Welcome to SP!  -
Losing a New Friend on Aconcagua’s Polish Direct
Trip Report

Losing a New Friend on Aconcagua’s Polish Direct

 
Losing a New Friend on Aconcagua’s Polish Direct

Page Type: Trip Report

Location: Argentina, South America

Object Title: Losing a New Friend on Aconcagua’s Polish Direct

Date Climbed/Hiked: Jan 3, 2009

Activities: Mountaineering

Season: Summer

 

Page By: Brad Marshall

Created/Edited: Jan 16, 2009 / Jan 19, 2009

Object ID: 480644

Hits: 42910 

Page Score: 99.86%  - 150 Votes 

Vote: Log in to vote

 

January 3, 2009 - The Accident

“Stefan, Stefan” I cried out as I approached his body, my mind trying to comprehend what had occurred. In the snow below lay my partner who had fallen during his descent of the Polish Direct route. This shouldn’t have happened. Death in the mountains was something we read about in books and magazines not something we expect to experience. In the days preceding the accident circumstances had conspired to place us in a position where we could climb the route together but never did such an outcome ever occur to me. As I continued my descent I again called out to him but no reply ever came. When I finally reached my new friend he was gone. There was nothing I could do but sit beside him and mourn his loss.

December 23-25, 2008 – Trekking in to Plaza Argentina

 
Brad Marshall and Stefan Jeromin
 

I first met Stefan Jeromin, a 42 year old architect from Köln, Germany, at Pampa de Lenas during our trek in to Plaza Argentina. Stefan was climbing solo and was making his second attempt on the mountain after poor weather turned him back at Camp 2 the previous year. For me it was my third time on the mountain and the second time leading a large, 10-member private expedition. I had already made the summit in 2006 via the False Polish Traverse and was back with a friend to attempt the Polish Direct, a route I have always wanted to ascend. The first thing I noticed about Stefan was his gregarious, outgoing personality that allowed him to befriend every climber he met along the way. There were several other private groups in the valley along with us and we got to know each other during the three day trek in to base camp. There were the big backpack boys, Tyler, Tyson and John carrying impressive 90+ pound packs, young Dan and Dalton with an ambitious climbing schedule where they would move from Base Camp to Camp 2 in only two days and Frank, a fellow countryman of Stefan’s, with whom he would often converse with in German. We were all excited about the upcoming climb and looking forward to sharing our adventure with one another.

December 25-26, 2008 – Plaza Argentina (13,780 feet)

When we arrived at Plaza Argentina I immediately headed for the Daniel Lopez Expedition mess tent. On my previous climbs, Daniel’s tent was the place to go to buy good food, beer and sit around chatting with climbers from all over the world. When I entered the tent I was glad to see Stefan sitting there as he had contracted Daniel’s firm to his supply his mules and food services. Over the next several days we would often sit together eating meals and chatting about the mountain. Like me he was very interested in attempting the Polish Direct route and we both shared a particular interest in the history of the North Face of the Eiger which we would often discuss. Also in the tent that afternoon were fellow Canadians Jim Ongena and his climbing partner Shawn. Jim introduced me to several friends of both his and Daniel Lopez who were there, Argentineans Daniel Placci and his friend Dioni who would later go out of their way to assist me after the accident.

December 27-29, 2008 – Moving to Camp 1 (16,500 feet)

Over the next several days our group began to ascend the mountain. The first day we hiked up to 15,000 feet to aid in the acclimatization process. On the second we carried loads up to Camp 1 and returned to base camp to sleep. The third day we moved everything up to Camp 1 and remained there. Our days were uneventful but this was the first extreme altitude climb for my climbing partner Randall. He was beginning to feel the affects of altitude and his body was having some difficulty adjusting but he wasn’t the only one. Other members of our group were also feeling the effects and one had a lung infection that would keep him and his partner at base camp for a few extra days. Some of our new friends were also feeling similar effects but Stefan seemed to be adjusting well. I later learned that he had ascended a nearby mountain in the previous week to pre-acclimatize before attempting Aconcagua.

