Climbing Aconcagua

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climbing_aconcagua

 

Mt Aconcagua (6,960m)

 

Mt Aconcagua  is the highest mountain on the South American continent, located in the Andes mountain range, within the Argentine border. It lies just 15km from the Chilean border. Not only is it the highest peak in South America, it is the highest outside of the Himalayas, making it the highest in the Western & Southern hemispheres, as well as the second tallest on this 7 Summits list.

 

Swiss guide Matthias Zurbriggen is reportedly the first person to summit, doing so in 1897. He was part of a European expedition led by the British mountaineer Edward FitzGerald, who himself had made 8 unsuccessful attempts to summit.

There has been a few interesting discoveries high on Aconcagua and surrounding peaks that suggest the Inca people were inclined to climb very high on these mountains. Whether they reached the top is unknown but the below passage demonstrates that they did indeed enjoy time at high altitude.

“There is no definitive proof that the ancient Incas actually climbed to the summit of the White Sentinel [Aconcagua], but there is considerable evidence that they did climb very high on the mountain. Signs of Inca ascents have been found on summits throughout the Andes, thus far the highest atop Llullaillaco, a 6,721-metre (22,051 ft) mountain astride the Chilean-Argentine border in the Atacama region. On Aconcagua, the skeleton of a guanaco was found in 1947 along the ridge connecting the North Summit with the South Summit. It seems doubtful that a guanaco would climb that high on the mountain on his own. Furthermore, an Inca mummy has been found at 5400 m on the south west ridge of Aconcagua, near Cerro Piramidal” R. J. Secor, Aconcagua: A Climbing Guide, The Mountaineers, 1994

KEY PHRASES TO LEARN

 

Spanish is the national language of both Argentina and Chile so it wouldn’t hurt to learn a little Español before making the journey.

 

Hello                                      Hola

Goodbye                                Adios

Thank You                            Gracias

Please                                    Por favor

Good morning                     Buenos Dias

Good Night                           Buenas Noches

Cheers                                    Salud

Excuse Me                             Perdon

Stop!                                       Alto!

 

How are you?                        Como Estas?

Nice to meet you                  Mucho Gusto

I don’t know                          No Se

Do you speak English?       Habla Ingles?

How much is this?              Cuanto Cuesta?

I’m From..                             Soy de…

My name is…                        Mi nombre es..

Before Climbing

mendoza

Mendoza, the beautiful city at the foothills of the Andes. It also lies at the heart of Argentina’s wine region.

GETTING THERE

 

Aconcagua is located near the Argentinian city of Mendoza, which can be reached by a flight from either Buenos Aires or Santiago. If using a guide service, they will likely make arrangements for you from Mendoza to the mountain and back again.

 

If travelling independently, take the bus from Mendoza to Puente del Inca if you’re climbing the south face, or Penetentes for the Polish Glacier.

 

*Note- You must obtain a climbing permit granting access to the Aconcagua Provincial Park which can only be granted at the Department of Renewable Resources, located at 1143 of San Martin Avenue, 1st Floor – Mendoza City – Argentina.

 

Permit fees, as of writing this, are listed below:

 

Polish Glacier route

High season: From 15th December of year 2014 to 31st January 2015, a permit costs:

Climbing USD$ 945-20 days

Long Trekking USD$ 233 -7 days

Short Trekking USD$ 166-3 days

 

Medium season: From December 1st to December 14th, 2014, and from February 1st to February 20th, 2015 a permit costs:

Climbing USD$ 727-20 days

Long Trekking USD$ 204-7 days

Short Trekking USD$ 102-3 days

 

Low season: From November 15th to November 30th 2014 and from February 21st to March 15th 2015

Climbing USD$ 727-20 days

Long Trekking USD$ 204-7 days

Short Trekking USD$ 102-3 days

 

Normal Route

High season: From 15th December of year 2014 to 31st January 2015, a permit costs:

Climbing USD$ 800-20 days

Long Trekking USD$ 233 -7 days

Short Trekking USD$ 116-3 days

 

