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Geography of the Aconcagua Mountain


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Aconcagua Mountain lies west of Mendoza, argentina, entirely within Argentina, and immediately east of Argentina’s border with chile. The mountain is, at 22,834 foot (6,960 meter), not only the tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere, but also the highest outside of Asia. Its twin peaks, the northern of which is the tallest, can be seen from the coast of Chile 100 mile (162 kilometer) away.

There are different interpretations of the origin of the name Aconcagua. It may be derived from the native Quechua akun ("summit”), ka ("other”), and agua ("admired” or "feared”). Thus, it is translated from Quechua as a summit that is feared or admired. Another version is that the name is derived from Arauca roots. Thus, Aconca-Hue is a Mapuche name for the corresponding Aconcagua River that, from Chile, "comes from the other side.”

The relatively new mountain was created by subduction of the Nazca plate beneath the South American plate. Geology of the Aconcagua area can be grouped in 3 basic time periods: a base that developed before the Jurassic period, Mesozoic sequences, and coverings from the Cenozoic period. Glaciers on Aconcagua include Lower Horcones Glacier, the Upper Horcones Glacier, the Los Polacos (or Los Relinchos) Glacier (a climbing route), and the Güssfeldt Glacier. Glaciers on Mount Aconcagua are, owing to more arid conditions, less pronounced than those to the south in Patagonia.

Most of the vegetation and wildlife, because of the aridity and the short growing season at high elevations, are concentrated below 13,123 foot (4,000 meter). Typical vegetation is low-growing brush (steppe) adapted to low temperatures, thin soils, and high winds. Brush species include lena amarilla, vareta, and cuerno de cabra, with grass species including huecu and coirones. Wildlife such as the condor, mora eagle, puma, and red fox migrate to lower elevations during winter. Mountain mice hibernate on site. Streams harbor chorlos, churrines, and torrent ducks. Guanacos (similar to llamas) can gather in large groups. Hares introduced from Europe are plentiful. Aconcagua Mountain is a provincial park. It was included in 1983 as part of a network of 10 protected areas of the province of Mendoza. It is designated as a Protected Wilderness Area, based on its scenic, recreational, cultural, genetic, and biodiversity values. These areas serve as a reference in relation to similar yet degraded habitats.

 

Aconcagua Mountain in Argentina, at 22,834 foot (6,960 meter), is the tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere.
 
Aconcagua Mountain in Argentina, at 22,834 foot (6,960 meter), is the tallest mountain in the Western Hemisphere.

 

General Don José de San Martín crossed the Andes near Aconcagua to liberate the Chilean area from the Spanish in 1817. His army of more than 5,300 men, 9,280 mules, and 1,600 horses crossed at more than 13,123 foot (4,000 meter) in elevation. In 1835, Charles Darwin was 1 of the first European scientists to collect data about the mountain. In January 1985, a remarkable discovery was made by Argentine climbers—an Inca cemetery at 17,388 foot (5,300 meter) in elevation. The site included circular stone walls, a mummy, and 6 statues—three human and 3 llama figures.

Although the mountain is a large, singular massif, thus nicknamed the "Centinel del Piedra” (Stone Sentinel), various peaks around Aconcagua also surpass 16,404 foot (5,000 meter).

BIBLIOGRAPHY.

Gobierno de Mendoza, "Aconcagua Provincial Park,” www.aconcagua.mendoza.gov.ar (November 2004); A. Manzur, "Current Situation of Aconcagua,” www.aconcagua.com.ar (November 2004); R.J. Secor et al., Aconcagua (Mountaineers Books, 1999).

WILLIAM FORBES

UNIVERSITY OF NORTH TEXAS

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