Mount Buckland was the destination of a seven-man mountaineering team from Saxony that, equipped with TATONKA gear, set off on a four-week tour in January 2012 to Tierra del Fuego. The route was certainly challenging: from the north face this majestic mountain has hardly ever been tackled before. The travel journal of Robert Koschitzki tells of the hardships but also of joyful moments on this ambitious tour.
A journey into the unknown
At the beginning of January 2012 six male and one female mountain climbers started off on their journey to a mountain in one of the most remote places on earth: Robert Koschitzki, Markus Kautz, Daniel Groß, André Kunert, Micha Nadler, Franz Goerlich and Barbara Schmidt. Mount Buckland, the destination of this expedition, is located in the Cordillera Darwin, the archipelago at the southern tip of the South American continent. This land projection of ice and rock can be reached only by boat through the canals of Tierra del Fuego. To date there had been only one previous expedition on this difficult route: Italian mountaineers succeeded in the first ascent of the southwest face of Mount Buckland in 1966.
With half a ton of equipment, far away from any routes and from civilization
This time the aim was to open up a new route from the north. Hardly anyone has ever seen Mount Buckland from this side. Satellite pictures and a few aerial photos from the 1920s to 1950s provided the only possible means to try to estimate what would await the group there. About a year and a half of planning preceded the trip before it set off on 16th January 2012: The boat that unloaded us and around 500 kg of our gear on the beach of Bahía Fitton (Fitton Bay), was now only a small white dot on the horizon and we were alone, completely cut off from all civilization, with the exception of a satellite telephone.
Challenging stages of travel through difficult terrain
The wilderness of Tierra del Fuego immediately showed itself from its raw side: After about five hours with heavy backpacks through extremely rough terrain including swamplands, scrubland and forests that seemed to be made up of fallen tree trunks, we were really glad to find a place where we could put up our tents, if only temporarily. We had in fact only covered about two kilometers and in front of us the valley narrowed to a steep escarpment that rose threateningly. According to the satellite photos, our planned base camp was still about four kilometers ahead at 300 meters.
It took us another four strenuous days before we eventually arrived with all our gear at an idyllic small lake at the foot of the Buckland Glacier. The escarpment had proved to be conquerable but only with the aid of a fixed rope.
Extreme weather changes make the tour difficult
For the first few days the notorious Tierra del Fuego weather had shown itself from its good side; we could explore the surrounding areas in mild temperatures and relatively little rain. Buckland however, rarely showed us its summit as it was mostly shrouded in its own personal mountain cloud.
In the following days, however, the weather showed its true nature: Temperatures between 0° und 10° Celsius, one rain shower after the other, air pressure at record lows and one day in the middle of “ high summer” at 300 meters above sea level there was actually a fall of large, wet snowflakes.
The Team on Mount Buckland: What a success!
Despite adverse conditions Robert, Daniel und Markus were successful in a second attempt to climb the imposing north wall of Mount Buckland. From the high camp at the saddle of the northern end of the Buckland Glacier they climbed a huge mountain chasm over the north ridge in 12 hours, reaching the summit via the north east face of the 1,746 m high “Queen of Tierra del Fuego”. The visibility was not good with practically no view from the summit but despite this they were totally happy to have got to the top. The descent that had to be done partly in darkness once again demanded full concentration and after 19 hours they arrived back in their tents in the high camp, completely exhausted.
The “Basecamp” in tense excitement
The rest of the team followed the ascent closely via radio transmission, cheered when the summit was conquered and could not sleep peacefully until the news arrived that all three climbers had returned safely to the high camp. They had made it just in time as during the following few days the weather deteriorated such that the amount of new snow would certainly have prevented a further attempt.
The ascent of Mount Niebla marks the end of the tour
During the last few days hardly any other activities were possible. Robert, Daniel and Franz managed another first ascent; the mountain Mount Niebla (meaning “foggy mountain”), certainly lived up to its name in respect of the weather conditions! Then the three and a half weeks were almost over and it was time to break camp and return to the bay.
The return journey to the shore was once again a very wet affair: It rained cats and dogs, everywhere the water flowed down the slopes, dripped from the trees and we were soon completely soaked, our shoes squelched with every step and as soon as we stood still, our teeth began to chatter.
A sunny departure from Tierra del Fuego with pride and unforgettable memories
When we woke up on the beach the next morning we could hardly believe our eyes: a glorious blue sky and sunshine, not a cloud to be seen. For the past four weeks we had been waiting for this day and now it came too late for us! We were annoyed at first but then decided to see the funny side, enjoy the sunshine and let our clothes finally dry again.
All in all it was a very exciting expedition, completely alone we had found our way through the wilderness where presumably no human foot had ever trod before and some of the team had actually succeeded in reaching the goal, climbing to the top of Mount Buckland.
We could never have done this without help and support so thank you Tatonka for the equipment, including back frames for carrying loads, very useful waterproof sacks and especially for the First Aid Kit even though fortunately we did not need to use it.
Report and photos: Robert Koschitzki