Medium season: From December 1st to December 14th, 2014, and from February 1st to February 20th, 2015 a permit costs:

Climbing USD$ 582-20 days

Long Trekking USD$ 204-7 days

Short Trekking USD$ 102-3 days

 

Low season: From November 15th to November 30th 2014 and from February 21st to March 15th 2015

Climbing USD$ 582-20 days

Long Trekking USD$ 204-7 days

Short Trekking USD$ 102-3 days

 

VISA

 

If you are from Canada, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and members of the E.U a visa is not required. Travellers from the USA, Canada and Australia entering Argentina via any port of entry are required to pay a fee online before travelling and must show proof of payment on arrival. You can pay this on the Provincia NET website. This is the reciprocity fee and the cost $100.

 

 

WHEN TO CLIMB

 

The main climbing season runs from late December-March, summer in the southern hemisphere. December is colder but less crowded than the busiest months of January & February. Guide services don’t generally run during winter (the ‘offseason’) which is only tackled by highly experienced and game climbers.

 

 

 

CHOOSING A ROUTE

 

There are 2 main routes on Aconcagua used by 95% of climbers. These are the ‘normal route’ and the Polish Glacier Traverse. The third most utilised option, although far and away in the minority, is the Polish Glacier route, which involves a much more technical climb.

 

Normal Route

 

A non-technical route that is often considered a ‘walk-up’. Depending on the conditions towards the summit, crampons and ropes may be required. If there hasn’t been a lot of snow, it can be very dry and dusty, requiring scrambling as you progress. It is the shortest and easiest option on Aconcagua, therefore making it the most popular.

 

Normal_route_climbing_aconcagua

 

 

Polish Glacier Traverse Route (False Polish Route)

 

This route follows the Vacas Valley around the other side of the mountain. Guides often descend down the normal route, making a full traverse of the mountain. The False Polish Route is slightly longer and harder than its popular counterpart, making it a little less crowded. It is also the more scenic of the two.

 

 

CHOOSING A GUIDE

 

As on Kilimanjaro, there are dozens of options available when choosing a climbing. From local services operating from Mendoza to large International companies, I have listed those I have found to have the best reviews and feedback.

 

A typical guide service on Aconcagua tends to offer the following as standard;

 

  • – Mule gear transport to base camp (Plaza de Mulas)
  • – Mendoza Airport pickup & Dropoff
  • – All meals on expedition
  • – Transport to and from Penitentes-Horcones, Aconcagua Park Entrance
  • – 2 nights hotel accommodation in Mendoza
  • – 1 night hotel accommodation Penitentes
  • – Group Equipment (tents, mess tents, cooking equipment, radios etc..)
  • – Emergency Medical Supplies

 

International

 

Alpine Ascents

  • Price est: $4,600 for 21-day Normal Route
  • Porters to remove waste from higher camps on mountain
  • No accommodation included when arriving back in Mendoza
  • No final transfer to Mendoza airport

 

International Mountain Guides

  • Price est: $4,700 for 21-day Normal Route
  • High experienced & knowledgeable worldwide guides

 

Local

 

Inka Expeditions

  • Price est: $3,590   for 18-day Normal Route

 

Aconcagua Expeditions (Acomara)

  • Price est: $3,890
  • Discount for early booking (est: $3180 + additional extras)
  • Summit of Mount Bonete in addition to Aconcagua

 

Fernando Grajales Expeditions

  • Price est: $3,550 for 18-day Normal Route
  • Daily ‘acclimatisation checkup’

 

 

Patagonicas

  • Price: $4,300 for Ameghino Valley and Upper Guanacos traverse route (19-days)

 

 

TRAINING & PREPERATION

 

Physical Training

 

The object of this training program is to ensure you can;

 

 

Example Training Routine

 

*Note- This routine below assumes you have a decent base level of fitness, as it starts 4 months out from the expedition. You should have been doing some moderate physical activity at least 3-4x per week prior to commencing this. If not, spend 2 months prior building up to training 4 days a week and get comfortable with that proposition.