December 30, 2008-January 1, 2009 - Moving to Camp 2 (19,300 feet)

Our move up to Camp 2 was made in a similar fashion. After making an acclimatization hike up to the Aconcagua-Ameghino Col, Randall and I were ready to make a carry up to Camp 2. Unfortunately, 300 feet above camp he began having problems and had to descend while I completed a carry to Camp 2. Later he would decide that his climb was over and would return to base camp the following morning. I offered to go down with him but Randall was adamant that I should continue upward and we discussed my options. The first was to hook up with the only other climber in our group that had the skills to climb the Polish Direct route, Little Mike as we called him, but he was stuck at base camp due to his partner’s lung infection. My other options were to climb the route solo or hook up with Stefan. Later that evening my first option disappeared when we received a report that Little Mike had injured his knee carrying a load up to Camp 1 and was being evacuated from the mountain by helicopter. The following morning Randall descended and, after a brief discussion, Stefan and I agreed to climb the route together. Stefan later joined me in my tent and the following morning we moved to Camp 2. I had selected a site for our tent about 250 meters outside of camp that provided better protection from the wind and gave us easier access to the route. When Stefan arrived he was ecstatic and immediately thanked me and gave me a big hug.

January 2, 2009 – Preparing for Summit Day

After spending the night at Camp 2 we made an acclimatization hike up to 20,000 feet to mark out our approach and to get a feeling for the condition of the route. We were both well rested and climbing well but the névé was very firm which prevented us from kicking good steps. In other areas we encountered deep, loose snow slabs and hard glacial ice that forced us to climb in a switchback pattern slowing our ascent. With this information we decided we should begin our summit attempt earlier than we originally planned the following morning. It was a brilliant day with light winds and bright sunshine so we sat there for quite some time chatting about various things, eating, drinking and taking photos of the surrounding mountains. Later we descended back to camp and prepared our gear for our summit attempt.

January 3, 2009 – Summit Day

 
Ascending the Direct
 

We left camp at 1:15 AM on a perfectly starry night. There was no wind to contend with but the cloudless night resulted in lower than expected temperatures. As we ascended the glacier it soon became apparent that the route was not getting any better above the high point we had reached the previous day. The climbing was slow, tiring and our feet began to get cold forcing us to stop frequently to warm them up. When we reached 20,600 feet Stefan suggested we rope up and start placing protection. As was our agreement whenever either of us felt we should protect the climb it would be done, no questions asked. We had shortened our rope to 30 meters so it would be easier to communicate should the conditions be windy and switched leads as the sun rose until we arrived at a rock band just a few hundred feet beneath the bottleneck. We were at 21,000 feet but it was already 8:00 in the morning. I belayed Stefan up to the rocks and noticed he appeared tired. When he finally arrived I told him the time and asked him what he wanted to do. Stefan said he was too exhausted to continue and that he had decided to descend.

After resting at the rock band for a brief while Stefan asked me what I wanted to do. Since I was prepared to climb the route solo I told him I would like to continue so we placed the rope in my pack in case I needed to descend through the steepest section of the climb known as the bottleneck. We rested for a few more minutes and just as I was about to leave Stefan told me he was going to continue climbing in the area for a while and then descend. As I continued upward Stefan popped out of the rocks to my right and yelled over to get my attention. We waved to each other and a few minutes later I lost sight of him as he began his descent and disappeared beneath the band of rock where we had just rested.

I continued upward where the condition of the route remained the same and I did not appear to be advancing as fast as I had hoped. For five minutes I stood motionless beneath the bottleneck calculating my rate of ascent against the time of day. I decided I would probably not make the summit before the afternoon snows came so I elected to descend. I had been on the summit two years ago with my wife so it wasn’t that important to me. I thought that if I went down now maybe Stefan and I could rest up and ascend the False Polish Traverse the following day so he could at least get to the summit.

As I turned to go down I quickly noticed the descent was going to be difficult but not something I couldn’t safely manage if I belayed myself securely with my axe. I continued down on the hard névé trying to avoid the unstable slabs of fresh powder and sheets of ice that sometimes required me to down climb on my front points with the pick of my axe firmly embedded. I returned to the 21,000 foot rock band we rested at previously and as I scouted my descent soon realized there was something lying at the base of the glacier. My initial thought was that something had blown out of Camp 2 but when I failed to see Stefan on the route below I began to worry. Slowing my descent out of concern for my safety I continued down to the next rock band at 20,400 feet where I rested. It had taken a long time to descend and my left shoulder was painful from the constant plunging and re-plunging of my axe into the hard névé. While sitting there I looked to my left and my worst fears were confirmed when I saw evidence of the accident in the snow five meters away. At this moment I lost all track of time and it seemed to take forever to descend the remaining 500 feet to where Stefan lay.

