Ales Kozelj negotiates a serac section on Day 2 during the first ascent of Mobitel Swallow?Johan?s Route (VI 5.10 A2 100? M6, ca. 2500m) on the south face of Aconcagua. This section, which proved to be the key to reaching the upper icefield, was harder than expected. [Photo] Tomaz Humar
In December, 2003, Tomaz Humar and I traveled to Argentina to try a new route on the south face of Aconcagua (6962m), which has a reputation for loose rock and warm temperatures. Our first day, December 17, went as planned, except that a rock hit Tomaz in the shoulder low on the route. A steep section we hoped would be ice was but a waterfall with only traces of ice, a lot of running water and falling stones. Therefore, the second day we were not able to climb the waterfall to reach the upper snowfield. To continue that day we traversed to a higher serac band, gained the snowfield and bivied in a crevasse.
On December 19 we encountered a steep icefall with vertical to overhanging sections. I started climbing with a pack, but at 6000 meters it was too much, and I ended up hauling it. The difficulties lasted for four pitches and ended with a very thin vertical section of ice with water running beneath. Some bad words were said here. We bivied in bad weather after three hours of chopping a tent platform in the steep ice slope; more bad words were used here.
On the fourth day, we traversed back left, with either very bad or no protection between us, to gain the swallow-shaped snowfield. Rotten snow over steep slabs made for very insecure climbing. As if that weren’t bad enough, I heard a loud bang above my head. I couldn’t see anything, as I was staring into the sun; it was just as well, since a pickup-truck-size rock was passing a few meters away from me. That night we bivied on a big snow mushroom atop a rock pillar.
On December 21, Tomaz climbed a steep rock section with some aid; we were forced to haul the packs. I still wonder why they call this rock. Sometimes it was like dust; the less you touched it, the better it was. Some mixed climbing put us on a small ridge that led to the final snowfield, which consisted of black ice with many air pockets.
We joined the Sun Line Route (ED1: 5.10+ 90 degrees, ca. 2400m, Romih-Sveticic, 1988–the last new route to be established on the face) and were rewarded with a beautiful sunset in deadly cold temperatures. There we had our fifth bivy atop our new route, Mobitel Swallow-Johan’s Route (VI 5.10 A2 100 degrees M6, ca. 2500m). We had been surprised by the difficulties on the wall; we had planned on trouble in completely different places than where we found them. My fingers were in poor condition; I felt no pain any more.
On December 22 we continued to the North Summit, which we reached at 6 p.m. There, we were given a drink by some Mexican climbers (we had used the last of our fuel the night before). There is no good route without a descent: after two and a half hours we were in Plaza del Mulas having descended the Normal Route. My six days of trance were over. Now I understand what our Slovenian brothers Podgornik, Rejc and Gantar had been through in 1982, in nine days, alpine style!
It was a great pleasure climbing with Tomaz. I left the wall with more desire to live and look for new challenges.
— Ales Kozelj, Stahovica, Slovenia