#Climbing/hiking at altitude will be the best possible type of training. The below program assumes you live at sea level and don’t have access to any significant elevation gain.

 

Example Training Schedule

6 MONTHS OUT 5 MONTHS OUT 4 MONTHS OUT 3 MONTHS OUT 2 MONTHS OUT 1 MONTH OUT
MON STRENGTH STRENGTH STRENGTH STRENGTH STRENGTH STRENGTH
TUE CARDIO: 30 mins CARDIO: 40 mins CARDIO: 50 mins CARDIO: 1 hour CARDIO: 1:15 CARDIO: 1:30
WED STRENGTH STRENGTH STRENGTH STRENGTH STRENGTH STRENGTH
THUR OFF OFF OFF OFF OFF OFF
FRI CARDIO: H.I.I.T CARDIO: H.I.I.T CARDIO: H.I.I.T

 

STRENGTH

CARDIO: H.I.I.T

 

STRENGTH

CARDIO: H.I.I.T

 

STRENGTH

CARDIO: H.I.I.T

 

STRENGTH

SAT HIKING HIKING HIKING HIKING: 4+ hours HIKING: 5+ hours HIKING: 6+ hours
SUN OFF OFF OFF HIKING: 4+ hours HIKING: 5+ hours HIKING: 6+ hours

 

Strength

Strength training for Mckinley may be the most important out of any of the summits due to the large loads in both backpack and a sled being towed behind you. It is therefore essential to not only build sufficient leg strength but hips, back, core and shoulders.

 

A sample weights Routine would be as follows:

 

Squats- 3 x 12-15

Deadlifts- 3 x 12-15

Step Ups- 3 x 12-15

Pullups- 2 sets max reps

S/S

Dips- 2 sets max reps

Rows- 2 x 10-12

S/S

DB Press- 2 x 10-12

Ab Circuit- 3 sets

Fitball Planks- 1:00

Fitball Bridges- 1:00

Med Ball Double Crunch- 20

Russian Twists- 50

 

Cardio

Cardio is your aerobic fitness, your bodies ability to effectively utilise oxygen taken in. At altitude, the oxygen levels available for the body to absorb are a great deal less than at sea level. As such, it is necessary to get your heart and lungs in adequate condition to handle the rigours of altitude upto 5,…m and trekking uphill for upto 3 weeks, the length of a typical expedition.

The best form of cardio you can do (besides hiking up mountains) is on stairs or a stairmaster at the gym. Alternate between running up and down and using a heavy pack.

For variety, incorporate running and swimming to keep it enjoyable and prevent boredom.

 

H.I.I.T (High Intensity Interval Training).

A great incorporation into any training program where the goal is to increase the red blood cell count and improve oxygen efficiency. This is where a short burst of intense activity (1-2 minutes) is followed by an equal period (or slightly longer) of recovery. A great option is to find a long hill or group of stairs that will take you no longer than 3 minutes to reach the top. Once at the top, slowly jog or walk back down before sprinting as fast as you can back up again. These sessions should last no longer than 40 minutes due to their intensity. (If you find you are not exhausted after 40 minutes you haven’t worked hard enough!)

 

Hiking

Aimed at getting you accustomed to trekking for multiple hours a day over varying terrain. Ideally this will be amongst mountainous terrain at altitude, however not everyone lives in close proximity to such landscape in which case a hilly path will do. If even that is hard to find, try a beach (walk up and down sand dunes along the way).

 

Try and do all hiking with a heavy backpack, building upto a weight of 60 pounds, equivalent to what you would be using on Mckinley. It is a completely different ballgame with heavy weight on your back so it is essential to get used to this.

In addition, it is a great idea to try and get used to pulling a sled or something equivalent to get you used to this unique challenge that Denali presents.

ITINERARY

 

*Sourced from Inka Expeditions

Day 01 · MENDOZA – Altitude: 760m
Our expedition starts in Mendoza, Argentina. A representative of INKA Expediciones will be waiting for you at the airport. We will stay at the hotel in the city. A group meeting will follow and you will be introduced to your guides and team members.

