South America, Chile, Tierra del Fuego, Monte Ada

Publication Year: 2002.

Monte Ada. On Saturday, February 3, the rather grandly titled British Darwin Range Expedition 2001 arrived in the city of Ushuaia in Argentine Tierra del Fuego. For an expedition with such a large name we were rather short on members. In fact only Andy Parkin and I made up the climbing part of the team. Our objective was an unclimbed peak in the Cordillera Darwin in Chilean Tierra del Fuego. With the help of Celia Bull, her ocean-going yacht Ada II, Celia’s sister Elaine, and my wife Jane, we were able to access this incredibly remote mountain range.

On the 13th we anchored the yacht at the head of a fjord next to the dramatically located Estancia Yendegaia, having battered our way west along the Beagle Channel. The Estancia’s resident gaucho, Jose Alvarao, offered his services and horses to transport us inland to the mountains. By the 16th Andy and I had set up a base camp in dense southern beech forest on the Rio Neimeyer, about 10 miles north of the Estancia. A reconnaissance up the valley revealed the Bove Glacier with, at its head, Monte Bove (2400m) and the peak we had come to climb.

On February 18 it rained all morning, before clearing and allowing us to make a carry up onto the glacier. Once above the snout we moved easily up the gently angled ice, which was virtually free of crevasses and debris, to the head of the dry section of the glacier. We stashed our climbing kit, tent, stove, gas, etc. under a boulder and returned to base camp. Indifferent weather confined us to base camp for three days. Then we decided to go up regardless and get a feel for the mountains and our route.

On the 22nd the weather was showing no signs of improvement, but we left anyway, carrying personal gear and food for five days. When we reached our stash at the boulder, we loaded our rucksacks and headed for the upper part of the glacier. Soon it was necessary to rope up, and we went through a moderately crevassed section before the glacier leveled out. The weather had cleared, and we were treated to full views of our mountain and the route we wished to climb. The east side of the mountain sported a prominent buttress that dropped right to the glacier. The buttress was steep but offered many lines up systems of icy runnels, which led to a very steep rock headwall at the top, capped with rime. We spotted a couloir splitting the upper headwall; it looked like it would provide a climbable way to the summit. We set our alarms for 2 a.m. and went to sleep.

We were away at 4 a.m., leaving the tent, spare food, and gas on the glacier, intending to bivouac above. We crossed the bergschrund at the base of the buttress at first light and moved quickly up snow slopes to the right of a nose of rock. A little higher the ground steepened and we moved rightward, following the line of least resistance into a broad couloir. We roped up, and it began snowing. Spindrift avalanches started pouring down from above. I led a difficult pitch across to the right side of the couloir and up a steep corner. By now we were very cold and wet. Andy led a particularly difficult traverse back left to regain the center of the couloir above its steepest section. Above there were many pitches of steep, insecure snow and ice climbing between interconnecting runnels, as avalanches continued to pour down. As the light began to fade we were forced to dig a hole into a small cone of snow. We dug a small chamber, which we could sit inside and escape the worst of the weather. Our feet protruded outside and were continually swept by avalanches.

The night passed slowly, as somehow we slept. At first light the weather was no better, and we discovered a pool of water had formed under us. We were now both soaking but felt we should carry on. By the time we started climbing the morning had almost passed, but the weather had begun to improve. After two pitches the sun came out, and Andy suggested leaving the bivouac gear and going for the top. We debated for a while, as we would then have to abseil the face, and we had initially planned to descend another ridge. However, once we were free of the weight of bivouac gear we began to move much quicker, and the decision felt like the right one. Andy led two long pitches to the base of the headwall, which overhung as we had suspected. A steep gully, which gave a superb pitch of climbing, cut through the headwall. I had the pleasure of leading the gully, and then Andy continued to the top, which he reached at 6:30 p.m. on February 24.

The summit was windswept, covered in rime, and shrouded in mist. Slowly the mist began to lift, revealing the Cordillera Darwin in all its glory. We never had a complete panorama, but by waiting we eventually obtained views in all directions. To the north were the three summits of Roncagli, forming a definite chain. To the south was the squat mass of Monte Bove, to the southwest Monte Frances and Italia, and in the distance the northwest fork of the Beagle Channel, sparkling in the evening sunlight. The peak we climbed lay between Roncagli and Monte Bove and marked the watershed between the Bove and Dartmoor glaciers. It was on no map. The peak was somewhere between 2,000 and 2,300 meters high. It was previously unclimbed.

We soaked up the views for a full hour before turning our attention to getting down. We abseiled from the summit ridge, following the line we had climbed through the evening, continuing after it became dark. When we reached the steep section in the broad couloir that had given us problems on the way up, we abseiled straight down, hoping to gain the glacier quicker than by following the traversing line we had come up. We soon found ourselves on an open snow slope, which we down climbed until two abseils were needed to clear a band of seracs at the base of the face. Then we walked back across the glacier to our tent, arriving at 2:30 a.m. After a late start the next day, we slowly made our way down the Bove Glacier. The weather deteriorated once more, and we soon found ourselves walking in pouring rain, once again wetting all the kit that we had managed to dry during the previous day’s sunshine. We finally reached base camp at 8 p.m.

For us the climbing was over, although we did spend two more weeks in the area, sailing farther west along Beagle Channel, exploring numerous fjords and the climbing possibilities they offered. The potential for ice and mixed climbs of up to 1,500 meters was almost limitless.

We were lucky in a number of respects. Only after we had made the decision to go did we find out that we would be able to use horses to get supplies to base camp. This saved us a lot of time shuttling loads. The site of base camp itself was determined by how far Jose could take the horses, not any decision on our part. In fact the camp and its relation to the Bove Glacier turned out to be perfect, as did the approach up the Bove Glacier. Finally, our decision to keep going through truly awful weather during the first day of the climb was crucial to our success. We could have waited a long time for a window of perfect weather!

We would like to name the peak Monte Ada, after Celia’s yacht. The route is 900 meters, alpine ED, VI in grade. As such, it is the first technical route in this mountain range, where many peaks that offer walks to the summit wait to be climbed. The climbing itself felt very Scottish in terms of climate and conditions, but we have both spent time previously in the Paine and Fitz Roy areas of Patagonia and found the weather in this part of Tierra del Fuego to be much better than those regions.

Simon Yates, United Kingdom

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