failed rescue attempt on Aconcagua


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Trad climber
Idaho Falls
Feb 21, 2009 - 04:58pm PT

"Perhaps it would be best to make a separate thread for it. Either way, it is a worthy topic of discussion."


Yes, the Otter Body rescue might be more appropriate on a separate thread, at another time. The story is long and takes place on lower yet more technical terrain, and the moral import goes down a different lane.

I wonder if climbers are much more cynical now than fifty years ago. I'm not suggesting the rescue group on Aconcagua are guilty of wrongdoing. But Rokjox made some valid points that were submerged in the back and forth heckling.

If the "Otter Body Events" occured NOW, without a GTNP rescue team available, would guides and experienced Teton climbers come together to execute a similarly improvised rescue or just say, "Those easterners are in a mess of their own making and we must now abandon them to their fate."

Good judgement keeps us on route and away from danger. But being strictly one dimensional about good judgement we might not climb at all. When bad things happen, "good judgement" doesn't answer the cry of the human heart. A most critical judgement we make is whether to bear each others burdens. And, yes, sometimes the risk may be too great.

Cynicism is a disease which diminishes human capacity to distinguish right from wrong and distances us from our fellow beings. I think Rox's reaction is out of personal disgust for the cynicism, more than a discrete judgement against the rescuers on Aconcagua.
pip the dog

Mountain climber
planet dogboy
Feb 21, 2009 - 06:31pm PT
I agree with tom woods’ line of thought.

What we (both organized SAR groups -- and the rest of us who may someday be in such a situation) can learn from this, and hence maybe do better next time – let’s work to figure that out.

Having been a member of organized SAR groups in the past, I recognize the point of tom’s focus. It is appropriate and a good one. I myself have been on SAR rescues in which the outcome was rather grim – and not at all what we had hoped for. And as a group we spent many hours trying to learn something new from it. I am confident that this is what tom is focused on.

That said, next time I go up high I won’t likely bring a stokes (or whatever). At this point, as I rocket into my dotage, my choice of pretty peaks all but excludes running into anyone -- let alone guides, clients, and crowds. I choose, now, to solo stuff of interest to just me. Most still about as high as anconcogua. But on terrain that matches my current horsepower (ie, nothing notable).

And given my interests, solo in the middle of nowhere, I climb accordingly. If things get more than just kind of itchy, I back off. I have done just that on the last two high peaks I was on.

For I know that if I blow it, just ‘there’ -- I’m toast. So stuff I might likely choose to try to plow through with a partner, or better still a couple of partners and knowledge that there is a hot SAR team and a way skilled chopper pilot with a hot ride nearby -- I now just back off of.

And that’s fine by me. One of the upsides to being an unnamed climber on unnamed and surely no big deal peaks is that no one really gives a sh!t if I top out or not. Among them, me. Even I only care so much. Enough, I hope, to push myself when I’d rather stall, but not so much that I end up toast.

That’s what informs my read on this. So among the many armchair quarterbacks – those souls who like tom do so to ask “What can we learn from this” are more than good by me. While those who are so certain they could and would have done better -- well, me, I kinda wonder quietly about that. I suspect they haven’t ever been ‘there’.


(my clan is just not wired for 'terse' -- my apologies on that front)

State of Mine
Feb 21, 2009 - 07:28pm PT
doug buchanan said "Unlike everyone I have encountered, the words I use hold their meanings."

only that most of us have never seen such BS come from one mouth...

Trad climber
Sh#t Hole, Brooklyn, NY
Feb 21, 2009 - 11:10pm PT
My initial reactions to the video is that the guy is spent, in addition to whatever injuries he has suffered. My instinct is to recoil at the way he is being yarded on while others are watching, but I know that's just a video bite and it doesn't begin to tell the story. That video is just 2.5 minutes of what must have been an epic undertaking. Without having been there it is impossible to make an assessment as the information isn't available to me.

The world doesn't have an excess of incompetence, inadequate training, poor planning, weakness, or bad has just the perfect amount. The world is perfect.