 

Day 02 · Mendoza / Penitentes – Altitude: 2700m
We will obtain individual entrance and ascent permits. You will be personally assisted in this procedure. After this we travel to Villa de Penitentes, where we stay at a Hotel in the mountain. There we get the equipment ready for transportation to the base camp, by mule.

 

Day 03 · Penitentes / Confluencia – Altitude: 3.368m
We drive you to Horcones Park, where we get our first view of the mountain. We will get our permits checked at the Ranger station. Then, we head off to Confluencia by walking 4 or 5 hours.

 

 

Day 04 · Acclimatization trekking to Plaza Francia – Altitude: 4.200m
We’ve included this day in order to acclimatize better, and give you more chances to summit. We’ll trek for about 5 hours until we arrive to Plaza Francia, base camp of the impressive Aconcagua South Wall. This is one of the nicest points of the expedition.

 

Day 05 · Approach from Confluencia to Plaza de Mulas – Altitude: 4.250m
After 8-9 hours hiking across “Playa Ancha” and climbing up through a very steep path, we reach Plaza de Mulas, the biggest base camp in Aconcagua Park. By the end of the day, most of us will feel the altitude.

 

Base-Camp-plaza-de-mulas-0

Plaza de Mulas- Basecamp for Aconcagua Expeditions (Image: Travelblog.org)

 

Day 06 · Rest day at Plaza de Mulas – Altitude: 4.250m
The first day in Base Camp is always a rest day and a good occasion to take a bath and explore the local terrain.

 

Day 07 · Carry equipment and food to Camp 1 – Altitude: 4.900m 
This is a challenging day where we gain 1.000 m. with a heavy load on easy terrain. Then we’ll return to Base Camp. It’s important to take advantage of the comfort and lower altitude at Base Camp.

 

Day 08 · Rest day at Plaza de Mulas – Altitude: 4.250m
This is a day we mainly use to recover energy, to rest, to hydrate ourselves and for abundant meals.

 

Day 09 · Ascent from base camp to Camp 1 – Altitude: 4.900m
The following morning we definite start the ascent to Aconcagua. We move to Camp 1, called “Plaza Canada”. Until now, we were working on get an optimal acclimatization. We want everyone to have the best possible chance to do summit.

 

Day 10 · Move to Camp 2 – Altitude: 5.400m
Camp 2, called “Nido de Condores” (meaning Condor Nest), is located in a high pass at 5.400 m. and provides a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains.

 

Day 11 · Carry equipment from Camp 2 to Camp 3 – Altitude: 6.000m
This day, we carry equipment to Camp 3 called “Camp Colera”. After carrying the equipment up, we return to Camp 2 to sleep, to give our bodies more chances to acclimatize.

 

Day 12 · Ascent from Camp 2 to Camp 3 – Altitude: 6.000m
We start a 4 hours walk to Camp 3, located on the North Ridge. We will prepare our tents and eat and rest, to be ready to get the summit.

 

Day 13 · Summit day – Altitude: 6.962m
It is the most demanding day of the expedition. We climb the North Ridge to Independencia Refuge at approximately 6.500 m. We ascend through the “Portezuelo del Viento” , climb “La Canaleta”, and the “Filo del Guanaco”, that leads us to the summit. The prize is waiting for us, a 360° view and the experience of overcoming, that you only finally understand once you reach it. At the end of this experience, we descend to Camp 3.

 

Days 14 and 15 · Spare days in case of bad weather conditions.
We have three extra days set aside on our itinerary to attempt summit. These extra days are built in to provide the best possible conditions for each participant to summit.

 

Day 16 · Return to Base Camp.
Return from Camp 3 to Base Camp. We’ll enjoy a great dinner to celebrate the experience.

 

Day 17 · Return from base camp to Penitentes and back to Mendoza.
We have breakfast and then start the descent from Plaza de Mulas to Penitentes. There is a private transport waiting for us to take us to the hotel in Mendoza City.

 

Day 18 · Mendoza
We have breakfast at the hotel. Check Out and end of services.

