Aconcagua is believed to have the highest death rate of any mountain in South America – around three a year – which has earned it the nickname, “Mountain of Death.”
This is because it’s so accessible – while it’s a comparatively safe climb, many of the 3,000+ people who attempt to tackle it every year are unqualified.
The chief park keeper, Daniel Cucciara, repined that 40 percent did no preparation at all. Climbers pale in the face of altitude sickness and extreme changes of weather, with strong winds being the result of Aconcagua’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean.
Out of every eight people who attempt to climb Aconcagua, only half will reach the summit.
More than a hundred people have died on Aconcagua since records began. Such stories appear repeatedly in the news. Here are the most widely-reported.
One of the most controversial cases was in 2009, when a video posted to the internet showed the failed rescue of an Italian-Argentinian mountain guide. 31-year-old Federico Campanini could be seen struggling weakly in the snow as his rescuers attempted to pull him to his feet. One rescuer declared, “Get up, you idiot,” while another interjected with “Go, damn it” and “Move, idiot!” and the cameraman can be heard begging God to give Campanini strength. Campanini was one of five people to die on Aconcagua that year.
The rescue team was heavily criticised for failing to bring oxygen, a thermal sleeping bag or a stretcher. Campanini’s father, Carlos, lamented, “They went looking for a corpse and they found a survivor.” The episode was reminiscent of the deaths of Jean Vincendon and François Henry on Mont Blanc in the 1950s, which led to a radical reorganisation of mountain rescue in France. A 38-year-old female Italian member of the group, Elena Senin, also perished.
In 2012, well-known US real estate executive, David Reinhart, and his long-time friend, Eric Nourse, died from altitude sickness on Acaoncagua at a height of around 22,000 feet – not far short of the summit, 22,841 feet up. Nourse had left to seek help. The only survivor of their party was Nourse’s twin brother, Greg. Greg described his twin as “a large risk taker.” His wife, Candee, told how he could “climb a tree like a monkey,” adding that “There was something that was not quite human about him.”
22-year-old Jarod Von Rueden and 28-year-old Francis Keenan from the United States went missing on New Year’s Eve in 2013 and were found dead in a crevasse 65.5 feet down, having presumably fallen to their deaths after setting out at what park rangers described as an “inappropriate” time in the afternoon.
In February 2015, 27-year-old oil worker, Andrew Hay, of Aberdeen, professed himself “lucky to be alive” after falling prey to frostbite, having experienced strong winds that caused the temperature to fall to -40 degrees. His eyelids began to freeze. When he reached a hospital, doctors told him there was a 50:50 chance that his fingers would have to be amputated. A fellow climber, 64-year-old Australian, Bob Huggins, was less fortunate, dying of cerebral oedema, a severe form of altitude sickness.
Several people have died of heart attacks on Aconcagua, the latest being 58-year-old Briton, Roger Cookson, an experienced mountaineer, in February 2015. He suffered respiratory failure only 1,640 feet from the summit. His medical records showed him to be in perfect condition.
The US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health records demographics and circumstances of all deaths on the mountain. Between 2001 and 2012, of the 42,731 mountaineers who sought to reach Aconcagua’s summit, 33 died. This gives a fatality rate of 0.77 per 1,000.
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