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South America, Argentina, First Winter Ascent of Cerro El Plata by a New Route on the South Face

First winter ascent of Cerro El Plata by a new route on the South Face. In July, four of us, Augusto H. Mengelle, Carlos G. Vittone, Jure Skvarca and I made the first winter ascent of the south face of Cerro El Plata (20,702 feet) by a new route. This face was first climbed in the summer of 1960-1 by Estanislao Blicharski and Jorge Peterek, Poles living in the Argentine. (See A.A.J., 1961, 12:2, pp. 405-6.) The new route lay farther east on the face. On July 6 we arrived 56 miles from Mendoza at the San José ranch, where we stayed for two days trying in vain to arrange for mule transport to the base of the wall. It was snowing constantly in the mountains and valley and a foot of snow fell at the ranch. Finally on July 9 we abandoned hope of mules and shouldered 90-pound packs for the 15-mile trip, which took us five stormy days. Deep snow, miserable visibility, temperatures down to —10° F. and a fearsome wind made the approach a torture. Finally on the night of July 13 we set up our tent at the base of the wall at 14,750 feet. The weather improved the next day and we decided to attack. We chose a route to the right of the Central Glacier, the steepest and most direct part of the wall. Deep new snow slowed our climbing at the start and forced frequent changes of the leader. For two rope lengths we crossed avalanche tracks that started above on a rock spur. We felt the lack of oxygen and the cold on the steepening slope. After a short traverse, at six p.m. we reached a rock outcrop at 18,000 feet. Though we worked hard to dig a platform for the tent out of the hard ice, we finally had to anchor it to pitons and pickets and leave a third hanging over the slope; we spent the night seated, massaging Vittone’s frozen feet. The thunder of avalanches sweeping the Central Glacier prevented sleep. Wind drifted snow onto the tent. Finally it dawned brilliantly; the thermometer registered —40° F. We began to climb again. The angle increased gradually and at 19,700 feet approached 65°. Enormous quantities of new snow threatened to slide. Nearly on the summit ridge, we felt our breath short and our hearts pumping. The slope lessened and at 8:30 p.m. on July 15 we reached the top. Argentine and Slovene flags fluttered in the sunset of Himalayan splendor. Descending the north slope, we rapidly lost altitude but total darkness forced a bivouac at 19,000 feet. After a hard night, half-dug into the snow, we continued the descent, waist-deep in powder and with numbed feet. Finally at 11 A.M. we reached the Vallecitos ski huts. Unfortunately Vittone lost ten toes and my brother three. Mengelle and I escaped with slight frostbite.

Peter Skvarca, Centro Andino Buenos Aires

* The official Argentine altitude of 20,702 feet (6310 meters) is probably too high. The Chilean survey conducted by Risopatrón gave 19,193 feet (5850 meters), which compares favorably with the height measured by Fitzgerald of the first Aconcagua expedition of 19,235 feet (5863 meters). In cases where the old Argentine and the Chilean figures for other peaks in the region differ, more recent Argentine surveys tend to confirm the Chilean figures. Therefore it seems probable that the altitude given may well be too high and that the Chilean figure is more correct. — Editor.