2017 Expedition - Vacas Valley route (also known as the Polish Glacier route)
Mount Aconcagua, standing at 6962m high, is the highest mountain in the Western hemisphere and the highest mountain in the world outside the Himalayas, located in western Argentina near the Chile border. It is one of the fabled Seven Summits, the highest peaks on each of the seven continents. This is a guided mountain expedition and we offer both the Horcones route and the Vacas Valley route. We normally run one trip per year.
There are about 3500 climbers trying the summit each season. The normal routes are non-technical with sections of snow and ice, both following the Northwest Ridge to the summit from the same final camp. The altitude and the weather and the high level of self-sufficiency required pose the biggest challenges, so this is not a climb for the uninitiated.
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 expedition style 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. We recommend a good period of preparation for Aconcagua and we will help with as much advice as possible.
This is a great expedition for aspiring mountaineers looking to really stretch themselves and tackle some higher altitudes. The mountain itself is challenging and should not be underestimated but with sufficient preparation and training will be a significant achievement to stand on the highest point of South America.
Mount Aconcagua has two summits, north and south, joined by a ridge called 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. The view from the top and from the Cresta is particularly dramatic and well worth the effort of reaching nearly 7000 metres.
Group Logistics on Mount Aconcagua
The teams are normally between 5 and 15 people, and we use our own guides to lead the trip along with local Argentinian guides if necessary. The guide:member ratio is never more than 1:5 for the walk in and the carrying to high camps and the summit day.
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; members can individually or as a team decide to hire porters for their own personal equipment. On average porters cost USD$250 per load carry of 20kgs, but this is dependent on the height/camp they are going to. The company will often assist with providing porters to carry group gear.
There is a clear policy of what do in the event of a rescue on Aconcagua, the national park rangers are very well versed in how to assist with a descent and there is a helicopter on standby to take people back to the park gate. However there is a clear understanding that any team should be prepared to self-manage any emergency on the mountain rather than just rely on the ranger service.
MOUNT ACONCAGUA ITINERARY
The expedition is 20 days in-country, but this does not include flight times or extra days in-country. Many people choose to arrive a day or so early to acclimatise to the climate and overcome the long flight, and of course some people stay on afterwards to visit the vineyards and enjoy the area round Mendoza.
2017 expedition - Vacas Valley route
Mount Aconcagua Horcones route plan
|1, 2||750m||Arrive Mendoza. Get mountain permits and final packing of kit, kit rental is available.|
|3||2750m||Bus to Puente del Inca (near the entry to the Park) and overnight in roadside village.|
|4-7||4100m||Trek to Plaza Argentina (Base Camp)|
|8-12||4100m - 5400m||Carries to high camps at 5000m and 5400m, acclimatising and rest days. Sleeping back at base camp.|
|13-17||4200m - 6962m||Summit cycle period with overnights at 5400m and 5980m, and two potential summit days to accommodate possible bad weather.|
|18-20||Return to trail head and back to Mendoza. Hotel overnight.|
The following is an idea of good acclimatisation but is not a fixed plan.
|Day No||Climbing time plan (flexible according to conditions|
|9||Camp 1 4850m, BC|
|10||Camp 2 5600m, BC|
|12||Weather day or ascend to Camp 2|
|13||Camp 2 5600m, overnight|
|14||Camp 2 5600m, overnight|
|15||Summit day option|
|16||2nd Summit day or back to base camp|
|17||Base Camp or walk out|
|18 - 20||Walk out and return to Mendoza|
Mount Aconcagua cost £2295.00
- Hotel in Mendoza for 3 nights (bed and breakfast) and a hostel in Puente del Inca (bed and breakfast)
- Transport to the National Park gate and mules for carrying gear to base camp.
- Tents and cooking equipment
- Meals at Base Camp and food for the high camps
- Mountain leaders and assistants
- All organization and leading of the group
- Porters for some group equipment
- International airfare to Mendoza
- Climbing permit for Aconcagua (USD $800pp payable in Mendoza in cash pesos, in person for high season 2015/16 - NOTE for 2017 this may change).
