Mount Aconcagua - Horcones Route - Argentina
Aconcagua is the highest mountain in the Western hemisphere, located in western Argentina, near the Chile border. There are about 3500 climbers trying the summit each year. The 'Normal Route' on both the Vacas Valley and the Horcones sides are non-technical with sections of snow and ice, following the Northwest Ridge from the same final camp. It is the altitude and the weather and the high level of self-sufficiency required that pose the biggest challenges.
This expedition is more physically and mentally demanding than mountains like Elbrus or Kilimanjaro, requiring a good working knowledge of camping, cooking and cold weather survival skills. Fitness is important too; there are porters available, but there is more self-carrying of loads up to around 15 kilos at altitude. The trip is camping and the route involves a 3 or 4 day walk-in to base camp followed by two or three high camps before the summit day.
For the 2015 expedition we will use the Horcones route and the Plaza del Mulas base camp, and then camps at Camp Canada (5000m), Nido de Condores (5590m), and Camp Colera (6000m). We will use base camp facilities for food and toilets, but be self-sufficient above.
Note that members now need to undergo up to three medical examinations at base camp before being allowed to ascend higher. We recommend that you have a medical before leaving and discuss with us any pre-existing conditions such as high blood pressure, which might affect this requirement by the Park Rangers.
This is a great expedition for aspiring mountaineers looking to really stretch themselves and perhaps tackle some higher altitudes. The mountain itself is challenging and should not be underestimated but with sufficient preparation and training will be a significant challenge and notable achievement to stand on the highest point of South America.
The teams are always between 5 and 8 people, and we use our own guides to lead the trip. Sometimes we fly one of the Nepalese Sherpas to Argentina to help lead the trip and get some valuable training outside the Himalaya. The guide:member ratio is 1:5 for the walk in and the carrying to high camps, but during the summit period we will ensure that there are two guides for teams over 4 people. In the event of somebody having to descend there will be two guides in a position to ensure that the rest of the team can continue.
We do expect that our teams show involvement in the jobs of cooking and camping; we do not provide additional staff to do all of this. Make sure you are competent at both, and are enthusiastic about teamwork! The success of the trip, regardless of being guided or not, is in developing the camaraderie and team effort that is the hallmark of any safe trip in the mountains.
The carries are done by the team, with everyone helping to move supplies to the high camps, but there are porters at base camp who can be hired. If the guide decides, then he or she will be able to hire porters for the benefit of all in order to move group gear higher, but members can individually or as a team decide to hire porters for their own personal equipment. On average porters cost USD$80-$120 per journey, depending on the height they are going to.
Aconcagua has two summits, north and south, joined by a ridge the Cresta del Guanaco which is nearly one kilometre long. Other ridges radiate from each summit, and the whole massif is isolated from other peaks. Shaped like a giant wedge, it has a very steep and massive face to the South and a gentler slope to the North. The huge Polish glacier flows to the East and a series of arêtes and couloirs flank it on the West.
We use two routes on Aconcagua – the Horcones or the Vacas Valley. Both of them use the same camp to summit from at about 5800 metres, but approaching it from different sides.
Horcones route is described as the ‘normal’ route going up and down the same way, using the Plaza del Mulas base camp and three other camps – Canada, Nido de Condores and Berlin.
Vacas Valley route or the Polish Glacier route involves a longer ascent to base camp at Plaza Argentina, using a further two camps before going to the summit.
The expedition is led by an AA guide along with local Argentinian guides if necessary. Before the trip starts you will have a chance to discuss your trip with the guide and we also offer training weekends if the team can get together. Sometimes, if the numbers allow it, we bring some of our Nepalese Sherpa guides to help on Mount Aconcagua.
Dates and Itinerary
For this trip to run we need a minimum of five people. Start dates indicates arrival in Mendoza, end date indicates arrival back home.
|16th January - 4th February|
If the group is all in agreement then the dates can be changed to allow a tailor-made option.
3 days - arriving and getting to the Park gate
4 days - trekking to base camp
6 days - carries and acclimatisation hikes to C1 and C2 and Colera Camp
4 days - summit period
3 days - trek out and back to Mendoza
A full itinerary and pack is available and the team will get a complete anticipated plan for the climb, plus full information on the group equipment, food and logistics.
