I was very anxious to ascend some of the mountains in order to collect the Alpine plants & insects. — The one which I partly ascended yesterday was the nearest, & Capt. FitzRoy thinks it is certainly the one which Mr Banks ascended, although it cost him the lives of two of his men & very nearly that of Dr Solander. — I determined to follow a branch of the watercourse, as by this means all danger of losing yourself even in the case of a snow storm is removed. — The difficulty of climbing was very great: as the dead & living trunks were so close, that in many places it was necessary to push them down to make a path. — I then gained a clearer place & continued following the rivulet. — This at last dwindled away, but having climbed a tree I took the bearing of the summit of the hill with a compass & so steered a straight course. — I had imagined the higher I got, the more easy the ascent would be, the case however was reversed. From the effects of the wind, the trees were not above 8 or 10 feet high, but with thick & very crooked stems; I was obliged often to crawl on my knees. At length I reached what I imagined to be green turf; but was again disappointed by finding a compact mass of little beech trees about 4 or 5 feet high. — These were as thick as Box in the border of a flower garden. — For many yards together my feet never touched the ground.
I hailed with joy the rocks covered with Lichens & soon was at the very summit. — The view was very fine, expecially of Staten Land & the neighbouring hills; Good Success Bay with the little Beagle were close beneath me. In ascending the bare summit, I came close to two Guanaco & in the course of my walk saw several more. — These beautiful animals are truly alpine in their habits, & in their wildness well become the surrounding landscape. — I cannot imagine anything more graceful than their action: they start on a canter & when passing through rough ground they dash at it like a thorough bred hunter. — The noise they make is very peculiar & somewhat resembles the neighing of a colt. — A ridge connected this hill with one several miles distant & much more lofty, even so that snow was lying on it; as the day was not far advanced I determined to walk there & collect on the road. — Some time after I left this hill (Banks Hill, Capt: FitzR) a party of 6 from the ship reached it, but by a more difficult path; but in descending they found an easier. — After 2 hours & a half walking I was on the top of the distant peak, — it was the highest in the immediate neighbourhead & the waters on each side flowed into different seas. — The view was superb, & well was I repaid for the fatigue. — I could see the whole neck of land which forms the East of Strait Le Maire. — From Cape St Diego as far as the eye could reach up the NW coast; & what interested me most, was the whole interior country between the two seas. — The Southern was mountainous & thickly wooded; the Northern appeared to be a flat swamp & at the extreme NW part there was an expanse of water, but this will be hereafter examined. It looked dirty in the SW & I was afraid to stay long to enjoy this view over so wild & so unfrequented a country.
When Sir J. Banks ascended one of these mountains it was the middle of January which corresponds to our August & is certainly as hot as this month, & even with the occurrence of a snow-storm the misfortunes they met with are inexplicable. The snow was lying on the ESE side of the hills, & the wind was keen, — but on the lee side the air was dry & pleasant. Between the stony ridges & the woods there is a band of peat bogs & over this the greater part of my track lay. — but nearly all the difficulty was avoided by following a regular path which the Guanacos frequent; by following this I reached in much shorter time the forest & began the most laborious descent through its entangled thickets. — I collected several alpine flowers, some of which were the most diminutive I ever saw; & altogether most throughily enjoyed the walk.
Captain Fitzroy’s Journal:
Soon after day-light this morning, some very large guanacoes were seen near the top of Banks Hill. They walked slowly and heavily, and their tails hung down to their hocks. To me their size seemed double that of the guanacoes about Port Desire. Mr. Darwin and a party set off to ascend the heights, anxious to get a shot at the guanacoes and obtain an extended view, besides making observations. They reached the summit, and saw several large animals, whose long woolly coats and tails added to their real bulk, and gave them an appearance quite distinct from that of the Patagonian animal; but they could not succeed in shooting one.