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December 2022

Object of the Month December 2022

Crampons worn on the first ascent of the highest mountain on South Georgia
Object Title: Crampons
Object Number : 2015.3

Crampons that were used on the first ascent of South Georgia’s highest mountain, Mt Paget


These crampons were worn by mountaineer John Chester on the first ascent of Mount Paget on 30 December 1964. The climbing party needed equipment like this to keep their footing as they ascended the ice of the glaciers and crossed the snowfields as they travelled into the centre of the island and upwards toward the high peaks of the Allardyce Range. At 2,935m Mt Paget is the tallest mountain on the island.

The Combined Services South Georgia Expedition descending the Geike Glacier


In December 1960, Commander Malcolm Burley had been one of three who climbed the lower, western, summit of this saddle-shaped mountain. On that occasion they had been unable to also climb the slightly higher eastern summit. The height difference between the two peaks is only a matter of 20m, but technically the mountain remained unclimbed as no one had reached the highest point.


Commander Burley returned to the island four years later as the leader of the ‘Combined Services Expedition to South Georgia’.  During the expedition three men successfully reached the higher Paget summit. The summiting party were Lt. Simon Down of the Royal Marines, Sgt Tom Lynch of the Parachute Regiment and Senior Aircraftsman John Chester of the RAF; so all three UK military services, British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, were represented.


Before their historic climb, the expedition had enjoyed Christmas in their ‘Ice Palace’. You can see from the photo below that they cooked up a feast on their camping stoves behind a protective wall of snow blocks. They were well equipped for the celebration having taken along Christmas decorations, party hats and treats. And no British Christmas dinner would be complete without Heinz tomato sauce (bottle on table bottom left)!


Christmas dinner in the Ice Palace


The expedition continued into the new year. Other expedition members made a first ascent of Mt Sugartop. The expedition also made two significant land crossings; they were the first to repeat the crossing of the island from King Haakon Bay to Stromness on the route used by Shackleton, Worsley and Crean to rescue their stranded ship mates on Elephant Island; they also crossed the island from the south coast over a high pass in the Allardyce Mountain Range and did coastal surveying near Royal Bay.


The crampons that feature as our Object of the Month would have been strapped onto the leather boots worn by mountaineers in that era. They are constructed in two sections with a hinge in the middle, allowing them to flex as the climbers boot soles bent whilst walking. Modern mountain boots have rigid soles and so crampons no longer hinge in the same way.
It is 58 years since the crampons were worn to reach the highest point on the island. The rusty metal and rust- stained fabric straps reflect the years in storage since, likely in a garage or attic. In 2014 they were donated by John Chester to the South Georgia Museum Collection.


Other items in the collection relating to this expedition include a two anoraks (one of which also belonged to Chester, the other to the Expedition Leader Commander Burley) and a painted crest on a wooden plaque.

You can see the crampons on John Chester’s boots as he was kneeling to place the flag on the summit of Mt Paget