Chile From Within

Auspicious arrival to Chile

Posted in chile, Chile culture, mountaineering, People and Places, Santiago, Viva Chile, Writing by tomasdinges on January 3, 2014
Climbing the rock alongside el Estero del Manzano.

Climbing the rock alongside el Estero del Manzano.

And I’m back in Chile. Amazing. The culmination of goals I had set for myself, a pre-mid-life bucket list perhaps, after quitting my job in August. Thank you to all those people. You know who you are…who helped me get here.

There was the 1,500 nautical mile trip aboard the replica of the slave ship Amistad from Mass. to Puerto Rico. Then the double-handed sailing journey with my friend from Jersey City to Block Island, Rhode Island and back! Another sailboat delivery, and, a five-day solo backpacking trip through the Catskills.

My body took a beating, but survived. And on Saturday I arrived back in Santiago, a place I hadn’t visited since 2007.

I am here now to write about the amazing developments happening here in environmental conservation, adventure sports and mountains.

This will obviously include work on the development of a private conservation initiative on a 30,000 acre property in the Central Andes owned by my family and operated by my aunt called Parque Andino Juncal.

I lived here for nearly four years, and is the reason for this blog. It was a journey seen through unique eyes. My mother’s family had established themselves in Valparaiso from Australia in the early 1900s, and my father had written several books uncovering the sordid calculations of terror by the military dictatorship.

I was fascinated by the cultural changes and morphing of the people as the lingering shell of repression of cultural identity imposed by the 17-year dictatorship eroded away.

But I became jaded by the constant negativity by people in Santiago, a sense of constant profiteering by the country´s business class and frustration with my own goals.

And now Chile is post-Gothic, post-“buena Naty” (NSFW, look it up), post-Pokemon, post-massive student demonstrations and into the second, count it SECOND, term of Michelle Bachelet, the daughter of an assassinated military officer and the first woman president in Chile.

She will be inaugurated in March.

How much have things changed. How much does it matter? Will my constant analysis and tendency to focus on negative give way to seeking out what is positive? I think so.

And let me tell you of these positive things.

Within 24 hours of landing I was en route to nearby Cajon del Maipo to go rock climbing with nine nearly complete strangers. A few beers Saturday night turned into an invite to go climbing at 9 am Sunday morning. There would be eight Chileans and an American named Joshua.

The rock, called Piedra Rommel, was covered in climbers. The two 45-foot-high sandstone boulders along the river had some 20 routes coming off of them, ranging from the easiest to most difficult. There were women, men, children and adults clambering up and over this rock.

We set up camp nearby in the Mediterranean scrub brush, and proceeded to spend the Sunday afternoon drinking beer. Cries of successful summits, or agony as grip was lost and adrenalin surged in the moment of a fall, rang out past 8 p.m. That night I learned the art of grilling beef and pork, vegetables, potatos, and became close companions with the Chileans.

Sunset climbing at the Piedra Rommel in Cajon del Maipo.

They were fountains of optimism, laughter, generosity and entrepreneurship. Oliver, a photographer, Pablo, a magician,  Laucha, runs three small businesses, Valentina, works at an insurance company but wants to establish a program promoting healthy conversations around sex and sexuality. Is she serious? In conservative Chile? She was optimistic.

The next day was cliff jumping into a water hole, beer drinking and napping in hammocks or in the cool shade of a giant boulder next to a river.

And three days after I arrived it started it was over.

Now, I am off to Juncal for a busy week. I will spend three days with a glaciologist studying the curious life of a rock glacier at 10,000 feet. Then I will welcome a group of biologists from Bolivia, Argentina and elsewhere who have come to visit the park. There is also a change of park rangers to oversee and host of other tasks to get a better sense of how this park runs.

And then in a couple weeks, maybe a little (or a lot) of sailing in the most competitive and extravagant regatta in Chile, the Regata de Chiloe.

I’ll be posting regularly on Chile From Within with photos and video. Stay tuned.

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:

Chilean mountaineer dead climbing Mont-Blanc

Posted in Andes Mountains, chile, Chile culture, environment, mountaineering by tomasdinges on July 26, 2007

A 27 year old Chilean mountain climber died alongside three others from New Zealand, France and Britain, during a storm at around 4500 meters on the famous French mountain of Mont-Blanc. Their decisions to ascend during the storm with inadequate equipment were cited by the regional police force as the principal reasons for their freezing death.

While of course there were other nationalities involved in the tragic accident, I have been in situations with experienced Chilean mountain-climbers who have made poor, rushed decisions with poor or inadequate equipment for the conditions. See this photo set of the experience of Volcan Llullaillaco.

It is a leap to generalize, yet my principal experience mountain-climbing with Chileans on Volcan Llullaillaco, in the North of Chile, in addition to observations based on the attitudes, preparation and gear and stories of others trying to climb el Cerro Juncal, in the Central Andes of Chile, leads me to conclude that a serious effort (if it is not already happening) should be made to properly educate the growing population of young Chileans taking an interest in the mountains.

A list of resources about mountaineering can be found on my resources and links page.

If not, more avoidable accidents will happen involving Chileans in Chile, or abroad.

The following is an AFP report

“PARIS – Four climbers died of cold and exhaustion after losing their way on snow-capped Mont Blanc in the French Alps, police said Tuesday.

