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First man to enter the unexplored central part of the Darwin Cordillera


From October to December 2006 Christian Clot became the first man to enter the unexplored central part of the Cordillera de Darwin (Chile), one of the last open air areas yet to be discovered.
Alone, he made a loop and two summits, which he was able to name.
After five years and three expeditions he has thus come to the end of his exploration of the mountains of Tierra del Fuego!

In addition to this, you will need to know more about it.


In January 2004 Christian CLOT accompanied by Karine MEUZARD and Raphaël ESCOFFIER led a first expedition in Cordillera Darwin - discovered by the explorers in 2002 - which did not reach the planned objectives due to terrible weather, but constituted a very good recognition of the ground.

In March 2006, a new expedition was mounted, this time with scientists, to carry out the first in situ studies in Cordillera Darwin and again to explore the center. If the scientific part goes well enough, exploration of the center is again impossible due to the weather conditions.

In October 2006 Christian Clot therefore set off again, this time alone for several weeks of exploration which this time led to the hoped-for result with the first exploration of the center of the Cordillera Darwin!



- La Cordillera Darwin is located in Chile, on a peninsula west of the Big Island of Tierra del Fuego. It is a strip of 55 km N / S and extending from east to west over 170 km.
- Its highest point is Mt Shipton, until 2003 named Darwin, whose altitude is not precisely known, given between 2400 m. and 2600 m.
- It is surrounded by sea: Bordered to the north by the Almirantazgo channel - linked to the Strait of Magellan- to the south by the Beagle channel, it ends in the west by the Cockburn channel and the Pacific Ocean.
- Only its eastern part is connected to the land, close to the border with Argentina. The nearest city is Ushuaia, Argentina. However, it is impossible to get to the mountains from this city by land, due to particularly difficult terrain and border problems.
- Punta Arenas, the nearest Chilean town is approx. 250 km by sea. Ushuaia, is closer, is located in Argentina and land access is impossible. Also, this city is not a good back base.

In addition to this, you will need to know more about it.



There is no precise map of this part of Tierra del Fuego. Next to the general maps of Tierra del Fuego - which do not really deal with these mountains and whose information is often incorrect - only the preliminary maps of the Chilean Army are available, dating from 1947 (only in photocopies) and Japanese maps which show only the ridges. These maps were made from photos, without any measurements in the field.

It is necessary to refer to the aerial photos, particularly to the new images taken in 2001, to have a more precise idea of the terrain. This gives a general idea of the topography and the surroundings, without giving any indication of the possibilities of opening a path.

The land is mainly composed of 3 types of elements:

1) Water. An inseparable element of these mountains at the end of the world.
She is everywhere. In the oceans and fjords that surround the mountains, in the ice that covers most of the land and in the air. Precipitation, heavy and numerous, but even more particularly high humidity gives the impression of living permanently in water.

2) The vegetation, tortured, is a mixture of primary forest with powerful roots - to resist the winds - and peat, a very deep layer of spongy moss. This forest forms a cordon up to 600m of altitude surrounding all the mountains. It is not uncommon to see it skirting the glaciers which will flow to the bottom of the fjords. This is a major obstacle that has, by itself, blocked many expedition attempts in Cordillera Darwin.

3) The glacial environment. After the impressive glaciers of Hielo Patagonico Norte and Sur, Cordillera Darwin is Chile's third glacial field. As soon as you leave the forest, at an altitude of 600m, you enter the glacial moraine area before giving way from 800m to the glaciers themselves, not to mention the glacial tongues that descend into the fjords. These gigantic glaciers with innumerable crevasses and seracs are among the fastest in the world and some peaks such as the Sarmiento at 2300m are known to be formed only by blown snow! This land, constantly battered by winds and precipitation, is constantly changing and is undergoing the spectacular assaults of current global warming.

Everything moves so fast that living on these glaciers gives a strange impression of being in a raging ocean where the force of the elements would have put on slow motion. Crevasses that open and close in a single night, winds that lift us off the ground, falls of seracs at all times ... A land that moves, that snorts, expresses itself through all its pores ...
Terribly impressive as well as fascinating.

