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THE FIRST ASCENT OF ACONCAGUA.
The great mountain called Aconcagua,' the first ascent of which is described in Mr. FitzGerald's recently published book, "The Highest Andes,"2 is situated on the frontiers of Chili and the Argentine Republic, about ninety miles to the east of Valparaiso, and 700 miles to the west of Buenos Aires, only a few miles away from and to the north of the pass over the Andes called the Cumbre, which is commonly used by persons passing between those two cities. Even its name is not found in geographical books published in the early part of the nineteenth century, and it seems to have been measured first by officers who were engaged in the celebrated surveying expedition under Admiral Fitzroy. Darwin says in Chapter XII of his “Journal," "the volcano of Aconcagua is particularly magnificent. This huge and irregularly conical mass has an elevation greater than that of Chimborazo; for, from measurements made by officers of the Beagle, its height is no less than 23,000 feet!" And in a subsequent passage he speaks of witnessing a considerable eruption of the volcano of Osorno (near the Bay of San Carlos in Chiloe), on January 19, 1835, and says that he was surprised to hear that Aconcagua, 480 miles northwards, was in action on the same night. It is now said that Aconcagua is not a volcano! Darwin, it will be remarked, only quotes a rumor
and does not speak from personal knowledge. Since the time of Fitzroy's voyage, all sorts of elevations from 15,000 to 25,000 feet have been assigned to Aconcagua, most of them, no doubt, mere guesses, not derived from observations; but the result of the survey of the FitzGerald Expedition shows that the officers of the Beagle were right, for the finally deduced altitude comes out just a little over 23,000 feet.' This appears to be the greatest height that any one has hitherto reached upon a mountain.
Mr. FitzGerald, the leader of the Expedition, was born at Connecticut, U.S.A., on May 10, 1871, and is knowo from the journey that he made in New Zealand in 1895, upon wbich he explored, almost single-handed, some portions of the snowy mountains in the south island, and made several ascents. Upon the journey in the Andes, he was accompanied by three Englishmen, Messrs. de Trafford, Vines and Gosse; and took out six Swiss and Italians as assistants, namely, Mattias Zurbriggen, the two brothers Pollinger, Jos. Lochmatter, Nicolas Lanti and Fritz Weibel. Zurbriggen, who led the rest, is a rolling stone. From a sort of biography of him, that was published nearly simultaneously with Mr. FitzGerald's volume, one learns that before he got to the age of thirty he had acted as herd-boy, carpenter's boy, stable-help,
1 The name is a Spanish one, and is pronounced something like Ar-kon-kar-goo-whoo-ar.
3 "The Highest Andes," by E. A. FitzGerald. Methuen & Co., London, 1899.
3 For the Cumbre Pass see the "Leisure Hour" for 1895, p. 518.
• This result differs materially from the height telegrapbed to the “Daily Chronicle," and published in that paper on January 18 and February 17, 1897. "The mountain is over 24,000 feet bigh." "The barometer at tbe top fell to 12
inches." If the barometer had been a mercurial and in proper order, a fall to 12 inches would have indicated an altitude, not of 24,000, but of about 25,000 feet. It now appears that "the barometer" was an anemid.
* See the work entitled "Climbs in the New Zealand Alps."
• "From the Alps to the Andes," being the autobiography of a Mountain-Guide, by Mattais Zurbriggen. T. Fisher Unwin, London, 18:19.
