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Dreamland New Swabia - Queen Maud Land:

Christoph Höbenreich about his expedition through the icy heart of Antarctica
Queen Maud Land

Our team member Christoph Höbenreich ventured into the icy heart of Antarctica again in 2023. The Wohlthat Mountains were the destination of two polar expeditions to New Swabia, better known as Dronning Maud Land in Norwegian or Queen Maud Land internationally. Together with Ruppert Heim, the experienced Tyrolean mountain and polar guide roamed the remote wilderness of the western sub-region of the Humboldt and Petermann mountains for three weeks in January 2023. And in November 2023, together with his New Zealand mountain guide colleague Mike Roberts, he managed the second ascent of the Ritschergipfel, the highest mountain in the Otto von Gruber Mountains to the east. He experienced the merciless wilderness but also the fascinating beauty and icy silence in the middle of the still largely untrodden high mountain world of the southernmost continent of Antarctica.

Always on the lookout for new challenges off the beaten track, Christoph was driven by the allure of the unknown to explore the Wohlthat Mountains on skis, sledge and tent. He describes the solitude and silence of this remote region as some of the most valuable moments and experiences of his life. The world's largest wind scours, the frozen ice oceans of the storm-swept blue ice glaciers, bizarrely weathered rocky peaks, new mountain passes and some of the highest peaks in the region aroused his curiosity and spirit of adventure. Together with his expedition partners, he experienced the indescribable beauty, but also the merciless wildness of the continent of extremes. Camping in the ice during catabatic polar storms at speeds of over 100 km/h or being completely on your own in the high mountains of the South Pole at temperatures of minus 32 degrees Celsius and a wind chill of minus 50 degrees Celsius requires great caution, the best equipment, a lot of experience and strong nerves. 

The highlight of the first trip was the ascent of nameless peaks and a surprising nunatak, a rocky island jutting out of the Arctic Ocean, which were then named Nanunatak, Nanukspitze and Denalispitze. Christoph and Ruppert also reached the Nicksfjell and the Sphinxkopf from their mobile base camps. The two promising rocky peaks had already been climbed and marked by Norwegian adventurers and scientists from the polar stations of the nearby Schirmach Oasis.

The mountaineering goal of the second trip as part of an international exploration expedition led by Christoph was the highest peak in the Otto von Gruber Mountains, the 2791-metre-high Ritschergipfel. The mountain, visible from afar, was discovered by the German Antarctic Expedition in 1939 and named after its leader, Captain Alfred Ritscher.  The previously unknown East Antarctic mountain region, which was christened "New Swabia", was boldly explored by two Dornier Wal flying boats catapulted from the mother ship Schwabenland and documented from their open cockpits with heavy aerial cameras. An outstanding pioneering achievement that is almost forgotten today! The first ascent of the mountain was achieved in 1991 by the two German scientists from the former GDR Georg Forster Station Wieland Adler and Gerold Noack in one long day from Untersee. During the Geomaud expedition in 1996, the German geologist Joachim Jacobs and the Styrian mountain guide Joe Rainer landed near the summit in a helicopter and climbed to the highest point in just a few minutes. Christoph and Mike finally explored a new route across the eastern flank of the mountain with skis and crampons in freezing conditions and reached the summit on November 6, 2023, where they found the note with the route description of the first climbers in a cairn. The sublime summit and the crystal-clear, extremely dry polar air offered a view of over 200 kilometers across the high mountains of New Swabia to the South Polar Plateau. The view from the Ritscher summit is a very exclusive experience, as only six people have ever stood on this remote mountain, more than a thousand times fewer than on Mount Everest.

The southernmost, coldest and driest but also cleanest and most peaceful of all continents once again showed Christoph Höbenreich completely new and surprising sides. With his polar experience and local knowledge from seven expeditions to New Swabia to date, Christoph is already working on a plan for a new expedition to his polar dreamland in the far south. You can look forward to it - and get in touch with him if you are interested in taking part. (christoph.hoebenreich(a)aon.at)


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