The climate

The big challenge! Some scientists agree that the Cordillera Darwin is a primordial node that governs the air movements of the entire planet ... guess or truth? Nevertheless Cordillera Darwin is subject to the most stormy climate there is. It is the first obstacle to the winds coming from Antarctica and at the meeting point of the Pacific and the Atlantic. A confrontation that never leaves this part of the world in peace. The winds can reach phenomenal speeds, swirl constantly and the humidity is particularly high, especially between 0m and 1300m altitude.

The weather can change from moment to moment, scrolling through the four seasons in a single day. Sun, hail, snow, rain, "hot" or icy temperatures can follow one another in a few moments.

The winds

Without doubt one of the most representative and fabulous aspects of this region. We are just a stone's throw from the famous Cape Horn, in the area called by sailors the "Hurlant Cinquantièmes" by analogy to the "Roaring Forties". Words that represent the power released by the air currents of the fiftieth parallels. But they are not enough! They lack nuances as the diversity of winds is important and varied. The Yamanas, Indians who lived in the fjords and on the coasts of Tierra del Fuego, had more than thirty words to designate the winds. A wealth of vocabulary essential to understand the links that the air has with the lands of the End of the World.

But the sailors are on the oceans, at an altitude of 0 meters. We are in the mountains! We thus endure these complex aerological conditions, added to the altitude terrain which increase the problems tenfold, by creating wind corridors, by accelerating speeds, by creating unmanageable vortices which make it impossible to determine the direction of the wind.

Our greatest fear, and it is already that of the sailors, is a blow from Williwoo, a gust of fist, very localized, which can reach more than 150 km / h and which arrives at once, with no sign beforehand. -runner. It is then impossible to stand up.

However, without these winds, what would the End of the World be? They are the ones who change the climate in no time and who shaped the terrain. They are the ones who scroll the clouds, creating a thousand different paintings every day. They are the ones who created the myth of Cape Horn and Tierra del Fuego. Without them, nothing would be the same, and the Cordillera Darwin would have been explored for a long time ...

So, even if you are sometimes painful, dangerous, mutinous or annoying ... Thank you winds!


Discovered in the 15th century by Magellan (P) on behalf of the Spaniards, Tierra del Fuego was first bordered to the south by Robert Fitz Roy (UK) in 1830 during his first voyage on the Beagle. He would return to it two years later, in 1832 with the naturalist Charles Darwin, who gave his name to the mountains and the highest peak visible from the canal. The first real explorer of this cordillera at the beginning of the 20th century was Father Alberto Agostini (I). However, he confined himself to the easily accessible parts, to the East and to the West, as all explorers after him would do. The only exception is Eric Shipton (UK) who ventured into the center of these mountains in 1962, and achieved the highest peak which in 2004 became Mt. Shipton. Today, no one has yet explored the major part of the center of this cordillera.

It should also be noted that, until the beginning of the XXth century, Indians lived on the coasts of Cordillera Darwin. The Yamanas fished and hunted there entirely naked. It seems, however, that they never ventured into the mountains, which were gods to them. They all disappeared, victims of white settlers and disease.

Unexplored, really?

Unexplored ... A term that leaves you dreaming. How can we say today that a territory is still unexplored? With our satellites roaming all over the place, centuries of exploration history and a general idea that everything has been done!

Yet we have decided to assert that this land we are going to is still unexplored.

First, we are talking about uncharted territory, not uncharted territory. The nuance is important. Today, on earth - I mean in the open and not in cavities or seabed - all the relief is known. We know where is what, mountains, islands, deserts, ... The world map is clear and I think, little doubted. Good. Except that knowing that a land exists, having an aerial or satellite image of it does not mean that someone has already been there! Now, if no one doubts the existence of the Cordillera Darwin, if we have very good aerial photographs of it, it seems that no one has yet been to the center of these mountains. Then, we are not saying that no one has been to Cordillera Darwin, far from it, but indeed the center of these mountains, about 150 km by 50 km, are unexplored.

