Aconcagua. The South American giant. At 6961m, Aconcagua is the highest mountain in the world outside the Himalaya and is in the famed “Seven Summits”. With a very short climbing season and limited numbers climbing each season, Aconcagua only supports a small number of climbing operators. As a result it is the only destination we offer where we do not operate our own climbs. Instead, we have partnered with the very best local operator who provides support for almost all of the adventure climbing companies worldwide. Their expertise and health and safety procedures are second to none so you are in the safest hands possible.
You will need to arrive at Mendoza Governor Francisco Gabrielli International Airport on day 1 of your itinerary. The airport code is MDZ.
To reach Mendoza you will need to transit through either São Paulo, Santiago or Panama City. From the UK, British Airways have direct flights to São Paulo and you can then continue to Mendoza with LATAM or Lufthansa have flights from Glasgow, Manchester and Birmingham via Frankfurt to São Paulo then on to Mendoza with LATAM.
From the US, LATAM have flights via Santiago and COPA offer flights via Panama City from various major airports.
To ensure your baggage allowance stays the same ensure your international ticket reads as being from your departing destination to Mendoza. Split tickets may incur charges on baggage if there is a difference in baggage allowances between the different airlines.
On arrival, after clearing immigration and collecting your luggage, please look out for a member of our team holding a "KANDOO" sign.
If you are changing airlines or re-checking your luggage at an airport on route, please ensure you leave a minimum of 3 hours between flights. This will account for any delays on arrival, travel time across airports (this can take longer than you think) and time taken to re-check baggage.
When to trek
You can find detailed advice on when to trek in our Argentina Travel Guide.
The most common time to climb Aconcagua are in the summer months from December to February. Aside from the occasional storm these months tend to be dry and relatively warm in the lower regions of the mountain. Base camp will generally sit anywhere between 10º C to 20º C and shorts and t-shirts can often be worn up to this point. As we start to get closer to the summit the temperature will drop significantly and you are much more likely to be in temperatures of 0 to -20 degrees. Windchill is also a big factor the higher up the mountain you go with temperatures dropping by 10 degrees or more purely due to the wind.
For up to date weather forecasting for Aconcagua please follow either of these links:
The Normal Route
There are currently three main routes for ascending Aconcagua; The Normal Route, The Polish Traverse and The Polish Glacier. The Polish Glacier is a climbing route that involves technical ropework skills and gear placement. The Polish Traverse is a trekking alternative to this and traverses below the glacier before heading up the Eastern side of the mountain and joining The Normal Route on the final stretch up to the summit. The Normal Route is the most popular and easiest line up Aconcagua, however this is not to say it shouldn't be revered. The route heads up the western side of the mountain then summits via the gentler Northern face.
Training for your climb up Aconcagua
We added Aconcagua to our program as it is a popular choice for climbers who have summited Kilimanjaro. It is though a significant step up in difficulty and shouldn’t be taken lightly, so training is vital. Because of the limited demand we only run a small number of group climbs each season and all our other climbs are private trips. Aconcagua is not a technically difficult peak if you are in really good condition. The difficulties of the ascent are, as always, those of trekking at extreme altitude. The altitude, weather and environment conspire to make this an adventure that will truly test you.
It is still worth having some experience of using technical equipment prior to doing this route; walking using an ice axe and crampons in particular. For UK guests, mountain centres in the Cairngorms or Lake District offer winter skills courses that are the perfect introduction to winter climbing. If there aren't any of these centres near to you then some climbing walls in London, Glasgow and Manchester have indoor ice walls where you can hone in your skills, and have some fun!
Most days climbing Aconcagua are bigger than an average day hiking at home. There are a number of factors that make this a really tough challenge.
First, you will be on the hike for two weeks (including rest days) with 6 of those days hiking continuously. This puts a big strain on all your muscles and joints.
Second, as you climb, the oxygen content in the air drops rapidly. This means that with every breath you are getting less and less power. At the summit each breath has about half the amount of oxygen that you would normally have.
Third, summit night is extremely hard with an ascent and descent of nearly 1000m and 10-12 hours walking on average at over 6000m. To be successful you need to be in the best physical condition of your life. We have detailed advice on our Aconcagua Training Guide. The key factors are cardio- strength, muscle strength in the legs and flexibility. You will need to be getting out and do some long days hiking with plenty of ascent in the months before your climb. And don't forget that the biggest difference between those who summit successfully and those who turn back is often just as much mental tenacity.
Staying well hydrated and eating plenty
Each day as you climb Aconcagua you will burn about 4000 calories. This is almost double your normal intake. On summit night you will burn well over 6000 calories. And as mountaineers say, you need to fuel the climb! So even if you have lost your appetite because of the effects of altitude you have to keep eating. Our menus are designed to be varied and really tasty but even if you don't feel hungry you must eat. Before you travel to Argentina find a number of snacks that you really enjoy. Bring a good and varied supply. Even if you love Mars Bars, you can find that when you are faced with your third in a night they are not quite so appetising.
Drinking plenty is even more important than eating. In the cold, dry air it is very easy to become dehydrated. Symptoms of dehydration are very similar to altitude sickness. It is not uncommon for someone to descend and then find that all they needed was lots of water. You will need to be drinking a minimum of 2 litres of water daily. There will also be unlimited amounts of hot drinks at breakfast and dinner. You must ensure that you keep drinking. As a good guide, if your pee is yellow you are under-hydrated and need to drink more.