Time in Country
20 days. This does not include flight times or extra days in-country.
|1, 2||750m||Arrive Mendoza. Get mountain permits and final packing of kit, kit rental is available.|
|3||2750m||4 hours||Bus to Puente del Inca (near the entry to the Park) and overnight in roadside village.|
|4- 6||4200m||varied||Trek to Confluencia (3370m) and acclimatise, then trek to Plaza de Mulas (Base Camp).|
|7 - 11||4200m - 5500m||varied||Carries to high camps at 5000m and 5500m, acclimatising and rest days. Always sleeping at base camp.|
|12- 17||4200m - 6962m||9 hours||Summit cycle period with overnights at 5500m and 6100m, and two potential summit days and a weather day.|
|18- 20||Return to trail head and back to Mendoza. Hotel overnight.|
Mount Aconcagua - Horcones Route cost: £2,295.00
- Hotel in Mendoza for 3 nights and camping in Puente del Inca
- Bus to the National Park and mules for carrying gear to base camp.
- Tents and cooking equipment
- Meals at BC and food for high camps
- Mountain Guides
- All organization and leading.
- International airfare to Mendoza
- Peak permit (USD$550pp payable in Mendoza in cash for high season - NOTE that this may change during the year).
- Meals in Mendoza
- Personal equipment and expenses
- Medical/Evacuation insurance
Cost of Add-Ons and Some Optional Extras
Additional nights in the hotel: £60.00
Single or double room
Not all about money
Our prices are competitive and good value, and we offer quality, service, security and professionalism. Our itineraries are planned to include sufficient acclimatisation and rest to maximise your comfort, safety and chances of success. We use experienced guides who have had plenty of prior experience on high altitude peaks and also specific experience on Mt Aconcagua.
Travel insurance will need to be purchased by each team member to cover all costs associated with medical, rescue, equipment, cancellations etc. This should be purchased as early as possible to ensure cancellation coverage in case of any issues arising that cause you to cancel your trip.
The policy must be checked for validity in the regions through which we will be travelling and also for trekking/mountaineering to 6962m. Many specialist insurance providers have common peaks named on the policy description so it is worth contacting the company to check which is the appropriate level of cover. You should bring with you a copy of your policy and ensure your tent mate knows where you keep it. It is also worth bringing a photocopy of your passport and to keep it separate to your own documents just in case you lose your passport.
Adventure Alternative is a member of AITO (Association of Independant Tour Operators), which ensures complete protection for your money.
We use a local company to provide the mules and also the base camp meals.
You will need to be in good physical condition. If you have not been to altitude before you must consider that 7000 metres is very high and you will need to monitor your ability to acclimatize, which will require patience and good judgment. Atmospheric pressure is 40% of sea level at the summit but people do not generally use supplemental oxygen for this expedition. Good physical fitness will aid your ability to trek at high altitude and carry a rucksack, assisting your body with it's acclimatisation, and it will of course make the trip more fun if you are not constantly feeling defeated by the demands of the trip.
Train the thigh and calf muscles, and work on lots of stamina training, cardio-vascular work and as much hill walking with a rucksack as possible. You cannot train for altitude anywhere in the UK or Ireland, so concentrate on arriving with the confidence of feeling fit and mentally prepared. Put on a little weight in the weeks beforehand and don’t over-train.
A gradual approach to training, several hours per week in the gym with a good walk on the weekend, will suffice. Pilates is excellent preparation, as is swimming, step machines, rowing and walking up stairs or hills. Practise also sleeping on hard surfaces since for some people the shock of lying on rock and ice in a tent can lead to sleepless nights. Sleeping tablets are strongly discouraged on a mountain trip because they slow down the rate of breathing, so it is important to give your body the best opportunity to rest. Work on feeling comfortable with a day hike and carrying a rucksack of around 15 kilos. It is also important to get your feet hardened and ready for the trek, since blisters will stop you faster than anything. Remember also that double boots or plastic mountaineering boots are quite heavy and stiff, so practise with them on and comfortable with a pair of thick mountain socks.
Type of Terrain
Much of the hiking is on scree and rock. Although there are no permanent snow fields (not including the glaciers, which are technical routes), crampons and a walking axe are still required for the higher sections. Sometimes the final thousand metres of elevation is covered with snowfall and any person contemplating Aconcagua should be prepared for extremely cold conditions, winter camping and high altitude.