During four years, we searched all over the place, launched appeals to a large number of alpine clubs around the world, from Japan to Italy, from New Zealand to Spain, we dug the archives and questioned most of them. living people who have had a connection with the Cordillera Darwin, in order to take stock of the expeditions and explorations carried out in the region of Tierra del Fuego. (See the Chronology of the expeditions) We did not find any indication of an expedition carried out in the center of the mountains, between Mt Shipton and the Navaro cordon, near Mt Sarmiento (see the situation map)

But of course, this is not enough. We have to ask the question differently.

The discovery of Tierra del Fuego is quite recent. It was not until 1520 that Magellan found the strait that bears his name and it was not until 1830 that the Beagle Channel was discovered and with it the reality of the Cordillera Darwin. Before that date, the very few people who had passed through this region had many other concerns.

Then come two important events. The International Hydrographic Year of the 1870s and the Himalayas. The first is that people who walk in the Great South are there for science and the second that the inclinations of countries, and mountaineers, turn to very high altitude. Except for a few pure enthusiasts, for nearly 100 years, only the Himalayas seem to have grace in the eyes of climbers. The Cordillera Darwin does not interest anyone, or almost no one, especially since it has three key arguments to prevent people from being interested in it: its low height, its difficulty of access and especially its climate, more than off-putting.

Thus, all the known attempts since the beginning of the 20th century will be contained in the eastern and western parts, the most accessible.

Today climbers around the world are looking to new goals, including the Cordillera Darwin. But since the fifties, all the movements of boats are followed and known, and the climbers tackling this kind of difficulty tend to announce it, at least to the alpine clubs, to the English or American Alpine Journal or to mountain magazines.

There remain the Yamanas, the famous people of the canals who lived around the Cordillera Darwin, in the fjords. They were sturdy and endlessly at the foot of the mountains. Still, I don't think they tried anything. Stupidly because they had other things to do and the time was busy feeding themselves or keeping the fire going, but also because these mountains were the domain of some form of divinity for them. The God Mwono of the mountains and the storms had taken up residence there. And we rarely go to challenge the Gods. Finally, nothing, neither in their vocabulary, nor in their legends and stories indicates that they were interested in the mountain where a reckless one attacked it.

At the end of the day, for the Andeanists to have gone there without anyone knowing, they would have had to rent a boat, and that would have to be known or own one and be good climbers in addition to good sailors. Having been there before the fifties, since from the spider web of military radios spotted any nautical movement, made contact and reported it. They would have practically also had to ask for information from anyone, that they do not announce themselves anywhere, that they are discreet like a secret agent In short, that they have done everything so that nobody knows their passage! What's the point ?

Having said that, if such people have existed, I am sure that they will forgive me for having forgotten them ...

So, Unexplored the center of the Cordillera Darwin? Without doubt, despite the fact that there will always remain "The" percent of doubt. But anyway, this part is much more unexplored than all these territories that we Europeans have discovered and declared as unexplored until then ... Although men have lived there for centuries !!! So what does that mean, unexplored? everything is so relative !!


Exploration crossing


In BLUE: Thoughtful and ideal route.
In RED: Route made by Christian Clot and the two gravitational summits
In YELLOW: Route of the attempt by the South, aborted because of the ice.
BROWN zone: Zone of the 2004 and March 2006 expeditions with Karine Meuzard, Raphael ESCOFFIER and the scientists.
PURPLE zone: Zone hitherto considered unexplored.

Last westernmost camp: W 070 ° 11.484 / S 54 ° 37.601
Most westerly point reached: W 070 ° 10.937 / S 54 ° 37.059

Apart from the seabed and the earth's crust, it seems our world is known and mapped. However, there are still a few unmapped open-air areas where man has not yet set foot. The Cordillera Darwin is one of them!

No one had yet been in its central part, between Mount Shipton and Sarmiento, a distance of 150km and 60km wide. Making a loop in this part allowed Christian Cklot to be the first to enter these lands, the first to explore it!


