A last message was left on the satellite phone of guide Ignacio Lucero (50), who died with two other friends from Pampas in the attempt to climb the Marmolejo volcano (6,108 meters above sea level) in the Andes Mountains, on the border between Chile and Argentina, at the height of the Uco Valley in Mendoza.
"I am embarking on my journey," wrote the experienced mountaineer a few minutes before he died, possibly frozen, when he tried to climb to the summit, in the middle of a storm of wind and white dust, at an altitude of 5,800 meters.
For his partner, María Fernanda Martínez Thierry, the message refers to the final flight, to leaving the earthly plane. "Nacho always told me that he wanted to fly, he loved his job on the summits, although it was getting harder and harder for him to leave home because he missed Salvi," says the woman.
Salvi is Salvador, the 2-year-old son of Ignacio and Fernanda. "Nacho prepared us for his death. He taught us not to be afraid, to be free, to fulfill dreams," says Fernanda, who decided to travel to Chile on Sunday night, in the middle of a search operation.
Fernanda says that Salvi prays at night the prayer to the Guardian Angel, which she taught him shortly before her father embarked on the last trip to the Cordillera. "It's the way the child feels that he is close to his father," says this young woman, who works as an assistant at a dental clinic in Mendoza.
The guide's partner spoke to Clarín, while waiting at the foot of the mountain for the Carabineros rescue team to descend the body of Ignacio and the other two expedition members, the mayor of the Pampas town of General San Martín, Raúl Espir, and the notary Sergio Berardo.
Fernanda, Ignacio Lucero and Salvador, their little 2-year-old son.
The three Argentines and two Chileans, Mauricio Montero and Pablo Buchbinder, had been planning this expedition to the summit of Marmolejo for months.
On November 22, Lucero, Espir and Berardo met at the Los Penitentes mountain complex, in the Mendoza mountain range and 30 kilometers from the border with Chile.
There, the Pampeans left their truck, and the three of them got into the van of the Mendoza guide to travel to the vicinity of the Marmolejo hill, located at the end of the Cajón del Maipo, a valley between mining roads, two hours by car from the city of Santiago de Chile.
Other guides who have ascended the Marmolejo say that before reaching the summit you have to cross about three kilometers of glacier, which has crevasses and requires ropes. The risk of the rope is that if one falls, the other companions can be swept away.
Until now, the accident was the main hypothesis. But it is not yet clear how the climbers died and that will only be known when autopsy examinations are carried out. Another possibility that gained strength in the last few hours is that they may have died from the cold wind, which coincides with the account of the helicopter pilot who spotted the bodies: "The three climbers were on their backs and separated from each other, in a flat area where they were no longer tied to the rope," he said.
Ignacio Lucero in the middle of camp during an ascent.
A factor that conditions the ascent to the summit of Marmolejo are the winds of more than 80 kilometers per hour and the white dust in suspension.
Ignacio Lucero's family maintains that, from how they found the bodies, they may have died of cold swept away by a violent gust of wind.
"Nacho passed away on Thursday, November 30 because Wednesday was the last day we had communication. He told us that they were already at Camp 3 (at an altitude of 4,800 meters), that it had been a difficult ascent and he did not write to me again," Fernanda recalls.
The last kiss the guide gave his wife was on November 22. "That morning we said goodbye at home, I was going to give him a big hug, but I didn't want him to feel distressed and I just kissed him goodbye, because I thought he was going and coming back," says his partner.
A while later, when she was at work, she received a message from Ignacio who told her that he was downstairs, that he had come to leave her the key. "He said goodbye again, once again, we hugged and kissed, I wished him luck," says Fernanda with a choked voice.
She was already accustomed to firing him for long periods, as is usual in the life of a mountain guide. Ignacio had spent more than two months, between July and September, in Russia, France, Switzerland, on different expeditions with foreign clients. "It was getting harder and harder for him to leave because he didn't want to leave Salvi, his son. He changed what he loved most in his life, which was working in the mountains."
Ignacio climbed hills and enjoyed the mountains since he was 13 years old. At the age of 22 he graduated as a mountain guide and made 45 ascents to the summit of Aconcagua. He was passionate about reading and graduated as a professor of Literature at the National University of Cuyo, where he went from time to time to participate in a class or training.
In 2011, he experienced an episode that marked him forever: a massive heart attack and stroke in Nepal shortly after reaching the summit of Manaslu. That caused neurological damage that affected his speech and with rehabilitation he managed to recover.
He went ahead with the assistance of a guide dog, who accompanied him on his ascents. In July 2019, he reached the summit of Mount El Gasherbrum II, at 8,034 meters above sea level, the thirteenth highest mountain in the world, located in Pakistan.
After suffering a stroke, Ignacio continued to make ascents with a guide dog.
Last Wednesday, November 29, when the guide from Mendoza and the two Pampeans lost all connection, the other two companions who gave up on the road to the summit had just come down.
The Chileans Montero and Buchbinder decided not to continue with the ascent and to return when they were at 3,000 meters above sea level, due to the harshness of the weather conditions.
Later, it was these friends who notified the Carabineros rescue corps of the emergency and who financed the first day of search in helicopters, until the governments of Argentina and Chile intervened in the rescue.
Lucero, Espir and Berardo, the three climbers who died during an ascent in the Cordillera.
Ignacio Lucero had never climbed Marmolejo before. According to his wife, he was very careful with all the details, including his health condition and not putting the lives of others at risk, but when something got into his head it was not easy to give up.
And when the two Chileans decided to leave, Ignacio wanted to continue and behind him the two friends from Pampa: "They saw, through their eyes, that they had a lot of admiration and trust in Nacho," Fernanda said about her partner's client friends.
The guide from Mendoza, Gerardo Castillo, an expert climber who knows the difficulty of Malmorejo, told in an interview with Radio Nihuil about the difficulty of this volcano: "Once I was there and a wind began to blow that was not forecast. The gusts broke all our tents and after waiting 12 hours sheltered as best we could, we managed to face the descent."
And he explained that this entire area of mountains, which are between Argentina and Chile, at the height of the Uco Valley, has large glacial formations, with powerful storms that precipitate a lot. "There are stretches that are still a mystery, and the nearest help is several days away on the road," Castillo said.
"A very strong and cold wind froze them. They had climbed roped, but were no longer attached to the rope when a gust flipped them over. Nacho curled up on the floor and stayed there," says the guide's partner, about the possible cause of death.
Fernanda along with Ignacio's mother, niece and sister, and 7 other mountaineers who have traveled from Mendoza to Chile, will wait this Wednesday in the area of Los Baños Morales, at the entrance to Mount Marmolejo, for the rescuers to lower the bodies.
The woman said that she had the authorization card so that Ignacio could climb Aconcagua this season. "I was all set. On December 3, I was supposed to enter Aconcagua Park with three clients, two Brazilians and a Mexican, to attempt the summit of the highest mountain in the Americas," he recalled.
With great sadness, in the vigil in the middle of the mountains, Ferndanda confesses: "I have to see him for the last time, let him go, because otherwise he will not be able to fly as he wanted."
The family's wish is that the body of the mountaineer be buried in the Aconcagua cemetery, in the immensity of the Andes, so that he can rest among the mountains that marked his life.