There is another controversy that has been brewing in the mountaineering community, this time in regards to a death on Aconcagua back in early January. The reports were that Federico Campanini, an Argentinean climbing guide, and one of his clients, Elena Senin, had died on the mountain. The pair, along with the rest of their team, reached the summit of South America’s highest mountain along the usual route, but while they were at the top, a fast moving storm moved into the area. Suddenly blinded by a snowstorm, the team attempted to descend, but accidently went down the more technically challenging Polish Route. According to the story, Federico and Elena fell to their deaths, and the remainder of the team was eventually rescued by a helicopter that plucked them off the mountain.
Early last week a video made its way out onto the Internet that cast a completely different light on the incident. Appearing on YouTube, the video purportedly shows an Aconcagua Search and Rescue Team standing around, doing little to help, while Campanini struggles for his life. There are some indications that he is being cursed by his “rescuers” and at one point, one of them radios back to base to ask permission to leave him behind. Federico also has a rope tied to him and is dragged through the snow, while he crawls on all fours.
Of course, the story has once again divided the mountaineering community. There are some who say that the video shows just a small slice of the attempt to rescue Campanini, and that at that point the rescue team was exhausted after hours of trying to assist the Italian climber. In order to get him down, the team was going to have to take him back up the mountain, and down the normal route, and it was proving very difficult to do so. Some would say it was impossible for them to save him at all. These defenders also say that while they do appear to be cursing Campanini, that that is just the manner of their speech and not specifically directed at him.
On the other hand, those critical of what they saw in the video say that the SAR team wasn’t doing enough to help Federico, and point to high altitude rescues on Everest, K2, and other major Himalayan peaks to show that it can be done. They also say that more could have been done to help his condition, and no matter what, he didn’t need to be cursed or treated poorly.
Over the past few years, following these events, I’ve learned to not be quick to judge, which is part of the reason why I haven’t posted on this story until now. When high on a mountain, with dangerous conditions, things are never black and white, and usually it takes awhile to get the complete story of what happened. I do agree that this video is just a tiny slice of the events, and it doesn’t really show us the whole picture, but it doesn’t show us a good picture either. At the very least, the SAR team could have tried to make Federico comfortable and showed him so more dignity.
The events that occurred on Aconcagua back on January 8th were indeed tragic, and it’s a shame that two people lost their lives on the mountain. Hopefully, at the very least, this incident will shed some light on the need for better rescue training on the mountain, and work to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
My condolences to the families of the two fallen climbers. It is a shame that they have had to suffer this loss, and then to find out this controversy a month later.
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