Aconcagua calling — are you ready for it?
Big mountains are challenging, humbling, exhausting, frustrating and at the same time exhilarating, rewarding, and life changing. Aconcagua is no exception to this.
By any measure Aconcagua is a huge mountain. At 22,841-feet it is the highest peak in South America and a worthy goal for climbers. The standard route offers non-technical paths to the summit, but therein lies the conundrum. Although non-technical, Aconcagua is a very challenging mountain. High altitudes, cold and windy conditions, a long approach and multiple camps above base camp, cold weather equipment, and the rigors of expedition life all combine to make an attempt of Aconcagua a major undertaking.
Is Aconcagua a trek or a climb?
Many people view the Normal Route on Aconcagua as a logical “next-step” after Kilimanjaro. Some believe that because it is a non-technical climb it is just a trek, as it is often described. They are, however, very different experiences.
A trek on Kilimanjaro is supported by a team of porters, kitchen staff, and guides. Trekkers have three meals a day cooked for them and are served in a comfortable dining tent. After a day of walking, carrying just a light day-pack, you arrive at camp with snacks prepared, warm water to wash with, and tents are set up for you. In the morning you are offered tea in your tent and after breakfast your tent is taken down and your gear is carried to the next camp. Kilimanjaro is physically difficult but the support of a caring staff and the comforts of the camps makes for a tiring but pleasant trek that requires no crampons or use of ice axe.
On the other hand, although non-technical and non-glaciated, conditions on Aconcagua can vary between hardpacked dirt and scree to snow and ice requiring the use of crampons and ice axe. The physical demands for Aconcagua, which stands about 3,500-feet higher than Kilimanjaro, cannot be understated, along with the need for basic mountaineering skills. The summit day is extremely challenging and can take 12 hours or more from camp and back. Many experienced climbers have stated that summit day on Aconcagua is no easier than a Denali summit day. Still, although Aconcagua is high, cold, windy, huge, exhausting, it’s worth the effort to reach the highest point in the Western Hemisphere and a Seven Summit!
Expectations and how to lessen the load
Blog resource: The Road to the Summit
Aconcagua by contrast to Kilimanjaro is a full-blown climbing expedition. Where Kilimanjaro has a large support staff to help with all the daily rigors of expeditions, Aconcagua requires the climbing team to do all those things along with the hiking. Above base camp the team will move loads between camps and set up camps together, melt snow for water and cook meals.
Some of this work can be lessened by hiring porters to carry loads between camps, which means you carry a pack in the 25 – 35 pound range — more than 80% or more of our team members do this. And while base camp life is good on the mountain, with a mess tent, pizza, and other luxuries, things change as you move up the mountain. Your guides will work extremely hard trying to minimize the amount of work you do, but, at the end of the day, it’s best to view this expedition as more of a participatory trip than a fully-serviced expedition with your bed roll laid out for you with a chocolate on a fluffy pillow.
An expedition to Aconcagua, as well as any big mountain, requires commitment, dedication to physical training and conditioning, and an honest appraisal of your abilities.
To help answer the question, “Am I ready for Aconcagua”, below is a series of questions to answer yourself:
- Do you understand the rigors of an Aconcagua expedition?
- Do I train regularly, and in a way that would prepare me for the climb?
- Do I know what it is like to carry a 25 – 50 pound pack uphill, for hours and consecutive days?
- Do I have experience in camping in the mountains in a potentially harsh environment?
- Am I willing to become part of a team and work with a group of diverse people to achieve our goals?
- Do I expect to be pampered?
- Is this a realistic goal for me?
With these questions more may surface as you explore what it means to climb the mountain. Another great resource and one that answers many question you may have and that adds lots of details about the Aconcagua experience is the FAQ page on our web site in the overview section.
Step 2: Get additional experience with a high altitude climb; something like Kilimanjaro would work, but even better would be trips to the Mexico Volcanoes or our Cotopaxi Climb in Ecuador, both only nine day trips from the U.S. If these steps go well for you, start packing! Or;
Step 3: Go on a trip that has some genuine expedition-type climbing, which means multiple camps at higher elevations, the possibility of storms, and some cold-weather conditions. Some examples of such trips could include: the Ecuador Volcanoes Expedition, Huayna Potosi and Illimani expedition in Bolivia or Island Peak in Nepal.
Training for Aconcagua
You’ve just put in more than a week moving loads up Aconcagua, we’re talking 40 – 50 pounds of gear up 2,000+ feet, up to elevations over 19,00-feet. These are days that you are working hard at altitude for 5 – 8 hours. There are a couple of rest days in the itinerary to recover, but at altitude your body never recovers fully. Next up summit day! Are you ready for the nearly 4,000-foot climb, 10 – 15 hour day on the go at almost 23,000-feet? We can ensure you will be oxygen deprived, slightly dehydrated, super excited, and tired. Are you ready for this? If you’ve been endurance training, have your gear dialed and are mentally strong, you will be.
If you are unsure where to start your training program, we recommend getting in touch with Alpine Athletics. Lisa, the owner of the company, has reached the summit of Everest and K2, among other big mountains, has climbed the Seven Summits and has extensive experience in the Cascades — she knows what it takes to get ready. If you decide to work with Lisa, she will contact you and gather information and complete a fitness assessment to develop the best plan based on your objective. Read an interview with Lisa here.
Mountain Madness climbers receive 25 % off of Alpine Athletics services!
We look forward to sharing the experience with you.
If you have questions about Aconcagua, or want to discuss the trip in greater detail, please call Steve or Mark at the Mountain Madness office at 800−328−5925 or email Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org
See you on the top of South America!