After checking Stefan and sitting with him for a while I continued down to Camp 2 to find the place deserted. All the climbers from the previous day had either left for their summit bid, were moving to higher camps or had gone down to base camp. I frantically searched through a couple of the tents used by the professional expedition outfits for a radio or satellite phone but to no avail. I was about to give up when I noticed an Aymara guide and a porter had come in to camp to assist one of their clients. I quickly filled them in on the situation and they contacted the authorities. Being exhausted from both the climb and the emotion of the situation I sat outside one of our expedition member’s tent while the two Aymara employees climbed up to Stefan to confirm his passing and take pictures for the Mendoza Police. Later that night I packed up Stefan’s gear and buried it at the side of our camp so the police could pick it up later.

January 4-6, 2009 – Descending to Base Camp

I descended the following morning to Camp 1 where I was met by one of the members of our expedition, Todd Gilligan, who had walked up from base camp with an empty pack to help me carry down my gear. I hadn’t eaten or slept for some time now and his help was greatly appreciated. When I finally arrived at base camp I was warmly greeted by members of our expedition with hugs all around. Apparently the initial report they received on the day of the accident indicated that both Stefan and I had perished in the fall but the next day park authorities corrected the report to my team members’ relief.

I spent the next two days in base camp re-telling the story and waiting for the Mendoza Police to take a statement. When the police finally arrived we gathered in one of Daniel Lopez’s tents where my new friends Daniel Placci and Dioni translated my story and helped me answer the police officer’s questions. The following morning Stefan and I were flown out to Confluencia where the police took down my formal statement and later transferred me to Penitentes so I could rejoin my group.

Reflection

 
Sunrise on the Polish Direct
 

At the time my decision to partner with Stefan didn’t seem unwise though some of you may see it that way. Although we had never climbed together previously, the Polish Direct route is not technically difficult and I was confident in my abilities to control the situation. We began our ascent unroped posing no increased hazard to either of us, there were no crevasses where our lives would depend on a partner’s ability to arrest a fall and effect a rescue and when we did rope up we always had at least one piece of protection between us. In the end, I do not believe our joining as partners in any way led to the accident.

What happened to Stefan during his descent was unfortunate. He was a young, vibrant person who was passionate about climbing. He always greeted fellow climbers with a smile and truly enjoyed being in the company of others. Although I only knew him for a brief period of time he will be deeply missed. My heartfelt condolences go out to Stefan’s wife, Dagmar, and his family as well as all his associates at the firm Anin Jeromin Fitilidis & Partner.

Since the accident I have received a lot of kind words and support and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the following people for everything they did:

Daniel Lopez, Daniel Placci and Dioni,
Gabriel of Aymara Adventures and Expeditions,
Climbers Jim Ongena, Shawn, Laurie and Natasha Skreslet, Tyler, Tyson and John,
AAI guides Dave Gruss and Lhaka Gelu Sherpa,
Mauricio and Carlos of Fernando Grajales Expeditions,
All the Aconcagua Park guards at both Plaza Argentina and Confluencia,
The members of the Police of Mendoza High Mountain Rescue Team,
Expedition members Aneta, Adrian, Piyush, Big Mike, Ron, Little Mike, Nate, Todd and Randall.

I really appreciate everything.

Images


Comments


[ Post a Comment ]
Viewing: 41-60 of 84 « PREV 1 2 3 4 5 NEXT » 

Brad MarshallRe: future...

Brad Marshall

Hasn't voted

Hi:

Death in the mountains is a sobering event. A European friend once told me that before the start of any big climb they would always visit the local climbers cemetery to quell their excitement about what was to come and to emphasize the reality of what could happen if they weren't vigilant.

Sound advice.

Brad
Posted Jan 19, 2009 8:18 pm

attimountCondolences

attimount

Voted 10/10

...Stefan is somewhere out there, between the peaks and ridges, he loved so much. Condoleances to the family and friends.