It is what it is.



Trad climber
Boys I'dunno
Feb 22, 2009 - 01:13pm PT
Everyone here is always talking about pushing the edge of the possible.

Had you spoken to those six guys, each one of then, when responding to the question "why climb here?" everyone could have made fine speeches about personal discovery, rising to personal challenges, pushing back against the impossible, and all the rest of our carefully considered excuses for the pursuit of the stupid "sport". They would have used Big words.

If you had put a damn 12 foot stepladder on the summit, and told them that they would have their picture taken standing on top of that ladder and published, every one of them likely would have climbed that stupid ladder and balanced on one foot if necessary.

But when the chance for making a real change, really pushing their limits, really taking a stand against the impossible and really confronting death, They showed what worthless rich kids they were. F*#king Playboys, spending money to "top out" on something they could brag about.

When it came to saving a mans life, they decided he was dead, despite his incredible insistence that he WAS NOT DEAD. (After THREE DAYS and TWO NIGHTS). When they DIDN't lift him up and make the effort, HE still tried, crawling back towards the summit. HE DIDN'T give up, he gave out. HOURS after the CALVARY HAD ARRIVED. When he needed stretcher bearers, he got pall bearers. Rather than a rescue team, he got a funeral procession. Those guys were NOT guides and heroes, they were playboys and jerkwad sightseers.

80% of most things in our lives are accomplished by just showing up. We get used to that in our jobs, our schools, our marriages. But some times you got to give the full 100%.

Those six just showed up.

If each man was worried if he actually lifted that man, he would die, I say bullsh#t, each individual, he still had enough strength to make it partway back towards high camp, where we presume others would have been available to help THEM the last mile. Experience has shown that the closer to camp you get, the more "help" you can get. The more of the yammering pack would be available.

ONE man says he WAS there, and had no idea a rescue was in progress. He says he moved from lower camp to high camp in the middle of the "Storm" and his clients were perfectly happy and presumably reasonably comfortable as a consequence. That HE could do the return trip to the top in 4-5 hours. But that was ignored by all the experts who printed bull about how impossible it was.

When some tell me I am a fool for thinking the rescue WAS possible, you tell me I was not there and that it wasn't, that it would have left more dead. THOSE "some" are ALSO making armchair decisions that it was impossible, THEY were NOT there, but cloaking THEIR ignorance in the solemnity of the difficulty they perceive in their heads. It is all just too politically correct for me. Finding excuses for failure. In that video I see SO many minutes of opportunity lost by slacker playboys warming their hands in their pockets, insouciantly standing about waiting for a man to die, so they could leave.

I posted one of the most inspiring stories I have ever read, a whole two paragraphs, about a MAN, who when called to seriously do the impossible for something that mattered, didn't stop. I got lots of responses here, about how "there wasn't an Alex Lowe available", or Alex was heli dropped in, or Denali isn't as high, or some other bullsh#t. At the time, in the minutes before he accomplished the incredible, everybody would have said that carting the man up the 400 yards of 50 DEGREE ice and rock above 19,000 feet ALONE was impossible. It maybe occurred to Alex too, for a minute. He KNEW that 3 other guys would be back in a few minutes to help HIM. He DIDN'T NEED TO MOVE TO BE A HERO, All he had to do was WAIT. Yet he decided that waiting was unwise "FOR THE OTHER GUY"! So he just DID it. Alone!

THAT was a MAN.

The playboys on AC. didn't do it. Looks to me like they talked themselves out of the grandest challenge any man can ever face, that of facing the impossible to save another brother. They decided he was dead, and sooner or later, he was.

Thanks to Jennie and those who make apologies for me, or try to explain me.

Thanks to those who point out that they would be safer with me tthan climbing with those who give up too easy, when it matters. Your support is probably misplaced.

I don't really care when I fail at a summit. I can be light about it, and give up easy, as one man says of his solo efforts. When people show in their eyes or tone of voice that they are not surprised I couldn't do it, I can walk away and accept their implied scorn. But I pray that when or if I am ever again faced with a challenge that MATTERS, that I can stand up to it, without finding excuses about how impossible it is, or how risky.

