by some climbers to be superhuman, has led the way in Alpine tactics. His 1975
ascent with compatriot Peter Habeler of 26,470-foot Hidden Peak in Kashmir's
Karakoram is considered the four-minute mile of Alpine climbing. In 1978 the
same twosome reached the summit of Everest without using oxygen, signaling that
it is simply a matter of time until an Alpine attempt on Everest will be made.
Three months later Messner climbed 26,660-foot Nanga Parbat in the Himalayas
alone, a feat that staggered the mountaineering world. He is the only man in
the world to have made a solo ascent of an 8,000-meter mountain. Connor was
awed by Messner's mountaineering achievements and was particularly inspired by
his Hidden Peak ascent. It was that climb that started Connor thinking about an
Alpine climb of Aconcagua.
discovering he could afford to take a few weeks off over the Christmas
holidays, Connor decided to try Aconcagua. He called Andrews, a bachelor
unbound by any serious commitments, who jumped at the propositon, especially
since Connor would be financing the expedition, except for the other climbers'
plane fares. In the interest of safety Connor and Andrews decided they needed a
third partner, but finding a qualified climber with the time and money to go on
the expedition on such short notice was difficult. Bludworth wasn't an ideal
choice—for one thing, neither Connor nor Andrews had ever climbed with him—but
they considered him qualified and he was available. Connor and Andrews felt
that they could carry Bludworth through any crisis, should it come to that.
Thus, the team was formed.
the plans were completed, and after two months of running and lifting weights
to get in shape, on Dec. 15 the climbers took a Braniff flight from Los Angeles
to Santiago, Chile. Their mood on reaching South America was optimistic and
exuberant; "sky high," according to Connor.
felt we were taking on a significant first; there was a real sense of
adventure," he says. "We felt pretty special. There was a lot of
camaraderie. It showed. At the airports. At dinner together. We were a pretty
Connor wrote in
his diary on the climbers' first day in South America:
12/15, Hotel Gran
Palace. It's now 7:00 pm & sun is high in the sky. Won't get dark until
10:00 pm.... What a great climate. Cab driver told me there are 5 cities in
Chile (pop. 12 million) that speak nothing but German. I can see why the
Germans settled here in such great numbers....
A couple of days
later he wrote:
what it was like to be young and impatient. Chuck & Guy are just two forces
of light energy bursting at the seams. Focusing intense bursts on the nearest
female shape, their rock and roll cassette tapes, each other & their aged
leader. It's most difficult at times to get a moment of peace & Mozart
around their energy belts.
Early on the
morning of Dec. 16, a Sunday, Connor, Andrews and Bludworth took a bus 200
miles eastward to Mendoza, Argentina, their 600 pounds of equipment and
provisions stacked on the roof of the small bus, much to the dismay of the
other passengers and the driver, who kept shouting and cursing at the three
gringos locos. With the assistance of the Argentine Association of
Mountaineering, the Americans passed smoothly through the bureaucratic
procedures for acquiring climbing permits and the like in Mendoza, and on
Tuesday they took another bus 100 miles to a ski club at the end of the road.
There they rented mules and trekked to the base of Aconcagua. It was on this
hike that the South Face first came into view. From Connor's diary:
The Andes have
the majestic allure of the Himalayas without the tropical climate at lower
elevations. This tends to make the trekking much more pleasant. The Horcones
Valley has a stark beauty & grandeur I was unprepared for. Huge tilted
strata of ancient sandstone stacked row upon row for your viewing pleasure.
Because I now get away only once a year or so, I think each experience is more
enriching to me.