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Stewart Green

Two American Climbers Die on Aconcagua in South America

By January 3, 2013

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Three American climbers, twin brothers Eric and Greg Nourse, both 41 years old, and David Reinhart, 42, from Oregon and Colorado, attempted to climb 22,841-foot Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America and the Western Hemisphere, this season. On Saturday, December 29,  two of them--Eric and David--tragically died on the mountain.

The experienced mountaineers had climbed many mountains, including Denali twice, Mount Elbrus, highest mountain in Europe, Mount Rainier as well as many other peaks. The trio went to Aconcagua, one of the Seven Summits, in mid-December and by Christmas Day had reached 16,000 feet and were camping in high winds. Eric Nourse's wife Kandee at their home in Greeley, Colorado told the Greeley Tribune, "They were happy, healthy, calling everyone to wish time a Merry Christmas. He was awesome." Reinhart, however, felt ill so the team stayed put until he recovered.

On Thursday, December 27, they climbed to 19,200 feet and set up a high camp on the northeast flank of Aconcagua. From here they could climb the Polish Traverse across the Polish Glacier or the harder Polish Glacier Direct. They opted for the tougher alternative.

The Polish Direct route ascends over 3,000 feet up the right side of the glacier, climbing steep snow and ice slopes angled from 50 to 70 degrees. Many climbers do it unroped using technical ice climbing skills by frontpointing up the ice with crampons, using ice axes and ice tools for their hands, and stopping to place an ice screw when they want to rest. Otherwise parties have to do it in roped teams, which is quite a bit slower. The main difficulties are passing a couple rock bands near the top of the glacier. The route is not climbed too often and can be very dangerous in high winds or if a storm moves onto the mountain. Retreat down the route is extremely difficult.

On Friday, December 28, the team left camp at 4 a.m. to climb the Direct route to the summit. It took them all day to climb the ice wall, reaching the second band, just below the top of the face at about 22,000 feet, after dark. At that point, Dave Reinhart was ill and couldn't continue so they hunkered down. Eric Nourse then decided to climb to the summit in bright moonlight, find the easier Normal Route trail down the north face and get help. He climbed the remaining 700 feet but was unable to find the trail so he descended more directly down the steep north face.

In the early morning, Greg Nourse left his partner, who had altitude sickness, and went for help too. He waited at the summit for several hours for the first climber to show up. While on top, he called Reinhart's wife Char in Oregon and she was able to alert rescue personnel. Greg then took about six hours to descend from the summit to their high camp. Eric showed up 90 minutes later.

EMTs told the pair to quickly descend the mountain since both had altitude sickness and the best cure is getting down. Eric Nourse, however, wanted to rest and then carry his gear down so he crawled into his tent. He went to sleep and died. The EMTs were unable to revive him. Dave Reinhart tried to rescue himself high on the mountain, climbing 150 feet higher before dying. His body was retrieved two days later.

Both climbers apparently died of pulmonary edema or fluid in their lungs, a common symptom of altitude sickness, which can quickly strike anyone at a high altitude. The immediate primary treatment is to descend, but neither man was able to do that.

My sincere condolences to Greg Nourse and the families of Eric Nourse and Dave Reinhart. Rest in peace Eric and Dave.

Photograph above: Eric Nourse climbing Denali. Photograph courtesy Candee Nourse.


January 3, 2013 at 11:43 pm
(1) jo says:

This is a good summary. It would be interesting to know more about their climbing resumes and their acclimatization schedule for Aconcagua and how it would compare to the acclimatization schedules of guided climbs. Did they climb all of the mountains mentioned – including Denali twice – unguided? Two Denali summits is a pretty good. Is this accurate?

January 4, 2013 at 12:10 am
(2) Emma says:

I think the name is wrong on the photo.

January 4, 2013 at 7:06 pm
(3) Tony says:

Jo, they had extensive resumes with regards to climbing. Every climb was unguided once it reached the mountain itself. And Denali twice is also accurate.

The name for the picture is correct.

Thanks for the great write up and summary of the events.

January 6, 2013 at 4:30 pm
(4) Chris says:

Many Prayers and Blessings for all of the family and friends of these two brave men! I will be going to the mountain on January 29th. If I may help out in any way at all, I am at your service.

January 6, 2013 at 10:59 pm
(5) preventable says:

Very sad. 30 mg of Nifedipine SR daily during the climb could have prevented this

March 6, 2013 at 12:44 pm
(6) T says:

They didn’t die of pulmonary edema. It was a terminal case of stupidity. Extensive resumes…Elbrus and Ranier? Really?

March 7, 2013 at 5:01 pm
(7) Regular Guy says:

It is a tragedy, but these guys climbed too high, too fast. I climbed Aconcagua in January 2007 and we took 14 days to get to the top, carefully acclimatizing with four camps above base camp and going up and back down between camps several times. Going from base camp at 13,000 feet to a camp at 16,000 feet, then up to a 19,000 foot camp and going for the summit in just few days is very dangerous. The problem with Aconcagua is that it is a fairly easy ascent up the normal route, but the altitude is serious and those that rush up the mountain encounter real problems, expecially if they have no guided support.

April 3, 2013 at 4:16 am
(8) royp says:
January 21, 2014 at 1:16 pm
(9) Greg says:

Tragic situation, condolences to their families. I climbed Aconcagua just before them, maybe even passed them on my way down. You really need to take time to get used to the elevation.
Btw – I wanted to warn everybody who is about to climb Aconcagua about Aconcagua Trek company. DO NOT GO WITH ACONCAGUA TREK – it’s almost a scam. We bought mules service from them and on the way down they must have not secured our bags and as a result we have damages of over 1000 USD worth of equipment. And they refuse to pay us back! The damages include:
- backpack completely torn into pieces
- solid Northface bag damaged
- goggles broken
- solar battery broken
- some items from the backpack are missing, most expensive and troublesome are corrective glasses (also a swiss army knife, a bottle of gas).

This company damaged our staff, lost some of our properties and refuses to take any responsibility.
Imagine if this happened on the way up – we wouldn’t even be able to leave the base camp.
So if you don’t want your climbing experience ruined choose other, more professional companies.

January 21, 2014 at 1:45 pm
(10) Greg says:

Condolences to the families. I climbed Aconcagua just before them, maybe even passed them on my way down. You really need to take time climbing Aconcagua to get used to the elevation.

I would like to warn all climbers not to deal with Aconcagua Trek. We hired them for mules service. Unfortunately, on the way down our baggage was severely damaged and some items were lost. The total cost for us to replace the damaged and lost items is about $1200, as the damages include:
- completely torn apart backpack
- damaged Northface bag
- damaged goggles
- lost corrective glasses
- lost swiss army knife.

We went to the office and they said they will investigate, and now we are back in the States they don’t reply to my emails.

Imagine if this happened on the way up – we wouldn’t even be able to leave the base camp without the backpack.
So if you don’t want your experience ruined choose more professional company.
Even if you don’t need mules you’ll be better off with other companies, Aconcagua Trek doesn’t even have showers and internet in the base camp – we ended up going to other companies to use these services.

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