An Open Letter to those interested in Climbing Aconcagua
[The following letter from Willi Pritte applies to any route or guide service on Aconcagua, there is no easy way up.] Prerequisites
After nearly 30 expeditions and 40 summits of Aconcagua in the past 15 years, I have made many observations about the types of problems which prospective high altitude climbers tend to have most commonly, especially on this mountain.
First and foremost, many tend to underestimate the physical fitness needs of a high altitude expedition such as this. Yes, Aconcagua has the reputation of being an “easy” and “non-technical” mountain by normal routes (more on this later). This does not mean “non-physical” by any stretch of the imagination. Over the years, I have had many climbers on my expeditions who have climbed Denali before coming to Aconcagua. Almost universally they believe that Aconcagua is more physically demanding than Denali was for them. Take heed of this. The greater the fitness you show up with, the better you will tend to do and the more you will enjoy the expedition. At the very least this can mean that you can sit back and enjoy the afternoons instead of being whipped every day! It is also worth noting that less fit or overweight people are pushing themselves far more, and this additional stress can seriously adversely affect the entire acclimation process which is so important on high altitude expeditions.
Regarding the "non-technical" nature of Aconcagua: This is only true sometimes. There is much misinformation about this mountain both in guidebooks and on the internet. Like any big mountain, things can change frequently and rapidly. Often a climb of Aconcagua, even by one of its normal routes, can involve lots of trail-breaking in deep snow, and/or long traversing sections of hard ice where the knowledge and proper use of crampons and ice axes are critical to safety. (In fact, most trips in the past few seasons have required the use of ice axe and crampons during the climb.) If you have no mountaineering experience, these situations can be demanding but we still consider this a non-technical climb by mountaineering standards. If your only mountain experience has been something such as Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua is a big step up in challenge. Real technical mountaineering experience, such as our 6-Day course, should be considered first. Have you put a 50 or 60-pound pack on and climbed extensive mountain terrain? Are you comfortable with the use of crampons and ice axe when tired and looking down a long way? If the answer is no, then you need to get that experience before joining an expedition. Being both fit and technically competent for the challenges of an expedition is a very important part of being a productive team member. When you come to Aconcagua (or any expedition), you are not 10 individuals attempting to climb a mountain, you are part of a team functioning together to enhance the safety and enjoyment of the expedition. If you come unprepared physically, technically, or equally important, mentally, then you are not a productive team member and others must then make up for your deficits which negatively impacts the team and can negatively impact safety.
Be realistic about any personal limitations you may have. Do you have a history of heart problems? Make sure that you seriously consider what you are attempting to do on an expedition, and how physically demanding it is (and consult with your doctor) before you decide to join. Do you have exercise induced asthma? Realize that Aconcagua is a very dry and at times cold and at times dusty environment, probably the likes of which you have never experienced. Bring plenty of your normal meds and be prepared for the possibility that you may have abnormally bad reactions which may mean you will need to leave the expedition early. Whatever personal health limitations you may have, you never know how your body will cope with an environment such as Aconcagua until you try it a few times, so be conservative.
We do have porters available at an additional cost to assist with carrying loads and personal equipment, please contact us for details. (However, this does not mean one may be unfit, or technically unqualified.)
When properly prepared for this expedition, I’m sure you will be favorably impressed with the magnificent scenery, the culture, and the great climbing here. I look forward to meeting you and climbing with you in Argentina! You will occasionally read on the internet, or in magazine articles, or in guidebooks about how ugly Aconcagua is. I’m convinced that two types of people write these things. The first type have never been here in the first place and are only parroting what they have heard from someone else. The second type have no soul and don’t belong in the mountains anywhere!
Happy training and climbing.
Senior Guide, Alpine Ascents International
In the best interest of personal safety, success and team compatibility, adequate training and excellent physical condition are required. and be physically and mentally prepared to deal with strenuous situations at high altitudes. Climbers need to be in excellent physical condition for both personal enjoyment and to be an integral team member.
Climbing Skill Level
The Vacas Valley (Polish Variation): While technical skills are not necessary, it is strongly recommended that climbers should have completed our 6-day mountaineering course, Rainier or Mt. Baker summit climb, or the equivalent. We traverse the mountain descending a different route (and our trekking gear is brought around the mountain to meet the team).
Please note that this climb is far more demanding than Kilimanjaro. In addition to the physical demands, climbers should have spent multiple nights outdoors, winter camping, completed multi-day trips with a 40 pound pack and be able to assist guides with setting up camp and tents. Please use the training statement to determine what fitness levels are expected, we are happy to work with you on developing a training program. While some minimum standard such as being able to run a 10K in under an hour is helpful (and well below the marker of who will be successful), it is often hard to predict how non-mountaineering training will translate to Aconcagua.
From our training statement:
"A reasonable goal would be to ascend 3,500 feet carrying an average pack of 40 pounds in a two to three hour period, or roughly 1,500 vertical feet per hour."
Training Statement From the Guides:
"Although non-technical, this is a highly challenging climb and demands more than most other non-technical climbs (such as certain peaks in the U.S. and Kilimanjaro). This expedition-style climb requires the carrying of a heavy pack for multiple days, making prior physical training of three months or more critical to your success and enjoyment. We highly recommend our 6-day mountaineering course for climbers who have not climbed with a 50 lb. pack or are unsure of the rigors that a climb such as Aconcagua requires. We stress these points to continue our high summit success and ensure that teams are well-balanced."
Example on Itinerary Day 16: This is a single carry day where pack weight may reach approximately 55lbs. The weight depends on a number of factors including: weight of personal gear such as backpack, if extra days were used earlier in the trip consuming food and fuel, temperature on the day of this carry (if all clothing is worn).