icons/avalancheicons/bootscompassfacebookicons/gloveshandsicons/hearticons/helmeticons/ice axeinstagramminusmountainicons/pathsMap Pinplusicons/questionicons/guideicons/ropeicons/gogglesicons/stafftenttwitteryoutube
Aconcagua summit with Mountain Madness expedition

Aconcagua Expedition — The Road To The Summit

Moun­tain Mad­ness guide extra­or­di­naire Arthur Her­l­itz­ka reflects on an expe­di­tion, a trip with all the usu­al chal­lenges and rewards. Some great insight on what to expect on the climb. View more info about the Aconcagua trip and start plan­ning now

Aconcagua climbing to the summit with Mountain Madness
As an Aconcagua climber this is where you want to be. High camp, camp Cólera at 19,600ft at sunset the night before the summit push. You have a weather window, you are acclimated, fit, and ready to dig deep to try to climb to the top of the highest mountain in South America, the highest mountain outside of Asia.

Do I have what it takes to climb Aconcagua?I’m sit­ting here camped on bureau of land man­age­ment land just out­side City of Rocks Nation­al Reserve in Ida­ho, reflect­ing on time spent only a few months ago in the Andes moun­tains of Argenti­na. Times sure were dif­fer­ent then, what a dras­tic shift it has been. I’m reflect­ing on five weeks spent in Argenti­na, almost four of which guid­ing a Moun­tain Mad­ness expe­di­tion on Cer­ro Aconcagua, 6960 meters i.e. 22,837 feet above sea lev­el. I worked along side MM guide Paul Guer­ra, a vet­er­an IFM­GA cer­ti­fied moun­tain guide hail­ing from Ecuador. Adding some excite­ment to the mix, nei­ther Paul or I had suc­cess­ful­ly sum­mit­ed the moun­tain before. Each of us had attempt­ed— guid­ing MM groups in pre­vi­ous years, but turned back on each pre­vi­ous sum­mit push due to dan­ger­ous weath­er and or alti­tude illness. 

Here’s the crew, minus myself, under the massive south face of Aconcagua. L‑R Kevin, Greg, Alan, Tim, Matthew, Tim, and MM guide Paul Guerra

Our expe­di­tion was a team of all men this time around. Two guides, six guests. We had one Ecuado­ri­an and sev­en US cit­i­zens rang­ing from the states of Texas, Col­orado, New York and Wash­ing­ton. Paul was in for some seri­ous cul­ture shock! 

I love Aconcagua expe­di­tions for sev­er­al rea­sons. Its the flow of the trip, the actu­al areas we are able to vis­it and most impor­tant­ly the peo­ple and com­mu­ni­ties we inter­act with and become a part of. The climb­ing is cool too. What I like about the flow of the expe­di­tion is that we are exposed to dif­fer­ent facets of Argenti­na. We don’t just go direct­ly into the back­coun­try as a group of for­eign­ers. We all meet in Men­doza, a city known for vine­yards, fine wine and steak din­ners, vibrant night life. (I sug­gest extend­ing your trip and fly­ing in a few days ear­ly to explore.) I per­son­al­ly end­ed up get­ting out sport climb­ing at crags near town. We are able to set­tle in, check our gear, as well as expe­ri­ence some of the cul­ture of this region of Argenti­na. Men­doza is just above 3000ft in ele­va­tion, so the need is great to get mov­ing to high­er alti­tude to max­i­mize our acclima­ti­za­tion and fit­ness come sum­mit day, just three weeks away. The first goal of our expe­di­tion is to pack the mules and get to base camp at Plaza de Mulas. The flow goes Men­doza about 3000ft — > Hotel in Pen­i­tentes about 9000ft —> Con­flu­en­cia Camp 11,300ft where we spend two nights accli­ma­tiz­ing —> Base camp at Plaza de Mulas 14,400ft.

View from the hotel in Men­doza. Beau­ti­ful town and sweet culture.

Gau­chos and Mules are the spine of our expedition!

Do I have what it takes to climb Aconcagua?The logis­tics of this expe­di­tion are dialed. All our heavy gear gets trans­port­ed direct­ly to base camp by mules and their gau­chos, so we get to hike with light packs for the first phase of the trip. We are served deli­cious meals by the base­camp chefs catered to our time needs. Most impor­tant­ly, due to our sched­uled itin­er­ary. we are able to take the acclima­ti­za­tion slow­ly and not climb too high, too fast, which is key to suc­cess on sum­mit day.

The works begins when we reach base­camp, and the back­packs become heav­ier. Our goal is to stock our camps on the upper moun­tain because from base camp there are still three more camps to go before our sum­mit attempt.

This is where guests decide whether to fork some cash up for porter sup­port. Each porter can car­ry up to 20kg, and let me tell you it is hard work if you don’t have any help. Each team mem­ber is respon­si­ble for their own gear, food, as well as their share of group expe­di­tion equip­ment. Hav­ing porter sup­port def­i­nite­ly cor­re­lates sta­tis­ti­cal­ly with suc­cess on sum­mit day is all I’ll say. 