Evolving in these unknown lands, without map or information required a long work of observation and often a lot of retracing its steps. For 1km traveled, it is often 3 to 4 km actually traveled.

You have to accept these many trials, these repetitive mistakes in the road if you want to achieve the goal.


Cordillera Darwin is an area emblematic of various environmental issues. The scientific studies that we are going to carry out will allow us to better understand them.

It has exceptional natural environments which are today threatened:
● Primary forest over 6,000 years old, untouched by humans and where different animal and plant species have developed.
● Important glacial field undergoing profound change and threatened with extinction.
Despite her distance from human actions, she suffers the consequences. Located just under a major hole in the ozone layer, it suffers the full brunt of the problems associated with global warming.
It shows the importance of global environmental thinking

The probable disappearance of glaciers in the very short term on a global scale, if nothing changes quickly, is a life-size symbol of the risks of the disappearance of natural environments and drinking water.

The interest inspired by this type of expedition makes it an important educational tool. We wish to raise public awareness, through our communication actions, on the problems related to fresh water, the preservation of fragile natural environments and global warming.


Scientific studies

The Cordillera Darwin, preserved for millennia, is a formidable research center, in particular in terms of glaciology, climatology and biology. In addition, to love an environment, a land, is also to want to know it better, beyond the strong emotional feeling. This is why, from the start of the preparation for this expedition, we decided to add a scientific component.

Its difficulty of access and its climate have so far made field studies impossible. Without being a scientific mission in the first sense of the term, paving the way for a better knowledge of this environment is one of the challenges of our expedition.

While some of the measurements will be carried out during the crossing, others, the most important, were carried out during the first part of the expedition with three scientists.


In partnership with IRD (Fr) and CEQUA in Punta Arenas. Resp. : Bernard Francou.

The Cordillera Darwin bears the brunt of the problems associated with global warming. Its glaciers are melting at a surprising speed. The largest of them, the Marinelli, has lost more than 15 km in 40 years, including 5 in the last ten years. At this rate, it is urgent to carry out studies there.

On the other hand, glaciological studies are being carried out over the whole of the Andes mountain range and in Antarctica. The Cordillera Darwin constitutes today the missing link by joining the "glacial zone" of Venezuela to the South Pole.

What had already been done:
Currently only comparative studies based on aerial images have been carried out. One of the first is the work of a Frenchman, Louis Lliboutry. He also drew a synoptic map of the region. These studies made it possible to show the impressive retreat during the XXth century of the glaciers of the North of the Cordillera. Those in the South seem rather to stagnate. It must be said that they are the ones who receive the full brunt of the coldest winds.
See images of receding ice.

What we have done :
The climatic and terrain conditions did not allow us to carry out an ice coring, but many observations could nevertheless be made concerning the Marinelli glacier. The latter has had an inexplicably rapid decline in recent decades, and is undergoing a profound change which is accelerating. This is the case for many glaciers in the Cordillera Darwin.


Between 2004 and 2006, the physical transformation and the loss of mass of this glacier is impressive, to such an extent that it has become unrecognizable for Christian Clot and Karine Meuzard, authors of a first expedition to these places in 2004. Bernard Francou, specialist in the Andes glaciers, was very impressed by its condition and the signs of its retreat. Begun between 1945 and 1984, the retreat of this glacier of today 163 km² for 22 km in length, has accelerated drastically over the last 20 years (10 km of loss) is in total more than 25 km of lost. This retreat of the Marinelli is the fastest of all documented glaciers in South America, and one of the fastest in the world. It remains a mystery as precipitation has instead increased with temperatures warming but in a reasonable manner. However, meteorological data are lacking today to determine the share of warming in this decline, and are sometimes even contradictory between different stations. New studies are currently in preparation.


In partnership with the University of Punta Arenas. Resp. : Marcelo Arevalo.

As explained in the Terrain and climate section, Cordillera Darwin experiences a particularly disturbed and complex climate. If weather stations exist in Punta Arenas, Ushuaia and, recently, in a fjord at sea level south of the Cordillera, it is interesting to compare these data with measurements taken directly in the mountains.

