Seven Summits – South America: Mount Aconcagua, 6962 m, 26 November 2014

After Mount Everest, the Aconcagua is the highest mountain of the Seven Summits and the crown of the Andes. The best time of the year to climb Aconcagua they say is in January or February during the summer of the Southern Hemisphere when the air is warmer and the winds have died down a bit. There are strong winds all the time on Aconcagua which can cause a lot of trouble.

As I had decided to try to fulfill my dream of accomplishing the Seven Summits within a period of 15 years, I did not want to wait until the beginning of 2015. Besides I thought that Aconcagua would be a good warm-up and acclimatization before Mt Vinson where I planned to go directly after Aconcagua, when I was already on the “right” side of the globe, so to speak.

Instead I, together with the Argentinean guide Guillermo Fuentes and photographer Pablo Betancourt, became the first expedition to register in the season. Following a two-day tour of acclimatization to St Elena at 4,500 meters, we left for Plaza Confluensia and on to Base Camp at Plaza de Mulas. Already on my first day, I started to doubt my decision to try to mount Aconcagua so early in the season. There were strong winds and above the mountain, there were traces of really heavy winds forming the characteristic wind cloud over the summit. The weather forecast had wind speeds of up to 30 m/sec for the next few days, which meant the summit would be out of reach.

At +/-0°C and a wind speed of 10 m/sec (fresh breeze) = -15°C

At -25°C and a wind speed of 15 m/sec (high wind) = -57°C this means there is a risk of frostbite of exposed skin within 30 minutes.

The wind chill factor of Aconcagua is both well-known and feared as wind speeds of over 20 and 25 m/sec during the high season are common. The atmospheric humidity can multiply the effects of the chill factor and in the Andes and Aconcagua, there is often an influx of increasingly humid air from the Pacific Ocean. Aconcagua may be a very friendly mountain when Febo, the goddess of the sun, is shining, and Eolo, the god of the wind, is asleep. But when conditions change, ascending the mountain becomes a horrifying experience.

There was not much we could do but start working ourselves up the mountain, get acclimatized, and wait for a window with less wind. After a day or two, there were indications that on the 26th the winds were expected to subside a bit – and the date felt right – two summits to go and this could be my sixth – 2 and 6… This was an opportunity to be good to be missed….

19 Penitentes – Confluensia, 3,300 m

20 Confluensia – Plaza de Mulas, 4,300 m

21 Plaza de Mulas – acclimatization day

22 Plaza de Mulas – Plaza Canada, 4, 950 m, ferrying supplies

23 Plaza Canada – overnight stay

24 Plaza Canada – Nido de Cóndores, 5,350 m

25 Nido de Cóndores- acclimatization day

26 From Nido – to the summit and back

On 26 November, I stood on the top of South America’s highest mountain after a long day, almost 12 hours of climbing, having accomplished about 1,600 altimetres in rather cold and windy conditions. My descent was comparably much easier, even if you must never lose focus and relax, having reached the summit means you are only halfway. I thanked the mountain gods once again for their benevolence this time and set my compass towards Antarctica.

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