Two examples of some strong people Making It Happen!

There are quite a few fond mem­o­ries I have from our team’s time spent at base­camp. Games of the card game UNO until late into the night, laugh­ing at Kevin’s con­stant flow of arguably’ bad jokes, assign­ing nick names that we will keep unspo­ken in this blog post, and of course shar­ing the love we all have for qual­i­ty time spent the moun­tains. We real­ized soon dur­ing the trip the val­ue of coop­er­a­tion and team work. We shared the val­ue of the opin­ion that we cre­ate the expe­ri­ence” and that an expe­di­tion like this isn’t just about reach­ing the top. Sum­mit day is only one day out of almost 25 spent in Argenti­na, so you bet­ter be able to enjoy all the oth­er days. 

UNO games were competitive! Here’s Matt laughing.

Tim shared sto­ries of grow­ing up in Louisiana, along­side mem­o­ries from oth­er Moun­tain Mad­ness climbs. One coin­ci­dence was that Tim and his son Matt were on the same MM Mount Elbrus expe­di­tion as Kevin was! The three arrived and already knew each other.

It was also cool hear­ing from every­one about their pre­vi­ous ascents with Moun­tain Mad­ness from areas all across the world. Some spoke of glaciat­ed peaks in the Pacif­ic North­west, high peaks in Ecuador and Peru, climbs in the Alps like Mt. Blanc and the Mat­ter­horn, water­fall ice climb­ing in Ouray, Col­orado. We also dreamed of big peaks in the Himalaya or Alas­ka. Maybe next time our trip will take us there. The fun part about climb­ing is that there is always anoth­er objec­tive out there to fit your dreams.

Chefs hard at work at Nido de Condores camp 18,300ft

Anoth­er mem­o­ry— it was dry in the Andes this sea­son. Low win­ter snow lev­els and hot clear days meant that an already low lev­el snow of was melt­ing fast. We were the first MM expe­di­tion of the sea­son and for­tu­nate­ly had the best odds for find­ing snow to melt into water in com­par­i­son with oth­er expe­di­tions to come lat­er in the sea­son. At the camps on the upper moun­tain, climb­ing teams are depen­dent on patch­es of snow and ice to melt for water. Occa­sion­al­ly at camp 1, camp Cana­da, there is run­ning water to harvest. 

Our water har­vest­ing sys­tem this sea­son was quite a con­trap­tion and pret­ty hilar­i­ous. But it did indeed do the job well! It helped gath­er water, and impor­tant­ly clear water as opposed to the willy wonka’s choco­late milk’ water that flows dur­ing mid-day when the tem­per­a­tures are warm and the sun is shin­ing. We opt­ed to fill water at sun­set, when the flow of choco­late milk slow­ly decreas­es and clear water begins to trick­le. There is a 30 minute win­dow where there is enough water to har­vest that is clear until every­thing freezes sol­id. Check out the system.

Water harvesting system

There’s my cur­rent reflec­tion on anoth­er expe­di­tion well spent on the flanks (and on the SUM­MIT of) Cer­ro Aconcagua. While I am uncer­tain when the next time is when I will vis­it again, I hold the mem­o­ries, the moun­tain, and the peo­ple in my heart until my return. I hope to see who­ev­er reads this down in Argenti­na some­day on a Mad­ness expe­di­tion! When­ev­er we are able to explore the world freely once again. 

…I’m not going to write any­more but check out some of the cap­tioned pho­tos list­ed below! Good mem­o­ries and def­i­nite­ly had to include some sweet land­scape shots.

Cheers all! ‑Arthur Herlitzka 

Enjoy the pho­tos and for a short blog about what it takes to climb Aconcagua go here

Paul Guerra. Mr. Serious as usual. Pizza looks good
Matt and Kevin. Stoked at camp Canadá
Matt and Kevin. Even more stoked with pizza for dinner!
Camp Canada vibes from the tent
Feeling high on the way up to camp Cólera. Slow and steady.
Exquisite sunsets… Cerro Cuerno in the background. Looking good, Matt.
Fire Dancing at Plaza de Mulas base camp… sweet party!
Training at base camp before dinner. Gotta stay strong while on an expedition!
We eat well on the lower mountain, I must say. Thanks Eve!!
Running into MM friends everywhere! Here’s MM Guide Mara Larson chilling in a guides’ cook tent at Nido de Condores
Early morning on summit day.
View from up high. Camp Colera, looking down toward Nido.
Paul, chilling.
Good dinner at Nido.
Maxi Blake on summit day.
Looking at the traverse ahead of us. Long way to go to the summit!
Summit!!! L‑R Tim, Kevin, Alan, Paul, Matt, Greg, Maxi, and Arthur
Intimidating South Face of Aconcagua looming from our view perched on the summit.
Out we go… back to Mendoza and the land of milk and honey; and Malbec:)