Chile From Within

Death and the Mountain: Video of mountain guide dying on Aconcagua

Posted in Andes Mountains, chile, mountaineering by tomasdinges on February 18, 2009


Mountain climbing and rescue tactics on Aconcagua.

Federico Campanini, also known by his nickname “Fede” was an internationally certified mountain guide who died after two days caught in a furious storm near the summit of Aconcagua, one of seven tallest peaks in the world at 22,841 feet. At age 31 he was alive and as  of January 8th, 2009, he is dead. After a botched rescue, documented on a video released to Argentine media last Friday, he died of hypothermia, dehydration and an edema.

A 38-year-old Italian woman, Elena Senin, also died. She was part of a five-person group being led by Campanini to the top of Aconcagua, where it began to snow heavily minutes after beginning their descent. Participants, according to a youtube video, include Mirco Affasio and Mateo Refrigerato.

Annually, two-to-three people die yearly on Aconcagua, but this year has been extracted a steep toll.  Five people have died so far this year, according to an article by the Associated Press. Six hundred people had signed up to climb the mountain.

Accounts state that the group faced winds up to 70 kph, temperatures of -25 Celsius and driving snow all the while mixing their own urine with snow to rehydrate themselves after two days of being trapped.

The video detailing his death was released by his father this past Friday in Argentina. It was given to him by an anonymous individual and subsequently released to local Argentinian media outlets.

It has ignited public commentary, a lawsuit and a Facebook group filled with public indignation over perceived ineptitude in rescue tactics.

In the United States Campanini worked for the Rainier Mountaineering, Inc.  as a guide which has since set up a memorial fund in his name. From Mendoza, Argentina, the largest town to Aconcagua, he was an UIAGM guide who had moved to Utah in 2006 to

According to an online posting by fmiranda on the Chilean mountaineering listerv Tricuspide, it happened like this, and I paraphrase the translation:

“It appears that they went up the Gran Canaleta, to arrive to the North Peak, but at 4:30, a POOR time to summit a peak, and were caught by a storm. They returned, and made a mistake, coming down towards the Glaciar los Polacos. At that point a pair of Italians slipped, and one died on site, all of which was communicated by radio.  They were still caught in the elements, without chances of escape and appropriate equipment for a couple of nights, during which temperatures dropped to -20 Celsius.”

According to an account in The Deseret News, of Utah, Campanini descended into the crevasse where the Italian woman fell and was stuck under a large piece of ice.  It was there when his respiratory problems began.

The video shows the rescue group pulling Campanini up a slope. Apparently this is because they had found him down near the Polacos, and by that route would not have been able to have taken him further. They were trying to climb 400 meters to get the other, secure, route.

One begins to think of the intensity of mountaineering in these situations, in which each decision has to do with the preservation of life, cost and benefit, a risk calculus like one has never done before. Each step, or significant advance, is to proceed to another level or degree of exposure in which the calculus changes, and once again one has to re-evaluate the opportunity for life and the risk of death.

And one wonders, does at some point, a survival and individualistic instinct kick in, and make some members of the group want to go down by themselves, escape the group, clearly lame and left to die?

What were the rescuers thinking, exhausted, at almost 7000 meters, and apparently unprepared for this adventure where even there lives are put in danger by the rescue?

According to listserv discussion the poor conditions prevented other rescue groups from going up to the mountain. The rescuers were those guides or porters near that stage of the mountain and did not appear to have been in the position of preparedness for a rescue.

But a personal testimony might be best. “Rockney” was the guide for the last group to have seen them before the accident. My translation.

Notapor Rockney el 16 Feb 2009 01:14

“Unfortunately, I knew the group of seven which attempted the summit that day, they left at 6:30 am on Monday the 6th of January, from the Berlin Refugio, at 5900 meters. The day was windy like none other, and according to the forecast, Sunday was the strongest day of a storm that on Monday would subside. I was with some Polish clients and we decided to attempt the summit when the intensity of the wind subsided. We left at 8 am, my group was fast and at first we saw no problem in leaving a little bit late and not facing the strong wind that was earlier. It also gave me a sense of security to know that I was not alone in the path above.

Around 6300 meters we passed one of the guides  with an Italian girl who was going much slower than the rest. Neither of them passed the Independence Refugio at 6400 meters and descended.

We got to the rest of the group in the windy pass named “the finger” y and “the cave” (at the beginning of the small ravine and protected from the wind)  and began to walk when they had arrived, reaching the summit around 4 pm and we began to come down when the Italian group hadn’t fully arrived. The Argentine guide came to me and said if you want, we can descend together…and in an immediate decision I said no.  I had already been a half-hour on the summit and I couldn’t wait any more, and to mix my group with another, apparently slower group, would have put us in danger. (I must say that in the two times that I came to speak with the other guide his attitude was quite indifferent. At one point I offered my help with a client of his who was going faster (as they do in Volcan Villarica) and didn’t respond.

But, five minutes after we left the summit the storm unleashed. The greatest problem I had was that my sunglasses nor goggles worked, and instinctively I went down the small ravine, in “the cave”, and I realized that the Italians had left their backpacks and had summited only with what they were wearing (a very bad idea). We took the Windy Pass and we got lost. We were barely able to keep ourselves together, the visibility at that moment was about a half meter beyond our feet. Fortunately my GPS had marked the Independencia Refuge and still was difficult to find, and seriously endangered my life and that of my clients (who always are with a whistle that isn’t metal,) arriving destroyed to the Berlin Refuge. That night I couldn’t sleep, attentive to the arrival of the Italian group and because of the cold (within Berlin the thermometer registered -20 Celsius!)

In the morning I heard the helicopter which convinced me that something had happened. I went down with my clients without them knowing a thing.

