Mountain Drool: Monte Sarmiento of Patagonia

The phrase “the ends of the earth” sounds barren, cold, and inhospitable. For you and me, it doesn’t prompt thoughts of loneliness and discomfort, but rather a reason to gather our essentials into a backpack and trod into the unknown. But as I will show, exploring once isn’t enough.

At the southern tip of the Americas, the continents terminate in a flurry of ripples of earth, water, snow and ice. The landscape brightest point is a twin-peaked mountain that rises high above the seaway. It has been mistaken for a volcano and thwarted many suiting climbers until its first ascent, which wasn’t until 1956.

Named for a Spanish colonizer, Mount Sarmiento reaches 7,887 ft./2,404 m at its highest peak. It was first seen by westerners by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. Several other sailing explorers were impressed by its rise from the sea, including Captain Fitzroy of the HMS Beagle. Author Jules Vern mentions the mountain in his books, like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

The first attempts on Mount Sarmiento were made in 1869 and 1898, but both were precluded from significant advancement. Alberto de Agostini, a missionary in Patagonia, led an expedition to follow the path of the preceding attempt from the west. Agostini’s team succeeded in reaching the glacial plateau between the peaks, but was forced to turn back.

Agostini returned to his missionary work but exploring Patagonia became a lifelong preoccupation. Forty-three years later, at age 73, he returned to the remote and daunting Mount Sarmiento. He lead an Italian group of climbers via the east, but then swing to the north face. The group moved all around the mountain as they advanced, nearly circumnavigating the summit from lower on the mountain, including the southeast ridge and the east face.

Over the last 150 years the relatively low, yet challenging mountain has been climbed about a few dozen times. That’s about as much as one would think it should be climbed for a peak closer to the southern pole than a major city (a bit of an exaggeration, but that’s hownit seems.)

In fact, the precise history of the mountain is obscured by a lack or written records. A recent well publicized ascent of Mount Sarmiento claimed it was the first winter ascent when in fact that is likely not the case: See here in Alpinist .

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