Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Mt Usborne - the Highest Peak

Last month saw a group of walkers set out to climb Mt Usborne - at 2310 feet (705m.), the highest point in the Falkland Islands .........
Mt Usborne from Darwin.
The mountain is named after the Ship's Assistant on the Beagle, which brought Charles Darwin to the Falklands in 1833.  You can get good views of it from the settlement of Darwin, which is about 70 miles south-west of Stanley, the capital.
In convoy across Camp
On a breezy Sunday morning, about 10 of us set off for the 60-mile drive west from Stanley, and then a 5-mile off-road track to the base of the mountain. This track gets rough in places, but we had a couple of experienced drivers in the convoy, who could pick their way through the traps.
Negotiating a small stone run
The group parked the cars around 11am, and set off under grey and blustery skies. Luckily, the strong wind was at our backs as we clambered up the steep slope. We crossed a few stone runs, but eventually reached the summit plateau after about 90 minutes.
The summit cairn.  An old exhaust?

Blowing a hoolie at the top!
Unfortunately, the wind had increased in strength, and standing on the exposed plateau was an effort. After a few photos and signing the visitor's book, we headed east to find a more sheltered spot. Rather surprisingly, the north face of the hill was very much steeper than the south, and had 4 corries, each with a tarn. I was familiar with these geographical features from visiting the Scottish Highlands and the Lake District in England, but their presence indicated glaciation had occurred here, at some point in the distant past.
A sheltered spot...yes, that's snow!
However, I don't think there is any other evidence that the Falklands were once glaciated, so it was a surprise to see these features at all. We soon found a broad ledge below the ridge out of the wind, and we had an enjoyable picnic looking down 1,000 feet into a corrie containing a few snow patches.
After the refreshments, we continued about another mile east along the ridge, and then dropped down about 800 feet into a corrie. One of our group wanted to dip his fingers (it was too cold for toes), into each tarn, and so we continued west, sheltered from the gale under the long ridge.
On the summit ridge.
More snow!

The most easterly tarn
Tarn comes from Old Norse.  This article describes how they are formed.  The tarn above was sitting in an almost-perfect bowl, formed by ice.

Looking back west along the summit
Tarn from the east
View from the north, looking southwest.
Another tarn with lots of packed snow.
Heading for the Black Tarn

Black Tarn
After a few hours of checking out the corries and touching the tarns, we came to a stunning view, overlooking the famous Black Tarn. The only problem was there was no obvious route down to it! After a few dead ends, we clambered down a steep stone run, sometimes using hands and bottoms to negotiate a route through these huge boulder fields.
Steep stone run
This article gives more information about how stone runs are formed >> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stone_run
Very steep stone run...
Charles Darwin, when he saw them during his visit of 1833, en route to the Galapagos and his Theory of Evolution, called them "rivers of stone".  Although my native Scotland now has a similar climate to the Falklands, it was completed glaciated during the last Ice Age, so this geological formation never existed in my homeland.
Black Tarn, looking south to Mt Usborne
The views were worth it! They reminded me of some dramatic scenery in the north-west of Scotland. Well worth exploring if you can't get to the Falklands!
Transport awaits. One last stone run to cross.
Climbing out of the bowl, we realised we now had no protection from the gale, and it was going to be a long, tiring slog back to the cars. Despite being marginally downhill, we still had several more stone runs to cross, and a steep hillside to walk round. I was very glad of my Nordic Walking poles which kept me upright most of the time.
Returning to the road
Arriving back at the cars about 6 hours after setting off, we could check GPS and pedometers as we waited for the stragglers. I had walked for 5 hours (sat down for 1 hour), and covered 10 miles (16 kilometres). My pedometer said I had taken 22,992 steps, and who was I to argue?  It felt like it!
Follow that car!
Friends kindly transported me back to Stanley, where a hot bath and cold beer were all I was thinking about......

Another Grand Day Out!  Thanks to all who made it possible.

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