Winter Mountaineering in the Falklands
The history of winter mountaineering and climbing in the Falklands is fairly vague with only a few recorded routes. When I was detached the Falklands in late March 1996, "The Adastral winter" would be just starting, my second winter this year. Most of my friends who had been out before were very vague about the possibilities of the "winter experience" and the general view that conditions never come in and any attempt at winter climbing was a complete waste of time. Therefore I took minimum kit and was prepared for the "mother of all winters" with high winds, tons of snow and no ice. I should have known better than to trust those, the "experienced" mountaineers of the RAF Regiment: hardened veterans of many tours in the Falklands NAAFI.
I arrived and went down the gymnasium, asking the usual questions about the hills and the potential of the climbing on the Island and if I could borrow some kit. Unfortunately there was none available as there was no need for such specialized equipment and there was never any ice or snow worthy of climbing. Though in typical mountaineering tradition I went out for a look" a day in reconnaissance is seldom wasted" Just outside the camp is Pleasant Peak which although only 700 feet high gave an excellent but short scramble. The vegetated quartzite, full of cracks would be ideal for winter climbing, even for me! As luck would have it on the next aircraft came a good friend Graham Stamp His climbing CV was incredible some of the climbs were very impressive; The North Face of the Eiger, 8000 meters on the West Ridge of Everest and the Troll Wall in Norway. Unfortunately he was a very keen rock man who needed "to developed" his winter skills. In addition another friend a para - medic arrived he was also very fit and could double as our "Sherpa or doctor" if needed. All we needed was some kit and one month later it arrived courtesy of the RAF Priority airfreight marked "rescue equipment "
The boys and I had been round the usual hills and the potential was incredible. Mount Harriet, which overlooks the Stanley road, is a magic wee hill. It has everything including a scramble up to the Memorial cairn on the summit. It was named after a sailing clipper in the 18 century. One line stood out on Mount Harriet a slab with a crack running down it, full of vegetation. It also had a big sponge like plants "Balsam Bog" they grow very well on the steep cliffs and when frozen give magnificent placements to the ice climber. This crack though only 120 feet high it would give excellent sport. By June winter was with us and I convinced Stampy and a new recruit an army PTI called Tony, to go a have a look. Stampy was not convinced that it would not be worth the 20-minute walk in and the one-hour drive to Mount Harriet. Our main problem was that we only had one pair of crampons between us, one set of ice tools and my pair of size 9 plastic boots. It was really cold and the temperature was very low, as they were my boots it was my lead. Our friendly army chap was shown how to belay and Stampy laughed! The turf and Balsam Bog was brilliant and "bomb proof" a steep corner led after 30 feet to the main crack and a steep wall. I tried to get up the wall as they do on the films but it was beyond me. I tried for over one hour and had a few falls, which dented my pride. Back on the ledge I was frozen and exhausted but saw a thin crack which would just take axes and I tried again, after nearly one hour I had enough and was lowered back to the belay. Trying to change over boots and crampons in a blizzard and a gale is not easy; eventually we swapped kit and the great man Stampy set off. He was soon at the high point and blasted up the steep wall torquing on his axes and a few more delicate moves and scrabbling about he was up at the top crack. We could hear him laughing in the gale and the final chimney and wee chockstone was dealt with easily, he was up! He quickly decended and the usual comments " dead easy wee man, nothing like the Eiger" all with a big grin said it all. Tony was frozen solid he had been belaying now for nearly 3 hours and never got to try any ice climbing. By now the gale was in full force and blowing from Patagonia, we ran back to our landrover for a nightmare drive back to camp on glacier ice that is called a road. The road had been closed all day and we had some explaining to do and got the usual looks from everyone. What a great day loads of fun and my feet still suffer from the swapping of boots. A few days later I got hold of a guidebook, which listed five winter routes including our line on Harriet. The guidebook stated Grotto 120 foot grade 4 *** an excellent, sustained and technically demanding route with magnificent hooking and torquing. Graded Very Severe in summer it is a superb line. I returned again and completed the climb and managed to get a few photos on a brilliant day out. This story was written 4 years ago and again I returned this winter with my eye on a few climbs.Wall Mountain, on the road to Stanley proved a great fun day out and we had a day to remember. I had a good friend detached in John, he was a keen climber and we took a young chef Mark who had never climbed before to go climbing. The slabs on Wall Mountain can be seen from the Stanley road and in the summer contain over 30 recorded rock climbs. In winter they freeze up fairly quickly and can give a great days sport. This time the weather was clear, blue skies and the air so clear with no winds and just enough ice and frozen vegetation to get you safely up. Fantastic climbing and a great ridge walk to finish, the view from the top was alpine, what an introduction to winter mountaineering for the young man.
My R& R was planned, 4 days to climb! John managed to get time off, the cold spell hopefully would continue. Goat Ridge in between Harriet and Two Sisters had given me few excellent climbs on my last tour and I wanted to revisit it again. The weather was again great and we decided to climb the crack on Harriet on the way to Goat Ridge as I had dropped the film of the climb on the final chimney. John was very keen and soon blasted up the route while I took the photos. The walk over to Goat Ridge was interesting and we found lots of relics from the war. The cliff had ice on it but a thaw had started yet we still managed an interesting route on marginal ice. The route took us to the top of the ridge, then a fantastic winter scramble along a knife edge ridge involving an abseil took us back to our rucksacks. Time was moving and we left our climbing kit in a cave and returned to Stanley hoping for more fun tomorrow. During the night the thaw came and the hills were stripped of snow and ice overnight. Next day we walked back to pick up our kit, such is winter climbing.
Mount Ushbourne the highest mountain in the Falklands can give a fairly serious winter day out especially when daylight is short. The drive from Mount Pleasant Airfield to the mountain can be fairly wild and you must take two landrovers with you for safety. Luckily MT had planned a walk on the mountain and had that priceless commodity, 2 landrovers so I managed to hitch a lift. On a previous attempt I had spent the day getting a landrover out of a ditch. The ground was frozen hard and the journey in with the "experts" uneventful. By now it was snowing and the mist was down, unfortunately the mountain is covered in "stone runs" or boulder fields which when wet are hard to cross but covered in snow are awful. They cover the whole of the mountain from about 1500 feet so to the top it is hard going. The last 200 feet involve a plateau, which requires careful navigation in poor visibility to the summit. There were no views and it was a blizzard on top. We stopped for some food and then head down for a hard walk out back over the stone runs to the landrover. By the time we hit the main road darkness had fallen and we were glad to be back after a tricky day on the hill. It is worth noting that Ushbourne in early winter, with short daylight is a fairly interesting day and add to it full winter conditions can be comparable with a Scottish Cairngorm winter day out. Navigation skills and the use of a compass are a necessity as the summit plateau could cause problems for the inexperienced.
The Falklands have great little mountains and the traverse of Two sisters is one of my favorites here the use of a rope in winter, crampons and ice axe are essential. The hills have a beauty, which with the unique views and the history of the area make this a special place. I have enjoyed mountaineering and have only scrapped the surface with this article; hopefully the photos will summarize my feelings and show some of the beauty of this place. Many thanks to my companions on my walks and climbs and thanks to the Seaman's Mission in for the best cup of tea and cake in Stanley, Mountaineering in winter is fairly serious and remembers that there are limited rescue services should it all go wrong. If you go out in the winter you must be able to look after yourself! "Look well to each step"