Glacier Benito Revisited December 1920 - Puerto Montt to Kelly Inlet Contact


Commemorating the 100 year Anniversary of the 1920-21 Swedish Expedition to Chilean Patagonia

Professor Otto Nordenskjöld organised and led the 1920-21 Swedish Expedition to Chilean Patagonia. He was an outstanding Polar Explorer. His most memorable expedition was 1901-1904 Swedish Antarctic Expedition to the Antarctic Peninsular and in particular the islands of Snow Hill and Paulet. The expedition had to overwinter twice following the loss of the expedition ship Antarctic in ice (view summary ). Professor Nordenskjold was keen to explore the virtually unexplored western coast of Patagonia and the glaciers that flowed into the fjords following his first expedition to Tierra del Fuego in 1896-97 where he had an opportunity to explore some of the Southern icefield. The 1920-21 expedition was probably Professor Nordenskjöld’s last expedition to a cold region as he died in a traffic accident in 1928.

Professor Otto Nordenskjöld

The 1920-21 Swedish Expedition to Chilean Patagonia was comprised of Professor Otto Nordenskjöld from Gothenburg University (glaciologist), Hugo ‘Nils’ Pallin (cartographer and photographer), Dr Allan Bäckman (geologist) and Count Sten von Rosen (zoologist). Their chief task was to investigate the still little-known, enormously extensive ice-field, which like two stretches of inland ice covers the interior of the Cordilleras between the 46th and 51st degrees of latitude. Nils Pallin summarised this expedition in the Alpine Journal in 1933.

In mid December 1920, the expedition sailed from Puerto Montt on s.s. Yanez to Kelly Inlet (Abra Kelly). The expedition team was enhanced by three Chilotes who embarked at Queilen. After a rough and stormy voyage which included a perilous engine failure of the steamer, they arrived at Kelly Inlet on 20th December. At the back of the inlet, on the north side, they created their base camp near a stream with a waterfall named ‘Darwin Falls’. The push over the ridge to Glacier San Quintin (called Tadeo Glacier by Pallin) started on 27th December. Twelve days later, they reached the glacier (a distance of 5 kms as the crow flies!). Most importantly, on New Year’s Eve (31st December 1920), they saw Glacier San Quintin and the huge expanse of the North Patagonian Icefield for the first time from the highest point on the ridge (Cerro Pan). The weather that day was the best for the entire expedition; Pallin was able to draw a map showing many features not identified previously as well as taking numerous photographs from the summit. He summarised the occasion: “On New Year's Eve, we caught sight of the great glacier for the first time over land, from the highest mountain in the district, which Nordenskjöld and I had climbed that day the only fine day during our stay in those parts of South America to obtain a clear view over the country. Our efforts were richly rewarded, and it may be said that the problems of the 'inland ice ' in North Patagonia were definitely solved on December 31, 1920, as far as the western side is concerned. Thanks to the fine day, from that mountain and its near-lying twin peak, the author, who was in charge of the cartography work, was able, by means of an extra base measurement in a suitable east to west direction, to fill in a number of important far-distant topographical features.”

The expedition’s Operations Base was transferred to Glacier San Quintin at a place called Eagle Valley. Over the course of three weeks they traversed up and down the south side of the glacier and undertook their glaciological investigations. They then returned to the Kelly Inlet camp for further investigations in the delta country at the back of Kelly Inlet including going by boat towards Glacier Andree (a side tongue of Glacier San Quintin) before exploring that and neighbouring glaciers. They departed Kelly Inlet in mid February 1921.

From Göteborgs Dagblad 17 April 1921 - left to right Nils, Sten, the Professor and Allan

The consolidated photographs taken by Professor Nordenskjöld, Allan Bäckman and Nils Pallin are displayed in the following sections of the expedition from Puerto Montt to Kelly Inlet and the glaciers:

Puerto Montt (the end of the railway line) to Kelly Inlet (December 1920)
Kelly Inlet to Glacier San Quintin (San Tadeo)
Glacier San Quintin
Kelly Inlet to Glacier Andreé
Kelly Inlet Base Camp
Kelly Inlet Views
Kelly Inlet to Puerto Montt (February 1921)

Sources of the photographs include from the family of Nils Pallin, family of Allan Bäckman, Alpine Journal 1933 pages 62 to 79, University of California Special Collections and University of Gothenburg Library. All are acknowledged for their participation and support in this project and for allowing the photographs to be displayed to help understand the dramatic changes that are happening in this dynamic region. One example of the traumatic change is shown here.