One of the biggest unclimbed objectives on the Antarctic Peninsula recently fell to experienced French alpinists and world travellers, Mathieu Cortial, Lionel Daudet and Patrick Wagnon.
The North West Ridge of Mt Parry, which rises 2,520m straight out of the ocean, was the goal of an MEF supported expedition led by New Zealander Lydia Bradey, the first women to climb Everest without oxygen.
Also on the team was ski patroller Penny Goddard, who has dual British and New Zealand nationality. However, the French beat them to the peak.
Daudet and friends were on the yacht Ada II, owned and skippered by the famous female sailor Isabelle Autissier, current president of the French section of WWF, the world's leading environmental organization.
After crossing the Drake Passage from South America, Autissier anchored the boat for eight days in the sheltered waters off the Melchior Islands to the west, waiting for a good weather forecast.
She was then able to enter Lanusse Bay and drop the climbers on the west coast of Brabant Island. From here they climbed the first 1,150m of Parry’s North West Ridge until stopped by bad weather and snow conditions.
After waiting 39 hours in their tent, the three climbed the next 1,000m without too much problem, finding an elegant line with no objective danger but plenty of crevasses. However, the last 500m proved the crux. Soft wet snow hampered progress and it took Wagnon four hours to overcome the final 100m of instability to the summit.
The French descended to shore in 19 hours, only to find that Autissier was unable to collect them due to high wave activity. Normally the wait would not present a problem, as the team had shelter and food. However, very shortly after they received the news, an enormous wave struck the beach and swept away food and equipment. It nearly swept away Daudet, who was drenched.
The three quickly constructed a snow cave and shivered through the night, finally rejoining Ada II in the relative calm of the following morning.
Parry was first climbed in 1984 by a British Joint Services Expedition led by Chris Furze. This expedition took place in three phases but Furze and three others spent a year on the island living largely in tents. During this trip many ascents were achieved including Parry, which was climbed by seven members from the east via relatively gentle slopes. Five Chileans repeated their route in 1993.
On their way south to Brabant Island, the French stopped off at Smith Island, the highest in the South Shetlands, and made the second ascent of Mt Foster (2,100m) via a new route on the previously unattempted North West Face. The three completed the ascent in a very long day, arriving on the summit at 2am.
The first 1,000m proved relatively straightforward but above it became a little more precarious and at one point Cortial took a 15m fall. Further up, as Daudet was moving around the base of an overhanging serac, the whole structure collapsed and cascaded down the face. The Frenchman, uninjured, was left hanging on the rope.
They named their route Le Vol du Serac and then spent 15 hours returning to the shore and comforts of the boat. Foster had first been climbed in 1996 after several previous attempts.
It was Smith Island that the great British explorer Bill Tilman was trying to reach in 1977 aboard the yacht En Avant, when he was lost in the Southern Ocean.
The French climbed various other new routes during their journey south, making their expedition one of the most successful to the Peninsula in recent years.
Thanks to Damien Gildea for help with this report