South America’s Toughest and Most Challenging Mountains

August 21, 2008

“The mountains have rules. They are harsh rules, but they are there, and if you keep to them you are safe. A mountain is not like men. A mountain is sincere. The weapons to conquer it exist inside you, inside your soul.” – Walter Bonatti

And finally, for our last batch in this series… the mountains of South America. Of course, having decided to write on the world’s most extreme mountains, I opened a whole can of worms. How can you decide which are the most extreme? So I have selected a mere handful for the moment and will continue researching others over time. I have had fun with this topic – so many amazing mountains, so many incredible stories of courage and endurance.

 Siula Grande, Peru. 6344m  

This is a mountain of the the Cordillera Huayhuash, in the Peruvian Andes. It ranks among the most famous peaks in the world. It has a subpeak Siula Chico which is 6260 m high. It was made famous by the film ‘Touching The Void’ by Joe Simpson which, if you haven’t read, is WELL worth a read! Simpson and Simon Yates wanted to climb the Siula Grande because no-one else had. They wanted to be the first to do it and they wanted to test themselves against it. Like other Huayhuash peaks, Siula Grande is very difficult to climb, on the order of a Himalayan ascent. I have read that the Simpson and Yates ascent route has never been repeated, but I stand to be corrected on that.

Although Simpson and Yates ascended the West face, and thereby became the first to reach the summit by that route, they chose the North Ridge (first descended in 1936 by a German team) for their descent, which was made almost impossible by terrible weather. All subsequent climbers have avoided the ridge and rappelled back down the face. As of 2002 the south face has been unconquered.

FitzRoy, Patagonia, Argentina. 3,375m (11,073 ft)

Fitz Roy, also known as Cerro Chaltén, lies on the border between Argentina and Chile. Perito Francisco Moreno named it Fitzroy in 1877, after the Beagle‘s captain Robert FitzRoy, who explored some of the area in 1834. It was first climbed in 1952 by French alpinists Lionel Terray and Guido Magnone. The mountain has a reputation of being “ultimate,” despite its average height, but because the sheer granite faces present long stretches of arduous technical climbing. In addition, the weather in the area is exceptionally inclement and treacherous. Although it is the highest peak in the Los Glaciares park, but it is less than half the Himalayan giants!

The mountain climb, however, remains extremely difficult and is the preserve of very experienced climbers. Today, when a hundred people may summit Mount Everest in a single day, Cerro Chaltén may only be successfully ascended once a year.

Cerro Torre, Argentina.  3,127m (10,262ft)

Cerro Torre is one of the mountains of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field in South America. It is located in a region which is disputed between Argentina and Chile, west of Cerro Chalten (Fitz Roy). The peak is the highest in a four mountain chain: the other peaks are Torre Egger, Punta Herron, and Cerro Stanhardt. Cerro Torre’s sheer granite walls rise more than 1,219m (4,000ft) from the glacier to a summit guarded by enormous mushrooms of air-puffed snow. Because of its brutal steepness, violent weather, and lack of a clear line of ascent, many climbers had thought Cerro Torre unclimbable. The top of the mountain often has a mushroom of rime ice, formed by the constant strong winds, increasing the difficulty of reaching the actual summit. The first undisputed ascent is that by Daniele Chiappa, Mario Conti, Casimiro Ferrari, and Pino Negri in 1974. In 1977 the first Alpine style ascent was completed by Dave Carman, John Bragg and Jay Wilson. They spent a week summiting Cerro Torre which had previously taken the Italian group two months to summit.

Cesare Maestri claimed in 1959 that he and Toni Egger had reached the summit and that Egger had been swept to his death by an avalanche while they were descending. However, inconsistencies in Maestri’s account, and the lack of bolts, pitons or fixed ropes on the route has led most mountaineers to doubt Maestri’s claim. Only in 2005, after many attempts by world-class Alpinists, was a confirmed route put up on the face that Maestri claimed to have climbed.

Aconcaqua, Patagonia. 6,962m (22,841ft)

And finally, a mountain for everyone. There are several routes up Aconcaqua – of which only one, the Polish Glacier, requires intermediate to advanced skills. The route demands the use of ice-climbing and glacier travelling techniques culminating in a challenging and rewarding summit day.  Beginners to intermediate.

Mt. Aconcagua is the highest point in the western hemisphere.


One comment

  1. […] South America’s Toughest and Most Challenging Mountains“The mountains have rules. They are harsh rules, but they are there, and if you keep to them you are safe. A mountain is not like men. A mountain is sincere. The weapons to conquer it exist inside you, inside your soul. … […]

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