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The explorer priest

The spark that ignites the desire to set out to explore remote regions is often a book, a photo, a video or a map. In Patagonia, there has been only one virtuoso who has left a prolific legacy in all these forms: Alberto M. de Agostini, who came to know Patagonia like no other, with the eye of a documentary filmmaker, author, mountaineer and ethnographer.

Alberto María de Agostini was born on November 2, 1883 in Pollone, a small town in the Piedmont region, in northern Italy and at the foot of the Alps. This mountainous natural environment marked him for the rest of his days. He was born into a family of cartographers, also in the business of book editing and sales. It is from this heritage that his vocation for research arises, giving birth to his infinite curiosity, and his passion for photography. Influenced by Don Bosco, the founder of the Salesian Order, he joined the church in 1909. One year later, at the age of 26, he was sent by the Salesian mission to Punta Arenas, the southernmost city in the Chilean Patagonia, where he acquires love for the mountains and specializes in the activities of climber and photographer.

Fifty years he spent walking the trails of an untamed Patagonia, he discovered fjords, mountains and inhospitable areas of Tierra del Fuego, baptized hills and glaciers. He left about twenty books, travel reports in various magazines in Italy, Argentina and Chile. And two documentaries: "Tierras magallanicas" and "Tierra del Fuego". His map of Tierra del Fuego remains a valuable reference even to more than 100 years of its edition.

Always accompanied by gauchos and baquianos, he climbed in a cassock and his black beret. Between 1913 and 1914 he visited Mount Sarmiento, made expeditions in Ushuaia, ascended Mount Olivia, and managed to reach a summit in Belvedere. Between 1916 and 1917 he undertook a trip to an unknown territory, the Paine basin and Sierra de los Baguales. In 1930 he walked through the Mayo and Spegazzini fjords. There he wrote "These are the first human glances to contemplate these ice solitudes between outbursts of joy and astonished retrospection". Between 1932 and 1935 he went to Cerro Chalten (Fitz Roy), and in 1937 he reached Lago O'Higgins / San Martín where he climbed Mount Milanesio, sighting the O'Higgins and Chico glaciers. At the age of sixty, he reached his peak as a mountaineer: he climbed Mount San Lorenzo on the border between Argentina and Chile. During 1937, this adventurous priest flew over part of the Patagonian mountains on a monoplane, the "Saturn", in a flight that lasted 4 hours.

Agostini's last expedition was the one he made to the valleys of the Baker and Chacabuco rivers, reaching the limits of the mountain range. In this part, his writings focus more on the human than on the geographical aspects. It warns of the extreme isolation in which the settlers live, which leaves them at the mercy of the thieves.

This man has been an example of tradition and modernity united in one being, he was flooded by a pioneer spirit, a desire for knowledge and an almost physiological need for untrodden space.

Father De Agostini died on December 25th 1960, at the Salesian Casa Madre in Turin, leaving this legacy: "Do you want to see God, know of his infinite mystery? Look at nature, geography, the snow-capped peaks. Everything is there."

When the UNCHARTED team has spoken with explorers, old and not so old ones, we very often hear that that initial spark that took them to Patagonia originated in a book or photo by Alberto de Agostini. His legacy has been the inspiration that has prompted several generations of mountaineers and travellers to follow in his footsteps in Patagonia, seeking to explore the unknown lands that escaped the passionate scrutiny of this multifaceted character.

Thanks to for allowing us to make use of their excellent photographic work.

Postales de Hielo / Museo Salesiano Maggiorino Borgatello.

Mountaineer in the crevasse fields of Upsala glacier. In the background the imposing wall of cerro Murallón.

Postales de Hielo / Museo Salesiano Maggiorino Borgatello.

Mountaineers walking over Upsala glacier

Postales de Hielo / Museo Salesiano Maggiorino Borgatello. The next two pictures are part of the project "Postales de Hielo" by Cristian Donoso and Alfredo Pourailly De La Plaza. The first is a view from Parry fjord taken by Alberto de Agostini in 1913. Later, in 1970, an expedition from a young and enthusiast climbers from New Zealand, would name this glacier as glaciar reina Isabel II, the two mountains in its upper reaches as cerros Takurangi (left) and Tridente (right). And the imposing summits in the background (right side) as cerros Fuegia Basket, York Minster. and Jemmy Button. The picture below shows exactly the same landscape 105 years later (January 2018), showing the dramatic retreat of glaciar Reina Isabel II.

Alberto M. de Agostini (1913) / Postales de Hielo / Museo Salesiano Maggiorino Borgatello.

Cristian Donoso and Alfredo Pourailly De La Plaza.

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