Cerro Aconcagua 22,841 ft.
Truly the “Roof of the Americas,” Cerro Aconcagua, at 22,841 ft. (6,962 meters) is not only the highest mountain in South America, but also the highest peak outside of Asia. The name Aconcagua is most likely a derivative of the Incan words Akon Cahuak, meaning Stone Sentinel. Located on the Chilean- Argentine border, it is easily accessed through the Argentine city of Mendoza.
The Mountain Trip Difference
Mountain Trip brings our high level of personal service to South America. In the age of big-box commercial groups, our small-team, personally tailored expeditions really stand out. We completely restructured our Aconcagua program in 2009 and have evolved it in subsequent years with the goal to provide our climbers with an unparalleled level of service, aimed at giving you the best chance for success.
We have chosen to only offer expeditions via the Ameghino Valley Route, which we feel is the best non-technical route on the mountain for numerous reasons. Extra planned contingency days and provided support for our upper camps, give our climbers a better opportunity to acclimatize and prepare for the rigors of summit day. Our program also lessens the workload of the expedition, and increases your enjoyment of the dramatic landscape you are climbing through.
Why is our Ameghino Valley Route THE best choice?
- Acclimatization. We plan extra days into our itinerary to acclimatize at Base Camp, and make three higher camps instead of the traditional two camps on the Polish Traverse route. By spending extra time in the relative comfort of the Plaza Argentina Base Camp, we help develop a solid foundation of acclimatization. Acclimatization is of utmost importance to succeed at high altitude and we feel that one of the keys to our success has been our acclimatization schedule.
- Supported Upper Camps. We stock our upper camps with food, fuel and equipment, so that our climbers are carrying much less weight on their backs than unsupported climbers. Our goal is for our climbers to carry no more than 35 lbs (16Kg) as they ascend and descend the mountain. This lessens the physical stress which could help you acclimatize better, and definitely makes for a more enjoyable experience.
- Three Camps. The Ameghino Valley route enables us to utilize three camps on the upper mountain, which lessens the workload of each day, eases the acclimatization strain, and enables us to leave the crowds of climbers headed to the traditional Polish Glacier High Camp.
- The Benefits of Traversing. Literally all of our climbers have expressed how much they really enjoyed traversing the mountain. The juxtaposition of the Vacas and Horcones Valleys made for a very special conclusion of a true circuit hike, instead of just walking out the valley you had seen on your approach. There are tangible benefits as well. After summiting from our White Rocks High Camp, it is much shorter to descend the Normal Route to the tent city at the Plaza de Mulas Base Camp, than to re-trace our route. We spend the night in Plaza de Mulas following our descent, and have our expedition gear ferried out on mules the next day, allowing us to enjoy the walk out with only light daypacks.
DAY 1: Our group will meet in the small, lively city of Mendoza, Argentina, capital of the world-renowned Argentine wine country. The guides will check everyone’s gear and you can pick up any last minute necessities. We’ll all go out for a sumptuous Welcome Dinner. Bring your appetite and be prepared
to eat some of the best steaks you’ve ever tasted!
DAY 2: We’ll pick up our climbing permits in the morning and then drive 2.5 hours to the ski resort of Penitentes where we will organize our gear for the “arrieros” (mule drivers) to carry in on our three day approach to Base Camp. High Season permit cost was increased to roughly $900 in 2013, for non-Argentine residents. We’ll eat and sleep one last night in a hotel at 9,000 ft (2750 m) before hitting the trail in the morning.
DAY 3: After a short drive to the trail head, we set out from the mouth of the Vacas Valley. About six hours of hiking through a desert valley (reminiscent of parts of the Grand Canyon) will get us to “Pampas de Lenas,” the first camp on our approach, located at about 9,000 ft (2750 m). We will dine in true gaucho style, with food prepared over an open fire by our arrieros.
DAY 4: A similar day of hiking with light day packs rewards us with a fantastic view of Aconcagua! We’ll make camp at 10,000 ft (3050 m), at the junction of the Relinchos and Vacas Valleys. An old smuggler’s hut was erected here decades ago, and gives the spot its name, Casa de Piedra (House of Stone). Again, we’ll grill dinner over a fire and enjoy the congeniality of our arriero hosts.
DAY 5: An early morning crossing of the Rio Vacas on horseback will deposit us at the mouth of the Relinchos Valley. The trail rises steeply from the mouth of the relatively narrow valley and involves some mildly exposed side-hilling as it climbs up into the broader upper stretches of the Relinchos. We’ll probably need to cross the river at some point, so be prepared for some chilly feet. The 6-7 hour hike culminates at the Plaza Argentina base camp, where we can relax with cold beverages and warm hospitality. This is a tougher day than the previous two and as base camp is located at 13,800’ (4200 m), it also involves a lot of elevation gain.
