(Mis)Adventures on Aconcagua


Standing 22,841 feet in height, Aconcagua is the tallest mountain in South America, earning it the distinction of being one of the Seven Summits. Each year, hundreds of climbers make their way to the mountain, looking to reach the summit, and add a big peak to their resume.

We’re told that this is a non-technical mountain, that requires no special mountaineering skills, but that it is indeed a very long, and challenging hike to the top. And of course, we’re regaled each climbing season with stories of the view from the top, often accompanied by photos of smiling climbers who look amazingly happy, while the Argentina countryside splays out for miles below them.

But what if you don’t reach the summit, despite making a public display of your intentions, blogging your progress, and sending audio dispatches back to a captive audience back home? That’s exactly what happened to writer David Ferris back in 2007, when he joined an expedition to Aconcagua, with the intention of climbing the mountain, and sharing his journey on the web.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the summit. David found the climb to be more challenging than he thought, and as a result, he was unable to complete the climb, much to his own chagrin. Afterwards, he then had to face his friends and family, while dealing with what he considered was a failure on the tallest mountain outside of the Himalaya.

David wrote a two part article on his Aconcagua experience for Smith Magazine, which is both a celebration of adventure and an insightful look at how it feels to have to turn back from your goals, and the feelings that come along with that choice. Part I of the story, entitled “Tough Call”, is found by clicking here, while Part II is found here.

Better yet, you can check out David’s blog page on his climb, which can be found here. On that page, you can find an audio stream of the author reading his own article, as well as a link to a video file that mixes great photographs from the climb with the same audio.

Listening to David’s tale, it was easy to relate to my own experiences on Kilimanjaro, another mountain that is said to be a “walk-up”, and require no technical skills to summit. But altitude can do funny things to you, and while both of these mountains are tall enough that no matter the skill level, you can’t just discount their height.

Of course, you always need to use good judgement on any mountain, but that doesn’t always take the sting out of not reaching the top, especially when it’s something that you’ve really been wanting.

This is a great story about what it’s like when you don’t get to stand on top, and the feelings that climbers and adventurers deal with when they come back down. Good stuff, and definitely worth a read or a listen.

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4 thoughts on “(Mis)Adventures on Aconcagua”

  1. Great find. This rings true with anyone who has spent much time climbing. We've all had an experience in which we didn't reach the top for whatever reason. I have my own story from the Cable Route on Longs Peak. There's no shame in not touching the top. Mountaineering (even on the "walk-ups") is about the experience of being in the mountains and working toward a goal, often with a team.

    You have to know when to turn back. No summit is worth death or serious injury. There will always be another try, or another mountain.

  2. So true Wade. I think anyone who has been in the outdoors and pushed themselves can relate to this story. David just does a great job of putting it to words.

    Lots of good info on Aconcagua too, and worth a read/listen/watch for anyone planning a trip. 🙂

  3. A lot of people misjudge Aconcagua. It is just a walk through the top from the "normal" route. But it is too one of the most intespetive climates in the world. It is very common that you get whiteouts along the course to the summit or after you reach it.

    A lot of people get injured or dies in Aconcagua every year, just because they think it is too easy to reach the summit.

    On this very week, Aconcagua claimmed his first death of the season, a north american climber.

    http://40milkm.blogspot.com/2009/12/aconcagua-reclama-primeira-morte-da.html (in Portuguese)

    http://www.losandes.com.ar/notas/2009/12/8/policiales-460998.asp (in Spanish)

  4. Just wanted to add my two cents: I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2008 with a group of six. Me and my best friend were 58 years old at the time. We both made it as did two others in our group. Unfortunately, it was the youngest member who had to turn back. The altitude, and I think a touch of youthful exuberance early in the climb, took it's toll. The trick is knowing when to turn back. Hours before we made our summit attempt we saw a group of porters carrying the body of a German climber who had succumbed to the altitude. What a tragedy.

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