All the best to you Brad.
Posted Jan 20, 2009 12:44 am

Brad MarshallRe: Condolences

Brad Marshall

Hasn't voted

Hi Attimount:

Thanks.

Brad
Posted Jan 21, 2009 5:11 pm

woodsxcI don't know what to say...

woodsxc

Voted 10/10

Thank you for sharing this Brad. My heart goes out to Stefan's friends and family. The loss of any friend, no matter how new or old, is always painful.
Posted Jan 20, 2009 12:48 am

Brad MarshallRe: I don't know what to say...

Brad Marshall

Hasn't voted

Thanks woodsxc. How true.

Brad
Posted Jan 21, 2009 5:12 pm

lordvoldemortStefan, a great climber and soul

Voted 10/10

Stefan was always cheerful and in great spirits. He was so happy to see us at Camp 2 that we hugged each other. He was very excited to summit the next day. Never in my wildest dream could i have ever imagined that this would be the last time that i would see him. We had descended together after our "carries" from Camp 2 and Camp 1 and he was much better and faster at descending than me.

Brad, Thanks for this touching article.

Piyush

Posted Jan 20, 2009 4:35 pm

monealMaybe I'm missing something

moneal

Hasn't voted

Maybe I'm missing something. Stephan requested that they rope up and put in protection on the way up, yet he descended solo with no protection? What am I missing here?
Posted Jan 20, 2009 5:57 pm

Brad MarshallRe: Maybe I'm missing something

Brad Marshall

Hasn't voted

Hi moneal:

That's a good question and one that has been posed to me by a few fellow climbers. I can only say that I have no answer. He originally planned to climb this route solo. After we joined as partners we discussed our ascent and both agreed that the only time we would probably need the rope was to safely descend the bottleneck. When he suggested we rope up earlier in the climb I didn't question his judgement even though I felt it was not required. That was our agreement and I honoured it. I can only assume that when he took the rope off he felt he could safely descend alone since the section we were on was not technically difficult and he did not suggest we go down together. As a matter of fact he later decided to climb around on his own before descending which he did for a few minutes.

Regards,

Brad
Posted Jan 21, 2009 5:26 pm

AndinistalocoSorry

Andinistaloco

Hasn't voted

to hear about this, Brad. Hope you can find something positive to gain from it, though. Take care of yourself -

W
Posted Jan 20, 2009 8:23 pm

Brad MarshallRe: Sorry

Brad Marshall

Hasn't voted

Thanks Walt:

It certainly has given me a lot to think about. Keep in touch.

Brad
Posted Jan 21, 2009 5:35 pm

depclimbRegrets

depclimb

Hasn't voted

Brad,

Very sorry about your loss and my sympathies to Stefan's family. I hit some really hard 60 ice just above C2 when I did the Polish Direct.

Jeff
Posted Jan 21, 2009 3:36 pm

Brad MarshallRe: Regrets

Brad Marshall

Hasn't voted

Hi Jeff:

Thanks for the kind words. We did run in to some hard ice here and there but but not at such a steep angle.

Regards,

Brad
Posted Jan 21, 2009 5:38 pm

johnbrady63Solo

johnbrady63

Voted 10/10

Hi Brad

Hang in there as best you can. Simply put, Stefan probably planned this solo event for quite a while, and I'm sure he was quite competant. Solo travel is the ultimate freedom, when you succeed people think your a hero, when you have an accident, people assume your an idiot, and have all these questions. No one wants to die but I'm sure Stefan was where he wanted to be, minus the accident. I guess the beauty and risk is why we climb. You did everything you were supposed to do.
Great story!!
Climb away buddy
John Brady
Posted Jan 22, 2009 7:16 am

LeStefAlways sad news...

LeStef

Hasn't voted

It is always a sad news to loose someone on the mountain... and like you said, we always tend to believe that this will never happen to us/near to us... However, accidents happen so quickly... even when we believe that nothing can really happen.

Nice pic of Stefan... although the little teddy bear makes me believe that he left some young kids behind...