All the more so as an astonishing theory has developed over the past few years. Some American scientists now think that the hub that constitutes the Cordillera Darwin could influence the weather in the South and North Atlantic, and this as far as Europe! It is therefore all the more interesting to go there to carry out meteorological and glaciological studies.

We will take measurements of temperature, precipitation and wind strength, according to protocols established in advance.

What we have done :
We installed a weather station provided by La Crossse Technology during the duration of the expedition. Installed at the access pass to the Marinelli glacier, at an altitude of 700m. A barometer, rain gauge, anemometer and thermometer thus functioned autonomously. Unfortunately, too much precipitation and snow quickly saturated the rain gauge, the data of which was not usable. The pressures ranged from 915 to 938 hPa, with an average of 923.8 and temperatures between -1 ° C and 5 ° C with an average of 2.42 ° C. Fairly mild temperatures which should not make us forget that with winds exceeding 185 km / h and a relative humidity of nearly 95%, the temperatures felt have dropped to -30 ° C. This station will be reinstalled during the second part, then semi-permanently if possible.


Entomology / Biology

Resp. Jean-Jacques Menier and Christian Clot

During the 2004 expedition, we were surprised to find that an impressive number of insects were running on the Marinelli glacier. Insects several centimeters tall, with slender bodies and long legs like we had never seen on a glacier before. Certainly, this does not mean much given our limited knowledge in entomology. However, it is not impossible that the preserved character of the Cordillera Darwin has allowed the development of unique species.

What we have done :
According to a procedure set up with the museum of natural history, we brought back a certain number of samples to be analyzed in the calm of a laboratory. These insects between 1 and 2 cm, black in color and more rarely orange, From the Plecoptera group, similar insects have recently been discovered on the Hielo Patagonico


On, in 2004 and were named Patagonian Dragons. It is possible that those observed in the Darwin Cordillera by Karine Meuzard, Christian Clot during their first expedition in 2004 and brought back by Ultima Cordillera 2006 arrived during the glaciation of the Magellan Channel, 40,000 years ago and have since developed in total autarky. A fascinating, little-known species which today interests both entomologists and researchers on the development of life in ice: the adaptation of these insects to life in ice opens up many questions. The samples brought back for study are the first in the world to come from this sector, separated from the continent by the sea.


In partnership with IGN and Thales Navigation. Resp. José Araos and Karine Meuzard

Many peaks have no name and none has specific elevation. The data currently are only hypothetical. The rare maps of the area are imprecise and often contradict each other. Taking position and altitude data is important for knowing this Andean cordon

What we have done :
With a professional GPS - The Pro MarkIII - we measured the altitude of reference points including sea level - and recorded slope profiles

During the second part of the expedition, we will try to measure several peaks, including the highest point, Mt Shipton.

These data, added to our preliminary documentation and to the imagery work that we will carry out on site, will make it possible to establish, by satellite cross-checking, the first precise map of the area as well as a directory of the summits of this mountain range.


Resp. Karine Meuzard

Since 2001 and our discovery of the Cordillera Darwin, we have carried out an important work of documentation. We have gathered all the maps and aerial images, the scientific studies already carried out in the area and the surrounding sectors and established an almost exhaustive list of expeditions carried out in Cordillera Darwin.

The compilation of these data, which will continue in the years to come, allows a better understanding of this extraordinary environment and constitutes an important database, which can be consulted by all.

And now: Follow-up to our observations!

Today, following observations of the expedition team, the value of implementing long-term study programs has been demonstrated.

Discussions are underway between CEQUA, IRD, UNESCO and our expedition to carry out a larger and long-term monitoring program for certain glaciers in the area, at the same time as to install a permanent weather station. A particularly important program today given the strategic position of the Cordillera Darwin and the significant lack of knowledge about it. However, it remains to define the modalities and means to implement these studies. In fact, land access remains particularly difficult and air access is almost impossible in view of the air conditions. The American professor Mayevski, who wanted to attempt a corotage almost at the same time as our expedition understood it, with the unfortunate loss of all his equipment and a helicopter ...
It is important that the actions be coordinated between the different teams in order to serve the knowledge of this place, and the Ultima Cordillera expedition, with its knowledge of this environment, has an important role to play from this point of view.

