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Aconcagua

Aconcagua Overview

With over 25 years of guiding, Alpine Ascents is often considered the premier guide service on Aconcagua. Our use of an extra high camp, carefully selecting lead guides from our Seattle-based staff, attention to details such as food, gear list, continually replacing older tents and having an Alpine Ascents staff guide each trip, has put us in a unique position to successfully guide Aconcagua. Other components such as launching 8-12 trips each season allows for great support while on the mountain. For each departure (10 is our team maximum) we take great pride and care in helping you prepare for your climb, as we look to develop close, personal relationships with each climber and are happy to put you in touch with former team members. For 2016/17 we have added the service of having porters carry down waste from each camp, leaving less for the climbers to bring down. Porters can be hired for this expedition.

While not technical, Aconcagua is a highly underestimated climb, and traveling with an experienced outfitter with knowledgeable and expert guides will greatly increase your chances of summiting and being safe on the mountain. Essential logistics like food prep, tents and days on the mountains 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 with a few guides) are paramount to offering a superb experience.

I would not hesitate to join another climb with either guide. Exceeded expectations. Very professional. All camps and lodging met or exceeded my expectations. The tents were brand new. Food and group gear were excellent. I am a fan of AAI and will share my opinion when given the chance. – 2016 Climber

Over the last 25+ years we have developed our own special way of guiding the mountain, which affords you the best chance of proper acclimatization and summit success. For example, we use 4 camps on the mountain while other companies use only 2 or 3. This 4th camp at 20,600 feet, cuts three or more hours off of the summit day, the hardest day of the climb, allowing you to move at a moderate pace and return to camp well before dark. Needless to say, the shortened summit day increases your chances of reaching the top. The high camp also allows us to traverse down the other side of the mountain, giving you changed views and terrain to experience, as well as shorten the return trip to the trailhead by one day.

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, Logistics In-Country, 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.

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. and 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: Route Normal, 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 Variation Route on the east side of the mountain because it sees less traffic and is a much more aesthetic approach. An ascent of Aconcagua by any of these routes requires minimal technical skills but 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 successful efforts to liberate Chile from Spain. By 1950 most sides of the mountain were climbed with variations of these routes being 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.
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 your climbs 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 literally 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.

The Route

We climb Aconcagua using the non-technical Vacas Valley Route (Polish Variation). We traverse the mountain which is a far more interesting and efficient approach than up and down the same route.

This is a fully guided ascent, led by American guides who climb the mountain with you. We are one of the few outfitters that offer this type of support (and in turn, high success 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.

Aconcagua FAQ

Upon sign up we will forward our famed, comprehensive confirmation package. This package will include all of the details for your trip.

What is the skill level of this climb?

Climbers should have successfully completed our Denali Prep Course, 6-Day Training course, 13-Day Training course, 8-Day Training course, 10-Day Training course, Alaska 8 Day Course, Alaska 12-Day Training course or have equivalent skills and experience. This climb requires proficiency in glacier travel, cramponing, and expedition camping skills. It is our goal to have similarly skilled climbers on our expeditions. For more information, please see our Aconcagua Training Regimen to get a sense of how to prepare and physical demands of this climb

What is the physical conditioning for this climb?

Climbers are expected to be in excellent physical condition.

Any tips on how a climber can maximize their chances of success?

Review the Aconcagua training page of our web site.

Who is the guiding team composed of (How many guides? Climber to guide ratio?)

Our Aconcagua climbs never exceed a 5:1 climber to guide. Most trips have a 3:1 ratio. Our 10 person teams depart with 3 guides. Additionally we utilize other Alpine Ascents teams already on the mountain who may help with descending climbers.

What is the best season to climb / which dates will have the most chance for success?

December through February is when the weather is most stable. High winds can occur any time of the year.

How many climbers are on this expedition?

Rarely more than 10. Typically a group has between 6 to 8 climbers.

Will I be sharing a tent or lodging with other climbers?

On the climb you will be sharing expedition tents. You will share rooms on this expedition in town but you can pay a higher fee for single rooms. Contact our office for information on single room supplements

How much will my pack weigh?

45-50lbs. Less with porter.

What gear will I need?

Please review the gear list.

How does your gear rental system work?

All rental gear will be mailed to the climber prior to the climb. Climbers are expected to clean all rental gear and those requesting rental gear must submit an expedition rental form with payment by fax or mail. Return it to us by mail following the expedition

Any further advice on gear and using your gear list?

While all items are required there may be times when some of the items on the gear list may not be used (such as warm weather or changing conditions). The gear lists are created by the guides to assist in having climbers be prepared to summit in any conditions.

While it is impossible for us to list all brands for certain gear, we do offer a wide variety of equipment in our Gear Shop, that has been hand-picked by our staff of mountaineering experts. Please feel free to call our offices with any gear questions or substitutes. Plastic boots are required for this climb.

How is drinking water treated?

Water is boiled or purified using a chemical treatment like iodine or a chlorine solution.

What will the meals on the expedition be like?

Meals on the trek in and at base camp will include fresh fruits and vegetables. Light weight nutritious foods are prepared higher on the mountain.

Can I bring some food from home?

All meals will be provided on this climb but you will be asked to bring your own power bars and drink mix (optional). Details will be in your confirmation package (climber information section).

Are there any innoculation requirements?