Below, in the “Nido de Condores” we ran into a porter from Grajales and he said that a porteo was going up and that some Italians were lost, and at that point there was no doubt.

That night in the the Plaza de Mulas they speculated about many things, including that they were all dead. In the morning, on Wednesday, only then…!!!ONLY THEN!!!, did they begin to get together and send up the rescue teams (the strongest guides and porters)…and they had already been up there for two nights at -20 Celsius. Some left from Plaza de Mulas and other in the helicopter that left them in Berlin and from there an advance group went up, and a group of support/relief.  It is difficult to go up to the summit and then descend down the possible mistaken routes, there were various rescuers (rescue team members) with altitude sickness and the weather was really bad, as can be seen in the video.

-the work of the rescuers is pretty hard, what you can see in the video is very limited, and one would need to know how long it takes for the rescuers to get to a safe place without the rescued person, “if the rescue puts in risk the rescuers, unfortunately that is where the rescue stops.”

-in these types of rescues you don’t need people with technical capacity, but human mules who are capable of supporting and carrying great weight(which was not noted in the video.)

-after the second night only then did they begin to “get together” and send up the rescue group, even though the Helicopter had already seen them after the first night. What do you think of that?

-very deficient the rescue gear and material, 500 dollars to enter the park and the cots are for decoration.

-regarding the insulting words of the rescuers I personally don’t give it much importance, I take it as a desperate measure, even though I would desperately have been trying to drag him in some way, as some of the other forum members have noted.

-the fallen guide was a UIAGM guide, I am only an ENAM guide, so we return to the debate over the value of a piece of paper, “where the potatoes get hot.”

-the Guide that went down with the Italian (I believe his name was Rolo) is a guide born and raised in Aconcagua, and surely would not have made the mistake in the path, and that he went down only to comply with the roles of the guides and assistant, and if there was more humility, the guide with more experience would have been the leader.

-…well you can continue extracting conclusions, and I leave you with the doubt.

and so to finalize my extensive testimony I thank you for the patience for reading this and I invite you to see a video that is a bit more optimistic, maybe the other side of the coin.


According to one letter by a local guide, the current state of the Aconcagua rescue system is poor, as guides supply there own rescue gear and rescue teams don’t have a satellite phone nor a Mariner rescue sled. Rescuers work with a large plastic container split in half as their rescue sled for injured or dead.

Here is an interview with the father of the dead guide:

10 Responses

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  1. Vicki Lansen said, on February 20, 2009 at 4:26 am

    What drives someone to take chances that are so outside the tested norms when guiding? Is it the thrill of cheating the odds? I just don’t get it. The videos are incredible, while being tragic at the same time. I haven’t ever climbed mountains, so I have no idea the adrenaline that might drive the lapse in judgment, but this climb seemed doomed for some catastrophe from the start. I was recently extremely appreciative in Caleta Tortel when a boat captain refuse us and several other tour clients for a trip to see some floating glaciers. He lost hundreds of dollars that day because the weather was not good. I would not have know better.

  2. Jose Luis said, on April 7, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    Wasnt international mountain Guides he has only Mendoza school Guide

  3. Tomas said, on April 7, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    No fue certificado internacionalmente?

  4. Alberto said, on April 7, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    Yes ,he was not UIAGM certified he was EPGAM From Mendoza ( Aconcagua Guides)

  5. Alberto said, on April 7, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    asi es no fue certificado por la UIAGM, ya que la asociacion Mendocina no forma parte .

  6. Darko Makovec said, on April 19, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    Message: I like nature and I travel a lot, especially to high mountains. I made several treks in the high mountains of Nepal, India and Americas. Two years ago, I spend my holydays in Cordillera Blanca, Peru. For the first time, I was accompanied with my whole family. We planed to do Santa Cruz – Llanganuco trek. My wife and both teenage kids are rather inexperienced in high mountains. Therefore, I looked for experienced guides for safe, but still adventurous experience; and I found that in Holmes Pantoja – Apu and his team. I liked his professional attitude, very good organization of the trek, but still relaxed, friendly atmosphere. I can strongly recommend him.

    Chatting with Apu in long evenings during the Cordillera Blanca trek I learned a lot from his mountaineering experiences. I got very interested in climbing Aconcagua under his guidance, and I used the first opportunity to join him. In February I managed to summit Aconcagua. The expedition of 6 mountaineers from Slovenia lead by Apu was very well organized. He made very good plan for our acclimatization. I believe Apu is one of the best guides in the region. With his incredible physical fitness and broad climbing experiences, he is the right person one would like to have around, if something goes wrong on a high mountain.

  7. CT said, on May 21, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    elFede was my guide on Mt Rainier 2 years ago. He was amazingly helpful and very simple in his suggestions to help me up the mountain. Although he was so cheerful through out the trip he made it very clear that there were simple things that must be done if i was to continue up the mountain. He was my cheerleader on the trip. Without his direction and assitance each step of the way I would have failed. I did not summit but I returned climbing as long as I was able. I am so sorry to hear the news and the video was very hard to watch. My heart is aching and I can not imagine what it is like to be his dear family. My sincere thoughts and prayers for everyone invloved.
    The rescue attempt looked limited and without true concern for his safety. That said the safety of the group was hard to establish in the video. It must have been a hard day for all. I am so sad and so sorry to hear this awful news. ElFede is climbing high in the sky I am certain…

  8. ck said, on November 5, 2009 at 5:28 am

    Aconcagua is not one of the “Worlds” 7 highest peaks. It is the highest in south America, making it one of the 7 that comprises the highest summits on each continent.

  9. Feilim Mac Críosta said, on December 30, 2011 at 7:57 am

    I will be there in January Hopefully

  10. […] the excellent blog of Tomas Dinges here for more information on this tragic high-altitude death and the 2008-9 Aconcogua climbing […]

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