DAY 6: REST/ACCLIMATIZATION DAY. After the altitude gains of the previous day, we will give our bodies a chance to adjust to these new heights. We will use this day to sort gear and supplies for our push to the upper mountain.
DAY 7: LOAD CARRYING DAY TO CAMP 1. We’ll load up our personal kits with everything we won’t need for the next couple of days at base camp and carry it all up to Camp 1 at 16,300 (4970 m). Group gear, food and fuel will already be stocked at Camp 1, so your load should not be in excess of 35 lbs (16 Kg), and might be considerably less. The trail ascends along the side of a steep gully, next to a dead glacier covered in rocks. Fields of penitents (tall fins of snow formed by wind and solar radiation) line the gully and a 500’ (160 m) high field guards the access to Camp 1. Winding our way through this is a fun, memorable stretch of climbing. Have your camera ready!
DAY 8: REST/ACCLIMATIZATION DAY AT PLAZA ARGENTINA. We’ve just climbed to 16,300 feet in only five days, so we are going to slow things down a bit and allow our bodies to more fully develop a solid foundation of acclimatization.
DAY 9: MOVE UP TO CAMP 1. We’ll pack up the remainder of our personal kits, sleeping bags and tents and head up to Camp 1. This only takes a few hours so we’ll have plenty of time to fortify our camp sites against the ever-possible “viento blanco” or white wind that can plague camps at any elevation from this point upwards.
DAY 10: LOAD CARRYING TO CAMP 2. Again, our food and supplies will mostly be stocked at Camp 2, but we will carry up our extra personal kits and gain some acclimatization in the process. Packs should weigh less than 30 lbs (14 Kg). The initial hour of hiking is visible from Camp 1 and ascends the broad bowl of scree that comprises the uppermost portion of the Relinchos Valley, and was once buried under the now mostly dead Relinchos Glacier. Above this point, most climbers will bear west toward their high camp at the base of the Polish Glacier at 19,200 feet. Opting for the path less traveled, we will cut north and follow the beautiful Ameghino Valley, that separates the stunning 19,616 foot Cerro Ameghino (5978 m) from its taller counterpart, Aconcagua. Easy hiking and one “glacier” crossing will quickly put us at our Camp 2 at just shy of 18,000’ (5480 m).
DAY 11: MOVE UP TO CAMP 2 (HELICOPTER CAMP). The views here are staggering! The summit of Cerro Ameghino is just to our east, to the north we can see the 22,000 ft. (6700 m) Cerro Mercedario dominating the horizon and the array of peaks above the Gussfeldt Glacier to our north are pretty inspiring. This move only takes a few hours, so we can take our time and make certain that our camp is fully fortified and still enjoy the evening light, when Ameghino is bathed in alpenglow. The name Helicopter Camp comes from the bits and pieces of a crashed helicopter, which still adorn the camp, more than a dozen years after the crash.
DAY 12: REST/ACCLIMATIZATION DAY AT CAMP 2. We might make a carry to High Camp, which is an easy, quick (2.5 hour) hike with light packs.
DAY 13: MOVE TO HIGH CAMP AT PIEDRAS BLANCAS (WHITE ROCKS). We climb steeply out of Camp 2 and then ascend gradually up to a shallow basin, filled with bizarre purple and white rocks. Weaving through the rocks makes for some surreal hiking. At the top of the basin, perched on the north ridge of Aconcagua, is our High Camp.
DAY 14: SUMMIT DAY! A pre-dawn start is necessary for this, the longest day of our trip. We’ll work out way up toward the summit, past the wreckage of the old “Independencia Hut” to a rising traverse that leads into the broad gully known as the “Canaleta.” Depending on conditions, ice axes, crampons and ropes might be necessary along the traverse. Above the Canaleta, we’ll skirt along the south ridge, with views down the tremendous South Face of the mountain, to the final rocky steps up to the summit! Save some energy for the descent, keeping in mind that the summit is only halfway today. Round trip time can take anywhere from 7-12 hours, depending on conditions. This is a tough, long day.
DAY 15-17: CONTINGENCY DAYS. These are extra days built into the schedule for weather or other delays. You have come a long way and put a lot of energy toward a summit attempt. This extra time is designed to set yourself up for success.