miner's laborer, miner, railway navvy, del Inca and the camp at about 14,000 tassel-maker, diligence-driver or smith. feet, and the experiences of the party He can shoe a horse or mend a boot. Since with their animals and the drivers were 1886 he has been a Mountain Guide, of the usual character. Mules are and in that capacity has been twice in mulish, and South American arrieros New Zealand, and twice in the Hima- are almost beyond description. Many layas, besides the Andes. He made his of the stories that are related resemble début under Sir Martin (then Mr.) Con- what one has heard before, but this one way in the Karakoram Mountains, and is quite new. Through scarcity of food may be considered to have been discov- the mules got so hungry that “they conered by him, for, up to that time, he sumed that morning two wicker-chairs was an unknown man. Unlike many and a large quantity of the roof of one Alpine Guides, he has a taste for for- the rooms, which was composed of eign travel, and becomes less homesick bamboo overlaid with mud" (p. 245). than the generality of his fellows. That was towards the end of the jour
The party left Southampton on Octo- ney; and from the beginning they found ber 15, 1896, Buenos Aires on Novem- that the sure-footed mule stumbles and ber 29, and, after travelling over the slides like other quadrupeds, and can Argentine Great Western and Trans
survive a good deal of knocking about. andine Railways, descended on Decem- When some of the party were crossing ber 7 at the terminus of the latter line, a ravine, a mule slipped and fell back at Punta de las Vacas (7,858 feet). This on its haunches. “I was behind," says station is only twenty miles from the Mr. Vines, “but the way being too narsummit of Aconcagua, and one can ride row for me to get at its head I shouted up in a vehicle on the route to the to the arriero, who seized the halter Cumbre Pass, until one is within thir- and tried to get it up. But he could teen miles of it, at Puente del Inca not do it, and (8,918 feet). The way taken after this was up a valley called Horcones, which
then with a plunge or two it rolled led round the western side of the moun- over on its side, fortunately by this tain for about fourteen miles; and when movement unhooking the packs, which quadrupeds could go no farther, an en
I was just able to seize and keep from campment was made at the height of
following the mule, as it went bound.
ing and rolling down the steep incline. 14,000 feet, almost due west of the sum
Then, on the verge of the precipice, mit, and distant from it about two and
the poor beast made a desperate strug. a half miles. Direct approach was im- gle to regain a footing, while anxious possible—the intervening cliffs were
faces watched him from above. With much too steep-and a
a tremendous plunge, however, he fell course was
backwards and disappeared from shaped to the northeast, and an upper
view. I sent Lanti down to secure the encampment was made on a ridge to
harness, and shoot the animal if not the northwest of the summit, at a already dead. Mingled cries of exhor. height which was estimated at 18,700 tation reached us from below, and feet. From this highest camp the sum
soon, to our surprise, Lanti appeared mit was ultimately gained, but only at leading the mule. It was a sorry look
ing beast by this time, cut and bruised the sixth attempt.
in every part of its body; but it Mules were employed between Puente seemed to have sustained no serious
The height is apparently obtained from simple ing at my aneroid, I found it registered an elevaInspection of an aneroid. This appears to be tion of 19,000 feet.”—Zurbriggen's “Autobiog. the case from the two following passages: “The raphy," p. 205. The elevation adopted is probaneroid gave the height as 19,000 English feet." ably much too high. -FitzGerald's "Highest Andes," p. 50. "Look
injury, and, lightly loaded, continued seized him by the head, and tried to to work for the rest of the day.( Pp. press him away, while Tomas in a 161, 162.)
wild frenzy of excitement clung to bis
tail. (Pp. 68, 69.) Both in the Himalayas and in the Andes, Zurbriggen has exhibited con
He was ultimately fished out, with a siderable ability in tumbling off the
damaged shoulder, and prudently abanimals he rode, or in getting into
stained for a time from riding; but he trouble with them. He has a fixed at length remounted, saying to Mr. idea, it is said, that he will die by FitzGerald, “ 'I know I do get killed todrowning, and he came pretty nearly to
day,' and, as luck would have it, we an end in that way when crossing a
had not gone more than a mile when stream in the Horcones Valley.
