GETTING THERE – Your first stop on the way to Aconcagua will be the town of Mendoza. There, you will collect your climbing permits, source any necessary equipment and supplies and arrange your transport to the trailhead. We flew to Mendoza rather via Sao Paulo and Santiago de Chile to get a discounted airfare. The most common route goes via Madrid and Buenos Aires with Aero tineas Argentinas. Long-distance coach connections also exist from the main cities in Chile and Argentina. The Aconcagua National Park is a three to four hour drive from Mendoza along National Route 7. You’ll be able to find accommodation at the former ski resort of Penitentes, as well as the offices of most trekking providers. Public transport connects Mendoza with Penitentes and the main trailheads four times a day.
WHEN TO GO – The normal climbing season is summer, extending between November and March. Outside of this period the winds are too strong, temperatures too low and all park services shut. Though, special permits are available for highly experienced, well prepared parties.
PAPERWORK – Whether you want to go all the way to the top or just hike along the valley floors – a beautiful trek in its own right – the first thing you’ll need is a permit. There are different types and fees, depending on the season and length of your trek and whether or not you’ll be using a local provider. Permit rules and procedures are subject to change, so it is always best to check the park website or you may be in fora bit of a shock.
GOING ALONE – If you go completely on your own, all you need to do after the above is pack your gear, load supplies for the whole expedition and jump on a bus to the trailhead. Most climbers rely on local providers to transport their gear to base camp and for some cooked meals or accommodation at Confluencia and Plaza de Mulas. Above Plaza de Mulas you’re typically on your own, although it is possible to hire porters or mountain guides for the higher camps. Having said that, if you’re looking fora fully supported expedition, it is best to inquire with the main commercial operators.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED – You’ll need some seriously good gear to protect yourself against the wind and the cold, including warm gloves, down overmittens, while double boots with removable inners are the standard footwear. The sleeping bag needs a comfort rating of at least -20C, in combination with a good mat and adequate thermal underwear, plus warm and wind proof mid and outer layers. Your tent will need to resist the fierce Aconcagua winds, but do not bother with pegs, as the terrain is generally too hard. Gas stoves work well most of the way and may be your choice for the simplicity of use and maintenance. Multi-fuel stoves, on the other hand, can also burn the cheaper ‘white gas’ and will become essential if the butane-pro pane mix liquefies with the cold. Some of the more comprehensive items will be available for rent in Mendoza. Oh, and don’t forget your pee bottle…
HEALTH & SAFETY – The single biggest health hazard on Aconcagua is acute mountain sickness (AMS). Any combination of a headache and gastrointestinal troubles, weakness, lightheadedness or difficulty sleeping must be considered as a symptom of AMS. Proper acclimatisation and hydration are therefore essential. Hydration is especially critical since the whole area is a vast high-altitude desert and water is scarce in the best of circumstances. There are two medical posts on the normal route, at Confluencia and Plaza de Mulas, where all climbers must submit to a free medical check before ascending further. Then there’s the weather. Adequate equipment and good judgement are needed at every stage of the climb to avoid being caught by Aconcagua’s infamous viento bianco. A daily weather forecast is available from the rangers and trekking agencies.
OPERATORS – The approved local providers are listed on the park website, which also includes contact details for the authorised mountain guides. Commercial expeditions are available from trekking and mountaineering operators such as Jagged Globe, KE Adventure, Adventure Peaks.