DAY 18: After a well deserved night’s sleep, we’ll break camp, load up, and drop down the Normal Route to the Plaza de Mulas Base Camp. The typically huge loads will be minimized by our employment of porters to help carry our kit down to Plaza de Mulas. With 30 lb packs, the descent only takes a few hours. Plaza de Mulas is a veritable tent city with restaurants, taverns and satellite phone and internet service. There’s even a hotel on the far side of the valley! We’ll have a celebratory meal in a kitchen tent, seated at tables, and sleep deeply in the relatively thick air of 14,000 feet (4260 m).
DAY 19: The hike out the Horcones Valley goes relatively quickly as it’s mostly a gradual descent and we only have our daypacks to carry. Mules will carry out the majority of our kit. The valley is huge and fascinating, both aesthetically as well as geologically. About 5 hours into our hike, we will stop at the Confluencia Camp for a nice lunch break (pizzas!). At the mouth we’ll check out with the park rangers and be driven back to the hotel at Penitentes for showers and a celebratory meal!
Day 20: BACK TO MENDOZA. Though it is sometimes possible to change flights in order to fly out this day, it is worth taking some time to explore the area. Touring some of the local vineyards gives an insight into the passion with which Mendocinos apply to their wine making. There is also some good whitewater to raft or just take in the sights and sounds of this beautiful city.
**** As with any itinerary for an expedition in the mountains, there are many, many factors which could cause us to stray from this schedule. Flexibility is a crucial character trait in a good mountaineer!
One of the things that really “bums us out” is when we hear climbers disparage Aconcagua. We honestly love doing trips on this mountain, and feel that much of the disparaging commentary is probably based in the experiences of climbers ascending the “Normal Route” from Plaza De Mulas on the Valle Horcones side of the mountain.
The Vacas side of the mountain affords climbers an entirely different sort of experience, with varied terrain and ever-expanding vistas. It is a lot of fun and a great way to get a taste of what a big mountain expedition is like, but it can still be very serious. Train hard for this climb. Purchase the highest quality gear you can find, and enjoy every step of your journey.
BREATHE EASY- Many climbers are climbing the mountain without taking “hard shell” layers like Gore-tex. You should definitely bring Gore-tex layers for the hike in and out, but if you have high quality soft shell pants, and a good, light weight windshell, you can probably send your Gore out with the mules from Base Camp.
VINO DELICIOSO- We’re huge fans of two small, boutique bodegas (vineyards) in Mendoza. Vina El Cerno and Carmelo Patti both make some of the more delicious wines you’ll find anywhere. (Try the 1998 Cabernet from Vina El Cerno or the 2006 Gran Hermitage from Patti!) Climbers have been known to cut up their foam pads to protect bottles that come home from their trip…
“Hi Bill and Todd,
I’ve just got back from the Aconcagua climb, and wanted to drop a line to say what a great trip it was. Clark and Con both did an excellent job – you are lucky to have such guys on your team. Anyway, thanks for everything!”
The following is a general list of required gear for climbing Aconcagua. Climbers joining Mountain Trip on an expedition will receive an updated, comprehensive equipment list that supersedes this list.
Many of the items on the list need to fit you well in order for you to fully enjoy your experience on the mountain. Please plan ahead with equipment purchased for your trip so you can be certain that your gear fits you well. 16,000 feet on Aconcagua is not the place to discover that your pack is too small for your torso, or that your boots give you blisters. Recommended items reflect the opinions of our guides. We have used and have faith in all of our recommendations, but they may not necessarily fit or work for you.
Call or email us with any gear questions. We want you to be as prepared as possible for your expedition.
Items with ** are optional, but recommended.
- MOUNTAINEERING BOOTS:Boots fall into two categories, traditional double boots and triple boot systems with integrated gaiters. The goal is to have warm, comfortable feet! Try on a variety of boots as they all fit differently and get the one that fits well.
Recommended Triple Boots: La Sportiva OLYMPUS MONS EVO, Lowa EXPEDITION 8000, Boreal G1 EXPEDITION, Scarpa PHANTOM 8000
Recommended Double Boots: La Sportiva BARUNTSE or SPANTIK, Scarpa INVERNO, Boreal G1 LITE
- GAITERS: Any height gaiters will work. The tall versions like Black Diamond’s “Frontpoint Gore-tex” are better for snow, but short gaiters like Outdoor Research’s Flex-tex gaiters work well, too.
- APPROACH SHOES: Light hikers or sturdy trail runners for the hike in and out. These also provide a welcome change from your mountaineering boots for wear around camp.
