Aconcagua – South America’s High Point


We’ve aimed the virtual GPS at Argentina to visit South America’s highest mountain: Aconcagua.

At 22,837 ft, Aconcagua is not only South America’s queen, but it is also the tallest peak in the Southern Hemisphere, the Western Hemisphere, and the highest outside Asia. This classification makes it one of the Seven Summits – the highest peak on each of the continents.

Located just 15 miles from the border with Chile, Aconcagua is the crown of the Principal Cordillera, the spine of the continent that forms the Andes Mountain Range. The etymology of the crag’s moniker is not clear. Competing notions stem from several regional native languages, which translate into a few phrases in English: “Comes From the Other Side”; “Sentinel of Stone”; “White Sentinel”; “White Ravine.”

Personally, I vote for “Comes From the Other Side.” Philosophical and rebellious all at the same time.

Aconcagua seen from a commercial flight between Buenos Aires and Santiago - photo by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen

Many in the mountaineering world consider Aconcagua an “easy” ascent, as the usual route to the top is free of technical climbing. However, its altitude makes the ascent difficult. Around 70% of people who undertake the challenge fail to summit this “easy” mountain. South America’s “Mountain of Death” claims an average of three lives per year.

The first attempt to reach the summit by Europeans occurred in 1883. The first recorded, successful ascent was in 1897 by Matthias Zurbriggen.

Matthias Zurbiggen, the first human known to reach the top of South America

It is possible, of course, that humans reached the apex before European history could indicate. The mountain was considered sacred by the Incas. Unlike some other cultures we’ve studied (Everest, Uluru), the Incas came to sacred mountains to build temples and conduct human sacrifices. The Aconcagua Mummy was discovered at nearly 17,000 feet, preserved by the harsh weather, in 1985. Perhaps, ancient people stayed away from the summit, but if they practiced rituals at 17,000 feet, maybe they ventured to the top.

Deep fans of Disney may recognize Aconcagua from Pedro, a cartoon short from the 1942 film Saludos Amigos. In the film, a mail plane named Pedro attempts to cross the Andes to deliver a postcard. Aconcagua rears her power and nearly takes Pedro down, but in the end he delivers.

Aconcagua nearly KOs Pedro

Enjoy these videos and photographs of Aconcagua. The final groups are from an ascent by Chelsey Berg; photo credits to her.

Does this ascent look easy to you?

Nope, me neither!

Summit route - graphic by Jkan997
South summit and ridge - photo by Albert Backer

Further Reading and Exploration

Aconcagua – entry

Article on Aconcagua Mummy – Science Magazine

Webcam at Aconcagua Base Camp – Third Highest Webcam in the world

Aconcagua and the Southern Andes – by Jim Ryan (e-book version)

Saludos Amigos – Disney film that features Aconcagua

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