Aconcagua Horcones Valley

Much of the hiking is on scree and rock. Although there are no permanent snow fields, crampons and ice axe are still required for the higher sections. Sometimes the final few hundred metres is covered with ice and snow which is much easier to crampon up, than having to walk up on loose scree after a dry winter.

The route for the Horcones Valley on Aconcagua starts from the road at Puente Del Inca with a two day walk up the Horcones Valley (stopping at Confluencia along the way to acclimatise), a long and dry valley all the way to Plaza del Mulas. The weather can be very extreme, either very hot and dusty or with the potential for snow, wind, hail and storms. The route has stunning views of surrounding peaks and cliffs. 

We use mules to take all the gear to this point and stay overnight at Confluencia Camp for two nights. 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.

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. Decisions on summiting are made here, since above this camp our supplies will be limited.

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 try hard to get some rest, liquids and food into us before attempting to reach the summit.

Normally summit morning begins at about 3am. Berlin Camp or Camp Colera to the summit is about 8 - 10 hours to 6962 metres on rock, snow and ice, and then about 3 - 4 hours descent back to camp. Summit day is long and hard, very taxing on energy and a considerable achievement. It is always cold and windy and great effort must be put into looking after yourself. This is not a place for cheap equipment.

There are several sections to the summit route, starting with an initial ascent on mixed ground up to White Rocks at 6100 metres. From here there are fine views over the Polish Glacier, and a long set of zigzags on exposed ground leading up to the Independencia Hut. By now the sun will be up, and the wind and cold can be savage.

There is then a long, low rising traverse to the base of the Canaleta, a 400m steep ascent on a mixture of scree and snow, and then a traverse to the Cresta del Guanaco just below the summit. From here it is another 30 minutes to the summit itself which is quite large; normally spend about 20 minutes on the top taking photos.

Descent back to base camp at Plaza del Mulas is over two days. Either sleep again at the top camp after the summit attempt and the next morning return to Nido de Condores to pick up the remaining gear and brave a very heavy rucksack back down to base camp. Or pack up the tent and get down to Nido straight away, and descend to base the next morning.

 

GPS Co-ordinates
The 1:40,000 map ‘Cerro Aconcagua’ (ISBN 978-3-9523294-0-5) is compatible with GPS and uses the WGS84 co-ordinating system. You can buy it online from Climbing Map for about €17.50. Below are the GPS co-ordinates for the main places visited on the Horcones Route and summit day.

 

Site 

Altitude
ft - m

Latitude
º S

Longitude
º W

Puente del Inca

9,020 - 2.750

32º 49.47'

69º 54.69'

Confluencia

10,990 - 3.350

32º 45.56'

69º 58.29'

Plaza de Mulas, lower

13,450 - 4.100

32º 39.65'

70º 03.52'

Plaza Mulas camp

14,440 - 4.400

32º 38.92'

70º 03.45'

Plaza Canada

16,670 - 5.080

32º 38.71'

70º 02.62'

Nido de Condores

18,330 - 5.590

32º 38.24'

70º 01.81'

Berlin Refuge

19,600 - 5.970

32º 38.32'

70º 01.30'

Camp Colera

19,680 - 6.000

32° 38.25'

70° 01.11'

White Rocks – summit day

20,010 - 6.100

32º 38.42'

70º 01.12'

Black Rocks – summit day

20,360 - 6.210

32º 38.49'

70º 00.96'

Refuge Independencia

21,000 - 6.400

32º 38.77'

70º 00.93'

The Finger - traverse

21,290 - 6.490

32º 38.92'

70º 00.95'

The Cave – base of Canaleta

21,940 - 6.690

32º 39.24'

70º 00.95'

Cresta del Guanaco

22,400 - 6.830

32º 39.27'

70º 00.86'

Summit

22,841 - 6.962

32º 39.19'

70º 00.72'