CLOTHING You will need a total of five (5) layers for your torso and four (4) for your legs:
- EXPEDITION PARKA (WITH HOOD): Marmot, Mountain Hardwear and The North Face all make good parkas, but our Guides’ Pick is the Patagonia Down Parka. There are some synthetic options such as the Patagonia D.A.S. Parka and the Wild Things Belay Jacket, however; down is recommended as it is lighter and less bulky. You do not need a full-on 8000meter parka for Aconcagua, but you should have a warm one with a hood.
- SHELL JACKET & PANTS: They should be large enough to go over your pile clothing layers and the pants must have side zippers. These do not need to be the burliest Gore-Tex pieces you can find! Wind protection is of most importance with this layer.
- INSULATED PANTS: This layer must have side zippers! “Puffy” synthetic or down pants like the Patagonia Micro Puff Pants or Feathered Friends’ Volant Pants can be layered over your Shell pants for easier and quicker layer changes than a fleece pant would allow.
- PRIMALOFT JACKET: We used to include thick fleece jackets in this category, but feel strongly that “puffy,” Primaloft-type jackets are far superior. Size Primaloft to fit over your shell.
Guides’ Pick: Patagonia Micro Puff Jacket with hood.
- LIGHT FLEECE: Top and Bottoms made from 100 weight or Powerstretch fleece. A zip t-neck is good for ventilating.
Guides’ Pick: Patagonia R1 Flash Top or R1 Flash Hoody
- STRETCH WOVEN PANTS**: We used to consider these optional, but they have earned their keep in our kits. You can wear these to the summit on some trips. In fact, a highly wind resistant pair could replace your shell pants on Aconcagua. Call us before you commit to not bringing your shell pants. Guides’ Pick: Patagonia Guide Pants or Guide Light Pants
- BASE LAYER: Synthetic Top and Bottoms such as Light or Mid-Weight Capilene or the new Wool 2 layers from Patagonia are nice because they keep you dry and warm. We really like the Merino wool layers!
- T-SHIRTS: Bring 2! Synthetic, wool or cotton t-shirts for the hike in and the hike out. Synthetics dry faster! Some people prefer long sleeve shirts for their added sun protection. There are also a number of nice, ventilated, button up shirts on the market as well. You can hike in wearing one and send it out with the mules so your shirt for the hike out is a bit fresher than you are!
- REGULAR UNDERWEAR: 3 or 4 changes. Look for synthetics such as Patagonia Capilene.
- SOCKS: 2 – 3 sets of wool or synthetic medium/heavy weight socks for your mountain boots. Make certain your socks fit with your boots! Additionally, bring at least two pairs that fit your approach shoes.
- INSULATED GLOVES: Warm, insulated gloves are very useful on Aconcagua. Black Diamond Guide Gloves have removable liners for ease of drying. If you want to use a “Mitten System” with different weights of insulation, you can pass on these gloves, but realize that gloves provide much greater dexterity than mittens.
- GLOVES: Light or medium weight bunting, polypro, Windstopper or Schoeller fabric (one or two pairs.)
- SUMMIT MITTENS: Thick, warm, non-constricting mittens made of pile, Primaloft or down. Guides’ Pick: Outdoor Research Alti Mitts. They aren’t cheap, but are extremely warm.
- WARM HAT: One medium to warm hat or two hats of different weights. Wool or pile is fine. Your hat must provide ear protection.
- FACE MASK: Neoprene or Windstopper face masks will do the trick. Guides’ Pick: Your basic neoprene facemask.
- BUFF: This is a brand name for a light weight, synthetic neck gaiter that can be worn as a hat, gaiter, balaclava or headband. They are one of our favorite pieces of gear and provide sun, wind and cold protection.
- SUN HAT: Baseball type or wide brimmed sun hat for the intense sunshine of the lower mountain. You can combine a baseball hat with a bandana for good sun protection, but a wide brim does even better.
- HAND WARMERS: Bring 3+ sets of these disposable insurance policies (Good for feet and hands)
- SUNGLASSES: They must provide adequate side protection and filter 100% UVA and UVB.
- SKI GOGGLES: For use while traveling during storms or during really cold spells.
- EXPEDITION PACK: (6000+ cu in. or 90+ Liters.) You’ll need a large pack in order to carry your gear, plus group food & equipment. BE CERTAIN THAT YOUR PACK FITS YOU! Get used to your pack; train with it! Guides’ Pick: The Osprey Aether 85 is a great pack that weighs almost 2 lbs less than the Dana Designs or Gregory packs in this size!
- SUMMIT PACK: (2000 +/- cubic inch) LIGHTWEIGHT pack for the approach and for summit day. Light weight is stressed because you’ll be carrying it the whole way. Look for one that weighs a pound or less.
