Climbing Aconcagua With Alpine Ascents
From start to finish, my Aconcagua experience was world class in every regard. Our guides were remarkable leaders who offered the right mix of experience, expertise, and inspiration. Without them, there is no way that I and our other climbers would have successfully summited. I cannot overstate what tremendous assets they are to AAI and am so grateful for their leadership.
The trip was fantastic. I think the guides were exceptionally well suited for the expedition and having local guides increased the efficiency and effectiveness of the team.
Key components of Aconcagua with Alpine Ascents:
- Lead guides are Seattle-based professionals or handpicked Argentinean Guides who are renowned Aconcagua guides who lead each trip.
- Extremely high quality camps and gear on both routes.
- High level of support on and off the mountain- very rare on this climb.
- Alpine Ascents manages the local outfitter giving us access to unlimited support for every part of the climb. This is a unique partnership, and rare to the guiding industry.
- Nearly 30 years of guiding on Aconcagua.
Our 2022/23 season faced some harsh weather mid season but we prevailed with a 75% team summit success rate. Our 2021/22 season was limited to Normal Route operating in January only. Prior to 2021 we had an outstanding 2019/20 season with 93% team success for the season. Our Vacas Valley route had 100% team success. This followed our 2018/2019 season of 85% success (100% on Normal route) which proved our best season to date as we added the Normal Route to our offerings and had overall 100% team success for the 2nd season in a row. This followed our 100% team success in 2016/17.
Vacas Valley Route: This is the tried and true route that we have been offering since 1990 (private porter support available). Quieter, more aesthetically pleasing, and offering a chance to traverse the mountain, this route employs three camps above basecamp, and offers ample rest and extra days. This route is considered more demanding as you move or carry on each day — Aconcagua at its finest. More about the Vacas Valley Route
Aconcagua Normal Route: This is a shorter and more direct route with porter support to carry group gear (private porter support also available). This trip is competitively priced and includes acclimation days as well as a well-appointed Base Camp, so less moves and carries then Vacas Valley, coupled with less time on the higher mountain camps. This route considered somewhat less demanding as more time spent in a well appointed base camp. More about the Normal Route
The best guides I have ever had! The perfect match and we all say that without them that it would have made it much more difficult to achieve the ultimate goal of summiting. Their personable communication skills were top notch!
As usual AAI delivered great and quality service on this expedition. Amazing and very helpful guides, food quality at basecamp and upper camps, etc. – everything was just perfect!!
We encourage you to review our Why Climb section.
While not technical, Aconcagua is a highly underestimated climb. Traveling with Alpine Ascents and our nearly 30 years of experience, our knowledgeable, expert guides will greatly increase your chances of summiting and being safe on the mountain. Essential logistics like food prep, quality camps, porter options, and days spent on the mountain may seem like areas where you can “cut corners,” however, we profess the importance of these details along with reasonable team sizes (many of our competitors end up combining teams and can have up to 20 people with just a few guides) are paramount to offering a superb experience.
Over the last 25+ years we have developed a superb system on the mountain that affords you the best chance of proper acclimatization and summit success. Our Vacas Valley and Normal Route departures have numerous extra days built into the itinerary, and we methodically ascend the mountain with renowned guide staff at the helm. With a seasonal office in Mendoza, we can quickly respond to issues that arise on the mountain. A low climber-to-guide ratio offers us the ability to closely attend to climbers, which is important to success and safety.
There may be many personal reasons to choose a particular guide service, but there are four main areas of concern that you should look at carefully: safety record, guides, in-country logistics, and pre-trip planning with the climber. In all four categories, Alpine Ascents ranks highest in the climbing industry. No other guide service has the safety record, quality of guides, finely honed programs, food, care, quality, and customer service that we offer.
The expedition was of the highest quality and professional standards. Our guides were excellent leaders that accommodated all skill levels and needs. They exhibited exceptional leadership during the easy and hard times of the expedition. Cleary they are passionate about their craft and excited to share their knowledge. They were also our friends when we needed them to be, and motivators when we needed it the most.
About the Mountain
Aconcagua, which translates as “Stone Sentinel,” is 22,841 ft., making it the highest mountain in the Americas and the highest mountain outside of Asia. This spectacular mountain is surrounded by numerous peaks over 20,000 ft. The surrounding lowlands (up to 13,000 ft.) consist of beautiful desert landscapes with a large diversity of flora and fauna.
Traditionally there are three guided routes on Aconcagua: Normal Route, Vacas Valley Polish Variation, and the Guanacos Glacier Route. (Please note the Guanacos Route has been closed for the past several years in an effort to protect the large number of guanacos that breed and raise young in the area.) We choose to guide the Polish Vacas Variation Route on the east side of the mountain because it sees less traffic, is a much more aesthetic approach, and gives us the opportunity to traverse the mountain. We also offer the Normal Route which is shorter, somewhat less demanding, and has a porter package built in to the ascent. Though an ascent of Aconcagua by any of these routes requires minimal technical skills, it does require excellent physical condition and good backpacking and camping skills.