 

 

REQUIRED GEAR LIST

 

*Sourced from…

 

FEET

 

– 1 Pair of comfortable hiking boots

– 4 Pairs of outer socks (thick wool or polypropylene)

– 3 Pairs of inner socks (thin silk or polypropylene)

– 2 Pairs of cotton socks (for approach to base camp)

– Neoprene booties with sole (for river crossings. Sandals as Tevas are also ok)

– Gaiters

 

LEGS

 

– 2 Thin synthetic pants (polypropylene or nylon)

– 1 Fleece pants (full length side zippers recommended)

– 1 Waterproof and breathable over-pants (such as Gore-Tex, full length side zippers recommended)

– Comfortable trekking pants – Shorts (optional)

 

UPPER BODY

 

– 2 Thermal baselayer shirts (polypropylene or capilene)

– 1 Fleece pullover (like soft polartec 100 or 200, or similar)

– 1 Fleece jacket or alike

– 1 Warm jacket for -30°C / -22°F (down recommended)

– 1 Rainproof or windproof jacket with hood (such as Gore-Tex)

– Cotton T-shirts or shirts

– 1 Turtleneck or multifunctional headwear of synthetic material (Buff or similar)

 

HEAD

 

– Sun cap or hat

– Ski hat (wool or fleece)

– Light balaclava

– Ski goggles

– A good pair of sunglasses (with UV filter and side protection)

 

HANDS

 

– 2 Pairs of inner thermal gloves (polypropylene or capilene)

– 1 Pair of insulated finger gloves

– 1 Pair of insulated mittens (fleece, down or polar guard)

– 1 Pair of over mittens (such as Gore-Tex, only if your mittens are not made of waterproof material)

 

PACKS

 

– Comfortable expedition backpack (70 liters / 4.250 cubic inches as minimum)

– Day pack (for approach to base camp)

– One extra large strong duffel bag (to be carried by mules and stored in base camp, 6.000 cubic inches as minimum. Large enough to fit in all your equipment)

 

SLEEPING GEAR

 

– Sleeping bag for -30°C / -22°F (down or polar guard)

– Sleeping mat (Thermarest or similar, full length recommended)

– Foam pad (only if you bring a Thermarest, to avoid a burst)

 

MOUNTAINEERING EQUIPMENT              

 

– 1 Pair of plastic boots Note: Climbing plastic boots or double boots are the best option for high altitude. In Aconcagua you will find temperatures very cold (-30°C / -22°F). Koflach Artic Expedition, Scarpa Vega or Asolo AFS 8000 are good examples of plastic boot. There are excellent alternatives to a plastic boot, in which the outer boot is made of modern synthetic materials. Ask us about these new models as La Sportiva Nuptse, the Vasque Ice 9000 or the Salomon Pro Thermic. We must be sure that your boots are equipped for very low temperatures

– Crampons with ‘step-in’ bindings (12 points, non-rigid recommended)

– 1 Pair of trekking poles (adjustable preferred)

– Climbing helmet

 

OTHERS

 

– Head lamp with extra batteries and bulb

– Block for lips and sun screen (not less than 35 solar protection factor)

– Personal crockery (bowl, cup, fork and spoon)

– Two water bottles (32 fl.oz /1 liter Nalgene recommended. Water bottle insulator needed)

– 1 Stainless steel thermos of one liter or half liter (useful for high camps)

– 6 Hand warmers (for summit day)

– Hydrating system (like CamelBak, for approach trek to base camp only, because in the altitude it get frozen)

– Personal care elements (small towel and soap, baby wipes recommended)

 

OPTIONAL ITEMS

 

– Book, IPod, games or anything that helps to distract you

– Camera, memory cards and extra batteries

– Earplugs (for windy nights)

– Pee bottle with wide mouth (32 fl.oz / 1 liter Nalgene recommended Useful at higher camps) – Swimsuit (for the hotel pool)

– Pocket-knife (note: always pack sharp objects in hold baggage)

– Your favorite energy bars