Summit day is a big mountaineering day, but the terrain never requires technical skills on snow and ice. It is a long hard ascent, and there is considerable exposure to the elements and of course to the altitude. The weather patterns will determine if you spend the day on snow or on rock, but expect both and be prepared with correct warm clothing and good double boots. The hardest feature to overcome is the Canaleta, which is a gully choked with boulders that is unremitting and hard work. Sometimes you will be on rock, other times it will be covered in snow, but either way it is important to watch your feet and don't twist an ankle. Coming out of the gully, the route traverses the top of a large ampitheatre and ends up on the final ridge to the summit, with classic views over the south face. There is a bit of scrambling to the summit, but it is not difficult. As ever, the issue will be keeping enough strength in hand to handle the descent safely. It is a long way down! But with adequate supplies of food, hot drinks in a thermos, warm clothes and a back up of safety gear like a sleeping bag for the group, group shelters and a stove for making a brew, everyone should be fine.
Base Camp at Plaza Argentina is well facilitated and safe. There are huts for eating, medical facilities where everyone needs to get their permit stamped to show they are medically fit for continuing upwards, and it is very sociable.
Camp 1 at 4880 metres has plenty of tent spots and is spread out over a huge area which is often snow-covered. The wind can be strong here but the route is not difficult.There is some running water here.
Camp 2 is called Guanacos Camp and has an altitude of 5400m, and is over the Ameghino col. There is running water here, plus the support of other teams using the same camp space.
Colera Camp at 5970m is the last camp, but sometimes teams try to summit from Guanacos Camp, depending on conditions and strength of group.
Good teamwork, lots of knowledge about mountains and altitude sickness, and an enjoyment of simply being in the mountains are all vital to your general well being and to the success of the trip. We don't recommend Aconcagua to people without experience of multi-day trips, high altitude (at least up to 6000m) and winter camping. This is not just about physical ability which will require lots of visits to the gym; it is a mountaineering experience which requires fitness of the mind as well as the body.
Technical mountain skills are not vital on Aconcagua, but a good knowledge of camping and self-preservation in cold weather conditions is very important. Erecting tents, using the gas stoves safely, cooking simple but tasty recipes in the outdoors, going to the toilet, packing rucksacks effectively, dressing correctly and managing your personal climate are all skills which have to be learnt and understood before going to altitude.
Putting a tent up in a gale is not easy and cooking a dehydrated meal for 3 people in a confined space is difficult, as is making water from ice and equally peeing into a bottle inside your sleeping bag! During rest days at base camp and hopefully prior to the expedition there will be time to learn and practise. Good teamwork will come from this and it is the key that gets everyone to the top and back down again. Physical fitness in itself will give people confidence to climb the mountain, but the preparation should also involve reading about the mountain, and working on camping skills.
We have two booklets entitled ‘Health on a High Altitude Trek’ and ‘Extreme Climbing’, both of which should give you some excellent knowledge on what is happening to your body up high. This is something that you cannot train for at home and understandably there is sense of apprehension about what will happen. The more you know the less afraid you will be, and the more confidently you can climb the mountain.
Avoiding altitude sickness
You should be prepared for the possible onset of altitude sickness. High altitudes are stressful on the body, and lack of oxygen up high can produce debilitating effects, such as fatigue, headaches, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, nausea, and a drunken gait. In the more advanced stages altitude sickness can develop into an oedema in the head (HACE) or the lungs (HAPE) at which point descent is mandatory.
The highest statistical rate of failure at altitude goes to young fit males who mistake physical fitness for altitude fitness. Walk at a comfortable, slow pace and don’t carry too much weight. Make sure to hydrate yourself regularly, drinking 4 to 5 litres of water per day. Taking antioxidant vitamins (A, C, and E) also helps reduce the effects of high altitude.
Everybody acclimatises at a different rate of speed according to their metabolism (some people find they have a ‘ceiling’ after which they cannot ascend), but there are ways to alleviate the effects of going high. The key is to take it easy. Take a day or two to acclimatize to the elevation. Go at your own pace, and don’t take chances. Even if you’re in excellent shape, don’t be fooled. The lack of oxygen at such high altitudes will not discriminate. The ascent is spread over a period of days and we adopt the “climb-high, sleep-low” theory of ascent: go on a short hike to a higher elevation, and then return to the lower elevation at which we will sleep. There are two AA booklets which are useful reading - Health on a High Altitude Trek and Climbing at Extreme Altitude.
