“To have these goals and achieve that goal– it’s a really special time and a feeling like no other to stand on top of Antarctica”
One of the most desolate and unforgiving places on earth, Mt. Vinson towers an imposing 16,050 feet above ice, snow, wind and cold so harsh that nothing can survive. It is truly one of the most inhospitable places on the planet, with the nearest penguin seven hundred miles away. Mt. Vinson, also known as Vinson Massif, is the tallest peak in Antarctica and has only been summited by 1,200 climbers. It threatens mind and body alike.
For Loveland resident Matt Brennan, Vinson is now in the rearview. After 30 days in Antarctica fraught with delays, struggles and ultimately triumphs, he reached the tallest point in Antarctica on December 10. Brennan has returned to Ohio with all ten fingers (mostly intact) in time to prepare for his return to Everest in only a few months.
Located 660 nautical miles from the South Pole, Mt. Vinson is the highest peak in Antarctica and one of the renowned Seven Summits— the tallest mountains on each continent. Less than 500 people have completed the Seven Summits challenge, and less than 150 Americans have summited all seven. Loveland resident, philanthropist and businessman Matt Brennan has now climbed five of the famed Seven Summits, with the tallest, Everest ahead. His last peak will be Mount Kosciuszko, a day-hike in Australia which he plans to surmount with his family. He has tackled some of the most dangerous and grueling summits in the world.
Lead by one of the world’s most renowned climbers, David Hahn, Brennan and a team of climbers (including famed explorer and author Eric Larson and record-holding fastest solo trekker to from the last degree to the South Pole) set off in November of 2018. It was Hahn’s thirty-eighth summit of Mt. Vinson. The climbers flew from port city, Punta Arenas, to Union Glacier where harsh weather kept them anxious and at bay. Eventually, by Twin Otter bush plane, the climbers approached Mt. Vinson.
Extreme winds, an average temperature of -20°F and constant sunlight through the night forced Brennan and peers to adapt. Water froze quickly and climbers were forced to keep bottles warm with body heat, and manage once they inevitably became ice. The first two hours of each day consisted of rotating everything that had frozen (food, sunscreen, water, toothpaste, climbing gear etc.) until they thawed. The total whiteness, fog and lack of features warped and erased all depth perception, making distances challenging to judge. One night, winds knocked over thirteen tents forcing climbers to cram into tents together until they could set up replacements. Brennan said that the wind and frigid temperatures on Vinson Massif were so extreme it could cause frostbite in seconds. One climber had to turn back upon the first summit attempt, costing an entire day of climbing for the whole team. Due to weather setbacks, the seven-to-ten day climb became a fourteen-day climb.
“On all these big mountains the mental aspect plays a huge part. If you don’t deal with it, it’ll eat you alive,” Brennan explained in a phone interview with Loveland Magazine.
However, on the eleventh day, the team eventually overcame the extreme conditions and summitted on December 10th after a ten-hour round-trip hike. Brennan described an intense feeling of accomplishment and an outburst of emotion:
“There’s so much that goes into summiting, from the training to the logistics to just getting there to the physical aspect to staying healthy and everything else that gets you to the top and when you summit, it’s the culmination of all those things. To have these goals and achieve that goal– it’s a really special time and a feeling like no other to stand on top of Antartica. You’ve dreamed about it, you’ve read about it, you’ve talked about it and here you are. It’s an amazing feeling.”
At the tallest point in Antarctica in the -35°F cold with a panoramic view of stone and snow, Matt Brennan had made it– he had seen the dream and conquered it. The only task left was return and sixteen days in tents at Union Glacier waiting for a plane due to inclement weather.
Everyone on the climb descended with frostbite– Brennan ended up with nerve damage in seven fingers. He sustained permanent damage and will have to cope with an injured left hand for the rest of his life. At Union Glacier, frostbite experts waited for the climbers. Brennan recounted a conversation with one of the medical experts:
Brennan: I’ve got to get this fixed, I’m going to Everest.
Doctor: Uh, I don’t know.
Brennan: Well, I don’t have a choice. I’m going to Everest.
Doctor: I’m going to ask you a question: are you willing to lose a finger on Everest?
Brennan: Well, will I make it or not? Because I’m willing to give one up if I make it, but I don’t want to give one up and fail.
In just three months, Brennan will attempt Everest again. Last March the Cincinnati adventurer was forced to turn back during his first stab at the Canopy of the World due to an injury. However, it has only given him a stronger resolve to reach for new heights. Through funding by a local investment firm, Horter Investments, he will continue to chase the ultimate goal of the Seven Summits.
Unquestionable and unknowable challenges are yet to come, but Matt Brennan is on his way to reaching a goal few imagine and many less achieve. According to Brennan, after he finished the Seven Summits challenge, he plans to scale back his expeditions and focus on motivational speaking and sharing with children what it takes to overcome even the most insurmountable of challenges.
“It was a great trip. I probably wouldn’t do it again,” Brennan concluded.
Between now and his Everest climb in just a handful of weeks he plans to continue physical training and dial in his gear expertise, as he gets ready to tackle the top of the world.
Follow Matt Brennan on his Facebook Page for updates on his expeditions.
Jarvis Global is an investment advisory firm in Symmes Township, Ohio which offers private portfolio management and retirement services to high net worth individuals.