Aconcagua, Ascent and Attempt. Todd Hoffman, Tom Douglas, and I summited Aconcagua via the normal route at 2 p.m. on January 31, having spent a total of eight days on the mountain. After acclimatizing on the normal route, Todd Hoffman, Gabe Schlumberger, Tom Douglas, and I planned to climb the French Direct Route on the south face of Aconcagua, but retreated due to poor conditions on the route. Because of very low precipitation the preceding winter, the snow cover was twenty feet less than normal on the south face, leaving the Slovenian start to the FDR an unclimbable rubble of loose rock and mud as steep as 70 degrees. One team before us (nationality unknown) backed off the Slovenian start, and instead climbed the Argentine traverse followed by the Messner finish (in seven days). The only other attempt on the south face on record at Park Headquarters was a solo climber (nationality unknown) who went missing and was presumed dead after one week.
Since this was the 100th anniversary of the first ascent of the mountain, Aconcagua was very crowded this year; when we arrived at the Plaza de Mulas base camp, we counted 125 tents. Because of very low snowfall the preceding year, the route was almost all rock (we climbed the entire route without crampons or ice axes). During our week on the mountain, there was almost no precipitation, although the wind regularly blew up to 70 m.p.h. and temperatures dropped as low as -20°F late in the day. Four climbers (nationalities unknown) died while we were on the mountain, three on the normal route (one of a heart attack at the Plaza de Mulas, one at Nido de Condores of cerebral edema, and one of exhaustion and exposure at the Canaleta), and one on the South Face (presumably from a fall).