Mountain Climbing

Cerro Aconcagua

Landscape of Aconcagua on a summer day

Location:Argentina

Elevation:6,960.8 meters

Part of the Principal Cordillera of the Andes mountain range in Mendoza Province, Argentina, the Cerro Aconcagua stands 6,960.8 meters. It lies 112 kilometers northwest of the provincial capital, the city of Mendoza, nearly five kilometers from San Juan Province, and 15 kilometers from Argentina’s border.

The mountain is the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere and is one of the Seven Summits. Its height comes after Mt. Everest. The first known attempt to reach its summit was in 1883, but failed. In 1897, Matthias Zurbriggen, a Swiss mountaineer, became the first known climber to reach the summit successfully.

Despite its volcanic origin, the mountain is not in itself an active volcano. It has two summits, one from the north connected by a ridge about 0.6-mile long to another peak to the south.

The mountain and its surrounding region is part of the Aconcagua Provincial Park. There are several glaciers on the mountain, and the largest is the VentisqueroHorcones Inferior at about 10 kilometers long. The other glacier systems are the Ventisquero de lasVacas Sur and Glaciar Este/VentisqueroRelinchos system at about 5 kilometers long.

When is the best time to climb

In 2014 and 2015, around 4000 climbers visited the mountain, but only 30% made it to the summit. If one wishes to be at its peak, it must have excellent backpacking skills, high proficiency on the steep and icy ground, and high altitude experience. Most hikers experience altitude sickness and some with hypothermia and frostbite.

The mountains climbing season official dates are from late November to late February – the Austral Summer.

Low Season – November 15 to November 30 and February 21 to March 31

Midseason – December 1 to December 14 and February 1 to February 20

High – season – December 15 to January 31, 80 percent of people make their attempt

The season starts from November 15 to February 20, with the peak season from mid-December to January.

How hard is it to climb Aconcagua?

View of the Aconcagua from the entrance of theAconcagua Provincial Park

Climbing up Aconcagua through “Normal Route” does not require any special and technical skills; however, just enough experience using crampons and an ice ax to help you make it to the summit. What makes the climb extra-challenging ascent even to the accomplished mountaineers is the mountain’s sheer height under frigid temperatures.

With the mountain’s elevation, which nearly reaches 7, 000 meters, climbers need to spend camping at high altitude in harsh conditions which can be mentally and physically exhausting. Weather conditions at the mountain can quickly change sometimes with icy temperature as low as -30°C.

From Kilimanjaro, it’s a big step up to Aconcagua. Thus, summiting Aconcagua via the Normal Route is attainable for those with the right attitude, proper training, and psychological preparation for the rigorous high altitude trekking.

Routes

The “Normal Route” generally starts at the Lower Horcones Valley, climbing the 14,980 feet to reach Plaza de Mulas. It is essentially a long trek about 18 days to complete. The rocks, stones, and loose scree cover the mountain, often causing dust storms in high winds.

Besides the Normal Route, trekking through the Polish Traverse on the opposite side of the mountain takes the same amount of time. This route is more complicated than the Normal Route, with some points requiring ice axes and crampons.

The third route is also popular but is only recommended to highly skilled mountaineers. The first portion of the Polish Glacier route is similar to the Polish Traverse, but it breaks away when you tackle the summit on a direct line. Magnificent views are enjoyment to the climbers trekking through this route, but they should be mindful of crevasses and deep snow.

How much does it cost to climb Aconcagua?

Aerial view of the Aconcagua with mountain Mercedario in the background

The cost of climbing Aconcagua varies from a mountaineer’s point of origin, the route to take, and transportation going to the mountain. On top of these, one has to pay for a permit Mendoza to enter the national park. The price can differ depending on when you choose to go, but it averages between $800 and $1000.

Preparation

No mountain is to be underestimated, especially Aconcagua, which takes around 20 days to complete the entire climb, lots of prior preparation is needed. Much of the physical fitness and training is required before the climb, focusing more on the leg strength in particular.

Passing the common main routes only requires trekking, thus no need for any technical preparation. But if you plan to climb some of the lesser-known routes, be sure you are comfortable using equipment such as crampons and ropes. With Aconcagua’s altitude, it is essential to build a certain number of acclimatization days before your climbing schedule. These will help you prepare for the next leg of your ascent. It would also be wise to do some research about the routes and trek and purchase a travel or trekking insurance in the event of anything going wrong.

The recommended length of training is four to six months that include boosting stamina with activities like running or cycling and swimming. Also, weight training to build strength and muscle, and getting used to carrying weight because some of the climbs will entail carrying a rucksack.

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