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Climbing for a Friend
Posted on November 13, 2009


October 2-22, 2009
La Jaula, Argentina

Those of us who climb mountains get asked a lot of questions. The one that gets asked the most is the shortest: Why? I usually like to say, “There are as many different answers as there are climbers.” But today, if someone were to ask me why I climbed the last one, I would simply answer, “For my friend, El Fede.”

Federico Campanini died last January guiding a group to the top of Aconcagua. As it turns out, I was in the area at the time, guiding another group. That made the tragic loss all the more shocking and surreal—being so close, yet not being able to do anything to help one of the best friends I ever had. Because we were so far below and hadn’t acclimatized, there was simply no chance of climbing up to where El Fede ran into trouble.

In the days following the accident, my mind was in complete turmoil. Racing thoughts kept swirling around and around: All the “what ifs.” Wondering how I could help El Fede’s wife, Amber. Debating with myself if I should say “I´m off this mountain!” or if I should guide one more group to give Aconcagua one last chance to show me that it is a beautiful place and that guiding is what I love to do (as well as what Fede used to love). Suddenly, amidst all that conflict, a nice idea came to my mind: Why not make real one of the dreams that El Fede and I shared? Why don’t I organize an expedition with good friends and come back to one of the places that I have been with him, in fact, why not “the place”?

In 2004 El Fede and I went to La Jaula Valley in the Argentinean Andes, a hundred miles southeast of Aconcagua. We climbed Mt. Tatra (16,500′) via a new route on the south face. It was the fourth absolute ascent of the mountain. This is an area that’s been visited just a few times in its short mountaineering history, and there are still some unclimbed peaks. Now, as a tribute to El Fede, I wanted to go back to that valley and attempt one of those peaks.

After several months making Skype calls and sending emails to my friends in Argentina, we confirmed the team: Juan Pablo Scarpa, Pedro Rosell, Javier Gutierrez, Pablo Gonzalez and Alcides Massa. We planned to go in October (a good time for this area because the river that has to be crossed several times runs with much less water).

On the 8th of October, we started the trip. After several days of hard work doing double carries (we had almost 600 pounds of gear and food), we were able to get to a 17,000′ pass and go down again to 11,000′ to set our Base Camp. There’s only one word to describe the weather conditions—bad. Definitely a test of our gear. But as one of my friends said, it passed with an “A.”

It took us a few more days to get in position to attempt the summit of the unnamed peak that we were targeting. Approximately 17,150′ high, it had never been climbed. Until the 17th of October, 2009. That’s when we stood on top.

Now the mountain also has a name. We call it “Pico El Fede” (El Fede´s Peak) in honor of an excellent mountain guide, a great friend, and an awesome person who loved the mountains. This climb is also dedicated to his wife, Amber, who is doing a terrific job with the foundation that she started in Fede´s name (

– Gabriel Barral

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Author: - Friday, November 13th, 2009

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