Charlie Porter was an American rock climber, big-wall pioneer and mountaineer. Known for his first ascents in Yosemite, Canada and Alaska, and for his influence on the climbing community with his creation and development of original equipment. He was one of the first people to round Cape Horn in a kayak. Porter had been living in Punta Arenas, Chile, for the past number of year, running yachts for scientists and climbers. He reportedly passed away after suffering heart problems.
- 1975, first grade VII route, solo on Baffin Island’s Mount Asgard, described by Doug Scott as “a remarkable achievement”.
- 1975, Porter, Bugs McKeith and the Burgess Twins climbed Polar Circus, V, WI 5, over eight days. Behind them were Laurie Skreslet and Mike Lailey, the traffic of six people made someone remark, “It is like a Polish circus up here,” and the name Polar Circus came to be.
- 1972, solo ascent of New Dawn
- 1972, first ascent of Zodiac
- 1972, first ascent of The Shield
- 1973, first ascent of Mescalito
- 1973 first ascent of Tangerine Trip
- 1975 first ascent of Excalibur
article continues after advertisement
- 1976, first solo of the Cassin Ridge, Mount McKinley, described as “ahead of its time”
- 1976, West Face of Middle Triple Peak in the Kichatna Mountains
An article about Charlie Porter in Rock & Ice 1993 by Chappie and George Bracksieck
Tucked into a far corner of the harbor serving Puerto Williams, Chile, a navy town hard by the Canal Beagle, rests a small fleet of rugged steel yachts that have clearly traveled long miles to get there. The one called Gondwana — a 49-footer named for the southern hemisphere’s onetime supercontinent — is skippered by an antic American whose English and Spanish are both delivered in staccato bursts framed by peals of laughter.
The sole proprietor of his far-flung Patagonia Research Foundation, the 50-year-old sailor and scientist Charlie Porter is a study in perpetual motion. Fittingly, his floating field laboratory, Gondwana, is as mobile as he is, regularly covering the thousand miles of waterways from Puerto Montt to the north, to the southern tip of Cape Horn.
”I’m in the right place at the right time doing the right thing,” said Porter in a recent interview, while describing his current studies in climatology and historical archaeology.
”A lot of the other yachts you see here are basically charter boats for Cape Horn tourists,” he added. ”But I’m doing something completely different, exciting and important work. We’re acquiring the baseline data for all the natural science that will be developed down here in the future. There is so much about this place we don’t yet understand.”
Porter’s journey to the far reaches of South America was as winding as the intricate channels through which he now plies his profession. Born and raised in Massachusetts, Porter attended Boston University before striking out for California’s Yosemite Valley and several years of serious climbing, particularly the vertical walls of El Capitan.
It was in search of fresh peaks to scale that Porter came to Chile and, once there, from the mountains to the sea. Affixing the portable Klepper kayak he had brought along with the sliding seat and oars of an Alden rowing shell, Porter rambled some 2,000 miles through the southern fjords by following the long-established portage routes of the Patagonian Indians. He even rounded Cape Horn by kayak in 1979, one of the first persons to do so.
During his travels he developed an interest in natural history and enlisted in botanical and oceanographic surveys of the region. Once back in the States, he stayed long enough to build a steel version of a Tahiti ketch, aboard which he returned to South America and a decade of work in Chile’s northern fjords.
As his reputation as a sound seaman and research fellow grew, Porter continued to attract scientists from universities and foundations in the United States and Europe who had acquired financing for specialized projects and required a partner to assist them with both the science and the demanding logistics. Having outgrown his ketch, Porter acquired Gondwana.
”You need a vessel that you can handle by yourself but which can spend a month in the fjords with eight people aboard,” Porter said. ”We usually carry two or three Zodiacs and use the boat as a base camp, secured in some narrow slot in the channels. We can go up to 50 miles out with the Zodiacs to do our sampling, whether we’re coring lakes and peat bogs, as we did this season, or heading up to the glaciers.”
In recent years much of Porter’s work has centered around climate research in the country’s wild southern wilderness. By studying the core laminates in lake sediment and bog vegetation, and measuring the flow rate and overall health of the area’s glaciers, Porter said that scientists were striving to understand the schematics of climate change.
In 1998, Porter was also involved in an archaeological expedition along the Magellan Strait in search of artifacts left by Magellan and other early European voyagers. During the hunt, Porter discovered a cache of pewter plates, coins and other items deposited by officers of the survey ship Beagle during Charles Darwin’s famous voyage in the 1830s.
”It was quite spectacular,” he said.
Later this year, Porter will travel to Sydney, Australia, to take delivery of a 60-foot cutter that he plans to use for research in South Georgia Island and Antarctica. He will sail the boat back to Chile via the Southern Ocean and Cape Horn, a voyage he reckons will take 45 days. It is evident that Porter has no plans to slow down.
”I’ve already got plenty of projects lined up in the years ahead,” he said. ”You know, once you answer one question, another always pops up.”
Sources: UK Climbing, Super Topo, Wikipedia, Rock and Ice, Pushing the Limits, New York Times