A Wisconsin man and his climbing partner have died while climbing near the summit of Argentina’s Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere.
Jarod VonRueden, 22, of Clyman, Wis., and climbing partner Francis “Frank” Keenan, 28, from Pennsylvania, were just below the summit on New Year’s Eve when authorities received an alert from a rescue beacon registered to VonRueden and began searching for them.
“He is very adventurous and had made plans a couple of months ago with (Keenan) to climb Aconcagua,” Julie Feldman, VonRueden’s cousin, said today in an interview from her home in St. Paul, Minn.
VonRueden left Dec. 15 for Aconcagua, a 22,841-foot mountain located in the Andes mountain range in the province of Mendoza, Argentina.
He applied for the climbing permits Dec. 18, and he and Keenan arrived at the base Dec. 23 to begin their ascent, Feldman said.
His family was notified by the U.S. Air Force that a rescue beacon was activated by VonRueden on Dec. 31.
“There was a lot of not knowing, obviously a lot of worry and just a lot of confusion,” said Feldman, 32. “We were hoping for more information. The next morning, we heard that a helicopter was out searching but unable to make any sort of visual contact with the climbers.”
Sunday night brought news that the mission had changed from a rescue to a recovery. The climbers’ bodies had been found in a crevasse, and crews still were working out the logistics to retrieve them today. Park officials also have been held back by severe weather on the mountain.
VonRueden was studying to be an emergency medical technician. He was an active climber, reaching the summit of Alaska’s Mount McKinley this past summer and scaling peaks in Ecuador. He also had backpacked through the Grand Canyon and once rode a bicycle from Wisconsin to Montana.
Keenan also was an experienced climber, having climbed Washington’s Mount Rainier twice and mountains in Ecuador, said Scott Borrillo, 45, of St. Augustine, Fla.
“I’m just in a state of shock and am absolutely heartbroken,” Borrillo said today. “Frank was a dear friend. I always felt safest when I clipped in with him. He was so passionate and if I ever ran into problems up there, he would be the one I would want next to me.”
Borrillo was supposed to make the trip with Keenan but decided against it in November because the trip would stretch over Christmas. Keenan met VonRueden online through a mountain-climbing website, and the two moved forward with trip preparations, corresponding about training and gear, Borrillo said.
“The day he was leaving, I called him and said, ‘Be safe and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,’” Borrillo said.
It’s believed a third individual was with Keenan and VonRueden, and that at some point during the climb, Keenan and VonRueden decided to change the route and the third person was not comfortable with that decision and turned back, Borrillo said.
Aconcagua is a popular mountain. Since the climbing season began in November, 1,600 climbers have started the ascent, with 80 percent attempting the summit, according to Rock and Ice Magazine.
It was VonRueden’s adventurous spirit that took him to Aconcagua, family members said.
“In the past four years, he’s really been growing into his skin much more, and adventure, I think, is where his heart lies,” Feldman said. “He wanted to explore and conquer the world.”
VonRueden is survived by his father parents, Peter and Renee VonRueden, both of Clyman; and brother, Aaron VonRueden, of Portage, Wis.