As the highest mountain in both the western and southern hemispheres, climbing Mt. Aconcagua is both a true adventure and a rewarding experience. At 22,841 feet or 6,962 meters Aconcagua is also the highest mountain in the world outside of Asia. It is located on the border of Chile in western Argentina and is famous for its dry environment and powerful winds. There are several routes leading to the summit of Mt. Aconcagua. Some of the routes are technical such as the Polish Glacier, the northwest or vacas valley route do not involve ice climbing or roped travel and finally you have the extremely dangerous south face route. I climbed Aconcagua via the northwest route also called the normal route. If you are interested in climbing Aconcagua, click here for details on my training program, gear list and for climbing tips.
Just about everyone who climbs Aconcagua will first make a stop here in the city of Mendoza. If you read my Argentina page then you'll know it's a pretty big city and you can find anything here including all the gear you would need to climb a high peak in the Andes. Mendoza is only located at 800 meters or 2,700 feet above seal level. That's not high enough to get any acclimatizing done but you'll normally come here by flight or bus and also register for your climbing permits. On the left is a photo of all the climbing gear I took on the mountain which totaled about 45lbs. On the right is a photo of Mendoza's shopping district from my last day of city life before I committed to up to three weeks on a mountain.
After a few days in Mendoza we drove roughly 3 hours to the ski resort of Penitentes. From Mendoza itself it's difficult to see many snow covered peaks, but on the drive you'll pass by several such as the one to the left. The photo to the right shows the town of Penitentes. During the summer it's mostly empty except for climbers and hikers and travelers making a pit stop who are crossing between Chile and Argentina. Penitentes is small but does have a few hotels and hostels, restaurants, internet and places to buy snacks. The area in the summer is scenic with warm weather and has plenty of good hiking trails to explore helping you to begin your acclimatization. Mendoza had been my last day in city life and Penitentes was my last day in civilization until the end of my expedition.
After a night in Penitentes followed by a short drive we arrived to the entrance of Aconcagua Park. Above are two photos of the entrance of the park. You can see it is located at 2,850 meters, or 9,350 feet above sea level. From this point onward you're on foot until you reach the summit at 22,841 feet!
At the park entrance I saw this helicopter land which is used to ferry supplies back and forth from base camp as well as rescue injured and sick climbers. The great thing about climbing Aconcagua is your climbing permit also includes any rescue insurance, including a helicopter ride if you need it. On the right is a photo of a man's bike and a dog who rode all the way from Sao Paulo Brazil! He found the dog in Buenos Aires and since traveled with him as he heads west to the coast. Riding from the Pacific ocean to the Atlantic must be an amazing adventure.
After checking in with the rangers and squaring away our permits we finally started on foot to base camp. On the left is a photo of a sign warning you to have your permit before crossing the bridge. On the right is a friend I made during the climb who is trekking through one of the trails in the horncones valley towards Camp Confluencia. This day took about 4 hours to reach the camp and was on nice terrain with good weather. Mules carried all of our gear to base camp so we only had to carry small day packs. The first day on the mountain was very enjoyable.
Our first day's goal was to Camp Confluencia seen above. On the right is a close up of the Confluencia summit which is located above our camp; more amazing during the sunset. At this point we haven't even reached base camp yet but at 3,400 meters or 11,500 feet we are already close to the same height as the top of Japan's Mt. Fuji, shy by only a few hundred meters.
After the first day in Camp Confluencia it is important to rest and acclimatize before moving higher. On Day 2 we had another enjoyable hike that took us over 4,000 meters to help our bodies get used to the altitude. On the left is a photo of a large mountain where an Inca mummy was recently discovered. On the right is a view of Aconcagua's south face, by the far the most difficult, dangerous, and challenging route up the mountain. As one of the most dangerous climbs in the hemisphere only a handful of climbers attempt that route each year.
After two nights in Confluencia or Day 3, it was time for us to move on to base camp. The trek to base camp from here was long but the terrain was mostly flat except the final hour. On this day I spotted some other mules crossing a river with food and supplies as well as one of their fallen comrades found in the middle of the valley.
The main section of the hike to base camp is extremely boring since there is not much of a change in scenery. After a few hours we had lunch at el dedo which means the finger and is seen to the left. El dedo also marks the halfway point to base camp from Confluencia so it's a perfect place to stop. On the right is a view looking back on the Horcones valley after we have made it all the way to base camp.
