Mount Aconcagua - 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' is non-technical – essentially a high level walk, with sections of snow and ice, following the Northwest Ridge. It is the altitude and the weather that pose the biggest problem. It is important to respect it and be prepared for a considerably higher degree of self-sufficiency and mountain judgment than on peaks such as Kilimanjaro or Elbrus. This expedition is much more physically demanding, requiring a good working knowledge of camping, cooking and cold weather survival skills.
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 group 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$60-$80 per day, depending on the height they are going to. Clearly this will make the trip easier in terms of doing heavy carries, but the aspect of teamwork still remains as a vital part of the trip.
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 lead by AA guides Steve Pinfield or Gavin Bate along with local Argentinian guides.
As well as a veteran climber and mountaineer, Steve is an expert in Arctic survival having spent many years running Arctic and Antarctic expeditions and logistics bases.
Gavin, MD of Adventure Alternative is an International Mountain Leader on mountains and treks all around the world including Mount Everest.
Dates and Itinerary
Since we only run one or two trips per year to Aconcagua, we are quite open to changes in the dates as long as everyone in the team agrees. In other words we can work around your preferences, within a day or two either side of the scheduled dates.
We also run private trips on Aconcagua with full training and advice programme. For this we need a minimum of 6 people and it cannot overlap with one of our scheduled trips.
For our 2013 expedition we will be using the Vacas Valley route.
|29th January - 19th February|
We have the experience, staff and logistics to tailor bespoke itineraries to your needs, in addition to our scheduled trips. Please contact us to discuss your exact needs in terms of itinerary and costs. We may also be able to provide suggested itnieraries to meet the requirements of individuals, families and groups.
|1||Flight to South America|
|2||750m||Arrive Mendoza, rest and shopping|
|3||750m||Mendoza - shopping and mountain permits|
|4||2750m||4 hours||Drive to Puente del Inca and overnight in roadside village.|
|5||3380m||5 hours||Trek to Confluencia Camp and put up the tents. Meals provided.|
|6||3380m||7 hours||Trek to Plaza Francia to view the vast South Face of Aconcagua and acclimatise. Back to Conluencia for overnight camp.|
|7||4200m||8 hours||Trek to Plaza del Mulas, base camp on the Horcones Valley route. Set up camp. Meals provided.|
|8||4200m||Rest day at Plaza del Mulas, first medical check.|
|9 - 14||4200m - 5500m||varied||These are the acclimatisation and carry days, going up to Camp Canada (5000m) and Nido de Condores (5500m) with overnights if necessary, and rest days. Exact plan to be agreed depending on weather, group ability and mountain conditions.|
|15 - 18||4200m - 6962m||varied||Summit cycle period. Generally an overnight at Nido de Condores (5500m) and an overnight at Berlin Hut or Camp Colera (6000m)followed by a summit attempt. The chance of staying at the high camp for a second try at the top is dependant on usual mountain factors. Having summitted most people descend to Nido de Condores on the same day and down to base camp the following day.|
|19||4200m - 2750m||9 hours||Trek down the valley to the roadhead. Overnight in Puente del Inca.|
|20||750m||4 hours||Travel back to Mendoza. Hotel.|
|22||Arrive back home.|
Mount Aconcagua cost: £2,295.00
- Hotel Crillon in Mendoza for 3 nights
- Hostel in Puente del Inca
- Transport to the mountain
- Mule transportation
- Tents and cooking equipment
- Meals at BC
- Food for high camps
- Professional guides
- Porter for group gear (optional)
- All organization and preparation
- International airfare to Mendoza
- Peak permit (USD$730pp payable in Mendoza in cash)
- Meals in Mendoza
- Personal equipment and expenses
- Medical/Evacuation insurance
- Porters for personal gear
Cost of Add-Ons and Some Optional Extras
Single Person supplement: £80.00
Single room in the hotel in Mendoza. Note we cannot provide single rooms at the hostel in Puente del Inca or one man tents.
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 highly experienced guides who have had plenty of prior experience on high altitude peaks and also specific experience on Mt Aconcagua.
We have been running trips to Aconcagua since 1997 and our summit success rate is an average of 75%. In bad weather nobody goes to the summit, but in the cases where weather has been good the main reason for people turning back has been due to tiredness which has been exacerbated by the high altitude and cold.
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 called Aymara to provide the mules and also the base camp meals at Plaza Argentina or Plaza del Mulas. We have been using this company for the past eleven years.
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.
The Horcones Route
The route starts from the road at Puente Del Inca with a two day walk up the Horcones Valley, a long and dry valley all the way to Plaza del Mulas. The route has stunning views of surrounding peaks and cliffs, and there is an excellent day walk up to the base of the south face which is well worthwhile.
We use mules to take all the gear to this point and stay overnight at Confluencia Camp for a night. The third day’s walk to base camp takes a whole day and it is tough. It is not uncommon to feel dehydrated, tired and slightly altitude sick on reaching Plaza del Mulas (4200m).
At base camp there is little or no vegetation, and it is dry and cold with temperatures ranging from -15 to +15 degrees Centigrade. Here we put up our tents and use local base camp services for meals, toilets and showers. There are charging facilities and a free medical service.
Base Camp to Camp Canada is about 4 hours to 5000 metres on a long easy scree slope with a zigzag path. We have to manage some carries of food, gas and equipment. Porters are available at base camp to hire.
Camp Canada to Nido de Condores is about 4 hours to 5400 metres on scree and snow with a path. We will have to stock this camp with food, gas and tents. Nido can be very windy with deep snow. We will spend several nights here for acclimatisation before going higher. Decisions on summiting are made here, since above this camp our supplies will be limited. The final camp is either at Berlin Hut or Camp Colera and is a good half day climb on scree or snow, but it is not steep.
Nido de Condores to Berlin Camp is about 4 hours hike to 5940 metres, on rock and snow. Everything required for summit day will be carried up in one load normally, so heavy rucksacks are normal. Another option is to hike a little further to Camp Colera (5980m) which is a little more exposed but has more space.
This is a dramatic place to camp with exceptional views over the Andes. We work hard to get some rest, liquids and food into us before attempting to reach the summit. During the day it is not uncommon to experience several weather patterns in as many hours, including sunshine, snow and high wind. This is the point from which a summit attempt is made.
Summit day is a big mountaineering day, but the terrain never requires technical skills on snow and ice. It is a long hard slog, 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.
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 very 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, a longer shaft is better to use as a walking aid since you will not be cutting steps
- Crampons (can be hired)
- Plastic mountaineering boots e.g. Scarpa Vega
- Trekking boots for the walk in and sandals for base camp
- Adjustable 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, preferably with hood
- Camera, batteries or small solar charger, diary, pen, books
- River shoes for Vacas Valley route
You can hire all the equipment you are likely to need in a rental shop right across from the Hotel Crillon. It is a place called Limite Vertical and they can provide plastic boots, walking axes, sleeping bags, mitts, goggles, walking poles and down jackets. They also sell most clothing although prices are quite expensive. Additionally there are many outdoor shops in town which provide everything you may need.
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.