American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Monte Sarmiento, West Summit, La Odisea de Magallanes

South America, Chile, Southern Patagonia, Tierra Del Fuego

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Author: Ralf Gantzhorn, Germany
  • Climb Year: 2009
  • Publication Year: 2010

At the western end of the Darwin Range in Chile’s Tierra del Fuego rises one of the most beautiful mountains in the world, the ca 2,200m Monte Sarmiento. The mountain is 150km from the nearest human settlement and is only accessible by boat. Bad weather and overhanging ice mushrooms present major obstacles. The only successful climb of the main peak (east summit) was in March 1956 (Carlo Mauri and Clemente Maffei, no photos, strange description). The western peak was climbed by Italians in 1986 (again, no published photos and contradictory descriptions) and, well-established, in 1995 by Stephen Venables, John Roskelley, and Tim Macartney-Snape.

In 2010 Robert Jasper, Jörn Heller and I climbed the western peak in a 39-hour single push, with a short bivouac. [Unbeknown to the 2010 party at the time, their route was a variation to the 1986 Italian route, traversing into the face via the north ridge, while the Italians climbed the face directly—Ed.]

We sailed from Ushuaia on the Tari II (Skipper Micki Fischer) for 11 days to the east side of Sarmiento, at Caleta Escandallo, 20km from the peak. After three unsuccessful attempts, we started again at 10 a.m. on April 1. We crossed the rainforest and climbed a slippery ramp to the glacier at 600m, then crossed a heavily crevassed icefield to Collado Este (ca 1,000m), a pass at the beginning of Sarmiento’s east ridge. Because of a snowstorm, we bivied in a snow cave. At 2 a.m. we left, going by the rule: “If you see a single star, move out.” From Collado Este we crossed to Collado Norte, where the north ridge starts. We moved quite fast, despite short vertical passages, and before sunrise we were about 80m below the western summit. Huge ice mushrooms stopped us, and we had to downclimb 150m onto the ca 70° north face. We traversed 300m east to where we could cross the bergschrund and climb the face (some vertical-to-overhanging passages) [joining the 1986 Italian route]. After four ropelengths we reached the ridge between the east and the west summits. The ridge to the east summit was full of ice mushrooms, so we headed for the west summit. After a ropelength, again, though, same problem: huge, vertical mushrooms. Weaving around, we found a passage, reaching the summit around midday (La Odisea de Magallanes, WI4+). After half an hour on the western summit, we downclimbed the entire route—rappelling was impossible given the bad ice. At 1 a.m. on April 3 we reached Caleta Escandallo and Tari II.

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