Aconcagua, highest peak in both the western and southern hemispheres, is located in the Andes Mountains of western Argentina, near the border with Chile. It is 6960 m (22,834 ft) high. It is the highest peak in a cluster of mountains which include several mountains above 5000 meters such as The Cuerno (5450m), Catedral (5200m), Bonete (5100m) and De Los Dedos (5000m).
The Andes formed during the Cretaceous period (about 138 million to about 65 million years ago) when the Pacific crustal plate began to slowly slide beneath the South American plate, uplifting and folding the sedimentary rocks that comprise the Andes. Tectonic forces generated by this collision still trigger earthquakes and volcanic eruptions - in fact Aconcagua is itself an extinct volcano.
The permanent snow line in the northern and central Andes varies in height from about 4600 to 5300 m (about 15,000 to 17,500 ft), and all the highest peaks are snowcapped throughout the year. Aconcagua itself is snowcapped from about 5500m upwards, requiring the use of crampons for the latter stages of the ascent.
The Weather is varied, with temperatures dropping to -30 degrees centigrade before windchill. Because the Andes are close to the Pacific Ocean, the higher peaks on the range experience the phenomenon of the notorious 'Vento Blanco' which can gust freezing winds of up to 90Kmh, blowing away tents and leaving a trail of destruction for unfortunate climbers.
Some specialists assert that the origin of the name Aconcagua is from the Aymaran language, in which the words 'acon' and 'cagua' would mean 'Nevado Mount', or 'Snowy Mountain'. Others, however, have found simliar words in Quechua, in which "Ackon-Cahuac" would be literally be translated like "Sentry or Stone Watch".
The first real attempt on the summit was made in 1883 by the German Paul Gussfeldt. With extremely poor equipment, and in dangerous concumstances he discovered a route to the foot of the mountain. With only vague data of the summit location from maps of the time, he set off in February from Chile, following the opening of the Putaendo river then the Volcán and Portezuelo of the Penitentes. He ascended to the Northwest Ridge of the mountain (roughly where camp Independencia is now) and managed to reach the height of 6,560 meters, only 500 meters from the summit. But he had established a route for future expeditions.
In 1896, another expedition directed by the scientist and English mountain climber Edward FitzGerald looks for a different route to the one taken by Gussfeldt. Initially entering through Argentina by the Valley of Cows, he looks for the foot of the mountain, and finds a route from Bridge of the Inca and Valley of the Horcones. The route discovered later will be the Normal Route. In the following year, in January of 1897, a second expedition is mounted by FitzGerald, and accompanied by the Swiss Guide, Mathias Zurbriggen, for the first time in the history of the Aconcagua the summit is reached!. Four weeks later, this time in the company of Stuart Vines and Nicolas Lanti, he returns to overcome it for the second time.
After the summit had been conquered, several more expeditions took place up the same route, until in March 1934 a team of Polish climbers (Konstanty Narkiewicz-Jodko, Adam Karpinski, Jan K. Dorwaski, Stefan Daszynski, Stefan Osiecki and Victor Ostrowski) explore to the North of Aconcagua, and eventually locate a route through the Whinnies Gorge, and up onto the great northern glacier. A route is successfully established, and the glacier is named 'The Polish Glacier' and the route The Polish Glacier Route after this expedition.
In 1953, another route, up the south-west ridge is discovered by Federico Marmillod. But the greatest challenge - the 3000m high South Wall is still unconquered. The very next year, in February 1954, a French expedition lead by Pierre Lesuer forges a route through a channel to the central spur, and after 7 days of intensive climbing, they scale the South Wall to the summit.
In February 1978, a new route is discovered along the East Glacier by Argentines Vieiro and his team. This route is now called the Argentine Route.
In February 1994, R Gabrielli, A Lafalla, J. Guiaquinta, D. Alvarez, C. Santilli, D. Rodriguez, O Brusadin and Alejandro Randis climbed a new Route that is situated at the right of the "Gran Acarreo". This route is now called the 'Guías Mendocinos' route.
The fastest climb by the Normal Route was made on January 12th 1992 by Dieter Porsche from Germany in just 5 hours and 15 minutes - this was his 4th ascent in 7 days!