Alan Hinkes On... Hillwalking In The Falkland Islands - Outdoors Magic

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Alan Hinkes On… Hillwalking In The Falkland Islands

Our new columnist finds isolation, fascinating history and familiar landscapes during a week in the South Atlantic.

My first thought as I stepped out of Port Stanley airport on my first visit to the Falkland Islands was, wow, I like this landscape. It would transpire to be an excellent week exploring the isolated South Atlantic territory’s vast and rugged landscape with its interesting shaped hills and mountains.

The Falkland Islands are 8,000 miles away and yet they feel like the UK. Once there you feel at home and visitors are made very welcome by the locals. It’s a sparsely populated country, so if you like the hills and mountains to yourself this is the place for you. Most of the around 3,000 inhabitants live in Stanley. The ‘Camp’, as the rest of the Islands’ countryside is called, is virtually people-free.

Although they are not particularly ‘big’ – Mount Usborne 2313’ 705m is the highest point – the hills of the Falkland Islands are accessible and some have rocky scrambles and airy ridges should you wish to deviate on to them. Some of the topography near Stanley is reminiscent of the Northwest Highlands of Scotland, even the rock is a similar quartzite and the prominent twin pointy-peaked Mount Two Sisters, which is classically scoured and carved by glacial ice, reminded me of Suilven, that distinctive peak in Assynt.

Seasoned hillwalkers should be well at home in this terrain, which is a mix of diddle-dee (red crowberry), scrubby white grass, boggy/peaty areas and a green rock-like plant called balsam-bog which is a about human head in size – Charles Darwin called it ‘living rock’. Also there are stone runs which are like horizontal rivers of rock made up of blocks of quartzite. There are no trees which at times can give the landscape a stark beauty.

The memorial cross on Mount Tumbledown.

There are no rights of way in the Falklands, no public footpaths or bridleways or access land, so it’s best to ask permission, which is usually given. Around Stanley a lot of the hills are on Falkland Islands Government owned land which is also OK for access.

For the British walker, the weather is also familiar if a tad windy at times. At least there are no midges. The air is clear and clean and even on overcast days and the light is bright. A couple of times in a heavy rain squall I put on my waterproof, but mostly a windproof shell was enough. I found my Fjällräven G-1000 clothing was perfect for it. It’s not as wet as the British hills, even underfoot the bogs were not too bad and the short scrubby Diddle-dee is relatively easy to walk over compared to heather or bracken. Mostly you pick your own route, though sometimes there may signs of a ‘path’ where others have walked.

The well-known peaks from the 1982 war with Argentina, Tumbledown, Longdon, Harriet, Two Sisters, Wireless Ridge, William, Kent and Sapper Hill are all easily accessible from Stanley. They make interesting hillwalks in their own right, some like Mount William and Two Sisters have easy scrambles to the summit cairns/memorials and airy Striding Edge/Crib Goch like ridges. They are made more interesting with the battlefield history associated with them. Abandoned Argentinian equipment is still to be found on the hillsides, such as recoilless rifles, mobile field kitchens, 50mm machine gun emplacements, dugouts, shoes, blankets and sometimes some of our spent munitions. Thankfully the minefields have been cleared though some areas still remain cordoned off for now.

A 1982 war memorial below the rocky summit crest of Mount Longdon.
An Argentine field kitchen.
There are plans to make the Falkland Islands mine-free by the end of 2020.

There are also more accessible low level day walks such as around Darwin and Goose Green, which is where Col H Jones was killed during the 2 Para assault in 1982. Some of the coastal walks are spectacular, often with white sandy beaches, turquoise sea, blue sky and penguins. On West Falkland from Fox Bay I wandered along the aptly named Coast Ridge with expansive views over the South Atlantic.

Another different walking experience was on the low lying Bleaker Island which is stuffed with wildlife; elephant seals, penguins, sea lions, leopard seals and birds galore. Here I did a lovely walk culminating on the 89 ft summit of the island at Semaphore Hill. A far cry from 26000 footers I’ve climbed in the Himalaya but nevertheless very interesting and enjoyable.

Related: Life At 8000m | An Interview With Alan Hinkes

Alan alongside the memorial to the Atlantic Conveyor, a merchant ship sunk in 1982 by two Argentinian missiles.
Carcass Bay, West Falkland.
King penguin chicks.

Something more demanding is the highest peak, Mount Usborne, its outline reminiscent of a North Pennine fell such as Cross Fell, Whernside or Pendle Hill and about the same height. However its north face is more like the Cairngorms which is peculiar as in the southern hemisphere it should be the south side that has the glacial corries. No one really knows why the corries are on the north ‘sunny’ side. Perhaps in the last ice age it was the prevailing cold wind from the Antarctic to the south which deposited snow on the lee slope to keep feeding the glaciers and forming the corries and now remaining ‘tarns’.

I had help from a local hillwalker, (believe it or not Mr Munro from Scotland) with a Land Rover, otherwise it is a 10-15km walk over moorland-like terrain to reach the foot of Usborne. You do need to be skilled in real off-road driving and I don’t mean as in the UK on rough tracks. This is true off-road driving across country.

Lunch on the rocky summit of Mount Longdon.
The north face of Mount Usborne looking towards Black Tarn.

Usborne is not a technical climb and I didn’t find the terrain as gnarly as walking across country in the Pennines. The bogs didn’t seem as deep, the white grass is easier than bracken, the diddle dee is not as high or as thick as heather and the rocky stone runs are more stable and less steep than scree. The weather was a bit taxing even though it was summer; the wind was relentless and I was glad to have my Fjällräven jacket on the descent when I was engulfed in a mini blizzard for 15 minutes and plastered in snow.

“Generally you will be alone in the Falkland hills…”

The Falkland Islands is a great place for hillwalking and scrambling and there are impressive crags for rock climbing. As in any mountainous remote area it is best to be prepared and as self-reliant as possible. Mobile phone coverage is not good and with the sparse population long distances to remote farmhouses may have to be covered to raise help. Generally you will be alone in the Falkland hills or on walks, which is great if you like solitude away from the Bank Holiday crowds on UK hills.

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