“No me olviden”: new book collects more than 100 years of mountaineering accidents in Chile

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 Photo: Rodrigo FicaPhoto: Rodrigo Fica

 
By Paula Fernandez
 
The official launch today of No me olividen, a new book about accidents in mountaineering over the past 100 years in Chile, promises to be a major contribution to the development of the sport in the country. The author is Rodrigo Fica, 53, who spurned his training as a civil engineer as a young man to instead become a full-time mountaineer over the past few decades, making several climbs in far flung places like Africa, the Himalayas, Australia, Antarctica, and Alaska. Fica was also a member of the first expedition to successfully cross the Southern Patagonian Ice Field in 1999. In recent years, he has dedicated much of his time to writing about mountaineering topics in books such as Bajo la marca de la ira, Crónicas del Anticristo and La esclavitud del miedo. We interviewed Fica to find out more about his new book, which numbers 480 pages that examine in detail 438 accidents and is a real treasure trove for fanatics of mountaineering in Chile.
 
FERNANDEZ: Why did you decide to write this book?
FICA: It was a process.At first a concern, something very personal because of the experiences that I was having at the end of the last century and at the beginning of this one. Later, this became a reality when I saw that there were few formal works that analyzed the phenomenon of accidents in mountain environments in Chile. When I realized that there was no data, nor anyone had done a conceptual framework or serious analysis, I had to think seriously about whether I should dedicate myself to make this effort. In 2006, I made the definitive decision to contribute with this little grain of sand in this issue.
 
 
Photo: Rodrigo FicaPhoto: Rodrigo Fica
 
 
What was the research like to put this book together?
To me, there is only one way to call it: “love it”. I mean, everything is useful. As there was nothing around and I had to build the database from zero and did all that things that people would consider appropriate to tackle this problem. I researched newspapers and magazines. I watched documentary films and videos. I interviewed many people. I visited the classic institutions. Little by little, that effort was creating a big amount of significant data. At the same time, it allowed me to access even more because as people began to hear about what I was doing they would send me more information. Moreover, I requested documents from the Chilean army and police.
 
Were there any obstacles to get certain information?
The biggest difficulties that I found were the cultural ones, there is a big lack of mountaineering culture in our country. This is a society that, although we are living in a time with a lot of information, doesn’t understand the concept of free expression and, even less, that the issue of accidents ought to be discussed, because that allows, eventually, to save the lives of future mountaineers. Many times, people refused to talk to me and some associations simply denied me access to their data, based on privacy issues, forgetting the fact that when somebody dies it’s a public matter, not private.
 
How did you get the oldest data?
The oldest data I got primarily at the National Library, but also from partial accounts that were published in some mountaineering magazines which also gave me insights on what was happening at the beginnings of the 20th century. Clearly, this is the most difficult part of the research, because there are no living witnesses of what happened during that time period, and we only have a few partial and brief testimonies.
 
 
Photo: Editorial VersalitaPhoto: Editorial Versalita
 
 
Photo: Editorial VersalitaPhoto: Editorial Versalita
 
 
Are there any anecdotes that you remember especially from the research process?
When I went to ask for some information and people would ask me what university or organization I was with, and I had to answered “no, this is personal research.” That immediately generate some strangeness, people think that I’m hiding something or that I want to make money from it. It is the typical Chilean distrust of an initiative of pure intellectual interest. I think they didn’t believe that someone from Chile would dedicate themselves to something like this.
 
Of the stories that you collected, are there any that especially stand out for you?
The stories that most touched my heart are the anonymous ones. Big tragedies are relatively documented and we all know them; in fact, there are even some films about some of them. So, the smallest and anonymous ones have a very strong emotional charge that you don’t expect. We are talking about tragedies that took the lives of entire families.
 
What do you think is the biggest importance of this book?
Clearly, the data. The book has four parts, one part is about the data. The others are the conceptual framework, statistical analysis and there are some final comments. But, by far, the fact of being able to put all the mortal accidents that have occurred in mountain environments in Chile from 1900 up until now in just one place is a big contribution. Even if some of this data is wrong or incomplete, it is a starting point for someone, for some organization or for a student to complete, improve and expand upon. With that it can generate a virtuous circle that will allow, once and for all, to be able to talk formally about the phenomenon of mountain accidents.
 
The book goes on sale October 1, for more info on the book and how to purchase it, click here