Site menu:

The Darwin mountaineering expedition

  • Français

The first step of this research program entailed studying the case of a French mountaineering expedition: The Darwin dream (« Un rêve de Darwin »,

The Darwin Expedition objective was to achieve the first-ever crossing of the Cordillera Darwin range in Tierra del Fuego (Patagonia), located very close to Cape Horn and one of the last unexplored areas of the world. This relatively unexplored mountain range had never before been crossed over its entire length (approx. 150 km as the crow flies); the difficulty stemmed from an extremely tortuous setting (jagged glaciers) coupled with very challenging weather patterns (harsh 50th parallel conditions, stifling humidity and ferocious wind gusts topping 150 km/hr).

The expedition organization was broken down into three time periods:

  • the preparatory phase (autumn 2008 – autumn 2009)
  • the expedition itself (September-October 2009, 6 weeks)
  • the post-expedition (from autumn 2009 forward).


Summary of the expedition:

The expedition phase itself comprised a team of 18 professionals (experienced mountain guides, supporting crew from the Nueva Galicia vessel and four researchers working in pairs) and spanned a 6-week period (September – November 2009 –

From the beginning, the expedition phase wound up deviating substantially from its original plan.

  • Nearly two weeks to reach the Cordillera by boat, at the opposite landing site:
    • Impossible to cross the Magellan Canal on the Nueva Galicia vessel despite multiple attempts (stormy conditions).
    • The team was forced to board a cargo ship (the Bahia Azul), which transported them to the other end of the Cordillera (to Yendegaia, at the range’s eastern extremity).
  • Cordillera crossing attempts:
    • From east to west (reversal of the initial plan).
    • Two teams of alpinists started to climb along two different itineraries. The plan called for them to meet on the Cordillera ridge, from where they would continue the crossing together.
    • After five days, impenetrable mountainous relief. The Cordillera could not be crossed via this itinerary. The climb had to be aborted and the team forced to return to Yendegaia.
  • An alternative strategy was devised, though the team was stranded in Yendegaia:
    • Objective: conquering a few “firsts” (i.e. summits never before climbed) within the Cordillera in the vicinity of Pia Bay (and on the western side of the Cordillera).
    • However, the Nueva Galicia was beached for repairs in Yendegaia.
  • Summits around Pia Bay:
    • Ultimately, after many fits and starts, the climbers arrived at Pia Bay.
    • Two new summits were conquered.
    • Several attempts were made to ascend Mount Shipton, but poor weather conditions prevented achieving this objective.



For further information,
consult the expedition site: