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:

Chile is a long country

Posted in Andes Mountains, chile, Chile culture, environment, Viva Chile by tomasdinges on January 17, 2009

There is a long country named Chile. It ranges North-South more than East-West, over desert, plains, forests, mountains and ice. Many kinds of people fit within its limits, which is explained at the end.

There is also an Islamist group from Somalia called Shabab al-Mujahideen. They do battle with their government to take control and govern according to a radical vision of Islam.

They want to do this in Chile too, according to a news transcript of the channel Al-Jazeera on December 20th.

Reporter: “This is the city of Marka, which is located 90 km from Mogadishu. This is one of the few places controlled by the Shabab Al-Mujahideen, who filled a political vacuum, while they continue to fight in Mogadishu. Shabab Al-Mujahideen controls large parts of the center of Somalia, and they are growing stronger day by day.”

Ibrahim Al-Maqdasi: “We want to inform Bush and our rivals about our real intentions. We will establish Islamic rule from Alaska and Chile to South Africa, and from Japan to Russia. Beware, we are coming.”

Where in Chile would they begin? I don’t know, maybe Santiago. Maybe they think that they could start with the immigrant groups whose mother countries practice Islam, like Palestine, and try and mimick Che Guevara-like attempts at revolution in Bolivia. A recent photo album email was circulated by the Chilean Victor Abujatum (which came from Karen Garib Bravo) documenting dead and alive children in the war in Gaza.

But that is nothing to really pay attention to when there is entertainment like the Dakar Rally to pay attention to, a thousands of miles race which from its traditional racing grounds in Northern Africa because of terrorist threats was shifted to the mountains and shrubs of Chile and Argentina.

Unfortunately the race stayed in the north after coming from Buenos Aires, to Neuquen, to Mendoza, to Valparaiso, and then up to La Serena and Copiapo, before departing for Argentina for the trip back. Chaleco Lopez is your Chilean to follow in this matter.

Alas, there are other, worthwhile, adventures to follow, like the self-supporting kayaking trip around a portion of Antarctica by Cristian Donoso, a friend, lawyer and explorer from Santiago, who has sprung is expedition career after a 2007 win of the Rolex Award for Excellence which gave him funding and prestige to launch his audacious tests of endurance and planning.

From the ruins of the HMS Wager (1741), just south of the Golfo de Penas, and ancient kayak portage trails of the Kaweshkar people, he has now set off to the Antarctic Peninsula where he will kayak 550 miles without assistance or resupply. Track Cristian’s progress here. From his website:

This trip will be the longest unsupported sea kayaking expedition realized in Antarctica.

First month

During the first month, the expeditionaries will circumnavigate the Anvers and Brabant Islands, first seen in February 1820 by the United States citizen Nathaniel Palmer, on the voyage where he discovered Antarctica. During this first 300 nautical miles stage, we will do a meticulous survey of the North coast of the Anvers Island, barely explored due to its countless rocks, small islands and shallow waters exposed to the open sea, which makes it a dangerous place to incursion in larger vessels. We will also explore the cliffy nooks of Brabant Island, and we will visit the bases, Lockroy, England; Palmer, U.S.A; and Islas Melchior, Argentina.

Second month

On the second month we will explore the Danco coast fjords, as deep as the ice floes allow it, navigating nearly 200 nautical miles between the Chilean base, Gabriel Gonzalez and the Argentinean Primavera base. From that coast – which’s name remembers the unfortunate Lieutenant Danco, from the Gerlache expedition- We will cross to Trinidad Island circumnavigating and exploring its coast until we reach the Mikkelsen Bay, where we will be picked up at the end of February by the Antarctic Dream, to return to the American continent.

During this first month he met up with Jon Bowermaster, a world-class kayaker and explorer who once lived in the south of Chile, the way south.  Bowermaster is on his own Antarctic kayak expedition. You can find more out about the way south in this blog by a woman struggling to find her reasons to persist in the cold, wet and often desolate environs of Patagonia.

Bowermaster told me at one point that his primary interest in exploration these days is seeing:

“what the map of the world looks like early in the 21st century” and drawing attention to rarely reached corners of the earth for those who can’t get there.

“There is plenty of room for adventure for adventure’s sake, and I think we have all done that, but I think it is becoming less and less relevant,” he said. “I mean, how many more times do we need to know about someone climbing a tall mountain? I think it’s a great accomplishment, but it really doesn’t speak to the greater picture.”

What is that greater picture, one might ask?

