Rising to a height of 22,838 feet, Mt. Aconcagua is not only the highest peak in South America and the Southern and Western Hemispheres, but it is also the second highest peak among the Seven Summits of the World. The mountain rises in the Mendoza province of west-central Argentina, and is a part of the Andes Mountain range. The western slopes of the mountain rise from the coastal lowlands of Chile, while its summit lies but 15 kilometers from the Chile-Argentina border. The mountain is bounded by the Valle de las Vacas to the north and east, and the Valle de los Horcones Inferior to the south and west. In 1983, the Aconcagua Provincial Park was established to protect the mountain and its surrounding areas' ecosystems.
The name of Mt. Aconcagua is thought to have developed from the Quechuan name Ackon Cahuak, meaning the ‘Sentinel of Stone’ in that language. Mt. Aconcagua is an extinct volcano, with the last volcanic activity there thought to have occurred sometime around 9.5 million years ago. The collision of the Nazca plate with the South American plate gave rise to the Andean Mountain range, including Mt. Aconcagua. Traces of Incan civilization have been discovered near the summit of Mt. Aconcagua. In 1985, the frozen corpse of a seven year-old Incan boy was uncovered by mountaineers traveling around Aconcagua. Scientific studies thereafter deduced that the boy was sacrificed as part of an ancient Incan child sacrificial ritual called capacocha (meaning royal or solemn sacrifice in Quecha), On January 14th, 1897, Mathias Zurbriggen, a Swiss guide from a European expedition into the Andes led by Mathias Zurbriggen, became the first person to reach the summit of Mt. Aconcagua. Besides the Andes, Mathias Zurbriggen became world-renowned as a climber for also making many notable climbs in the Himalayas, the Alps, and Oceania.
Every year, thousands of mountaineers, professional climbers, and hobbyist hikers visit Mt. Aconcagua with the aim to explore the mountain and climb to its summit. This generates significant amounts of income for this part of Argentina by way of the tourism sector. The mountain is also riddled with glacier, with Ventisquero Horcones Inferior, Ventisquero de las Vacas Sur, and the Polish Glacier being some of the prominent glaciers on and around this mountain. The glaciers shape the hydrology of the place, and are the source of water for the River Horcones, which is in turn a major tributary of the Salado River.
The frigid temperatures, poor soil, and low precipitation on Mt. Aconcagua is unable to support a high level of biodiversity. The vegetation and wildlife that does manage to live in the area are adapted to the harsh and arid climatic conditions. Plant cover on land is typically limited to bush lands and open pastures, with these comprising of such plants as yellow firewood, goat horn, huecú, and ichu. Mountain rats, red foxes, and guanacos are abundantly found in this arid habitat. The puma is also found in this habitat, and is a top carnivore in these ecosystems. A large number of birds can be spotted in the Mt. Aconcagua eco-region as well, including the condor, purple eagle, and agachona. The water bodies in this region are inhabited by ducks and sandpipers.
Threats and Disputes
Currently, human waste accumulation on and around Mt. Aconcagua is a cause for immense concern to the authorities managing the mountain's ecosystems. Every year, thousands of climbers attempt to climb the mountain and, in the process of their ascents, leave behind their excreta and other wastes on the mountain. The frigid temperatures of the mountain prevent or slow down the degradation of natural waste, leading to year by year accumulations of such wastes. This not only spoils the aesthetic quality of the mountains, but also pollutes its water bodies, including the glacial lakes. The other major threat to the mountain is climate change and global warming, which are most notably affecting the glaciers of the region. The rise in temperatures is causing them to retreat, and thus adversely influencing the hydrology of the mountain ecosystem. Like many other areas lying below mountains and glaciers, rapid snow and glacial melts threaten to first cause widespread flooding and, as they become depleted, increasingly common droughts thereafter.