29th January 1833

Beagle Channel
In the morning we arrived at the point, where the channel divides & we entered the Northern arm. The scenery becomes very grand, the mountains on the right are very lofty & covered with a white mantle of perpetual snow: from the melting of this numbers of cascades poured their waters through the woods into the channel. In many places magnificent glaciers extended from the mountains to the waters edge. I cannot imagine anything more beautiful than the beryl blue of these glaciers, especially when contrasted by the snow: the occurrence of glaciers reaching to the waters edge & in summer, in Lat: 56° is a most curious phenomenon: the same thing does not occur in Norway under Lat. 70°. From the number of small ice-bergs the channel represented in miniature the Arctic Ocean. One of these glaciers placed us for a minute in most imminent peril; whilst dining in a little bay about 1/2 a mile from one & admiring the beautiful colour of its vertical & overhanging face, a large mass fell roaring into the water; our boats were on the beach; we saw a great wave rushing onwards & instantly it was evident how great was the chance of their being dashed into pieces. One of the seamen just got hold of the boat as the curling breaker reached it: he was knocked over & over but not hurt & most fortunately our boat received no damage. If they had been washed away; how dangerous would our lot have been, surrounded on all sides by hostile Savages & deprived of all provisions.

Captain Fitzroy’s Journal:
On the 29th we reached Devil Island, and found the large wigwam still standing, which in 1830 my boat's crew called the 'Parliament House.' Never, in any part of Tierra del Fuego, have I noticed the remains of a wigwam which seemed to have been burned or pulled down; probably there is some feeling on the subject, and in consequence the natives allow them to decay naturally, but never willfully destroy them. We enjoyed a grand view of the lofty mountain, now called Darwin, with its immense glaciers extending far and wide. Whether this mountain is equal to Sarmiento in height, I am not certain, as the measurements obtained did not rest upon satisfactory data; but the result of those measures gave 6,800 feet for its elevation above the sea. This, as an abstract height, is small, but taking into consideration that it rises abruptly from the sea, which washes its base, and that only a short space intervenes between the salt water and the lofty frozen summit, the effect upon an observer's eye is extremely grand, and equal, probably, to that of far higher mountains which are situated at a distance inland, and generally rise from an elevated district.

We stopped to cook and eat our hasty meal upon a low point of land, immediately in front of a noble precipice of solid ice; the cliffy face of a huge glacier, which seemed to cover the side of a mountain, and completely filled a valley several leagues in extent.

Wherever these enormous glaciers were seen, we remarked the most beautiful light blue or sea green tints in portions of the solid ice, caused by varied transmission, or reflection of light. Blue was the prevailing colour, and the contrast which its extremely delicate hue, with the dazzling white of other ice, afforded to the dark green foliage, the almost black precipices, and the deep, indigo blue water, was very remarkable.

Miniature icebergs surrounded us; fragments of the cliff, which from time to time fall into a deep and gloomy basin beneath the precipice, and are floated out into the channel by a slow tidal stream. In the first volume the frequent falling of these masses of ice is noticed by Captain King in the Strait of Magallens, and in the narrative of my first exploring visit to this arm of the Beagle Channel; therefore I will add no further remark upon the subject.

Our boats were hauled up out of the water upon the sandy point, and we were sitting round a fire about two hundred yards from them, when a thundering crash shook us — down came the whole front of the icy cliff — and the sea surged up in a vast heap of foam. Reverberating echoes sounded in every direction, from the lofty mountains which hemmed us in; but our whole attention was immediately called to great rolling waves which came so rapidly that there was scarcely time for the most active of our party to run and seize the boats before they were tossed along the beach like empty calabashes. By the exertions of those who grappled them or seized their ropes, they were hauled up again out of reach of a second and third roller; and indeed we had good reason to rejoice that they were just saved in time; for had not Mr. Darwin, and two or three of the men, run to them instantly, they would have been swept away from us irrecoverably. Wind and tide would soon have drifted them beyond the distance a man could swim; and then, what prizes they would have been for the Fuegians, even if we had escaped by possessing ourselves of canoes. At the extremity of the sandy point on which we stood, there were many large blocks of stone, which seemed to have been transported from the adjacent mountains, either upon masses of ice, or by the force of waves such as those which we witnessed. Had our boats struck those blocks, instead of soft sand, our dilemma would not have been much less than if they had been at once swept away.

Embarking, we proceeded along a narrow passage, more like a river than an arm of the sea, till the setting sun warned us to seek a resting-place for the night; when, selecting a beach very far from any glacier, we again hauled our boats on shore. Long after the sun had disappeared from our view, his setting rays shone so brightly upon the gilded icy sides of the summits above us, that twilight lasted an unusual time, and a fine clear evening enabled us to watch every varying tint till even the highest peak became like a dark shadow, whose outline only could be distinguished. No doubt such scenes are familiar to many, but to us, surrounded even as we so often were by their materials, they were rare; because clouds continually hang over the heights, or obscure the little sunshine which falls to the lot of Tierra del Fuego.

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