Adventure Alternative Support
The expedition will be led by professional and experienced guides. We also have an agreement with a local provider in Mendoza who we use for base camp facilities and the mules.
We provide logistics and bookings for hotels and hostels, base camp meals, mules, group equipment and high camp cooking. We also provide lots of advice before the trip on all issues like equipment and training.
- Rucksack (80L)
- Day sack (45L)
- Large duffle bag
- Bag to leave gear in hotel
- Selection of dry bags
- Sleeping bag rated to -20c, 4 season, preferably down
- Thermarest or foam sleeping mat, full length
- Headtorch with spare batteries and bulbs
- 2 water bottles & insulating covers
- Pee bottle
- Cup, bowl, plate, cutlery
- Toiletries: wet wipes, small towel, antiseptic hand gel, nailbrush, soap, toothbrush and paste, shaving kit, soap, toilet paper, shampoo
- Water filter unit, puritabs or Steripen
- Sunglasses, suncream and lipcream (spf high factor), moisturising cream, aftersun
- Repair kit: cable ties, laces, wire, small pliers, string, gaffer tape, superglue, penknife
- First aid kit: plasters, aspirin, ibuprofen, general antibiotic, throat lozenges, Paracetamol, bandages, plus medicines for diarrhoea, gastric problems and coughs. Acetazolamide (also known as Diamox, please read our section on this drug in the booklet Health on a High Altitude Trek), electrolyte rehydration sachets, antiseptic cream or liquid, personal medications.
- Map of Aconcagua (ISBN 9783952329405 or 187956811X or 9783952329405) and compass
- Altimeter or GPS (optional but very useful), see GPS co-ordinates in Maps/Routes
- Walking axe (optional)
- Crampons (can be hired)
- Plastic mountaineering boots e.g. Scarpa Vega or hybrids
- Trekking boots for the walk in and sandals for base camp
- Trekking poles
- Inner liner gloves and thick outer gloves, several pairs Waterproof, warm mitts
- Fleece hat with ear flaps Sunhat
- Balaclava, neck warmer or scarf
- Trekking socks and high quality climbing socks
- Gaiters, optional but very useful in deep snow and for warmth around the lower leg
- Shorts and t shirts, hiking trousers and shirts
- Base layer, top and bottom, two sets
- Fleece mid layers, several tops
- Fleece jacket, good quality and preferably slightly long to cover backside
- Windproof trousers and jacket, good quality
- Down jacket with hood
- Camera, batteries or small solar charger, diary, pen, books
You can hire all the equipment you are likely to need in a rental shop in town, there are many to choose from.
It is worth pointing out that the supermarkets sell everything you may need in terms of personal stuff for your washkit, sweets and snacks and any types of food. This might save you a lot of weight in your baggage.
Links to Retailers
At Expedition Kit Hire our aim is to provide a seamless, first class customer service for our clients, offering top quality clothing and equipment to fit the demands of any expedition from Polar, high altitude, desert or tropical treks across the globe. If we don't stock a product, we probably can so please get in touch.
A climbing map of Aconcagua can be obtained from climbing-map.com
- Our guides are qualified to UIAGM, UIMLA or MIC standard and have been working with us for many years. They have previous experience on Mount Aconcagua and we employ them for their friendliness and good team dynamics as well.
- We use a local provider called Aymara for mules and base camp food, and we have found them to be very professional and reliable.
- We provide proper advice prior to the trip from guides who have been on Mount Aconcagua and who can spend time on the phone discussing training, equipment and so on. We provide a personalised service for small groups.
- We have an itinerary with plenty of time for acclimatisation and we have several opportunities for summit days.
- We have been running trips to Mount Aconcagua since 1997, and we have extensive experience of high altitude expeditions.
- We have the required bonding in place for financial protection of your money.
- We are an ethical company with a strong attitude towards the protection of fragile mountain environments and local employment.
- We guide all the Seven Summits and can offer practical advice on all of them.