My first expedition to Aconcagua was hatched as most others have been since – in a pub with a good friend. In 1992, time was tight as we had many other commitments, but we felt we could squeeze in a climb of the highest mountain in South America, at 23,000 feet above sea level, the highest point outside of the Himalaya.
Aconcagua is not a technically difficult climb, which has led it to being underestimated and as a result holds the unenviable record of having killed more people than any of the 7 summits. High winds, storms that can last days and very high altitude are the main enemies.
We arrived at the launching off point of Mendoza in Argentina the day the climbing season officially ended. Not a good sign. We bought last minute supplies, loaded the mules for the 3-day hike to base camp and set off up the Horcones Valley. Very soon into the walk in I felt ill from bad water a few days before and could not really appreciate the spectacular walk in.
From base camp at 14,000 feet, we stocked our higher camps at 16,000 and 18,000 feet above sea level. Then the weather changed. Pinned in our tent at 16,000 feet was terrifying. Each with our arms spread holding the tent poles in place was the only way to stop the tent from imploding. We struggled back to base camp and although we eventually did get as high as 21,000 feet, this was not going to be our year. At our high point, we found what was left of another 2-man expedition, caught in that same storm and unable to retreat, they seemed to have laid down to die at just over 21,000 feet.
I had to go back. So, teaming up with another friend and a third companion we went back to Argentina in January 1994, firmly in the middle of the climbing season! This time conditions were ideal, apart from a distinct lack of snow, and 2 out of 3 of us summited, the third of the 7 summits. Standing on the summit of Aconcagua in January (the Himalaya off-season), for that moment we were likely the highest people on earth!