Sincere condolence to the familly and friends.
Posted Jan 22, 2009 9:58 am

MountainjeffI can relate

Mountainjeff

Hasn't voted

I was involved in a mountaineering accident several months ago. Luckily my partner did not die, but was in a coma for a month every day appearing to be his last. Even though he did survive, it was an emotionally trying time, that was at its worst several months after the accident. I suffered from extreme depression to the point of illness. Please do not make the same mistake I did and not ask for help if you struggle with what happened. There is a time for grieving, but in my case I greatly prolonged it by hiding my emotions.
My condolences to Stefan's family and friends. Keep on climbing and don't ever think that the accident was in any way your fault.


Jeff
Posted Jan 22, 2009 7:36 pm

Ejnar FjerdingstadSad

Ejnar Fjerdingstad

Voted 10/10

A very sad story, but told in a compassionate way!
Posted Jan 23, 2009 8:43 am

chapter11Condolences

Hasn't voted

I had the fortune of climbing with Stefan on Denali in 2007. I check summitpost once a week and was utterly shocked to see this report today. I was thinking back to my memories of Stefan and Denali and what strikes me most is the patience he had (especially in helping me with knots, which he was a master of!) and his upbeat attitude, even in the worst conditions/times. My deepest sympathies to his friends, colleagues and family. He will be missed
Posted Jan 24, 2009 9:57 pm

marionbraunsad news

Hasn't voted

I met Stefan in the Vallecitos region as he was on his way to climb the Cerro el Rincon to acclimatise for Aconcagua. I can confirm that he was a very pleasant, outgoing personality who seemed very well equiped and seemed to know exactly what he was doing in the mountains, also on snow and ice. I had the impression he had not much experience at high altitude,and in my opinion his physical preparation was not up to the task, but he was adamant he would take no risks. Teaming up with a more experienced partner (altitude-wise at least, you led a group, after all) has its advantages, but may also lead to doing things you wouldn't do alone. Stefan asked for protection going up, where you felt it unnecessary, and then wanted to go down. It was obvious that you couldn't summit either (you turned back fairly soon after), so why didn't you go back with him - you had the rope. Normally, if you go up as a team, you go down as a team. Each is responsible for the other, otherwise you go alone. I wish Stefan had gone alone, then he would possibly have turned back earlier and might have gone up the other way the day after. He easily might have had the accident anyway, but just possibly it could have been avoided, if you had gone down with him or at least had given him the rope. In that sense it was an accident that should not have happened. My condolences go to his family, friends and colleagues.
Posted Feb 17, 2009 10:21 am

Brad MarshallRe: sad news

Brad Marshall

Hasn't voted

Actually, it was not obvious to me that I could not summit at the time we separated. Also, when I told Stefan I planned to continue upward he simply untied the rope from his harness and handed it to me. There was no discussion about descending together. Furthermore, Stefan did not descend immediately and actually continued climbing solo in the area for a little while.

As for going up and down as a team I can tell you that there are many climbers who continue upward after their partners decide to turn around. That is a decisiion made between each other at that point in time. Don't forget Stefan's original plan was to climb this route solo and he had left his rope at base camp, many days before he considered joining up with me. I can only assume he felt safe to ascend and descend alone.
Posted Feb 20, 2009 5:45 pm

marionbraunre: sad news

Hasn't voted

I've been thinking a lot about this, and my point is not so much that you should have gone down with Stephan - which I still incline to, but I agree it's a matter to decide at the time - but to point out the risks involved in going with a more experienced 'stranger'. At high altitude the mind doesn't work as well as at, say 4000 meters (14,000 ft approx.). Your reactions are slower, you tend to underestimate dangers, and you don't realise how tired you really are. Add on the effects of the cold, and you can very easily get too close to your physical and mental limits. A slight stumble then, which wouldn't even be noticed at 4000 meters, can have fatal consequences. If you're on your own, you are automatically cautious, but in a group, you naturally tend to expect the more experienced climber to assess the risks better than you, even though you (should) know that you are ultimately responsible for your own safety, and therefore sometimes you do things you wouldn't do on your own. I think if Stephan had gone alone, he would have turned back earlier and would probably still be alive. That it's ultimately his responsability is clear to me as well.
Posted Mar 29, 2009 1:18 pm

Viewing: 41-60 of 84 « PREV 1 2 3 4 5 NEXT »