Monte Buckland (1,746m), Northeast Ridge and Northeast Face; Monte Niebla (1,430m), Northeast Face
South America, Chile, Tierra del Fuego, Cordillera Darwin
On January 29, 2012, Daniel Gross, Markus Kautz, and I reached the mystical and rarely seen summit of Monte Buckland by a new route, the northeast ridge and northeast face (D). We have called our line Silberkondor after the plane piloted by Gunther Plueschow, a German pioneering aviator who took the first pictures of Buckland’s northeast face during exploratory flights in 1929. The only other reports about Buckland come from Italian missionary Alberto M. de Agostini, who explored the area in 1912-13, and from the strong Italian expedition led by Carlo Mauri, who in 1966 made, until 2012, the only ascent of the peak (summit reached by Allipi, Ferrari, Guidici, Machetto, Mauri, and Pirovano). The Italians approached from the southern Agostini Fjord and made the ascent by the southwest face. Scarcity of information, inaccessibility, nasty weather, and impenetrable rain forest couldn’t stop us exploring the wedge-shaped mountain of Buckland, located in the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego.
From Punta Arenas we made a 10-hour drive on partly unpaved and rough roads to the southwest coast of Tierra del Fuego. To the south we caught the first glimpses of our goal, the snow-covered peaks of the Cordillera Darwin. Crossing the fjord next day with two inflatable zodiacs and passing east of Isla Dawson, we reached Fitton Bay (Bahía Fitton). After we unpacked our 450kg of equipment, the boats returned, cutting us off from civilization for the next three and a half weeks. Due to horrible bushwhacking through dense rain forests, which were often passable only with machetes, and negotiating open swampland, it took five long, hard days just to establish base camp (300m), less than five km from the beach. Plus the rain soaked us, froze us, and brought us close to despair.
Over the next few days we explored the nearby area and climbed a hiking peak south of Buckland, naming it Monte Bella Vista (825m), because of the beautiful view of surrounding peaks. Gross, Kautz, and I then made our first attempt on Buckland. From base camp we went west to the glacier beneath the east pillar. We then traversed the lower glacier, exposed to the fall of the seracs that overhang the entire east face, to reach the northeast ridge, where we set up high camp at 1,100m. The next day we climbed the first pitches of the ridge but had to return to base camp due to bad weather. On January 29 we made a second attempt from high camp, climbing mostly ice and mixed terrain to reach the upper glacial plateau below the summit headwall. Passing a difficult bergschrund (WI4), we followed the obvious central couloir (up to 65°) to the narrow summit ridge. In nearly whiteout conditions we turned south and climbed the icy summit considered to be Buckland’s highest point. It was 12 hours since wed left camp but more than four decades since this point had been reached.
After the ascent weather worsened, with snow down to base camp. Nevertheless on February 2, with another member of our expedition Franz Goerlich, Gross, and I made the first ascent of an unnamed peak we called Monte Niebla, a tribute to the bad weather at the summit. We first followed the main valley southeast from base camp, then after two km went steeply north to a glacier west of the summit. We then reached the northeast face. A snow ridge and 30m of loose rock led to the summit (AD-). Weather now forced us to remain in our tents for the rest of the expedition, frustrated after seeing such splendid unclimbed mountains as Monte Sella. Further details are available at www.mtbuckland.com
Robert Koschitzki, Germany