- Meals in Mendoza and in Puente del Inca
- Personal equipment and expenses
- Medical/Evacuation insurance
- Porters for personal clothing and equipment
The total cost for a trip to climb Aconcagua, with average flight costs from the UK to Mendoza, insurance, permit and some spending money is around £3865.00.
Travel insurance for your trip to Mount 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.
Local supplier for base camp services on Mount Aconcagua
We use a local company to provide the mules for equipment and also the base camp meals and porters. We have been using this company for a long time and have always found them to be good at providing the logistical back up we need at a high standard. They provide food and accommodation sites including breakfasts, lunches and dinners and a mess tent with toilets at the base camp.
Mount Aconcagua - fitness and terrain
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 in case you strain something!
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.
Note that members now need to undergo two medical examinations at base camp before being allowed to ascend higher. We strongly recommend that you have a medical before leaving home and discuss with us any pre-existing conditions such as high blood pressure or a heart murmur, which might affect this requirement by the Park Rangers. They do have the power to prevent you from climbing any higher, however in our experience they are very friendly and encouraging and they will help wherever they can to assist with a safe ascent. They do not condone the use of drugs like Diamox, unless needed in an emergency, preferring to advise on diet and a healthy lifestyle at base camp. So for example they will advise against taking salt in your meals.
Type of terrain on Mount Aconcagua
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 which can be consolidated into hardpack or ice, and any person contemplating Aconcagua should be prepared for extremely cold conditions and the need for using equipment competently. This means walking safely on crampons and knowing how to use an axe to arrest a slip, and using poles efficiently.
Summit day is a big mountaineering day, but the terrain never requires technical skills. 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 not to twist an ankle. Coming out of the gully, the route traverses the top of a large amphitheatre 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.
Camps used on Mount Aconcagua (Vacas Valley route)
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.
Camps used on Mount Aconcagua (Horcones route)
Base camp at Plaza del Mulas (4600m) is a large tented city at the height of the season with all manner of facilities like bars, showers and souvenir shops.
Canada Camp at 5000m is a rocky promontory overlooking the whole valley with not much shelter and no running water.
Nido de Condores at 5500m is a huge area with ice pools you can break for water and a park ranger service.
Berlin Hut or Colera Camp at 5970m can both be used for the summit attempt. There is a 'toblerone' hut at Berlin but otherwise no facilities.
See a full altitude profile chart here.
Experience needed for Mount Aconcagua
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 and white 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 pages entitled 'Acclimatising Safely' and and ‘High altitude treatment’, 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.
Mount Aconcagua Kit list
- Rucksack (80L)
- Day sack (45L)
- Large duffle bag to go on the mules
- Bag to leave clothes in hotel
- Selection of dry bags
- Sleeping bag rated to -20c, 4 season, preferably down (optional liner or bivi outer)
- Thermarest or foam sleeping mat, full length
- Headtorch with spare batteries and bulbs
- Water bottles & insulating covers, and flask for hot drinks
- Pee bottle
- Cup, cutlery
- Toiletries: wet wipes, towel, hand gel, nailbrush, soap, toothbrush and paste, shaving kit, soap, toilet paper, shampoo
- 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 Health on a High Altitude Trek and Acclimatising Safely 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 Horcones Route
- Walking axe
- Plastic mountaineering boots e.g. Scarpa Vega, or good quality hybrid double boots
- Trekking boots for the walk in and sandals for base camp
- Trekking poles
- Inner liner gloves and thick outer gloves, and warm mitts
- Fleece hat and sunhat
- Balaclava, neck warmer or scarf
- Trekking socks and high quality thick climbing socks for high camps
- Gaiters, 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
- Windproof 'shell' trousers and jacket
- Down jacket with hood, good quality (not 'street style' down jackets)
- 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 but we like to use one called Limite Vertical on Sarmiento Street.
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.
- 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 as their professionalism.
- 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 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 and we adhere to the Aconcagua Park rules.
- We guide the Seven Summits and can offer practical advice on all of them. Our Aconcagua facts page is a realistic 'under the gloss' view.