There are more annual deaths on Aconcagua than any mountain in South America – around three a year – which has earned it the nickname, “Mountain of Death”.
In this article, we take a look at why Aconcagua’s death rate is so high. We also discuss some ways you can reduce the risks if you are planning on tackling this Mountain.
Why Are There So Many Deaths On Aconcagua?
The statistically high death rate is because Aconcagua is so accessible. While it’s a comparatively safe climb, many of the 3,000+ people who attempt to tackle it every year are unqualified. Its appeal as one of the World’s 7 Summits is for many irresistible.
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 in weather. Aconcagua’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean results in some very strong winds.
Out of every eight people who attempt to climb Aconcagua, only half will reach the summit.
Notable Deaths On Aconcagua
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.
Federico Campanini- 2009
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 criticized 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 reorganization of mountain rescue in France.
A 38-year-old female Italian member of the group, Elena Senin, also perished.
David Reinhart & Eric Nourse – 2012
In 2012, well-known US real estate executive, David Reinhart, and his long-time friend, Eric Nourse, died from altitude sickness on Aconcagua 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.”
Jarod Von Rueden and Francis Keenan – 2013
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. They were found dead in a crevasse 65.5 feet down. It is presumed they fell to their deaths after setting out at what park rangers described as an “inappropriate” time in the afternoon.
Other Notable Deaths And Near Misses
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 and died of cerebral oedema, a severe form of altitude sickness.
Several people have died of heart attacks on Aconcagua. The latest was 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.
Aconcagua Fatality Rate
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.
Tags: Deaths on Aconcagua, Aconcagua deaths, How many people die on Aconcagua
References: (1) Alan Arnette, (2) Image Attribution desbiens_jean
About Federico Campanini, rescuers dont say “get up you idiot !”, it’s badly translated, they say “culiao”, this’s a slang of inhabitants of Cordoba province (in the video looks like there’re at least 2 men from this province), which I read like a cheer up in a pity way, because then they say “dale boludo” in a different tone..
I wrote a long piece for Sports Illustrated in about 1980, a gripping story told by the sole survivor of the first Alpine ascent of the face, he left his two much younger partners behind before he reached the summit and hiked down the backside alone; he was motivated to tell the story by guilt, hoping it would be cathartic and beseeching me for challenging questions. He got the questions, he answered them honestly. In the link above, there are only a few of the accounts mentioned, but this story belongs with the most infamous. I looked for it in the archives of the SI Vault, but it's not included. I don't know if the bodies of the other two were ever found or not. If this reaches Andrew Roux, maybe in his research he found out.
Thanks for the insight Sam. I’ll pass this on to Andrew and see if he came by the story too.