Good equipment starts with your feet. Do not turn up for your climb in a shiny new pair of boots. Make sure your boots are well worn in and are comfortable. After your feet make sure you are looking after your head. On the lower slopes you will need something that provides good sun protection, on some sections a helmet will be necessary. For summit night you need a really warm beanie or even balaclava. These can double up as a nightcap on really cold nights. Finally, think about clothing layers. The daily temperature variation can be as much as 35 degrees. The best way of coping with this is with layering rather than relying on one single jacket. Also, we strongly recommend gaiters and mittens. Aconcagua is very dusty and a boot full of dust is very uncomfortable. And we have not found a pair of gloves that are really warm enough for summit night so make sure to pack mittens or over-mittens. Other critical items are a 4 season sleeping bag, trekking poles for the descent, a head torch for the night climb, an ice axe and crampons for covering frozen ground, a comfortable day pack and lots and lots of high factor sunscreen.
The single biggest reason why people fail to summit is because they have not acclimatised well. We have lots of information on how to avoid altitude sickness but there are three key points to remember. First is go slowly. No matter how fit you are, if you go too quickly the risk of getting altitude sickness goes up. As a good measure of your speed, if you cannot manage a conversation comfortably you are going fast.
Second is hydration, the really serious problems caused by altitude are due to changes in pressure. This happens badly in the lungs where fluid from your blood leaks into your lungs giving pneumonia like symptoms. It also happens in your skull where fluid moves from your brain into the gap between the brain and the skull causing pressure headaches. If you are poorly hydrated you will increase the risk that this becomes a problem.
And third is consider taking Diamox. This is a drug that is proven to help the body acclimatise to altitude faster. It is not a cure though and you can still get ill taking it. For most people though it is a safe way to reduce the risk of getting ill. You will need to see your doctor to obtain a prescription for Diamox. They can assess you personally for suitability.
Accommodation and food on Aconcagua
Hotels before and after your climb will be of 2 or 3 star standard. Accommodation is in comfortable twin rooms with private bathrooms.
We use only the very best high altitude mountain tents to ensure you stay warm, dry and comfortable on your Aconcagua climb. Please bear in mind, these are proper mountain tents, designed to cope with extreme conditions so don’t expect to be able to stand up and walk around inside! The dry, dusty conditions on Aconcagua can play havoc with the zips and they can easily jam. Our guides are armed with WD-40 so just ask them for assistance, rather than trying to force the zip.
Your meals will be taken in a separate mess tent where you will be able to sit comfortably, while you relax and chat to your team mates and enjoy the wholesome food that our cook has freshly prepared for you. Inside, you’ll be pleased to find a table (of course) and a proper, comfortable chair with arms. With a full 2 metres of headroom, even the tallest climbers will be able to stretch a bit, and move about without hunching over. They are fully waterproof, and regularly withstand the worst weather Aconcagua has to offer.
Our camps have a toilet/washroom tent where you can freshen up after walking in the Aconcagua dust. At Plaza de Mulas you will even be able to have a hot shower!
During your climb you will be accompanied by a team of porters and cooks who will provide heart and delicious meals each day. Eating well and maintaining a healthy appetite is essential for success on the mountain so we place great importance on providing excellent food. Argentine cuisine consists mainly of meat. More precisely, beef. Argentina is renowned for the quality of its steak and it is a meat lovers paradise. You will find grilled meats available everywhere including tripe, intestines and even udders. Meat aside, the cuisine is a mix of Spanish, native American and Italian influences so vegetarians can always fall back on dishes like gnocchi, pasta and pizza. In the large towns and cities, you will find all dietary requirements are catered for. You may also have the opportunity to sample “Mate”, a Paraguayan tea made from a variety of holly and typical drank from a “bombilla”.
On the trek we filter all the water that we give to you for drinking. You may wish to bring purification tablets as an extra precaution but they are not essential. Every morning we will fill up your water bottles or hydration bladder with at least 2 litres of water. Your guide will also be able to filter more water at your lunch stops if required.
During the hike in to base camps at Confluencia and Plaza de Mulas our camps have bathrooms, which have seated compost toilets. These are only for our customers and we try to keep them as comfortable as possible. All climbers are required by the National Park to use these (there are fines for not using them). Clients don´t have to use bags, or do any special procedures, as we handle all the cleaning and disposal. Above Plaza de Mulas we set up small bathroom tents, with a special seat, and a bag (that we provide). The bag is then put in a designated spot, from where our porters will later collect them and take them to the Basecamp for proper disposal.
The Argentinian Peso (ARS) is the local currency of Argentina. Your currency (all major ones like US Dollars, Sterling Pounds and Euros) and traveller’s cheques can be exchanged at Mendoza Airport, banks and hotels. It is advisable to bring some cash for the trip. ATM machines are not always reliable or might have a low daily withdrawal limit. Other miscellaneous expenses in Mendoza may also require cash payments (certain restaurants, tips, etc.) Once on the mountain, US$ are the best way to pay for porters, tips, a beer, etc.
In Mendoza expect to pay $60 for a meal for two in a mid range restaurant and using public transport comes in at around $0.20 for a one-way ticket. If you prefer to travel by taxi, starting price is about $1.60. For every km after this you will then pay $1.50. Our recommended guidance for spending budget in Argentina would be between $50-100 on top of your tips, give you ample souvenir spending money.
Our partner in Argentina pays their staff well and fairly, and are happy that any tips given are totally discretionary. As a guideline, we would suggest a total budget of $200-250 per climber for tips - $70-100 to be shared between porters and support staff at base camp and $100-150 for the guide.
Different crew members will be with you for different stages of your climb:
- Your guide will be with you every day of the trek (17 days excluding arrival and departure)
- Your mule drivers will be with you up until Basecamp (3 days excluding rest days and acclimatisation hikes)
- Your porters will assist you from Basecamp to Nido de Colera (5 days excluding rest days and acclimatisation hikes)
- A driver will provide your airport transfers and transfer you to and from the trek ( 2 days)