Friday, April 15, 2016
True Patriot Love team in front of mountains in Antarctica

Anne-Marie Sorrenti, ‘99, scaled Vinson Massif in an expedition of a lifetime

By Lucianna Ciccocioppo

Alumna Anne-Marie Sorrenti in AntarcticaSilence, sun and colours greeted alumna Anne-Marie Sorrenti, JD 1999, when she stepped off a Russian military jet and walked into Antarctica earlier this year.

“The landscape was very foreign; there was such starkness. All you saw was white snow, blue sky, and grey rocks on the mountains, almost like Mars,” says Sorrenti, a leadership consultant and executive coach.

The former Heenan Blaikie corporate and entertainment lawyer was part of the True Patriot Love (TPL) Scotiabank Expedition team—15 business leaders, seven soldiers, four specialists and six guides—to raise funds to support programming for Canadian soldiers suffering Post Traumatic Stress Injuries (PTSI) after returning from their tours of duty.

She flew from Toronto to Punta Arenas, Chile on January 5, 2016, and took off for Antarctica four days later, when the weather and wind conditions were safe to do so.

The group then spent a grueling 10-12 hours a day over 12 days on the world’s southern-most continent to reach the peak of Vinson Massif. At 4892 metres, it is Antarctica’s highest peak and one of the world’s Seven Summits.

“Cold, harsh, punishing conditions are a great equalizer,” says Sorrenti. “In Antarctica, there was no money, no shelter, there were no keys, no cell phones…It did not matter whether you were a captain of industry or a soldier, a woman or a man. We were equals in every respect, human beings with a common goal. There was no room for egos or titles or status, only for team players and mutual support.”

With 24-hour sun and a thin ozone layer, sunscreen was a must at all times. As it was summer, temperatures could range from -30C to a “balmy” -10C during the day, but near the summit, it fell to an estimated -60C with the windchill. The risk of frost bite was always present, says Sorrenti.

Expedition team in front of military jet on Antarctica

True Patriot Love Scotiabank Expedition Team in Antarctica, January 2016

 

Food was basic, mostly dehydrated fare which could provide their sustenance and required calories to complete the trek. Lunch was eaten on the go, as the rope teams moved along. “No easy feat when moving with so much gear,” she explains, “and everyone was responsible for carrying their own waste.” All garbage was flown back to South America at the end of the trip. With strict environmental rules, nothing is left behind on the continent.

She trained for one year, building up muscle to carry her load, paying particular attention to body alignment. She did hill treks in the Don Valley ravine and headed west to Jasper National Park last August for a training camp—her first time camping—on the Columbia Ice Fields. Packs on, crampons too, picks and axes in hand, that is where the team met and gelled together before the big trip.

“It was absolutely a transformative experience,” says Sorrenti. “I have learned that I have more capacity for handling stress and adverse conditions than I ever thought possible. Things that used to frighten me now have no power over me. I also learned so much from the soldiers. They have incredible skills that are readily transferable to the business world: getting things done, not complaining, not giving up, working through problems, remaining calm, leading by example.”

Setting up tents in Antarctica

Setting up camp in 24-hour sun.

Inside one of the tents with food camping gear visible

Not only did she challenge herself physically and mentally, she raised more than $60,000 in funds for the veterans and their families assisted by TPL.

“It was a special opportunity to have a direct impact,” adds Sorrenti. “Soldiers and civilians working together; it was an intensive challenge for everybody.”

While she previously had no military connections, she now counts her soldier teammates among her close friends.

“I can’t wait to see them again.”

 

Photos by Nikon Ambassador Kristian Bogner