The World

Tomorrow is the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. And on tomorrow’s show, we’ll take a look at Darwin’s legacy around the world.

Patagonia, including Tierra Del Fuego Marinelli Glacier and Cordillera Darwin, Tierra del Fuego, Chile: Photo OLAF SÖÖTPatagonia, including Tierra Del Fuego Marinelli Glacier and Cordillera Darwin, Tierra del Fuego, Chile: Photo OLAF SÖÖT

Today, for our Geo Quiz, we’re looking for the name of a mountain with a historical connection to the famous naturalist. The World’s David Leveille has the story.

In 1834 Charles Darwin was on a voyage of discovery. He was aboard the HMS Beagle on its surveying trip around the world. Darwin spent months in the region of Tierra del Fuego, the southern archipelago at the bottom of South America (now part of Argentina and Chile). In his diaries he describes going ashore, investigating geology and collecting fossils. And he remarks on the dramatic landscape.

Mt. Darwin: Photo OLAF SÖÖTMt. Darwin: Photo OLAF SÖÖT

(from Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle) “Early in the morning we arrived at the point where the Beagle Channel divides into two arms, the scenery here becomes even grander than before. The lofty mountains on the north side compose the backbone of the country and boldly rise to a height 3-4 thousand feet with one peak above 6,000 feet. They are covered by a wide mantel of perpetual snow and numerous cascades pour their waters thru the woods into the narrow channel below. In many parts magnificent glaciers extend from the mountainside to the waters edge it is scarcely possible to imagine anything more beautiful that the blue of these glaciers and especially as contrasted with the dead white of upper expanse of snow…the fragments which had fallen from the glacier into the water were floating away and the channel with its icebergs presented for the space of a mile a miniature likeness of the polar sea.”

Mt. Darwin: Photo OLAF SÖÖTMt. Darwin: Photo OLAF SÖÖT

That’s (read by) Chris Anderson reading from Darwin’s Diary. Anderson is an ecologist ( Coordinator of the Chilean Long Term Ecological Research Network) based in Tierra del Fuego.

Actually the mountain rises above 8-thousand feet. The captain of the Beagle, Robert FitzRoy also noticed that icy peak in the distance. February 12th, 1834 was Charles Darwin’s 25th birthday. So in his honor, FitzRoy named this peak, the tallest in Tierra del Fuego , Mount Darwin.

Chris Anderson says if you were to climb to the summit, you’d get quite a view:

“If you were at the summit of Mt Darwin you’d probably see snow, snow’s there most of the year, that’s what allows the glacier and icecap to maintain itself but to the south on a clear day you’d be able to see all the way to Drake Passage, the sea that separates Cape Horn from Antarctica and to the north you would see all the way to the Strait of Magellan. So on a clear day you you’d would have a pretty spectacular view all around you you’d see white and blue glaciers and snow.”

Patagonia, including Tierra Del Fuego On a crevassed glacier, Tierra del Fuego, Chile: Photo OLAF SÖÖTPatagonia, including Tierra Del Fuego On a crevassed glacier, Tierra del Fuego, Chile: Photo OLAF SÖÖT

All that glacial ice, deep crevasses, and foul weather makes it extremely inaccessible. British mountaineer Eric Shipton gets credit for first reaching the summit in 1961.

Photographer Olaf Sööt also knows the mountain well.

“Oh yes I’ve photographed Mount Darwin from several sides actually and from air and ground and from other mountains.”

Sööt has photographed mountains throughout the Americas from the Northern Rockies to the Andes to Cape Horn. The images are collected in his book Alpine Americas.

He says Mt. Darwin and its neighboring peaks are usually shrouded in clouds but on one of his early visits to Tierra del Fuego — he was lucky to get an unobstructed view from the air.

“The first time we saw Tierra del Fuego was in Patagonia in 1976…we landed at Punta Arenas and we saw an old Beach craft B18 (twin-engined airplane) so we talked to the pilot and chartered the plane. Well it happened to be one of those perfectly clear days over TDF so we flew from Punta Arenas past Mt. Darwin past its east side to Cape Horn then followed the up along Beagle Channel turned around back to Punta Arenas…it was one of those rare clear days and when I saw these mountains I really loved them and we knew that very few people had ever seen them. Even the pilot said it was the first time in his life it was all clear so we got a lot of photographs.

It was more than the mountain that made a deep impression on Charles Darwin. Tierra del Fuego was home to the world’s southernmost indigenous people the Yaghan ethnic group. The region has a huge variety of mosses and lichens, and it remains a pristine wilderness area. Ecologist Chris Anderson says its where Darwin had some important insights:

“Darwin was just overwhelmed by the grandeur of this landscape; coming to a place where everything was wild, complete wilderness had a psychological effect on Darwin. He realized for the first time humans were animals and that we were parts of ecosystems influenced by this savage nature of wilderness. it was a click in his brain that allowed him to make the leap that humans could also be influenced by this nature.”

The Beagle’s crew named many features of the landscape in Tierra del Fuego. The Beagle Channel for one. And there’s nearby Darwin sound. When a massive chunk of ice broke off a glacier there, and created huge waves, Darwin urgently called out and warned a crewmate to secure the row boats on the shore. It was a close call. As the boats would have been dashed to pieces and how dangerous our lot would have been — Darwin wrote. The next day Captain FitzRoy praised Darwin’s cool nerves and named the waterway Darwin Sound. It’s within view of the lofty ice capped Mount Darwin.

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