Publish their six names. They have earned their fame. They climbed a big snowcone and watched a man die there. I am sure they will be in demand on the TV talk show circuit.

!Que Macho!
Ain't no flatlander

Feb 22, 2009 - 01:55pm PT
RJ, lying about Alex's rescue doesn't help your case. Big difference between 400 feet (the actual case) and 400 yards (your exaggeration). Lying by omission is equally bad, such as the part about pre-acclimatizing, flying into position in a helicopter, and flying out. Yes, what Alex did was cool. But it is no where near to what these rescuers were faced with.

We all get that you have no clue what you're talking about and have no relevant experience but please stop lying as you make a fool of yourself.

Trad climber
Boys I'dunno
Feb 22, 2009 - 02:08pm PT
If you want to criticize my memory, I seem to recall it was 400' vertical feet is the usual measure. Perhaps you should work out the hypotenuse of the triangle for the distance. Use 50 degrees, that was the figure as I recall. Or find some other way to split hairs.

There were SIX in the funeral procession for "Fede". not ONE. They had apparently SEVEN hours on top, not TWO

They were on LOW angle terrain, look at the pictures of the top of A.

FIRM footing. NO fifth class climbing such as A.L. reportedly performed. There are certainly enough topos, photos and maps used by climbers to see how steep it was. And pre-acclimated? Like spending a couple days on the side of A. in camps?

The six failed miserably. They failed in front of the world, and in front of a camera. They failed when failure meant the life of a man. There will be many more minutes of video show up soon, I very much doubt that was the only record. I also look forward to the inquiry, which will "absolve" the six of their poor attempt, though I cannot imagine it actually vindicating them. They will not be punished, rest assured. There is FAR too much money to be made letting playboys pay for a walkup ascent, guided by people who feed many families with the tourist money from pretend "climbers" making their chops. The Government makes too much, and the braggerts are terribly willing to finance their claims to a meaningless "victory" over the mountain. Because summiting is everything, isn't it?

Call me names, tell me I am lying if it makes you feel better, I don't care about YOUR opinion, any more than you care about mine...

... but let me say this. If someday you are fortunate enough to show up at my rescue, and you can't do anything for me, I am telling you right now, you can just go home. I don't need you to stand there and hold my collar for four hours. I can die on my own, just fine, thanks. You are pre-absolved, as I know how TOUGH it would be for you. What the fu#k are you standing there for, if you aren't going to do anything?

Matter of fact, just stay home. Don't bother me. I'll be FINE.
The user formerly known as stzzo

Sneaking up behind you
Feb 22, 2009 - 03:20pm PT
Don't care about the opinions? Then why do you fight so hard to oppose them?

Of course they failed to bring him back alive. That's evident. Where the others differ with you is about the "why".

All your words keep implying that they guys were a bunch of worthless, uncaring dipshits. And this is where you're crossing the line. You're making the assumption that they just didn't care enough to do better, which is equivalent to saying that they knew what needed to be done and how to do it but chose not to do it.

We're making the assumption that they performed the best they could (and the best that knew how) given the circumstances: the conditions, their training, their remaining energy, their concerns about their own safety...

Of course they "could have done better". The victim himself could have done better (with the choices that got him there), the Argentinian government could have done better. His death was certainly preventable. But ultimately, it's not the responsibility of random people to pick up the ball that the man himself dropped in the first place. It sure is nice when they do. But obligation? No, it's not anyone else's job to keep our lives running (have you heard of D.I.Y.S.A.R.?).

Finding excuses for failure... You are, too, bro. You excuse is that they're a bunch of pathetic uncaring dipshits, that all they did was show up, but didn't actually try.

My take is that pathetic uncaring dipshits wouldn't have shown up in the first place. Perhaps your opinion is that they hiked all they way up there and stood out there with him just to get some exercise & get their names in the paper...