- LARGE ZIPPERED DUFFEL: Select a duffel that you can fit your pack and all your personal kit into. It needs to be fairly durable because the mules can be tough on gear. You might fly down with two duffels and leave one locked with your street clothes at the hotel at the trailhead.
- EXPEDITION SLEEPING BAG: Rated to -15 F (-20 C). Marmot Col, Mt Hardwear 4th Dimension or the Feathered Friends Peregrine are all great bags. Which to choose, down or synthetic? Down is lighter and less bulky, but cost a lot more. Synthetic bags are getting much better. What ever you choose, be sure it is a quality product! Guides’ Pick: Valandre Shocking Blue– this –20C bag weighs just under 3 lbs!
- COMPRESSION STUFF SACK: Outdoor Research has some nice, light compression sacks . Essential for sleeping bags and one is recommended for your summit clothes, such as your parka, mitts and warmest pants.
- 2 SLEEPING PADS: You need two pads, with one being a closed cell pad such as a Ridge Rest or a Karrimat. Therm-a-Rest inflatable pads are arguably the warmest and most comfortable. Guides’ Pick: Exped Downmat 7 paired with a Ridge Rest
TECHNICAL CLIMBING EQUIPMENT
- ICE AXE: (with leash) 60-70 cm length works well for Aconcagua. Choose a light one. Guides’ Pick: Black Diamond Raven Ultra 60 cm
- CRAMPONS: 10 or 12 point crampons that FIT YOUR BOOTS! Step in or “New-matic” work equally well, just make sure step-in versions fit with your boots. Aluminum crampons are also acceptable.
- HARNESS: Adjustable leg loops are required as you might wear it over your bulky, puffy pants. Black Diamond Blizzard and Alpine Bod harnesses are both lightweight and functional.
- CARABINERS: Bring one large locking carabiner.
- SKI POLES: Adjustable poles work best and they travel more conveniently. Black Diamond Flick Lock poles are recommended as they are less prone to spontaneously collapsing than other versions.
ESSENTIAL PERSONAL ITEMS
- STUFF BAGS (for your own items plus one large one for a cache bag)
- EXTRA ACCESSORY STRAPS ( if needed for your gear + group gear)
- WATER PURIFICATION SYSTEM ( there are many good options, and they get better every year, be certain to have enough to treat 5-6 liters per day for approx
- CAMELBACK HYDRATION SYSTEM (optional, but well worth the weight)
- (2)ONE LITER. WIDE MOUTH WATER BOTTLES
- INSULATED COVER (1or 2 for your water bottles).
- LARGE PLASTIC CUP OR BOWL for eating (2-4 cup measuring bowl or Rubbermaid storage bowl work fine)
- INSULATED CUP 12 or 16 ounce plastic cup for hot drinks
- LARGE PLASTIC (LEXAN) SPOON
- LIP BALMS (WITH 30+SPF)
- SUN SCREEN 3-4 OUNCES- two to four small tubes work better than one large tube
- TOILET PAPER: 1 or 2 rolls, depending on your technique
- HEADLAMP W/ EXTRA BATTERIES The small LED versions are perfect for Aconcagua. Load it with fresh batteries before leaving hiome and bring an additional set.
- TOILET KIT (Tooth brush & paste, floss, Handi-wipes, hand sanitizer… keep it small)
- P-BOTTLE (wide mouth collapsible Nalgene work great- they make a 96 ounce version– trust me, it’s worth it! Ladies look for funnel type adapters– They work!)
- PERSONAL MEDICAL KIT (Blister kit, aspirin, antacids, lozenges, Ibuprofen, prescriptions medications per advice from your doctor.)
- CAMERA, with lots of film
- BOOK(s) for storm day reading
- JOURNAL & PENCIL
- ALTIMETER WATCH
- HAND LOTION
- FOOT POWDER
- NECK GAITOR
- SWISS ARMY KNIFE
- SPARE SUN GLASSES
- PERSONAL MUSIC PLAYER iPod, etc. Please note that hard drive versions do not work well at altitude!
- CHAIR KIT FOR YOUR SLEEPING PAD (Lighter than Crazy Creek chairs and pretty darn nice!)
- 10 of your favorite ENERGY BARS, or Candy Bars and some Energy Drink (it is nice to have some of your favorites that are not available in
Argentina. Don’t over do it as this stuff gets heavy)
RENTAL ITEMS AVAILABLE
**We charge more for our rental items on international trips, as we often pay extra baggage fees to get them to our destination.
- CRAMPONS ($45)
- ICE AXE ($45)
- EXPEDITION PACK ($100)