Mountaineering in Tierra del Fuego

The Darwin Range of Subantarctic Chile


All content copyright © Ashley Burke 2013. Not to be copied, duplicated or used for any purpose without permission.


View to the southeast from near the summit of Monte Frances, Tierra del Fuego, southern Chile


Tierra del Fuego is the large island that forms the southern tip of South America. The eastern half of the island belongs to Argentina and is relatively populated, with Ushuaia being the largest town at a population of around 60000. The western side of Tierra del Fuego belongs to Chile and is virtually uninhabited. It is here where the highest and most heavily glaciated mountains are, and these are completely isolated from all human impact. The Darwin peninsula that forms the mountainous southwest of the island, is totally uninhabited. There are no roads and no settlements at all, and the range is inaccessible to all means of transport except for chartered boat. Consequently the Darwin Range of Chilean Tierra del Fuego remains one of the last great wilderness areas on Earth.

It lies at latitude 54 degrees south which is much further south than New Zealand, Tasmania, or any other major landmass except for Antarctica itself. Indeed, Ushuaia is the starting point for many commercial voyages to the Antarctic Peninsula.

Owing to its high southerly latitude, the weather in this wild place is awesome, unpredictable, and always amazing and exciting. Even in the height of summer, snow lingers on the ground above altitudes of about 800m, and no trees grow above about 600m. Summer snowfalls down to low elevations are frequent, even in mid summer. Calm dry spells are rare and shortlived. The wind is amazing, often prevailing strongly from the west, but swinging unpredictably from warm northerlies to icy southerlies in a matter of minutes.

Mountaineering in this vast, wild, raw and untamed landscape with its weather to match is challenging and amazing. There are amazing fiords and channels where glaciers meet the sea, there are countless waterfalls and rivers rushing with freezing cold water, there are alpine lakes and forests, massive ice plateaus constantly blanketed in cloud, and there are condors soaring above it all.

In January 2013 I joined an expedition led by British mountaineer Simon Yates to climb in the remote Darwin range. To access this area we chartered a sailing boat known as "Iorana", owned and captained by a Belgian friend called Marcel. The boat took us up and down the Beagle Channel, and when we were on dry land climbing, the boat waited for us in a tiny sheltered little harbour called Caletta Olla. We set up a base camp in forest beside a rushing stream about 1 and a half hours' walk from this little harbour. From this forest base camp we made several expeditions to the heavily glaciated mountains further inland, successfully reaching the summit of Monte Frances on 21 Jan 2013.

More information about the trip logistics including maps and notes, may be found via the links below. I hope you enjoy the photos.

Stage 1 - Beagle Channel

From Ushuaia in Argentina, to Puerto Williams on Isla Navarino in Chile and westwards up the Beagle Channel to western Tierra del Fuego.

14-15 Jan 2013

Stage 2 - Mountaineering the Darwin Range

From our base camp in wild forest to the glaciated peaks of the Darwin Range.

16-26 Jan 2013

Stage 3 - Estancia Yendegaia

A vast and remote property, now a conservation area, in Chilean Tierra del Fuego. Horse Riding.

27-28 Jan 2013

Stage 4 - Dientes de Navarino

The southernmost trek in the World on Navarino Island, subantarctic Chile.

30 Jan - 4 Feb 2013



Web page created 15 May 2013, last updated 15 May 2013.

All content copyright © Ashley Burke 2013. Not to be copied, duplicated or used for any purpose without permission.