The 2024 Aconcagua climbing season is concluding, and Global Rescue medical operations and rescue personnel were on the ground from January through mid-February to support our climbing and trekking members. The deployment team included high-altitude physician specialists, emergency nurse personnel and a wilderness certified paramedic.


Medical Expertise on the Mountain

Their high-altitude medical expertise contributions were significant, according to Jeff Weinstein, a Certified Wilderness Paramedic and a medical operations manager at Global Rescue with specialty training in austere medicine and mountain rescue. “While deployed, we learned that the local medical staff in the hospitals were uncomfortable treating advanced frostbite as well as high-altitude ailments like HAPE and HACE,” he said.

Weinstein and the Global Rescue medical team conducted several meetings with the hospital administration staff educating them on current practice guidelines and criteria for high-altitude illnesses. “We educated them on the implementation of advanced frostbite care which was not currently available in Argentina. After multiple meetings, hospital officials agreed to start implementing these high-altitude diagnostic and treatment policies and procedures, including advanced frostbite care,” he said.


A snowy mountain towers over smaller brown hills under a cloudy sky.


Understanding Aconcagua: Challenges and Preparations

At 22,837 feet/6,961 meters, Aconcagua is the tallest mountain in South America, earning it a place among the Seven Summits – the highest points on each continent.

And while it may not reach the towering peaks of the Himalayan or Karakoram ranges, make no mistake: Aconcagua is not to be taken lightly and preparation is imperative.

More than any other issue, a lack of proper acclimatization is what triggers the need for most rescues from the big mountains, including Aconcagua, said David Koo, a former combat medic and emergency nurse who is the associate director of operations for Global Rescue and part of the deployment team. “If you don’t give time for your body to adjust, that’s when you get altitude sickness,” he said.


Enhancing Safety Measures for Aconcagua

Because participation in mountaineering, trekking and other high-altitude activities has seen rapid increases in recent years, we’re expanding and enhancing our services for this community by increasing our capabilities to provide emergency services in more regions, committing to longer deployments of our medical operations personnel, and extending our in-field rescue operational durations.


[Planning a high-altitude climb? Be certain to obtain a High-Altitude Evacuation Package] 


There is no other rescue provider as familiar with Himalayan operations as Global Rescue, where we’ve deployed medical and rescue operations teams for years. But the experiences learned from operations on mountains like Mount Everest do not necessarily translate to Aconcagua, according to wilderness and altitude sickness expert Dr. Eric Johnson, Global Rescue’s associate medical director.

“Every mountain I’ve worked on and around is a bit unique given the geography, weather, latitude, and the governing systems in place,” he said.


A red and black helicopter approaches a landing on a high-altitude mountain under partly cloudy skies.


Weinstein agreed. “Aconcagua’s emergency airborne and ground transportation resources are limited compared to what’s available in Nepal. But the level of care and medical checks available on Aconcagua, as well as organized rescue resources on the mountain from the park rangers is an asset that does not exist on any other mountain,” he said.

Global Rescue donated equipment to the Aconcagua local operations teams, including three cutting edge rescue litters, or rescue baskets that resemble sleds. “We provided Skedco rescue litters to the police, the team managing the medical tent at base camp and the park rangers on the mountain,” Weinstein said. “These are the best and most advanced rescue litters on the market and are used by military special operations. The local medical and rescue teams had great need for these litters, and they were put into use immediately.” In the past, locals relied on what amounted to wheelbarrows for some rescues operations.


Prayer flags rest on a cross at the summit of Aconcagua on a sunny day.


Planning an Ascent of Aconcagua

Climbing Aconcagua requires proper planning, permits, and often the assistance of experienced guides or mountaineering companies. Safety should always be a top priority, and climbers should be well-prepared and equipped for the journey.

Climbers can expect a mix of challenging conditions and stunning landscapes. The biggest mistake people make when it comes to climbing Aconcagua is misjudging the stamina required, according to Ed Viesturs, mountaineering legend and a member of Global Rescue’s Mountain Advisory Council.

“Aconcagua is a relatively nontechnical climb, but people underestimate the endurance required and the effects of altitude. Both factors can play havoc during an ascent. Being as physically fit as possible prior to an ascent makes for a more enjoyable and safer climb,” he said.

Weinstein concurs. His advice for climbers to minimize their need for medical support is to manage how they acclimatize. “We saw a lot of climbers doing an expedited ascent of the mountain, which led to an increased high altitude ailment risk,” Weinstein said.

New medications are being introduced to mitigate some of the risk factors. Johnson recommends climbers should educate themselves and consult a travel medicine physician before travel to receive these medications. “Individuals traveling to Argentina and climbing Aconcagua should have the basic understanding of medications used in prevention and treatment of altitude-related problems,” Johnson said.


Global Rescue’s Role in Mountain Rescue

It’s important to note that climbing Aconcagua requires proper planning, permits, and often the assistance of experienced guides or mountaineering companies. Outdoor adventure safety expert and longtime mountaineering author Jed Williamson, a member of Global Rescue’s Mountain Advisory Council, said roughly 80 percent of the 4,000 climbers assaulting Aconcagua each year are part of a guided expedition.


Two mountaineers roped together climb up a high-altitude slope under sunny skies.


Aconcagua is a good starter mountain for high-altitude climbers and consequently draws a broader demographic to the challenge. “We have always had fathers climb with their young adult sons and daughters. But this season we are seeing a slight increase in the number of women making the climb,” said Rodrigo Mujica, Founder and CEO of Aventuras Patagonicas.

Lukas Furtenbach, owner Furtenbach Adventures, called Aconcagua a “perfect training playground to learn how to manage yourself on the mountain, how to keep yourself warm and hydrated for example.” But make no mistake, it’s a tall mountain and it holds several challenges for high climbers.

Safety should always be a top priority, and climbers should be well-prepared and equipped for the journey. It’s also smart to climb with a travel protection membership.


[Refresh yourself on how to use your Global Rescue membership. Quick Start Guide] 


Global Rescue has pioneered field rescue from the point of illness or injury since 2004 and led the industry as the only organization with deployed personnel and operating capability in key locations, including the Himalaya, Karakorum, Andes and Aconcagua regions.