Trad climber
Boys I'dunno
Feb 22, 2009 - 03:27pm PT
It was on the route, they were going to summit anyway. They had already paid for the ride.

I don't care how they felt, where their heart was, or what a shame they thought it was. I don't care if they felt like their all time favorite puppy had just been slapped.

I care what they did. Or didn't do. Like replacing his hood, like stopping him from crawling when it clearly was not going to be allowed to make a difference, like letting his pants become separated from his jacket, like not emptying those packs, looking for something to help with. There are a LOT of things that they didn't do in that 3 minutes.

There are a LOT of things that are not in the video, and should have been. WHERE is "Fede's" face mask if its so cold? Why hasnt he got a balaclava? NOBODY brought an extra hat? But they sure lined up next to his last crawl, in front of the camera. Closed ranks. Ranks of what? I don't know. Pallbearers? Funeral Procession? 5 guys looking to be in the picture book?

Its clear that there were a lot more than 3 minutes represented there. In law there is several terms for responsibility, varing degrees. "Fede" died of hypothermia, dehydration.

And perhaps hastened a little, by neglect.

State of Mine
Feb 22, 2009 - 06:05pm PT
the only thing more funny than Rx's rantings is that DMT on sumitpost sucks the chief of for his rantings then blasts rox for similar rantings. two faced coksuker.

Feb 22, 2009 - 06:19pm PT
I'm just curious, do you think the "playboy climbers" should face legal charges? Just what do you think should be done? You are so adement that the rescuers were F-ups, should they , in your opinion be punished somehow? I'm not baiting you. I hear what you have been saying. What do you think should happen now?

Trad climber
Boys I'dunno
Feb 22, 2009 - 07:06pm PT
Even in SA a volunteer is not required to risk his life to help another. And the definition of risk is very generous and broad.

The other 6 will not be charged with anything, although neglect could be shown, it would be countered as being mercy, or ignorance. Also the unknown will be cited, the lack of mental acuity and the loss of initiative of hypoxia.

I feel they had a moral/ethical duty to do more. They had the opportunity to do more. But they did not have a legal necessity. I feel more could have been done, clearly, but they did not have a legal responsibility to do more.

Had they been a professional group, the outcome would be less certain, but still very likely to be the same. Issues of equipment and competance would then be raised, of preparedness. But that these 6 guys were clearly incompetant is no issue to a court.

And nobody wants to set a precedent that would discourage volunteers or volunteer groups in such circumstances.

Much less a loss of tourism.

Personally, what do I think should happen to those six? If I met them and they were bragging about their role in it, I would punch their noses. (line up you f'offs). I think they should have to face the family, answer the questions and accept the wrath of those who they failed.

What should happen now?

A high camp cache should be set up, in Fede's name; a small iron shed with a brass plaque, with two, two piece litters with skids and harnesses, a few dozen bottles of O2 with masks, and perhaps an inflatable hyperbaric sack. A few tens of pounds of chemical heat packs would be good too, and some pictures of how to use the things on the walls.

A Very low cost given how many deaths a year occur there.

Thank you, Tony, for asking.
tom woods

Gym climber
Bishop, CA
Feb 22, 2009 - 08:48pm PT
Just got back from playing in the snow.

The high cash is a great idea- we have gear stashed on Whitney to lighten the loads when we have to go up. The evil rangers, some of whom are on out team, carry the litters back up to after we carry someone down.

A light litter in the cache- these things called skeds are basically a stiff plastic tortilla, they are easy to carry and slide real well.

Altitude is a problem? How about stashing Oxygen,not for climbing but for rescue and victims?

The anchor situation looked grim up there (small scree and shallow snowpack)

I can't speak for those guys down there, they might be doing this already.

What I wonder is what would happen if this guy had a broken pelvis or other injury where he couldn't walk or crawl, but was otherwise stable. Side note our team once had a whitney rescue, where the victim had double open dislocated ankles in other words bones sticking out, but not broken, yikes!

