Mt. Aconcagua (6962m / 22841ft) is the highest mountain in the Americas. It was climbed for the first time in January 14, 1897 by Swiss mountaineer Matthias Zurbriggen. Afterwards it slowly became a goal for mountaineers everywhere. The popularity of this giant between Chile and Argentina is based on the fact that it is one of the “7 summits”.
South America's most successful female mountaineer, Patricia Soto, has developed a “special relationship” with this mountain through her multiple ascents to the top. In 2001 she climbed Mt. Everest and is still the only South American female to conquer all 7 summits. Despite her many records, Aconcagua it is still her favourite mountain.
In February 2010 Patricia Soto, together with the SPONDYLUS team, will organize a new and very special expedition to this wonderful mountain. It will be perhaps the first all-female international expedition that will try to complete the 6962m through the legendary False Polish route.
Hans-Martin Schmitt, director of SPONDYLUS, interviewed Patricia Soto about her motivations to carry out this project:
HANS: You have climbed Aconcagua several times already. How is it that you're not bored of it yet?
PATRICIA: Climbing Aconcagua is something many mountaineers dream about, but the high costs make it inaccessible for many of us. That is the main reason I had to wait for several years until I had the chance to go as an assistant guide. It was in December 1996, with German and Austrian clients. I will never forget that day. It was wonderful, and since that day I went back to Aconcagua in several occasions. After 8 more times I finally reached the summit. I never got tired of climbing the same mountain, since the people that surround it make it special...in time I made great friends and before I knew it Aconcagua became my home, my own backyard, my own great school...until it was time to leave. Antarctica would be my next destination, but Aconcagua beckons once more and that is why I must go. Maybe this will be the last time... who knows?
HANS: Aconcagua was the first of the 7 summits. Is that why you have a special relationship with this mountain?
PATRICIA: Only after climbing Everest did I think about climbing the 7 summits. But Aconcagua was my own school, since that mountain taught me that oftentimes the biggest dangers do not lie in the mountain or its climate, but in the people. They are the most dangerous thing in the mountain. Aconcagua gave me lessons in humility that have made me confront life and mountains in a different way. All mountains are special and teach you something, but it is up to oneself to discover and learn from these teachings.
HANS: In regards to the 7 summits: what memories do each of these evoke?
PATRICIA: That's a difficult question, they all bring back memories. As I mentioned before, they're all special. I really enjoyed this project; in fact, when it ended I felt a huge void and it's been hard to recover from that. The before and the after to the 7 summits is very intense, at least for me. To others this may not mean much and maybe in a few years nobody will remember it, but for me it's another great milestone in my life. And as such, it's a milestone from which I must learn and not let it become stagnant...that is the new challenge, although for now I'm taking a break. I call it the warrior's recess.
HANS: Was it important for you to be the first Chilean woman to climb Everest and the first and so far the only South American woman to climb the 7 summits?
PATRICIA: This happened casually, in fact, several women have done the seven summits. It feels a bit awkward to be the first South American female, as it doesn't speak well of the development of this sport in South America. While it is true, to many this is not a challenge. Let's be honest: many would like to do it, but do not have the means or are not willing to make the sacrifices required by challenges like these.
Anyway, I hope that women become motivated to do things and follow their dreams.
HANS: You have developed most of your professional career in the mountains and always surrounded by men. How do you see this relationship?
PATRICIA: It's great. Men in general have a tendency to take care of us and make us feel like princesses. There are always the kind who like to drag you down, but I just ignore them. I don't compete with them either, we are different and there will always be someone who is faster or slower than you. I try to focus on myself and that the ones who go with me grow as humans and sportspeople in the mountains. I enjoy them to the fullest.
HANS: Did your idea to lead an all-female expedition to Aconcagua come from this?
PATRICIA: I want to go to Aconcagua with women, because it is not easy to lead a team or be part of an all-female group. Us women are more competitive than we seem and can either be either very helpful or make life impossible to each other. This expedition is a challenge and it will be a great learning experience for everyone who joins.
HANS: Why did you choose the Falso Polacos and not the Normal route for this expedition?
PATRICIA: Because I've done the normal route many times and I think the Falso Polacos route is more challenging. The idea is to climb Falso Polacos and come down through the normal route. This will allow us to see the whole mountain. I've done it a couple of times and it's a wonderful journey. On the other hand, Falso Polacos is a less-travelled road, it has some river crossings, a little more vegetation, etc…
HANS: What are the strengths and weaknesses of this all-female project?
PATRICIA: A female expedition never goes unnoticed, it will be a great experience.
HANS: Do you recommend a female mountaineer to participate in a project like this?
PATRICIA: Yes, in this world one does not always have the opportunity to share with other women and it feels good every now and then to know that we are not the only ones, and that many of our fears are not ours and ours alone. We can share experiences, advice, etc.
We're going to have a great time and I'm sure that if we present ourselves humbly to Aconcagua, if we do things right and the weather keeps we'll do just fine.