A Brief History
While the first summit of Aconcagua is credited to Swiss climber Mathias Zurbriggen, there are traces of Inca civilization and culture near the summit. The name itself hearkens back to indigenous roots, the Quechua word “Anco” (white) and “Cahuac” (sentinel). Much like the explorers of the Himalayas, the passes around Aconcagua came into play during military expeditions. In 1817, General Jose de San Martin crossed the range in a successful effort to liberate Chile from Spain. By 1950, most sides of the mountain had been climbed with variations of these routes added to the long line of successful summits.
Summit Success at Our Home Away From Home
Simply put, we have had over 90% of our teams reach the summit on most seasons over the last 25 years.
In over 25 years of guiding Aconcagua, only a handful teams have not reached the summit — a team success rate of about 90%. We have led numerous expeditions in which all climbers have reached the summit. We are confident our summit success is the finest in the industry. The success is a testament to our guides and the hard work and team spirit of our climbers. Guides are well-equipped, experienced, and prepared to lead and properly outfit your climb, as we keep a staff and apartment in the launch city of Mendoza. We believe that with our guides and acclimatization schedule, along with our pre-trip assistance, Alpine Ascents offers the best possible chance for you to reach the summit of Aconcagua.
Aconcagua has figuratively been our home away from home. Our extensive experience guiding Aconcagua (as well as other high peaks around the world) has produced outstanding and perhaps unprecedented success rates. Alpine Ascents International has a long-standing reputation of leading successful climbs as well as acting as a prime resource for guide books, climbers, and the media.
We climb Aconcagua using both the Vacas Valley Route (Polish Variation) and the Normal Route.
This is a fully guided ascent. We are one of the few outfitters that offer this type of support (and in turn, we have a high success rate and outstanding safety record). It should be noted that many outfitters merely offer a supported trek, where a single guide facilitates the climb, but does not act as a guide during the ascent.
An Open Letter to those interested in Climbing Aconcagua
The following letter from Willi Prittie applies to any route or guide service on Aconcagua – there is no easy way up. While this letter is 15+ years old, we feel it is still a great resource.
The Prittie letter was the most helpful. The letter is what motivated me the most. This is a mountain that is easy to underestimate, and I thought it was like a trap after Denali. I would make that letter more prominent and mandatory reading. – 2017 Climber
After nearly 30 expeditions and 40 summits of Aconcagua in the past 15 years, I have made many observations about the types of problems that 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 “nontechnical” mountain by normal routes (more on this later). This does not mean “nonphysical” 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 that is so important on high-altitude expeditions.
Regarding the “nontechnical” 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 nontechnical climb by mountaineering standards. If your only mountain experience has been something like Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua is a big step up in challenge. Real technical mountaineering experience, such as an Alpine Ascents 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 axes 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 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 in 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 has never been here in the first place and are only parroting what they have heard from someone else. The second type has no soul and doesn’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. You should 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 Route (Polish Variation) and Normal Route: while technical skills are not necessary, it is strongly recommended that climbers should have completed our Cascades 6 Day beginning mountaineering course, a Mt. Rainier or Mt. Baker summit climb, or the equivalent.
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 lb. pack (lesser pack weight if porters used) 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 3,200–3,500 ft. carrying an average pack of 40 lbs. in a two to three-hour period, or roughly 1,200–1,500 vertical ft. 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 US and Kilimanjaro). This expedition-style climb requires the carrying of a heavy pack (if no porters) 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 or Mt. Rainier/Mt. Baker climb for climbers who have not climbed with a heavy 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.”
As our literature suggests, Aconcagua is an extremely challenging climb; far more physically demanding than Kilimanjaro and most climbs in the continental US. In our continuing efforts to match best climbers and mountains we thank you in advance for reviewing this “self-test”. Document your athletic experience, and analyze your readiness for this climb.
Have you completed multiple overnight camping trips, which included carrying a heavy pack (40–55lbs) and setting up a tent camp each evening ?
Do you have a good understanding of the physical difficulty of climbing Aconcagua ?
Do you train/exercise on a regular basis?
Have you previously trained 3–5 months in advance of an upcoming climb or event?
Have you read the training information on our website?
We thank you for your time and encourage you to call our offices with any questions
This is a highly recommended shortlist and we would be happy to pass on a longer reading list for those interested. These links will bounce to Amazon.com with reviews.
Watch our discussion of the Aconcagua expedition hosted by lead guide Rachel Molstad and Gear Manager Ciara Sampaio
Check out our 2022 – 2023 Aconcagua webinar and Q & A hosted by lead guide Rachel Molstad and our Gear Manager Ciara Sampaio. This webinar covers pre-trip logistics, a detailed overview of the expedition, and important gear considerations. At the conclusion of the presentation, Rachel and Ciara open the digital floor for a comprehensive Q & A session.
I had a wonderful experience – as always – with AAI. The guide team was phenomenal; they were always helpful and their combined experience truly astounding. Their willingness to share their knowledge and stories of past expeditions made for some very entertaining conversations. Despite some tricky logistics and early evacuations of some of our team […]