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The bodies — women from New Zealand, France and Chile, and a man from Britain — were found at 13,120 feet, police said.

“The group had no tent and failed to dig a hole to protect themselves from 120 km/h winds and falling snow,” said Olivier Kim of the regional police force.

The victims’ identities were not immediately released.

Another group of climbers was rescued Monday near the summit of the 15,771-foot Mont Blanc, the highest peak in western Europe, after digging a shelter in the snow.”

The link to the article in the Chilean mountaineering forum Tricuspide is here.

An article in

SANTIAGO, julio 24.- Esta tarde se confirmó finalmente la identidad de la estudiante y andinista chilena que integraba un grupo de cuatro jóvenes que fallecieron en el Mont Blanc, en Francia, cuando intentaba alcanzar la cumbre en medio de un fuerte mal tiempo. Mariana Huerta Tellez, de 27 años, cursaba desde hace un año estudios de doctorado en la Universidad de Grenoble, en Francia, luego de egresar como licenciada en Física en la Universidad de Chile, adonde ingresó el año 1998. Ex alumna del Liceo Manuel de Salas, la malograda deportista residía con su familia en la comuna de Nuñoa, y su padre era también físico. De acuerdo a cercanos, se hizo conocida en el ambiente del deporte universitario por su buen carácter, sus conocimientos en la práctica del andinismo y su disposición a enseñar. Es por ello que la noticia de su muerte caló en ese círculo que fue el primero en recoger las informaciones a través de la página nacional tricú, sitio especializado desarrollado por montañistas chilenos. En el foro que acompañaba la nota, un usuario identificado como BLadiMir ratificó la vinculación de Mariana con la universidad, definiéndola como “una gran amiga”, y agregando que su deceso ya fue confirmado por su familia. “Gran amiga y compañera, su vida era estar colgada de una cuerda en un cerro… buscando hielos en todos lados. Enseñando, y siempre entregando un montón de su alegría”, señalaba, agregando que fue ella quien “inspiró a mí y a mi novia a seguir los pasos del montañismo”. ”La noticia llega con dolor a muchos amigos que ella tiene acá en chile… sus cumpleaños son siempre los más numerosos”, agregó. ”Una mujer sencilla con alma de niña. La vamos a echar mucho de menos”, finalizaba. En efecto, la información publicada por el mismo sitio señalaba que los padres de la joven ya iban en viaja a Francia para coordinar y acompañar el regreso de sus restos a Chile. En el mismo sitio, otro usuario identificado como Mauro Vásquez afirmaba haberla conocido en la Universidad de Chile, y recordaba su paso por la Facultad de Ciencias Físicas y Matemáticas, en Beauchef 850, destacando que “ponía pasión en todo lo que hacia, comprometiéndose a concho con lo que se proponía”. NO LLEVABAN IMPLEMENTOS ADECUADOS Mariana Huerta fue encontrada muerta cerca del mediodía en el macizo francés junto a otra estudiante francesa, un británico y un neocelandés, todos estudiantes de Grenoble. Según las autoridades locales, las causas de muerte serían hipotermia y agotamiento, tras una fatídica expedición organizada aparentemente sin saber de las malas condiciones del tiempo que se avecinaban. De hecho, Mariana había estado al menos en una ocasión anterior en el Mont Blanc, y tenía experiencia suficiente para enfrentar esa cumbre de 4.808 metros. Según lo informado, el grupo partió a las 3 de la mañana hora local desde el refugio de Durier, ignorando el pronóstico de violentas ráfagas de nieve y viento de 120 kilómetros por hora y temperaturas de 15 grados bajo cero. “Ellos se focalizaron en esta ascensión mítica ignorando los informes de Météo France, (y) deberían haber regresado. Esto fue simplemente terquedad e idiotez. Es su responsabilidad total”, precisó el capitán del pelotón de Gendarmería de Alta Montaña de Chamonix.

Un guardia francés del refugio de Goûter los había avistado cerca del mediodía del lunes en la estrecha arista de Bionnassay, la más afectada por el mal tiempo, por lo que dio aviso a Gendarmería.

De acuerdo a las mismas fuentes, hacia las 15 horas de ayer los propios jóvenes habían pedido auxilio, conscientes de lo delicado de su situación, pero no pudieron indicar su localización ni reaccionar adecuadamente al mal tiempo.

El coronel Olivier Kim, comandante del grupo de montaña de Haute-Savoie afirmó que los malogrados andinistas no tenían carpa, llevaban vestimenta inadecuada y tampoco lograron cavar una trinchera para protegerse del viento.


Las malas condiciones meteorológicas permitieron recuperar los cuerpos recién este martes a las 15:20 horas, a 4.130 metros de altura, gracias al trabajo de una patrulla terrestre de la Gendarmería francesa.

Sin embargo, lograron bajar sólo uno de los cuerpos en helicóptero aprovechando una corta ventana de buen tiempo.

El resto deberían ser transportados a primera hora del miércoles, cuando se espera otra ventana.

Los rescatistas franceses señalaron además que una segunda cordada que participaba del ascenso, y que estaba compuesta por dos españoles y dos checos, logró protegerse construyendo un refugio pese a estar a mayor altura, cerca de 4.304 metros en el sector conocido como del Domo de Goûter.

En ese lugar fueron rescatados los checos, mientras que los españoles, más equipados, prefirieron permanecer en la montaña.