsor], my team and I have gone to new lengths to develop, test and refine the very best equipment required for this most extreme adventure.”

See www.berghaus.com/community for blogs on their experiences in Antarctica.

Two other Cumbrians are also part of a different Antarctic expedition.

Brian Newham, of Uldale, near Caldbeck, and Rob Lambert, from Great Asby in the Eden Valley, are both part of Sir Ranulph Fiennes latest trip to the continent.

More information about their exploits can be found at www.thecoldestjourney.org.

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