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South America, Central Argentina, Aconcagua South Face Tragedy

Aconcagua South Face Tragedy. Early in January Guy Andrews, Chuck Bludworth and I made an alpine-style ascent of the French route on the south face of Aconcagua. Departing Base Camp at 12,800 feet on December 31, 1979 after a two-week acclimatization period, we reached the summit on January 6, but not entirely unscathed. All three had suffered frostbitten toes in a rather desperate bivouac at 20,500 feet. On the summit plateau, at a point which later proved to be less than 15 minutes from the summit marker, a fierce gale prevented the planned traverse and descent via the normal route. We retreated to the minimal shelter of a rock outcrop 250 yards back down the gently sloping summit plateau. Two days of storm pinned us there until midday of January 8. As thewinds at last abated, we gulped down several quarts of hot chocolate and soups to combat the effects of dehydration, altitude and exposure to the elements without a tent. We abandoned all but survival gear and left the bivouac site during a lull. Tragically Andrews and Bludworth disappeared while following me over the summit. In complete exhaustion, I crawled down the summit pitches to the Refugio Independencia, 2000 feet below the top. That evening the wind returned with a fury. The next morning I struggled to the Berlin Huts at 18,000 feet, where three Venezuelans assisted me to the Plaza de Mulas at the base of the mountain. Subsequent search efforts revealed no trace of the missing duo.

Edward H. Connor