Marhofn 93.05 - May 2003

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Malvinas Marilynas

Tony Payne

Most people know of the Falkland Islands, one of Britain's overseas territories, from the 1982 war or their interest in wildlife. Earlier this year I visited them and took the opportunity to check out the bagging potential.

There are seven mountains over 2000 feet that meet the Marilyn criterion. They are concentrated in three groups, with Mount Usborne (2312 feet) and Mount Adam (2297 feet) the high points of the two main islands (East and West Falkland). There are also a further seven tops over 2000 feet that probably exceed the 30-metre drop criterion. Total time required to visit them all should be around four to five days.

There are a further 87 Marilyn equivalents below 2000 feet on 17 different islands. Those who have enjoyed trips to the western and northern isles in pursuit of the British list may also be drawn to the challenge of visiting them. There are, however, no ferries - the inhabited islands are accessed by air, whilst you'll have to make your own arrangements to reach those without a resident population.

A complete set (29) of 1:50000 maps are available at a remarkable price of just £25 from the government secretariat. The majority of these date from the 1950s. They have 50ft contour intervals, show few summit heights, and most don't have any grid lines (which can make for interesting navigation and map reading).

The maps generally do not show the new 'road network' developed on the two main islands over the past ten years or so. Purist baggers may welcome the 'long walk in' across rolling moorland necessary to reach many of the hills, while the more pragmatically minded may struggle to decide at what point to start walking, as it is possible to drive close to many of the tops, subject to vehicle, driving skills and weather. Most people own 4x4 vehicles and use them to travel virtually anywhere in 'Camp' (the area outside of Stanley, the only settlement of any size). This can present an additional hazard - that of getting the vehicle 'bogged'. It is a common courtesy to seek the permission of the landowner when entering private land (whether by foot or vehicle). However, most of the natives are friendly and helpful, and permission is not normally withheld.

In a place as big as Northern Ireland, but with a population of around 3500 (the vast majority of whom live either in Stanley or at the Mount Pleasant military complex), it will come as little surprise to learn that there are very few people in Camp. There is no organised rescue service and no mobile telephone network (radios are often used in emergencies).

In summer there is a strong prevailing westerly wind and temperatures are generally akin to Scotland, although rainfall is a lot lower and there are no midges. Navigation skills need to be high as there is no path network, few man-made features to navigate by, and those bargain maps don't show all the obvious features.

All hill lists seem to have at least one 'inaccessible' top and the Falklands are no exception. Many of the mountains are topped by sharp 'tors' and outcrops of quartz, some of the more remote islands offer access challenges similar to St Kilda, and two Marilyns are currently out-of-bounds as they lie within a firing range. The minefields from the war cover a tiny percentage of the archipelago. They are well marked and are mainly around Stanley. Ordnance can still be found on some hills, although you're more likely to come across something in the Warcop range or on Dartmoor than here. The same precautions apply.

Table Mountain, Falkland Islands (photo: Tony Payne)

Table Mountain, Falkland Islands (photo: Tony Payne)

Getting to the Falklands involves an 18-hour flight from RAF Brize Norton (£1500 return) or a 48-hour journey via Chile (around £1000). The former route offers the chance to visit Ascension Island and its five prospective Marilyns, including 2875ft Green Mountain. There is no guarantee of success, as some have military installations on their summits.

The general cost of living in the Falklands is on a par with the UK (food more expensive but fuel a lot cheaper). Car hire is occasionally available, there are no bus services, while taxis and internal flights can be expensive. So, is a trip there worth it? Well, hillwalking is totally undeveloped and you have to be resourceful and competent to get the best from a visit. The hills perhaps lack the variety of a similarly sized area of the British Isles, but have their own distinctive character (such as unique dry 'stone runs'). There are also other attractions, such as bird and marine wildlife, and a trip could take in a visit to Tierra del Fuego or South Georgia.

I'm currently finalising the Falklands Islands 2000ft and Marilyn lists (Las Malvinas Marilyns) and will be making it available to anyone interested - email sulasgeir@lineone.net for a copy or with any specific queries.

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