On the left is a photo of base camp, also called plaza de mulas. The photo was taken high above, and as you can see it is mostly dry but still cold. Plaza de mulas means mule place in Spanish, and on the right are a pack who have arrived to base camp with their gear. Apparently the mules work 1 day and then get a mandatory 2 days off, so they don't have such a bad life!
Once in base camp we try to relax and acclimatize some more. Plaza de mulas is located at 4,300 meters or 14,500 feet. On the left is a photo of some tents, the green one is mine, with clouds rolling in on the background. On the right are some satellite dishes and solar power panels used for electricity and even internet in base camp.
Like Camp Confluencia, in base camp we also have to do local hikes to help acclimatize and stay in shape before moving up. On the left is a memorial of the first known climber of Aconcagua who summitted in 1897. On the right is another large mountain surrounding base camp, this one is in the 5,000 meter range.
On day two in base camp, or Day 4 on the actual mountain, one of our fellow climber's body hadn't acclimatized and only had 60% oxygen in his blood. He also had his lungs begin to fill with fluid as a result of the high altitude, and had to be evacuated by helicopter, otherwise he would may have died. For the rest of us, we could only continue to acclimatize before moving on and hope the same bad luck wouldn't happen to us. On another day of acclimatizing, I explored an ice formation known as Penitentes, where the ski resort we went to earlier is named after. The tall spikes of ice on the left are about the same height as a human, and are pretty impressive. On the right is some type of weather recording device that I randomly came across while doing exploring the area with a friend.
For the most part base camp hadn't been too cold, because in the Argentina summer warm temperatures can reach high elevations. The best time to climb Aconcagua is in December and January, I went on the last guided expedition in late February where conditions are still supposed to be dry and relatively warm up to 15,000 feet. Unfortunately that wasn't the case, and after only a few days in base camp we had a large snow storm and cold weather.
When I first arrived to base camp I didn't think life was that bad. We had good food and services such as internet and showers even though most people don't use them because of the price, but still they were available. At the end of the night though, you still get back into your tent and sleep in freezing temperatures, so after a while you certainly are ready to move on. Finally on Day 8, we packed up and moved to Camp 1 at 16,500 feet. Even though conditions are harder in Camp 1 compared to base camp, making progress really uplifts everyone's spirits.
We spent one night in Camp 1 which was at 16,200 feet and then moved on directly to Camp 2 on Day 9. The reason we did not spend time acclimatizing at Camp 1 is because as the body gets closer to 5,000 meters it takes an extremely long time to acclimatize, and beyond 5,500 meters the body begins to get weaker over time, regardless of how much you eat or sleep. Above are photos of Camp 2 at 5,400 meters or 17,500 feet. On the left is the normal Camp 2, but we stayed a few meters higher to enjoy the cleaner environment and less crowded camp. All this snow by the way is unusual and we experienced it since we were the last expedition of the year. Most climbers will find a dry rocky environment similar to my photos showing the first days in base camp. The snow does make the climb a bit more challenging.
On both treks to Camp 1 and 2 we had experienced heavy snows. Once we dug in Camp 2 another snow storm rolled in which made it deep enough that we had to stay in the same camp tomorrow instead of heading to Camp 2. An extra day at 5,400 meters was not part of the plan! I remember foolishly running around in a T-shirt and shorts and then diving back into my tent after arriving to Camp 2. A few hours later I felt sick from the effects of the altitude while my climbing partner laughed at me. In the morning of Day 9 I woke up and thought my climbing partner was dead so now I got to laugh back at him. It turned out he was very sick from the altitude himself while I actually was feeling pretty good. This day was day 9 where we had to take out the extra food bag seen below along with our tasty dinner. This food was was reserved in case bad weather kept us on the mountain which unfortunately turned out to be the case.
Finally even though the weather didn't completely clear up, it became decent enough to move to Camp 3 at over 5,900 meters, or only a few hundred feet short of 20,000. The snow was coming in heavy and made the climb much more difficult and miserable. We hadn't been able to move to Camp 3 the day before since there was over 3 feet of fresh snow which would make it extremely difficult to travel through and tiring to set up the high camps; nothing you want to try at 20,000 feet. On the left is our group heading to the high camp with me crossing the ski poles. Below is our home for 3 nights.
Day 10 on the mountain we learned that the weather report for the next day wasn't in our favor. We had spent forever on this mountain it seemed but the guide came to our tent and recommended we hold off attempting to summit for another day. I was so desperate to get it over with I asked if I could summit solo with a guide. He explained the weather the next day would only be bad in the morning, but the following day it would be excellent for summitting. Reluctantly I agreed and spent a second day at 20,000 feet feeling miserable with everyone else. On the upper left is another photo I took from Camp 3, looking over a cliff while being above the clouds. On the right is a photo looking up from our camp, with the large rock on the left being in the summit area. It looks so close, but its at least a days trek from our camp.