Not at this time. We do recommend you visit the CDC web site for the most up to date information.

What is the best air route to my destination?

Detailed flight information will be sent to you upon registration.

When should I book my flight? Do I need to use your Travel Agent?

Fares are generally less expensive when booked early. You may use our Travel Agent (Charles Mulvehill 1-800-727-2157) or book flights your self. Please note that flights booked on-line are often difficult to change. Please send us a copy of your flight schedule as early as possible as this allows us to book pick ups and hotels.

Where do I meet my guides?

Your guide or an Alpine Ascents representative will meet you at the airport. Look for a large Alpine Ascents sign.

What if I arrive early or depart late? Can you arrange extra night lodging? Is there a single room option for this expedition?

We are happy to make arrangements such as personalized tours, extra hotels rooms, airport pick ups and arrange for private rooms. Please indicate that you would like a private room on your application and we will contact you with information on single room supplement costs (for hotels only). (for hotels only).

Are there any entry or Visa requirements?

Not at this time for US citizens but you do have a prepay a reciprocity fee – details in your confirmation package.

Is there any communication while we are on the mountain?

Regular updates are posted on our web site once teams are on the mountain. Our teams communicate between the camps with two-way radios.

Can I contact the others on the climb? How about the guide?

You can always call our offices and one of guides will contact you, generally about 1 month before your trip departure. 30 days prior to departure, we mail a list of other team members to you.

How much should I budget for this expedition? How much cash should I plan to bring?

Please see climber information sheet in your confirmation email.

How much should I tip my guide and staff?

Guides are permitted to accept and greatly appreciate tips. Contact our office for specific guidelines for your trip.You may call our offices with a credit card or mail/fax an application with a check or credit card number.

How do I register for this expedition? What paperwork do I need to send in?

You may call our offices with a credit card or mail/fax an application with a check or credit card number. Or simply book on line.

When is the money due for this expedition? What kind of payment do you except?

We accept MasterCard, Visa, American Express, personal checks and Alpine Ascents gift certificates. To reserve a space the deposit is $700 balances are due 120 days prior to departure. Unpaid balances can result in forfeiture of trip.

What is your cancellation policy? What is your refund policy?

Note: Alpine Ascents International highly recommends trip cancellation insurance for all expeditions.

Due to the nature and heavy costs of government and operator permits, Alpine Ascents International must adhere to a stringent refund policy.

Each deposit, regardless of amount, includes a $200.00 non-refundable registration fee.
Full refunds, less registration fee, will be provided 120-days prior to course, trek and/or expedition date.
50% refunds will be provided 90-120 days prior to course, trek and/or expedition date.
No refunds will be provided 89 days prior to course, trek and/or expedition date.
All refund requests must be made in writing and be received in our office within the 90-120 day period, as stated above.
All balances are due 120 days prior to departure date unless otherwise specified.
Participants whose balances are not received by the 120-day deadline as stated above, risk forfeiture of their place on the expedition.

Note: Alpine Ascents reserves the right to waive any fees. As we offer personalized service, we will attempt to accommodate changes and cancellations when necessary, waiving certain fees when feasible.

What happens if I need to leave the expedition early?

If a climber needs to leave early, arrangements can be made with the assistance our local Base Camp support.

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.

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.

Willi Prittie,
Senior Guide, Alpine Ascents International

Aconcagua Prerequisites

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).

Physical Conditioning

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).

READING LIST

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.

Death in the Andes
by Mario Vargas Llosa Penguin USA (paper)
In Patagonia
by Bruce Chatwin, Penguin USA (paper)
Aconcagua: A Climbing Guide, Second Edition
by R. J. Secor, Mountaineers Books
Labyrinths; Selected Stories and Other Writings
by Jorge Luis Borges, W W Norton & Co

Biggest strength was the flexibility/extra time built into the schedule.

Aconcagua at sunset. Photo: Willi Prittie.
Aconcagua. Photo: Ben Jones.
Aconcagua. Photo: Ben Jones.
Aconcagua. Photo: Ben Jones.
One of the many river crossings, aided by our 4-legged friends. Photo: Pablo Betancourt.
Aconcagua. Photo: Ben Jones.
Aconcagua. Photo: Ben Jones.
Base Camp at night. Photo: Pablo Betancourt.
Aconcagua. Photo: Ben Jones.
Aconcagua. Photo: Ben Jones.
Aconcagua. Photo: Ben Jones.
Aconcagua. Photo: Ben Jones.
View of Camp 1 nestled into some rock wind walls. Photo: Willi Prittie.
Aconcagua. Photo: Ben Jones.
Climbers heading to High Camp. Photo: Pablo Betancourt.
Aconcagua. Photo: Ben Jones.
The Legendary South Face of Aconcagua. Photo: Willi Prittie.
Snow covered route after a storm above camp 3. Photo: Willi Prittie.
Relaxing at high Camp. Photo: Willi Prittie.
Standing on the Summit of the Americas. Photo: Pablo Betancourt.
Aconcagua. Photo: Ben Jones.
Aconcagua. Photo: Ben Jones.
Aconcagua. Photo: Ben Jones.
Aconcagua. Photo: Ben Jones.

Partners & Accreditations

Alpine Ascents International is an authorized mountain guide service of Denali National Park and Preserve and Mount Rainier National Park.
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