I can only send you to Henry Miller, the banned author famous for his 1934 Paris-based novel Tropic of Cancer. From his perch drinking coffee or Pernoud on Montparnasse, guzzling wine “like rubies”, or as a cut-rate and sometime drunk copy-editor musing about Matisse and his sculptures that could be found up womens skirts, he railed against the illusions of societal grandeur and the distortions created by  apparent modernity. He craved the animal way, raw and hungry. That might be a lesson for Chile, a country caught between the animal way and the modern way, the fruit stall or the hipermercado, schoolyard blowjobs or an attempted banning of contraception, anarchy or Opus Dei, bicycles or cars, the flowers of the valley or the conquest of the summits.

What was it that Henry Miller called himself? “The Greatest Patagonian alive.” In a nod to the extinct indigenous groups covered in furs who buried their meat in the ground and for warmth kept never-ending fires on the Tierra del Fuego at the end of the earth, and the end of Chile.

(… thanks to The Idler)

In The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945), written after a road-trip across America, Miller continues his assault on modernity: “This world which is in the making fills me with dread… It is a world suited for monomaniacs obsessed with the idea of progress – but a false progress, a progress which stinks. It is a world cluttered with useless objects which men and women, in order to be exploited and degraded, are taught to regard as useful. The dreamer whose dreams are non-utilitarian has no place in this world. Whatever does not lend itself to being bought and sold, whether in the realm of things, ideas, principles, dreams, or hopes, is debarred. In this world the poet is anathema, the thinker a fool, the artist an escapist, the man of vision a criminal.” Consciously in retreat from what he saw as a cancerous civilisation, Miller began to call himself ‘the Patagonian,’ that is to say, a primitive man to whom the taboos and fetishes of modern society seem ridiculous: “We need their paper boxes, their buttons, their synthetic furs, their rubber goods, their hosiery, their plastic this and that. We need the banker, his genius for taking our money and making himself rich. The insurance man, his policies, and his talk of security, of dividends – we need him too. Do we? I don’t see that we need any of these vultures.

Oh, and how long and wide is this country? 2,700 miles (4,300 km) apart at its longest and 217 miles (349 km) at its widest and 9.6 miles (15.5 km) at its narrowest.

Lonely Planet Chile ( Moon ), Heraldo Munoz (Bush diplomatic pressure), James Bond (Daniel Craig) (Chile is the new Chile)

Posted in Andes Mountains, chile, Chile culture, Chile film, Viva Chile by tomasdinges on March 23, 2008

Lots of news this weekend.

Most newsworthy is the article in The Washington Post by Colum Lynch reviewing Heraldo Munoz’s forthcoming book. He was the senior Chilean diplomat, now Chilean U.N. representative, who carried out Ricardo Lagos’ anti-Iraq War missive, and in the process got pressured to hell by President Bush and his minions.

An insider’s take on the spearhead of the U.N. opposition to the Bush war titled, “A Solitary War: A Diplomat’s Chronicle of the Iraq War and Its Lessons.”

“‘In the aftermath of the invasion, allies loyal to the United States were rejected, mocked and even punished’ for their refusal to back a U.N. resolution authorizing military action against Saddam Hussein’s government, Munoz writes.

But the tough talk dissipated as the war situation worsened, and President Bush came to reach out to many of the same allies that he had spurned. Munoz’s account suggests that the U.S. strategy backfired in Latin America, damaging the administration’s standing in a region that has long been dubious of U.S. military intervention.”

Secondly, Wayne Bernhardson, formerly the Lonely Planet travel guidebook writer for the Southern Cone who now has his own guidebook, Moon, now has a blog about South America. He knows a lot, and it will be interesting to see what he really thinks about Chile on his travels. He has just crossed the border, inexplicably (hehe) missing Parque Andino Juncal, and went Los Andes, where he compared the landscape to California.

Lastly, according to the Guardian Observer James Bond will use Chile to look like Bolivia in flick Quantum of Solace, which is set to open in October. Secrets out and the Chileans must be indignant.

Imagine that, good production environment, professional production staff…blissful for production, but wait, there is a catch. These extras, and the locations, are meant to be Bolivia, not Chile.

Maybe they will have to acknowledge that, well, dark, side of their heritage. That Aymaran indian side.

According to the story only short and dark people are being cast for a multiple day, and multiple million dollar shoot. It’s also another instance of why its ok to laugh at the Chilean film and television production scene and Chile in general. They get punk’d because its so easy to punk Chileans. Their identity is a sham and it will take snafus like this one to get people to rethink their indigenous and Chilean roots that have for so long been squashed and scrubbed in their mind’s eye. That’s my cheap shot for the week.