Like our guide had said, two days later the weather was perfect. We left Camp 3 at 7am in the dark and headed for the summit. The day was very long and split up into certain sections. The first was reaching Camp Indepencia at 6300 meters which wasn't too bad. After that, we had a traverse through deep snow to the famous Canaleta at 6,500 meters. The Canaleta is a steep section from 6,500 meters going to 6,700 meters full of rock and sand which can be extremely difficult. For us, the deep snow made the traverse twice as hard as the Canaleta, as it took longer and was much windier.
If you can pass the Canaleta than you can summit the mountain, the remaining 200 meters are still very difficult, but knowing you are so close is all the motivation you'll need. Unfortunately when I did reach the summit, the lack of oxygen made me feel a bit drunk and I was stumbling around! But still I was sober enough to appreciate the challenge I over came and enjoyed being on top of South America and conquering another one of the 7 summits. The only higher mountains in the world are the Himalayans in Asia, and since I was the last person to come down from the summit and the fact that climbers don't begin reaching 7,000 or 8,000 meters in Asia until May or June, it is safe to assume I was standing taller than any other human in the world!
Zelly from Mexico: I love this enformation!
Rawi from Germany: Great information. Honest, helpful and entertaining! Thanks for this page.
Robert from USA: Thanks much for the pics and the info. I will attempt to climb the mountain in Feb.09. How many days should I plan above plaza de mulas? In researching, I noticed a lack of snow on the normal route. what about water?. will a -20F bag be adequate? is the route well marked if I solo?
George: Hi Robert, I have two pages about Aconcagua, one being a travelogue and photo page and the other you might not have seen, my how to climb Aconcagua page which gives more details on what was done to get ready, the gear I used and a brief explanation of each camp. When I climbed Aconcagua we spent 6 days at plaza de mulas before sleeping at Camp 1. From there on the plan was to spend only one night in each camp but because of bad weather we ended up spending two nights in Camp 2 and three nights in Camp 3, if you include the night after summiting. A 0F sleeping bag is recommended but I used a -20F as well and slept warm at all camps. Aconcagua is generally rocky and dry so the trails are actually easy to follow. If you climb in February like I did then you're likely to have snow. This will completely cover the trails and can potentially put you in a dangerous situation because you won't be able to recognize anything, including your own tent in the distance if there is enough snow on it. If it snows at night or the day before then you can probably get away with following other climbers and their footprints. But, Aconcagua is known for being a very windy mountain so even with clear skies strong winds can blow enough snow around to cover fresh footprints. In other words the trails can be easy to follow if there is no snow, but you will need to bring an elevation map, compass, altimeter etc and plan on them not being visible. There are many glacier run offs on the normal route so it should be easy to find water. There is a large ice formation with a big creek by base camp and even some small stores. I'm not sure where run offs are located by the other camps because we got our water by melting snow that came down after a big storm. Good luck on your climb!
Sam from USA: Excellent Journal of your experience. Thanks for the effort and diligence in preparing such a valuable account. I will certainly use this information and it has been very helpful.
Lou from Australia: Excellent Information and thank you for taking the time to enlighten people like me who are about to attempt the climb. It is evident you took photos - What type of camera did you use and more importantly how many batteries did you take , and how did you keep everything warm so that you did not lose the battery power.
George: Lou, at the time I used a Panasonic DMC-FZ30 camera. This camera worked great during the whole climb. Many websites warn about digital cameras not working in high altitude but I never had any problems with mine. Cold weather will definitely shorten the life of your batteries so I brought three with me. I kept two of them in my back pocket so they would stay warm. My intention was to use two batteries during the climb and save the third one until summit day. A day or two before summit day I used my second battery and that was more than half way full when I got off the mountain so I never used the third.
Lou from Australia:George, do you actually sweat while walking and did you lose any weight? Does anything dry like thermals if they get sweaty? Did you take any elctrolyte tablets or powders or powerade (drink) to replace loss of water or energy. Did you consume any chocolate bars when actually walking? I sweat perfusely and have suffered servere cramps after and during strenuous exercise from dehydration. What is the chance of this happening? Thank you again.