So say you have person who is otherwise fine, but can't move and you have to go up to the summit.

The list of things that you need is long, but what I keep coming back to is you need to be prepared to hang out for a long time. Stove, food, shelter and warmth would be key.

tom woods

Gym climber
Bishop, CA
Feb 22, 2009 - 08:51pm PT
Rox- with the heat packs, we find that they tend to go bad before they get used, but that's here in CA, so who knows.

How bout a big ol' Coleman stove

Trad climber
Boys I'dunno
Feb 22, 2009 - 09:29pm PT
Most heat packs depend on iron, and moisture. As moisture permeates the bag, they go bad. With really good isolation, like in a airtight or nitrogen filled can, they should last a good time. And they are cheap, can be replaced every year. Does it really matter if they are wasted? Wasted is good. Means nobody needed them.

There is a clever heat pack that is reusable, depends on salt, but a sudden impact can trigger it, and the heat doesn't last as long as iron packs either. however the salt packs can be restored by boiling, almost indefinitely.

I wonder if a Coleman stove will work at altitude. I have used them for a year at a time, and they are rather unreliable in some ways. Lots of parts don't work real well in real cold, like the pump.

A really low shelter could be positioned just before the rock band traverse, (above it) if you couldn't find/risk the traverse or it was late, you could bivy there, desperate, but better than being exposed. Built of native stone 2 foot high or so, and lined with cheap nylon tarps, it would be sufficient, without being tempting. Its advantage is not needing much in the way of permission, just the people to spend the time to do it in a good spot.

The biggest problem to me looks like too many people are dumping their gear, trying the fast and light malarkey. It was clearly mentioned in this tragedy. A fine strategy if it works, but leaving you foolishly desperate when it does not.

It is clear, here, personal mistakes were made in abundance. One mistake you may get away with, but when compounded by accident, weather or timing becomes fatal. People must carry all that they might need, and must be encouraged to do so. Promoting the fast and light thing can so easy lead to death. F&L looks good, but is a rationale to avoid reality on the ascent. It minimizes the danger only in your mind. It has killed far too many.

Mountaineering has become a tourist industry, pay for the ride and get the guide. Only that is such a fools game. Bragging rights don't come from the peak, the elevation. Peak bagging is disrespectful by its nature. When reduced to a Disney Theme ride, you get Aconcagua. I don't know how to stop it any more, but part of the problem is our expectations and the desire to fulfill them through money.

And in the end, we pump people into the mountains who have no idea how to survive or to rig a rescue, for themselves or for others.
tom woods

Gym climber
Bishop, CA
Feb 22, 2009 - 09:45pm PT
Coleman stove- could be right, but a stove none the less. Heat packs are a good idea, especially if you can resolve the going bad thing.

I too wondered about building a little rock wall to hunker down if you had to,and had a sleeping bag.

We often just bring one bag for the victim, and then warm clothes for ourselves when we bivy. I'm starting to get over this and think that I should have bag for me too.

They'll do what they're going to do down there, I just think its important to think of these things before hand.

Fast and light is great when all goes well. I often wonder if people really know how difficult it is to rescue someone. The time and effort is huge, even for some chump on the whitney trail. A helo is relatively fast and easy, but not always available, limited by weather, alititude and usually daylight, and dangerous.

When you call for a rescue, it can be most of a day before help arrives, even here in the civilized Sierra. Getting yourself out is best, but when you can't you can't, so we don't mind helping those who need it.

Doug Buchanan

Mountain climber
Fairbanks Alaska
Feb 22, 2009 - 10:32pm PT
Hawkeye my friend.....

In the past I often suggested that the worlds of my opponents were BS.

Then I started asking more questions of my simple response, and discovered my common error. They were words that had not already formed comfortable neural routings in my brain, and were thus different, uncomfortable knowledge.

Since we humans are lucky to be in error only 50 percent of the time, I more carefully questioned those words, and thus learned new knowledge about 50 percent of the time, that I would have otherwise not learned from the dismissal of BS.