he and his mule quietly rolled over the
edge of a rock precipice. The mule He started well, mounted on one of was not hurt, but Zurbriggen had fallen our most powerful mules, but when he on his bad shoulder. This was a fingot to the middle of the river I was
ishing blow to his nerves. When I ran startled and horrified to see him turn
and picked him up he turned to me his mule's head down stream. This was fatal; the animal at once lost its
and said, slowly, “You see, I do get balance, and rolled over, precipitating
killed to-day.'" However he revived; him into the raging water. In cross- and made the first ascent of Aconcagua ing these streams it is necessary to twelve days afterwards. keep the horses' heads well up against
It would appear that previously to the current, for should they get sideways, and the water strike them with
Mr. FitzGerald's expedition onl one full force, they invariably lose their attempt had been made to ascend Aconfooting. Poor Zurbriggen, the instant cagua, namely, by Dr. Paul Guessfeldt, his mule rolled over with him, was of Berlin, who approached the mounswept rapidly down the stream, turn
tain from the Chilian side, in 1883. Dr. ing over and over with the animal, so that at times he and at times the mule
Guessfeldt is known to be energetic and was uppermost. He could not swim,
daring, but his dash at Aconcagua can but even had he been able to, I doubt scarcely be regarded seriously; for, in whether it would have availed him starting from Europe with only a single much, the force of the water being so
assistant (who failed him before he got great. In another moment they both struck on a great boulder, Zurbriggen
on the spot), he evidently did not grasp underneath. The force of the water
the necessities of the problem which he held the mule tightly jammed against proposed to solve. Beyond knowing the rock, effectually pinning his rider that Dr. Guessfeldt had made his atunderneath. In a moment I was along
tempt somewhere from the North, Mr. side of him, the arriero close behind, invoking all the saints to our assist
FitzGerald's party had no clue as to ance. I noticed that he was engrossed
how the summit was likely to be solely with the welfare of his animal; reached; and it is to the credit of Zurthe fact that a was rapidly briggen that he seems to have quickly drowning before his eyes was an un
selected a practicable, and perhaps the important detail to him. It was neces
only feasible, route. So far as the nasary to move the mule first before we could help Zurbriggen; so we plunged
ture of the ground was concerned, the into the torrent, and tried to dislodge ascent was an easy one. It was not the unwieldy beast. Tomas wanted to necessary to perform gymnastic feats haul him towards the bank; I, on the
on rocks, or to cut for hours up riven contrary, wished to shove him into midstream again, as
ice. If such things had been inevitable,
I saw it was easier to accomplish and would there.
it is highly probable that not one of the fore release Zurbriggen sooner. I party would have reached the summit.
The mules, it has been said, went to the head of the Horcones Valley. From that point everything had to be transported by men; and they started at once to mount the northwest slopes of the peak, but only got up about a couple of thousand feet when night came on. Although they had a tent, it is said that they simply crawled into their sleeping-bags.
No one had the energy even to make for himself a smooth place to lie down on. We sought shelter under a friendly overhanging rock, where we huddled as close to one another as possible for the sake of warmth, and tried to get what rest we could. During the night, one of my Swiss porters, a tall, powerfully built man, Lochmatter by name, fell ill. He suffered terribly from nausea and faintness, which it seemed impossible to check.
position, descended to the lower camp in the valley.
Though the temperatures which were experienced were not extraordinarily severe, and not at all lower than might have been expected-the minimum recorded being 1 degree F., which is a degree of cold that multitudes of people sustain without inconvenience-Mr. FitzGerald says that he saw the men actually sit down and cry like children, "so discouraged were they by the intense cold;" and later in the volume it is related that the cold felt “so intense that the men sat down and absolutely cried, great tears rolling down their faces, simply because of the cold, which they were powerless to resist" (p. 151).
On December 30 (Midsummer in these parts) they went up again to the high camp, and on the following morning started with the view of reaching the summit, which looked so very near that they thought it could be got at in five or six hours. An hour had scarcely elapsed when Zurbriggen was found to be in difficulties. The morning was cold.
This is referred to on p. 80 as “a terrible night.” The next morning they went on, and towards mid-day
I saw, from my own condition and from that of the men with me, that it would be unwise if not impossible-to think of climbing higher that night. Lochmatter was growing pale and ill again, so I was obliged to send him down with another man to our lower camp, telling him to remain there until he had perfectly recovered.