George: These are some good questions, things I should have wrote about earlier but I forgot about them. Minerals & Energy Bars: Since the water you are drinking is from melted snow, it has probably been sitting on the mountain for a very long time. This means there are almost no minerals in the water so it is extremely important to add them yourself. Bringing powder or tablets that you can mix in is essential, if you are doing a guided climb then this should already be covered. I did bring energy bars for the climb but I forgot them in Chile and I definitely wished I had them on the mountain. I lost about five or more pounds on Aconcagua so this is hard to avoid. Sweating: The issue you have with sweating/dehydration is very critical. Sweating while mountain climbing is one of the most dangerous situations you can find yourself in. Wet clothes put you at a much higher risk for getting hypothermia if there is a large drop in temperatures which is quite normal on large mountains that create their own weather. Before you start your day you should be slightly cold so that when you warm up while hiking you are neither shivering nor sweating. The key to this is to add several layers of clothing that can easily be removed so you can adjust for the changing temperatures. Bring some pants that have full length zippers on the sides. This way you can unzip them and take them off easily without having to sit down and remove your boots. Dehydration: There is a lot that isn't known about acclimatizing yet but so far it seems clear that the fitter you are, the better pace you have, the more you are hydrated, and the better mindset you have, the less likely you are to have altitude problems. On Aconcagua it is recommended to drink at least 5 liters of water everyday. Climbers who are dehydrated are much more likely to have altitude problems and not summit. It is very difficult to force yourself to drink five liters a day for a couple of weeks straight but do not forget how important it is!
Sivia from India: Really I am very happy for this information.
John from Canada: Great tips and full of information. I'm wondering what you did for water filtration/purification?
George: Hey John, I just dumped my water bottle in the stream and drank it straight and didn't get sick, otherwise you should use purifying tablets. I didn't filter it either so the bottom of the bottle gets pretty sandy
Rodrigo from Argentina: i nice page! A comment: It is "Horcones" and not "hornocos".
George: Thanks, I hate spelling mistakes!
Tyler from USA: Thanks for the info. It is good stuff. A lot better than anything else I found.
Gary from USA: Thanks for the very helpful information. On Kilimanjaro I had to pee every few minutes all night every night (so also others who were climbing with me), and we only drank 3 liters per day. How did you get any sleep above 5000 meters with drinking so much water?
George: I tried to avoid drinking water a few hours before sleeping. If you have cotton mouth or are thirsty before sleeping then you definitely need to hydrate, otherwise if you've been sipping water throughout the day it won't cause a problem. Even if you don't drink a few hours before you're still likely to have to wake up and pee, so keeping a pee bottle in the tent will make it a 1 minute ordeal instead of having to get dressed and go outside.
Patrick from USA: Superb pictures and info!!! just climbed Kili and thought Id look into a few of the other peaks. Congrats!!!
Jujo from Finland: I love reading these climbing reports! Thanks!
Jakub from Ireland: Great info! Thanks for sharing!
Hassan from Azerbaijan: Climbing Mt. Aconcagua is definitely a dream for me. Someday!
Stacy from USA: Fantastic info, George! I just summited Kilimanjaro 22 Feb. 2010 and now that I've been back for a few months, I have this bug again to climb. Aconcagua makes the most sense, but I'm also considering Mt. Elbrus although from what I'm reading about Elbrus, it doesn't seem like you do that much climbing but a lot of riding on trains or other types of transportation to get to the top. I want to work hard for my success! You've provided great info on the prep work you feel is necessary for Aconcagua so I appreciate that. I'm already in decent shape, but what I'm not used to is carrying the 40+ lb. pack. Guess I need to start loading up and hitting the trails! Thanks again! Stacy
Mattias from Belgium: In Novembre/Decembre we want to climb Aconcagua's normal route. But first we are going to help the people of Haïti for two months. Because of that we can not take a lot of our own alpinismgear with us. And now I want to know if it's possible to rent gear over there? Where do we have to be? What's the quality of the gear? What are the prices?
George: Hey guys, you can practically purchase all the gear you would need from local shops and also rent things like ice axes, plastic boots etc. Of course it's always better to bring your own stuff but here you'll find plenty of options. I found this website: http://www.orviz.com/ I haven't been there personally but they are located in Mendoza Argentina, where you'll have to visit anyway to get your climbing permits. They can better answer your questions and make certain everything is prepared for you. Good luck on your climb and congrats for helping Haiti!
Kim from Canada: Thank you for this information. I just summited Kilimanjaro on Sep 13, 2010. Like how you were, my mind is set on Aconcagua now. I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiment that Aconcagua cannot be underestimated. I respect this mountain like any other, and I will train seriously before attempting it.
