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Páramo supports British Army expedition

Sunset mountain climb in the snow in Paramo jacket


Here, Captain Joe Robertson recounts the trials and triumphs of a recent Royal Engineers (British Army) exploratory mountaineering, science and sustainability expedition to the remote island of South Georgia in the South Atlantic Ocean. Páramo was asked to supply the team with weatherproof clothing, which was thoroughly put through its paces in the hostile yet beautiful environment of Antarctica, and we are delighted to feature Joe’s blog on our Outdoor Stories pages…

15 crew (10 climbers, 5 sailors)

78 days deployed 

40 days aboard

14 days sailing

2,157 nautical miles

26 days in South Georgia

16 days on the hill

14 mountains summited

Of which 5 are believed to be first ascents

Salomon Glacier hiking in the snow wearing Paramo jackets
Salomon Glacier | Credit: Dan Bergman

We arrived in the cold, wet dark of the Falklands Islands in early September, courtesy of the Royal Air Force after four years of planning and training. This was the beginning of our expedition, and the fourth leg of Exercise ATLANTIC QUEST 23. From here we sail to South Georgia, a tiny mountainous island in  the South Atlantic, well within the Antarctic convergence zone, known for its atrocious weather, to conduct four weeks of exploratory mountaineering.

During our passage out, the seas were kind, we were fortunate to have very fair weather. Particularly noting the somewhat novice status of two thirds of the crew of 15. We arrived in South Georgia, at King Edward Point (KEP) during the early hours of the 30th of Sep having set off from the Falklands only six days earlier. 

Our first major foray ashore saw us exploring an area home to mountains Quad 5, Marikoppa, Mount Fagerli and Paulsen Peak, all around 1,500m and all believed to be unclimbed. Teams attempted these peaks in 2003 and again in 2005 from the ENE having walked from KEP or the BAS hut at Harpoon Bay, so we opted to attempt it directly from the N and land at the end of Mercer Bay. Sadly, however after several hours of pulling pulks over steep scree and mushy snow, we came across a section of frozen scree slush which we couldn’t ascend or bypass. After some deliberation we sheepishly called back to the yacht to move us to the other side of the bay to camp on the beach and regroup. 

Larsen Harbour Frank Cannon
Larsen Harbour | Credit: Frank Cannon

Three teams would establish a high camp on the glacier with an aim of following the route over the col as previous groups had taken, with the fourth attempting small peaks from the beach camp before a journey back to KEP on foot.

After a night on the glacier, we quested on up towards the col early in the morning. We found the crossing easy enough and began to make our way down the other side. Sadly though, the second half of the gulley was a horrible scree and rock filled chute devoid of snow with a loose rocky step at the bottom. We concluded we could get down it but were less sure of our ability to get back up it without leaving a rope in place, let alone safely with the forecasted high temperatures, and certainly not if we had a casualty (a somewhat dramatic consideration but in an environment with no Search and Rescue, a pertinent one). With this in mind and a heavy heart, we turned tail and returned to the valley floor. 

Copy Of 20231011 100627 Dan Bergman
Credit: Dan Bergman

Our second landing, at Hamilton Bay was a far more undemanding affair, executed in no time at all under the watchful gaze of an elephant seal. Following a short haul with our loads on our backs we were on the Salomon Glacier pulling our pulks towards the campsite where we would spend the next three days. Our intent was to have a speculative look at three unclimbed peaks. The first, Douglas Crag, which has an intimidating E face. Further inland were Mt Macklin and Pt 2,229. After establishing a campsite, we went to have a look and quickly realised that Pt 2,229, appearing like a mountain lifted directly from the Karakoram and dumped in the S Atlantic Ocean, was unlikely to be a goer on this occasion. Mt Macklin looked challenging but not impossible, and there was a clear line up the NE face – N ridge of Douglas Crag had become visible on the walk in.

Jodi Longyear On Mt Macklin Dan Bergman
Mount Macklin | Credit: Dan Bergman

The Nordenskjold glacier was one of the most challenging glaciers I have had the displeasure of crossing. It took us around six hours to travel six kilometres, across a glacier tortured with crevasses. We had come at the end of winter with the thinking that the glaciers would still be covered, and the slots filled in – which was the case. But it was (still) so warm that they had no structural integrity, and climbers were falling through the floor all over the place. We finished with two separate campsites. One adrift in the middle of the glacier, chosen only due to the failing light, was not a relaxing environment. The next morning after that experience, and a forecast of more heat, we abandoned any summit aspirations and pushed onto the shoulder SW of Mt Sheridan where we spent a second night. Before turning in, we climbed higher, to around 1,300m to get a good look at Nordenskjold Pk and collect snow samples for the British Antarctic Survey. This consisted of digging a 2m pit and filling multiple test tubes from different depths. 

Nordskjold Glacier snow hiking in Paramo Enduro Jacket by Matt Williams
Nordskjold Glacier | Credit: Matt Williams

We finished the climbing of the expedition by descending the glacier into St Andrews Bay, home to around 150,000 penguins and what seemed like as many Elephant and Fur seals and all manner of birds. A fitting spot to conclude our trip.

St Andrews Bay Penguins by Matt Williams
Penguins at St Andrews bay | Credit: Matt Williams

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