American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

South America, Chile, Cordillera Sarmiento, Angels Wings, Attempt, and Exploration

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2001

Angels Wings, Attempt, and Exploration. The first person to bring the Cordillera Sarmiento to the attention of the climbing world was Jack Miller (U.S.), who flew over the range on a rare clear day in 1990, photographing the peninsula. He returned for the first mountaineering in the area in 1992 with an attempt of the highest peak, La Dama Blanca. This peak was then attempted by David Hillebrandt, Keith Atkinson, and Robin Earle (all U.K.) in 1994-95 and again in 1998 by Hillebrandt, Chris Smith, and Nial Washington-Jones (all U.K.) and Nick Banks (N.Z.). In 1998, the team found the key to the route up La Dama Blanca but failed to climb the mountain due to the bad weather that dominates the area. Three members returned for a second attempt in the same year and again failed for the same reason. La Dama Blanca was first climbed in 1999-2000 by a Basque team who waited for two months for good weather. The central part of the range south of La Dama Blanca is dominated by the magnificent peak Angels Wings, which is only slightly lower than La Dama Blanca and presents a more technical challenge. Nobody had entered this part of the range before.

The British Saga Cordillera Sarmiento Expedition, comprised of the same team who undertook this expedition in 1998, approached the Canal de las Montagñes on the east side of the range by boat from Puerto Natales. Base camp was established at sea level on October 28 and exploratory trips were made to establish a route to the interior. No way was found up a steepsided valley and serac-threatened glacier snout, so Base Camp was moved one mile south.

Between November 1 and 6, a route was established in “acceptable weather” through two icefalls to a glacier camp, providing a “jumping off site” for an attempt on the main peak. The expedition was then stormbound until an attempt on the peak could be made on November 13, on which date the ice plateau at 1100 meters was reached in high winds. The route was barred by windslab avalanche slopes. The next storm lasted for 14 days, and the team was lucky to recover their high camp and equipment.

The experience of four trips to tis area sows tat tis weather pattern is typical, and that the range is protected by its own unique microclimate that is bad, even by local Patagonian standards.

David Hillebrandt, Alpine Club

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