You are to be admired for being so perceptive as to represent most of the SuperTopo folks.

And you are seeing the words come from the screen, not a mouth.

It is that common hasty dismissal, rather than questioning, of different knowledge that keeps the humans repeating the same failures for generations, such as not optimized mountain rescue efforts.

That is most evident in government personnel whose perception of their government power with bureaucratic paper credentials, and thus perception of superiority, routinely causes them to dismiss the real-life knowledge of those mere civilian mountain climbers.

The next generation of folks who ask few questions will have this discussion, again, much to the amusement of the observers.


Mountain climber
Pasadena, CA
Feb 22, 2009 - 10:34pm PT
In the interest of learning some lessons and not being sure if this has been said in prior posts or not I'll throw this out.

I think one of the mistakes is assuming the victim is already dead. Without some very compelling evidence to the contrary I think a rescue is initiated with the idea that the victim is alive and can be helped. I consider this a fundamental element of mountain rescue.

Consequently, at least minimal gear must be carried to support the victim(s). Even on a search you have to assume your crew might be the one that finds the subject and needs to keep them alive until help can arrive.

Assuming the role of rescuer has to force a shift in mindset and the resulting planning, regardless of how rushed, has to reflect this. The shift in approach from climb to rescue can happen quickly and result in a rescue centered game plan.

Tom - It would be very interesting to do a CA region recert that includes an overnight forced bivy with a substantial patient care component.

Feb 23, 2009 - 07:56am PT
I know nada of climbing that is why I came here to read opinions from those who know.

I am from Argentina and I will tell few things:

1-Rescuers do not says “cuñado” (brother-in-law) they said “culeado”, that can actually means “dude or as#@&%e” depend of how is use; my understanding is that they used it as “dude”.

2- I know is only 3mins video but there is almost nada of intention of helping the guy to survive, even if they thot he was not going to make it , the way they acted and talked…… This is proven 100% when the guy in red says:” he is not moving”…and he was moving…..and here is the second things that kills me….when Federico hear this….he start trying to get up…so he was “conscious” that he need to show he was “alive” …..

3- I don’t think they were professional rescuers (if they were SHAME OF THEM), but if you volunteer/”forced” to do something do it right, if not just don’t do it. I don’t means this by judging equipment or technique cuz ,again, I don’t know nada about it, I say it by intentions you can see in the 3mins video….. in my understanding of “normal life” ….they are just waiting him to die so they are “free to go”.

When I say normal life is cuz, I don’t know if at that high with that cold …can affect your brain and say and act in a stupidity and immoral way.

Please forgive my newish words, I am not trying to be Rambo keyboard...

Kind Regards!
tom woods

Gym climber
Bishop, CA
Feb 23, 2009 - 08:25am PT
What me worry, I agree, long term patient care is over looked.

Over night long term patient care is difficult to train (time) and not really taught anywhere. EMT's want you at the hospital in 20 minutes, First responders do teach it to some degree, but you don't train it you talk about it.

Most of the time, the victim is stable, a broken leg, altitude, dislocated shoulder or something.

We've had some major head injuries, though, that are a real problem. Carrying enough oxygen is really really hard on top of all the other gear you have.

Head injury, EMT says high flow O2. They usually fall in the afternoon to evening (fatigue and what not) By the time the report filters down to the nearest cell phone, or cell phone range, and we hike up there, often its after midnight and you have to hang out until the helo arrives roughly around 9:00.

Sometimes we push daylight with the helo, once we had some bad ass military chopper fly in on night vision,- we've gotten lucky with the choppers on the two major head injuries we've had in recent years.

Choppers get grounded for all sorts of things, around here, usually the wind. Could we care for a person for 24 hours?

What is care? helping people help themselves. You don't really keep someone alive, you help their bodies live best you can.

Oxygen, from what I've been taught, is the big biggie after you have slowed the bleeding and made sure the airway is open.

For the most part, the victim is either stable or dead by the time the rescuer gets there, but there are times when the situation is critcal and the little things might really matter.

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