South America, Argentina, Central Andes, Aconcagua, Mobitel's Swallow—Johan's Route

Publication Year: 2004.

Aconcagua, Mobitel’s Swallow-Johan’s Route. Slovene mountaineers Tomaz Humar and Ales Kozelj climbed the south face of Aconcagua by a new route in the last days of December. The new route is dedicated to Humar’s late partner Janez Jeglic, who suffered a fatal accident during their Nuptse expedition in 1997. This was the first time Humar climbed with a partner since the fatal ascent with Jeglic.

After failing on Nanga Parbat in the summer, Humar was regathering strength on less-challenging mountains, where he was joined by Ales Kozelj in October and November. Kozelj had been planning an expedition to Aconcagua with Matej Mosnik, but Mosnik had to drop out because of a knee injury. After two months of training together, Humar and Kozelj were the ones setting out for South America.

They left Ljubljana on November 26. Food and permits were acquired in Mendoza. They set up base camp at Plaza Francia, at an altitude of 4,200m. A fortnight of stormy weather followed. For acclimatization during this time they climbed Aconcagua’s glacier and spent four days at 5,600m on a nearby mountain called Mirador.

The weather cleared on December 16. Humar and Kozelj moved up to ABC at 4,400m, and descended to the bottom of the glacier at 4,250m the following day. They started up the face on the afternoon of December 17. They encountered falling rocks in the entrance passage, some of which hit Humar’s shoulders, but he escaped with just a few bruises. The entrance waterfall was followed by black ice (a mixture of ice, rocks, and water), then a 200m traverse to the right over frozen soil, and from there a 50m descent into a hollow among seracs. Since only frozen soil and receding ice could be found, instead of solid rock, this part of the route presented considerable danger. They continued across crevasses and seracs and ascended to 5,300m, where they dug a shelf by a waterfall and set up their first bivouac (Bl).

On December 18 they continued by ascending the black ice next to the 500m-high Black Pyramid and reached a passage between seracs and rock. That proved to be one of the most dangerous parts of the route, due to falling rocks, ice, and water. Humar was hit by falling water. They reached crevasses 5,700m, dug a shelf in one of them, and set up B2.

On December 19 they continued their ascent, up the 150m high and, in places, slightly overhanging frozen waterfall. For the first time they hauled one of the rucksacks behind them. While the weather worsened, they crossed the waterfall in a blizzard and dug B3 at 6,100m. Because of the extreme cold, Kozelj suffered frostbite to his feet and hands.

On December 20 they proceeded into the “Small Bear” rock blockade, which was followed by a traverse some few hundred meters to the left. They climbed the “Traverse of Death” over a brittle rock pillar, crossing 300–400m to the bottom of the Swallow on 60-70° snow-covered ice .This crossing was itself risky, as they were climbing roped but unprotected. Once they reached the bottom of the Swallow they found blown snow stuck to the rock, forming a 15m-high pillar with no footing. They ascended to the top of the pillar and set up B4 at 6,300m, anchored by ice axes rammed into brittle rock.

On December 21 they began by descending to the bottom of the pillar, and then continued across the technically most demanding part of the face, forming the other part of the Swallow, which consists of a 100–120m overhanging rock barrier. They were forced to climb with bare hands due to the brittleness of the rock. Here they hauled their rucksacks again. The barrier was followed by perforated black ice and another 200m of mixed ground (rock, ice) to the peak of the face. They concluded their route at the face’s summit and connected it to the Sun Line, set by Slavko Sveticic in 1988. They set up bivouac B5 at 6,750m.

On December 22, at 12:30 a.m., they set out toward the 6,930m south peak, the conclusion of 1982 Slovene Route, and reached it at 3:00 p.m. Two hours later they stood on the main summit, where they stayed for another hour. Humar and Kozelj agreed to name the route after both Humar’s former partner and his sponsor of many years, calling attention to the route’s shape at the same time: Mobitel’s Swallow-Johan’s Route (2,500m, VI+ (IV–V+) A2 M5-M6 90-100° (60°–70°)). They descended by the normal route on the north side of the mountain to Plaza del Mulas at 4,300m, which they reached in only two and a half hours, at 8.30 p.m. On December 23 they travelled around the mountain on horseback and reached Plaza Francia at 6 p.m. The next day they cleaned up base camp and ABC. The expedition was made possible by Mobitel, Slovene national mobile telecommunications carrier and a loyal sponsor of Humar’s endeavours.