American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Eastern Darwin Range, Near Stoppani Glacier

South America, Tierra del Fuego

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Author: John Earle
  • Climb Year: N/A
  • Publication Year: 1980

Eastern Darwin Range, Near Stoppani Glacier. In the early 1960s while returning with Eric Shipton on a Chilean naval vessel from an expedition, we put into Yendegaia Bay and anchored off Estancia Yendegaia for the night. From there a broad, flat, alluvial plain ran between sharp, rocky peaks northwest towards the Stoppani Glacier, some ten miles west. It seemed a possible route to reach the unknown and unexplored glaciers and mountains further north and Bové and Francés. The great Stoppani Glacier and its tributaries seemed to lead into the area. Iain Peters, Don Sargeant, Dave Harber and I flew to Buenos Aires on December 28, 1978 and then on south. We suffered various delays and changes of plans. While we had yet another enforced wait at Puerto Williams, Peters and Sargeant made the first ascent of two of the fine line of granite peaks some nine miles inland from Puerto Williams, called the Teeth of Navarino. Once again the Chilean Navy took us to Yendegaia Bay, this time in a landing craft. The next day, with the help of pack horses and two shepherds from the estancia, we rode ten miles up the plain, laced with milky rivers, to the snout of the unexplored Stoppani Glacier. Clearly the Stoppani itself was impossible, a grotesque maze of huge, open crevasses. However, we found a tortuous route of loose boulders, moraine and polished rock for three miles along the true right bank. Eventually we turned west and after traversing steep, rocky slabs above a lake, reached an unknown glacier behind a high ridge of terminal moraine. By a series of exhausting relays, we shuttled enough food and equipment to an advanced camp below a threatening icefall to spend four weeks climbing and exploring. Our first aim was to reach the high col at the head of our glacier and see if we could reach the glaciers of the interior of the Darwin Range. The route on the glacier was very intricate, complicated by crevasses and appalling snow conditions. Finally on February 14 we got to the narrow col between a steep rock ridge on the left and steep ice on the right. It was about 4000 feet high. Our disappointment was intense. Instead of a link to the great glacier of the interior, the far side was a sheer drop of over 1000 feet of rotten ice and loose snow-covered rock. The northwest and west side of Roncagli, which we had hoped to climb was a sheer face of rotten rock plastered with snow. The next objective was to study the peaks to the north of our icefall camp and to see if there was a way through to the mountains further north. Iain Peters and I set out. Eventually we reached a plateau of ice with outcrops of rock, still very crevassed. Close to the northwest, we saw a peak of 4600 feet. The route lay up steep snow and a final ice boss to a small rock tower which formed the summit. This peak was part of a long ridge with three major peaks; the north side dropped sheer for 1500 feet to another glacier which ran west to east, parallel to our glacier. This new glacier linked the Stoppani to the Roncagli and Cuevas Glaciers. Once again our way was blocked. The most westerly of the three peaks was our next objective. An approach could be made along the ridge from the peak we had just climbed. Because of a sprained ankle, I did not make this climb. The other three set off. Snow conditions were appalling. While the first of the route was technically easy, it took a long time to reach the difficult final approaches to the summit. After struggling up hopelessly deep soft snow where there was avalanche danger, they encountered thin snow on holdless slabs and finally reached the top via two awkward mantel shelves. They called the peak “Gemini” (5600 feet). We moved back to our snug camp on the moraine in a deep wooded glade. To tie up the exploration, Sargeant and Harber climbed the third mountain on the east end of the ridge. Peters climbed a rock peak above our first Base Camp. I found a way to the upper part of the Stoppani Glacier. The Chilean Navy sent a helicopter to lift us out from Yendegaia.

John Earle, Alpine Club

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