Rich from USA: Awesome stuff George!!! Bookmarked. Now I just need to prepare myself for '11-12 climbing season. Still deciding if I should do it earlier (early December) or later in the season (mid February/early March)...Thanks for the confirmation above about renting stuff in Mendoza. I'll be cycling from Bolivia's Altiplano and don't want to carry my 'heavy' climbing stuff with me. This way I don't need to even have it shipped to me. Great;)
Fransesco from USA: Did you ever have knee or ankle problems while training or hiking because i have problems, not if I travel light though. is there a way to make ones pack lighter than 45lbs? did you feel like you could have lightened up with any of your gear like excess clothes and stuff?
George: You can definitely carry less than 45lbs if you carry half your gear and drop it off at the next camp and then return to the previous one and sleep, the 'carry high sleep low' technique. On my trip I carried all my own gear and we went straight from one camp to another so that is why my gear was about 45lbs. The best thing for you might be to hire porters which are available on Aconcagua, they can be paid to carry your gear all the way to the highest camp, so you'd only have a day pack.
Daniel from USA: George, I enjoyed reading your account of Aconcagua. I did Kilimanjaro and Everest Base Camp, both with guide companies. Now I want to do Aconcagua with 3 friends--no guides, although one of the friends climbed Aconcagua about 5 years ago by himself. But I am scared. Should I be? Is it really as dangerous a trek as it seems? Thanks.
George: Of course I can never be in a position to give advice on whether or not you are capable of doing an unguided climb but from what you've told me it sounds like your group is more than capable. The reasons for death on Aconcagua are mostly due to high altitude effects on the body and people getting caught up in high altitude storms. Since you have experienced high altitude before and the fact that you are concerned and taking the time to email me, I would assume you understand the importance of patience and letting your body adjust and that you would not take unnecessary risks. Having a member who has already climbed Aconcagua will be a great help to your group, but you also have to consider what happens if he gets injured at some point in the climb and has to descend leaving two of you on your own. This is probably unlikely, but would the two of you continue climbing to the summit or would this end the trip for everyone? Just things to consider, good luck!
Yash from USA: Great information. I am in Mendoza now getting ready for the climb in January 2012. Your information is very useful and encouraging. Just like you, I did Kilimanjaro in Jan 2011 and immediately set my eyes on Aconcagua. Hope it works out ..
Kareem from Singapore: Hi. thank you for so much information. Amazing facts and explanations. I have 2 questions:
i: Is it possible to do a solo climb? ii; Do i need a tent?
George: Aconcagua expeditions normally last at least two weeks, so of course you would need a tent. Solo climbs are not uncommon but are done by experienced climbers. I would personally be comfortable soloing Aconcagua now because I have already been to the summit and know the route and how my body will react to that altitude. Experience is critical in climbing solo but still does not guarantee safety. An experienced guide who had climbed Aconcagua dozens of times mistakenly took his group down the wrong side of the summit which ended up not only getting himself killed by members of his team as well. Good luck and stay safe!
Dale from USA: Nice description. I climbed it in Dec. 2011 and it was pretty straight forward. Weather can and did change fast on the summit and we walked back to high camp in a white out. GPS recommended. I've walked out of whiteouts on mountains with GPS before and recommend several people in the group have one. This climb wasn't technical but it wasn't a trek either can the weather can be nasty.
Lyudmila from USA: Hi George! Thank you for information. How did you feel in the Camps 1,2,3 and Summit Day? Did you use oxygen? Did you take some medicine to treat altitude sickness?
George: Hi Lyudmila. I felt okay in most of the camps. The effects of the altitude were pretty random. I remember in Camp II I was feeling a bit silly and ran around in a T-shirt and shorts before jumping back into my tent after a snow storm. A few hours later I felt sick from altitude while my climbing partner laughed at me. The next morning I woke up and felt pretty good but my climbing parter looked dead. I woke him up and it turns out that he was feeling sick from altitude that day. We both had on and off moments in other words but we both summited so I wouldn't be too concerned if you strongly feel the effects some days. Although we both summited we were both very much hurting from the effects at the summit but as soon as we descended we were fine again. I didn't ever feel sick at Camp III which is 20,000 feet for the three days that we stayed there. I have never used any kind of medicine for climbing before although many do. I've never heard of anyone using oxygen on Aconcagua but I'm sure it's been done before. Traditionally oxygen is only used for 8,000 meter mountains which there are only 14 of those in the Himalayan region.
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