Aconcagua Facts and History

Name/Mountain

Aconcagua, "The Sentinel of Stone". Its name has roots in the Quechua language and when translated means "The Sentinel of Stone". 

Aconcagua, at 22830 feet (6959 meters) is the highest point in the Western and Southern hemisphere, towering above the surrounding peaks in the Argentine Andes. The mountain stands on the border with Chile, some 30 km (a day-and-a-half hike) from the Puente del Inca settlement. Aconcagua does not lie in the actual Andes, but in the Frontal range, slightly to the east. It has a very steep and massive face on its south and a gentle slope on the north, with a huge glacier, the Polish glacier, flowing to the east and a series of aretes and couloirs to the west. As the highest point in South America, Aconcagua is one of  the much sought after "Seven Summits" and a world renowned peak. 

The mountain has two summits - North (6959 meters) and South (6930 meters), joined by a ridge (Cresta del Guanaco) approximately one kilometer long. Various ridges radiate from each summit and the whole massif is isolated from other high peaks. Only to the northwest is it connected by a high snow ridge with the surrounding mountain systems. The usual approach is from the south up the Quebrada de los Horcones, which circles the western flanks of the peak, to the Plaza de Mulas base camp at a height of 4230 meters. From here 3 routes start: the normal via the Horcones Glaciar Superior and north ridge, the West Buttress route, and the South-West route. The best climbing period is mid-November to March. On the normal route, refuges exist at heights of 5850 meters and 6480 meters.

First Ascent
While the first summit of Aconcagua is credited to Swiss Climber Mathias Zurbriggen, there are traces of Inca civilization and culture near the summit. The name itself hearkens back to indigenous roots, the Quechua word Anco (white) and Cahuac (sentinel). Much like the explorers of the Himalayas, the passes around Aconcagua came into play during military expeditions. In 1817, General Jose de San Martin crossed the range in successful efforts to liberate Chile from Spain. By 1950 most sides of the mountain were climbed with variations of these routes being added to the long line of successful summits.

More History

Paul Gussfeldt, the German mountaineer, made the first known attempt on Aconcagua in 1883. He reached 6000 meters on his first attempt by following the North ridge. On his 2nd attempt he failed to get to 6000 meters! The Fitzgerald expedition, in January 1897, attempted the mountain and they were the first expedition to use the Horcones valley approach. On 1/12/1897 Fitgerald's Swiss guide Matthias Zurbriggen reached the ridge between the two summits.  Matthias Zurbriggen made the summit two days later by himself. Matthias Zurbriggen was already famous in Switzerland and New Zealand, where Matthias made numerous first ascents as well as the second ascent of Mount Cook. The Polish Glacier was the second route to be pioneered on Aconcagua. Other expedition members followed later. V.M. Conway was the next to reach the Summit nearly two years later; however, he stated he stopped short of the very top out of deference to Fitzgerald, something later regretted. Eilert Sundt  made the first winter attempt in 1915 with two other climbers; However, the party were unable to reach the Summit because of a cornice.

The 1934 Polish Andes Expedition established a new route, climbing what is known as the Ruta del Glacier de los Polacos, on the East face in alpine Style !. In 1947, Thomas Kopp and Lothar Heroldd made the traverse of the summit ridge to the south peak, discovering a carcass on of the guanaco en route. This discovery has led to speculation about the possibility of Inca ascents of the great peak. In 1953 the Swiss couple, Frederic and Dorly Marmillod, with two companions, traversed across the western flanks from Plaza de Mulas and ascended to the South Peak via the South-West ridge. In 1951, W. Foerster, L. Krahl and E. Meier, repeating Gussfeldt's route, succeeded in joining up with the ordinary route at 6200 meters. Finally, in 1954, a strong group of French climbers made a route up the south face, one of the hardest in the whole of the Andes.

Since 1954 the face has been climbed by a variety of routes. In 1966, the Ruta de los Argentinos was climbed to the right of the French route and, in the same year, the Central Couloir, which runs between the French and Argentine routes, was climbed. In 1974, Reinhold Messner, solo climbed a direct finish to the French route, while yet another variation was added by the 1981 Japanese expedition.

Deaths

Several climbers normally die on Aconcagua every year.