These long-term study projects, resulting from our work, are one of the greatest successes of this scientific part of the expedition.


In addition to this, you will need to know more about it.

In addition to this, you will need to know more about it.

In addition to this, you will need to know more about it.

In addition to this, you will need to know more about it.

In addition to this, you will need to know more about it.

In addition to this, you will need to know more about it.

Responsible: Professor Jean-Paul Richalet, University of Bobigny
With: Didier Chapelot, nutritionist and Cécile Vallet, psychologist.

It is interesting to see the physical and psychological evolution of a man and a woman subjected to extreme conditions and isolation. We will thus carry out tests before, during and after the expedition in order to evaluate the evolutions of one and the other.

These tests will focus on two main topics:
Nutrition: Using a special heart rate monitor from the POLAR brand, we will be able to assess, among other things, our calorie expenditure, and we will also know our caloric intake with precision. This will make it possible, thanks to the complete assessments before and after the expedition, to assess the loss of fat mass and especially of dry mass, for each part of the dissociated body. Other points on heart rates will also be studied.
Psychological: Between time 1, before and time 3, after the expedition and the evaluations that we carry out with Doctor Cécile Vallet, there is time 2, the expedition. During the latter, each week, we will perform the same tests: mnemonic, memory, language and others more subjective such as our feelings, decision-making… This will allow us to assess our evolution during the expedition.


Presentation of the Cordillera Darwin 2006 expeditions team

Christian Clot carried out the exploratory part of the expedition alone. A simplicity which allowed him to find the communion with the indispensable environment in this kind of environment. However, the first part of the expedition was a multi-party one, and the support team to set up the expeditions was important. Here is the list.

For all of the expedition:


Christian CLOT, 33 years old, Switzerland, leader of the experiment.
logistics, photography and video.

Alongside his profession as an actor and stuntman, he has made great journeys and numerous technical climbs. Going to meet the extreme lands of our world allows him to bring together his passions: photography, writing and self-engagement. ULTIMA CORDILLERA is one more step in this confrontation of man with nature.

Scientific team: For the first part of the expedition.


Karine MEUZARD, 31, French.
documentation, drawing and video.

Designer and graphic designer, she takes her pencils to the four corners of the world and to the highest peaks, where she immortalizes places, people and their lives in her own way. Passionate about the great stories of exploration, she is the initiator of the expedition.


Bernard Francou, F, 51 years old
Glaciologist, professor at the University of Grenoble and research director at IRD (Institute for Research and Development).

For nearly 30 years, this confirmed mountaineer has been mixing his two passions, mountaineering and glaciology. He is a specialist in the Andes in which he lived for many years, and is the author of several books on mountaineering and glaciology. Specializing in samples in difficult to access terrain, he has, among other things, carried out core samples on Everest, and many more than 6,000 meters.


Marcelo Arevalo, CL, 47 years old
Engineer at the University of Punta Arenas.

Marcelo has been, for almost 25 years, THE specialist in field studies for the entire southern area of Patagonia. It is through him that almost all research expeditions pass, both his knowledge of the place and his Mac Gyver side are invaluable helpers. And this was not denied during our expedition. He is also the author in 1982, with four friends, of a North-South crossing to the East of the Cordillera Darwin. He has been waiting since that day to be able to return!


José Araos, CL, 30 years old
Geographer-Topographer for CEQUA in Punta Arenas (Cl)

he also works on glaciology projects. Passionate about expeditions, he already has several works on the Hielo Patagonico Sur to his credit. He was in charge of correlating field data in relation to satellite images and aerial photos, and the topography part. He is now the one who is putting together the files for the long-term monitoring studies of the Darwin glaciers.


Roland Théron, F, 45 years old

Filmmaker for 22 years for numerous documentaries. He specializes in film in difficult conditions. (Thalassa, Raid Gauloise, Special Envoy, Mountain magazine, the march of the century ... etc).

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