In January 1954, it was not a year since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay had starred in the first ascent of Everest. And even less time had passed from Hermann Buhl’s heroic climb on Nanga Parbat. Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal’s Annapurna was about to be four years old, and France was eager for a new success to place the tricolor flag at the top of mountain activity.
That was the context of the French Aconcagua expedition to the south face of Aconcagua, which landed in Buenos Aires on January 7. Under René Ferlet, a team of six strong mountaineers consisting of Pierre Lesueur, Adrien Dagory, Edmond Denis, Robert Paragot, Lucien Bérardini, and Guy Poulet settled in the base camp (Lower Horcones) at an altitude of around 4,000 m on the 24th. From January. They were willing to do Aconcagua ascents and Ante them, the most challenging wall in the world, considered by many to be impossible to climb. A goal for glory, at the height of the incredible feats that were carried out in the Himalayas all those years (that same 1954, the first would arrive at K2 and Cho Oyu). They had not come all the way here to do an Aconcagua hike.
The almost 3,000 meters of the wall in front of them led the French to propose a Himalayan expedition strategy. They would overcome the difficulties by equipping the route with fixed ropes; they would set up high altitude camps and provide them straight outings to the mountain. And that’s how they started doing it: they installed their C1 (4,500 m) in Plaza de Mulas, at the beginning of the wall, and the C2 (5,200 m), above a dangerous stretch of rotten rock towers. They had fixed about 500 m of rope and overcome just over 1,000 m of unevenness.
They realized that progression with this strategy was extremely slow in such a technically challenging environment and that if they kept their plans unchanged, it would take many more weeks than planned to reach the top. So in mid-February, they modified their plans and prepared a more alpine-style attack from the C2. The attempt began on February 19 and included the six mountaineers, with René Ferlet remaining in the CB due to an episode of sciatica. They were distributed in three ropes and, while the first two climbed, the other four carried heavy backpacks full of material and food to ensure progression.
The effort of the mountaineers was titanic, and the account they later made of their Aconcagua treks conveys growing anguish as they gain height, overcoming one after another the difficulties that the wall offers them. Tracks of ice, sections with waist-deep snow, climbing on mixed terrain with frost, collapsed or poor quality rock, and all this with the threat of avalanches and landslides. At the same time, they are gaining height. Their camps are each day higher and less comfortable, without space to set up the tent they were carrying: the C4 at 6,000 m above the upper glacier; the C5 at 6,400 m on a berg; the C6 at 6,700 m between the rocks, four of them wrapped with the tent cloth and the other two in the open.