Back in the seventies, when “adventure” and “tourism” were opposing concepts rather than a trend, and the Seven Summits idea didn´t even exist, a Mendocino andinista decided to sell his farm to start up a guiding company at the very foot of Mt. Aconcagua. His name was Fernando Grajales. And it turned out that it was a good idea. Eventually, venturing into the mountains became popular and Aconcagua became a coveted challenge. And the local mountaineer was there breaking trail, this time in business.
The small company he founded, Grajales Expeditions, made history by obtaining the first license ever granted to provide services in Aconcagua. Fernando wasn’t one to rest on his laurels, though, and he kept leading the way in a growing -and fiercely competitive- industry. The commitment paid off. This season, our now larger, but still close-knit company, is turning 45! Still with the same mountaineers’ philosophy, still with the passion of the first summit.
From a new route on Aconcagua to the Himalaya
Things did not happen this way by chance. By the time Fernando set foot on Aconcagua, he was one of the young promises of the local scene. After a solo summit in 1952 by the normal route, he participated in the opening of a new, technical route on the mountain. Together with Dorly and Frederic Marmillod (seasoned Swiss climbers) and Francisco Ibáñez, Grajales climbed the southwest ridge of Aconcagua, in 1953.
The Andean endeavour was perfect preparation for the challenge ahead: an expedition to the still unclimbed Dhaulagiri (26,795 ft/8.167 m), one of the Himalayan giants. Grajales was a key member in the large expedition led by Francisco Ibañez and supported by the Argentine government. They attempted the mountain by the Mayangdi valley and the ‘ Pear’ route.
Two Argentines and two Sherpas tried a summit push, reaching the altitude of 8.000 m, but were forced down by bad weather. Nevertheless, the expedition was a big accomplishment at the time and obtained international recognition. Sadly, Ibáñez died of frostbite on the return to Kathmandu. (A good account can be found here: https://www.himalayanclub.org/hj/22/6/dhaulagiri-the-white-mountain-a-chronicle-of-the-1960-expedition).
Fernando Grajales handled most of the logistics of the trip. He worked methodically one year before and one year after the Dhaulagiri expedition, first organizing and then clearing debts and taking care of pending details.
The creation of Mt. Aconcagua State Park
Twenty years later, Fernando Grajales applied the same systematic approach to his Aconcagua business venture. Starting in 1976, when he founded Grajales Expeditions and pioneered the field, he would spend the summers living in up in the mountains, and the winters in Mendoza, for many years. Back then, just a handful of mountaineers would attempt the highest summit on the continent. But the numbers began to grow, and the treks to base camp became a more popular activity.
In 1983 the local government, together with mountain clubs and climbers -Grajales among them-, created the Parque Provincial Aconcagua. The State Park protected the mountain and created an official record of climbing and trekking permits. By the end of the first season, the Park had registered 263 permits. Three summers later the total was 639 permits.
In the nineties the activity skyrocketed: by 1995/96 almost three thousand climbers and hikers visited Aconcagua. One decade later, in 2005/6, the Park reached its historical maximum to date. 7.290 permits were sold.
In the right place, at the right time
And Fernando Grajales was the right person in the right place at the right time. Being a man of his word -and of a special charisma- he and his company rapidly became synonymous with Aconcagua. Don Fernando, with his calm, methodical ways, kept running the business until his early death in 2004.
His legacy lives on in the family company. We are proud to still be leading the way, with his principles as our core values: integrity, innovation, social responsibility, environmental awareness.
This coming season marks our 45th anniversary, which comes with a unique challenge: for the first time in history, Mt. Aconcagua will remain closed to expeditions, due to the Covid 19 restrictions. This means we won’t be able to celebrate in the field, with our associate companies and climbers. Also, we won’t have any business for an entire year.
But worry not. We are taking it in Don Fernando’s spirit: just give the mountain a well-deserved rest, and have a virtual celebration with our friends. (And let the guides and muleteers spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve with their families, for a change).
The mountain will still be there next year, and so will be Grajales Expeditions.