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Tierro del Fuego, Yorkminster Group, Exploration and Monte Vavel Attempt

In February Krzysztof Wielicki, Jacek Fluder, Wlodzimierz Szczesny, and I, after traveling for 80 hours from Poland, set up base camp in the remote glacier valley of the Cordillera Darwin, Tierra del Fuego. It was a beautiful place, by the shore of the eastern gulf of Bahia Parry, opposite the side of the fjord where the 1971 New Zealand expedition installed their base camp. Berries were plentiful, as well as firewood and running water.

To get there we chartered a boat in Porvenir for $3,500. We swore that next time we would hire the helicopter to avoid this sailing in madness (and sickness). As we had just two weeks for exploring, we focused only on the unexplored west side of the Darwin Glacier. We intended to climb the 3.5km- long north crest, a logical way to the summit of Monte Vavel, which is west of the main peak of the Yorkminster group.

After a couple of days struggling to the “pass with the view” and after a few more to get to the foot of our goal, we had only two days complete the route. After six hours of easy but tricky climbing (we left 50m of fixed rope on the lower, rocky part of the crest), we were forced to go down because of a storm. We reached the icy col just below the huge rock wall (main difficulties). We left one Piranha tool, pitons, and carabiners.

During our short stay we enjoyed just one full sunny day. The rest was more or less cloudy and windy, with rain and snow. The temperature was 7°–15°C during the day and about minus 5°C at night.

There is a good place to spend a night on the “pass with the view,” even during a hurricane. Go to the south side of the pass and dig a snow cave. During our stay we noticed three condors, the only signs of life in that region. In exploring the area close to the pass, we got to the top of the isolated lower summit of the mountain bordering the pass on the south. We called it Punte Mirador as there is a good view of the entire area of the Darwin Glacier.

Although the mountains in this region are only up to 2,400m high, they rise from the sea. For that reason one should be prepared for at least two days and a couple kilometers of tricky climbing, weather permitting.

Andrzej Smialy, Polish Alpine Club