In September 2013, Simon Yates and I set off to explore new routes in the mountains of the Cordillera Darwin in Tierra del Fuego, at the tip of South America. We would be the only people climbing in a mountain range as long as the Alps: the only access is by boat. On the map there are a few red lines denoting previous explorers’ routes. Most of the map is blank, totally unexplored – a rare thing in today’s world.
Simon invited me here in 2001, but because of work commitments I couldn’t make it. The images of Tierra del Fuego and stories that the team brought back were astonishing – approaching by boat from Ushuaia, dense virgin Patagonian forests, eerie glaciers and rows of unclimbed mountains.
I always knew that, if I did finally make it down there, Simon was the man to be with. As well as being great at teamwork and strong in the mountains, he knows this range as well as anyone. As an expedition leader, he’s been back countless times, attracted by the undiscovered country, the isolation and lack of people. Crucially Simon knows how to access many of the high glaciers from sea level and has researched many fine looking objectives.
For the 2013 trip, we received financial support from the British Mountaineering Council as well as The Mount Everest Foundation.
Whilst planning my clothing in the lead up to the trip, I asked Simon what sort of temperatures we might expect.
“About -10C, I reckon,” He said. “It can rain a fair bit too, and it does get windy.”
I understood perfectly the understatement in this last comment. Our objective is located in the “Furious Fifties” (the parallels between 50 S and 59 S). I read that the mountains here are subject to infamous weather patterns caused by cooled air sinking as it speeds from the Equator towards the South Pole, the narrowing of the Earth’s diameter and the vast expanse of the southern oceans. In 2012, a French expedition successfully traversed the Tierra del Fuego mountain range for the first time and the weather sounded horrific. Winds were so strong that people were picked up and carried across the ground.
In an article in the Telegraph, the climbers described the perilous 180km (112 mile) range topped with a vast ice field as “a white hell, littered with the worst traps and obstacles that mountains can throw at you”.
This short video gives a flavor of what lay ahead http://vimeo.com/68709439
I knew we were in for an adventure!