Seeing that his face was very white, I asked him if he felt quite well. He answered that he felt perfectly well, but that he was so cold he had no sensation whatever left in his feet; for a few moments he tried dancing about, and kicking his feet against the rocks to get back his circulation. I began to get alarmed, for frozen feet are one of the greatest dangers one has to contend against in Alpine climbing. The porters who had been lagging behind now came up to us; I at once told Zurbriggen to take his boots off, and we all set to work to rub his feet. To my horror I discovered that the circulation had practically stopped. We continued working hard upon him, but he said that he felt nothing. We took off his stockings, and tried rubbing first with snow, and then with brandy; we were getting more and more alarmed, and were even beginning to fear that the case might be hopeless, and might
The faintness and want of energy was not the result of ordinary fatigue. Mr. FitzGerald does not attempt to disguise that it was due to the diminution in atmospheric pressure. “We were all feeling weak and ill in the morning." he says, "and I soon came to the conclusion that it would be impossible that day to reach the saddle which Zurbriggen had recommended as a camping-ground" (p. 55). On December 26 they got up to this place, which is estimated to have been 18,700 feet high; and, after one night there, tinding that life was unpleasant at such an elevated
even necessitate amputation. At last sion had taken bold upon us all, and we observed that his face was becom- none of us cared even to speak ing pallid, and slowly and gradually all ambition to accomplish anything he began to feel a little pain. We had left us, and our one desire was to hailed this sign with joy, for it meant get down to our lower camp, and of course that vitality was returning to breathe once more like human beings. the injured parts, and we renewed our (Pp. 66, 67.) efforts; the pain now came on more and more severely; he writhed and
They went down 10,000 feet, and reshrieked and begged us to stop, as be
vived themselves at Puente del Inca, was well-nigh maddened by suffering. Knowing, however, that this treat
and on January 12 another effort was ment was the one hope for him, we
made from the high camp; but in a continued to rub, in spite of his cries, quarter of an hour, Mr. FitzGerald literally holding him down, for the says, “I knew that the attempt would pain was getting so great that he
be fruitless." Though he persevered, could no longer control himself, and
he had barely reached the height of tried to fight us off. . We slipped on his boots without lacing them, and,
20,000 feet, when he was compelled to supporting him between two of us, we throw himself on the ground, began slowly to get him down the mountain side. At intervals we stopped overcome by acute pains and nausea to repeat the rubbing operation, he ex.
I remained thus for some time, postulating with us vainly the while. but as I did not improve I was relucAfter about an hour and a half, we
tantly forced to turn back About succeeded in getting him back to our noon I crawled down to the camp, and tent, where he threw himself down
šat waiting there in a helpless and and begged to be allowed to go to hopeless state, half unconscious sleep. We would not permit this, how- About two o'clock the sun had gone ever, and taking off his boots again, round and I was sitting in the shadow, we continued the rubbing operation, while the wind changed and blew upon during which he shouted in agony. me with full force. So feeble was I, (Pp. 61, 62.)
both in brain and body, that I had
not the wit or energy to move some There ended the second attempt to twenty yards away, though I could ascend Aconcagua.
thus have escaped from the wind, and
received what little warmth the sunThe next day (January 1), Zurbrig
light afforded. gen, Mr. FitzGerald and Louis Pollinger started again, and got to a greater Zurbriggen did not turn back with height. This time Pollinger was the the others, but he stopped far short of first to go wrong. He turned “a sickly, the summit, and returned after sunset, greenish hue.” All the color left his
quite exhausted and “speechless with lips, and he began to complain of sick- thirst and fatigue.” On the following ness and dizziness. They progressed morning (January 13), the result of a upwards until 2 P.M., when all were further attempt was even more disapdone up, and “obliged to stop and lie pointing, for the day was the finest down from sheer exhaustion." The they had had; there was little wind condition of the three seems to have and the sun rose in a cloudless sky. been similar. Even Zurbriggen ad- After going up some distance, Mr. Fitzmitted tbat he did not think he would Gerald says, “I was again desperately be capable of reaching the summit. sick. I rested for over an hour, but it
no use," and so they all went Coming down was almost worse
down. than going up. Fatigued and numbed
We now come to the sixth and suc. as we were, we constantly fell down.
cessful effort to ascend Aconcagua, on a terrible and stunning depres