To develop sufficient skills to ascend Aconcagua, South America’s highest peak:
- Development of footwork, cramponing and snow climbing skills
- Expedition camping skills
- A training climb on Cerro Negro or Cerro Wanda
- An ascent of Aconcagua
You will be taught basic snow climbing techniques that will prepare you for the ascent of Aconcagua. The training will focus on teaching good footwork by spending as much time as possible on similar slopes to what you would find on the climbing route up and down the mountain.
- Footwork and mountain travel techniques
- Basic snow climbing using crampons and ice axe
- Pacing and acclimatisation practices
- Expedition camping skills
Training on Cerro Negro or Cerro Wanda
The expedition begins and culminates in the charming Argentine city of Mendoza. Tree-lined avenues, beautifully tiled plazas, lively markets and outdoor cafés with vibrant Latin rhythms offer a unique setting to sample the region’s fine cuisine and wine.
We have time in Mendoza to finalise our equipment, but if you have a lot of equipment to rent or purchase, we advise you to arrive on the day prior to Day One. On Day Two, after completing the permitting process, we travel north of Mendoza to the picturesque town of Barreal for the night. From our hotel we have spectacular views across to the Cordillera de la Ramada, the ribbon of glaciated mountains where we will spend the next few days.
The following morning, we drive through the barren landscapes unique to the Andes to Laguna Blanca, a glacial fed lake at the base of Cerro Mercedario (6,720m/20,050ft), the San Juan region’s highest peak. From Laguna Blanca we hike to Mercedario Base Camp at 3,500m/11,482ft and establish our camp. The following day is spent acclimatising on Cerro Pelado (4,118m/13,510ft), a steady climb across the rocky slopes of Pelado or ‘Bare Hill’ rewards us with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains.
The next day we move to the Mercedario Advanced Base Camp (4,000m/13,100ft) and visit the nearby Arroyo Turquesa with its incredible turquoise waters. Early the following morning we hike to Camp 1 (4,500m/14,760ft) and spend the remainder of the day training and reviewing skills in anticipation of the next day’s summit attempt.
For our summit day we have the option of climbing either Cerro Negro (5,700m/18,700ft) or Cerro Wanda (5,200m/17,000ft), depending on conditions and the fitness of the group. On Cerro Negro we begin by ascending moderate slopes then gaining a snow ridge that leads to the summit. Cerro Wanda is often free of snow, so we climb moderate scree slopes before reaching the summit. Whichever peak we climb, you will gain invaluable acclimatisation and skills that will serve us well on Aconcagua.
After summit celebrations and a photographic session which includes views to Aconcagua, we descend back to our base camp. It’s just a short hike back to Laguna Blanca the next day and everyone enjoys arriving back in Barreal, or if time allows through to Uspallata, for showers and an afternoon resting and preparing for the next phase of the expedition.
Trekking to Base Camp
Early the next morning we drive onwards to the Vacas Valley. Mule loads are organised, and we begin our trek to Aconcagua’s Plaza Argentina Base Camp.
Approaching the Vacas Valley route involves a 3-day trek along the desert-like Vacas and Relinchos Valleys, which are distinguished by strikingly colourful rock formations and spectacular glaciers contrasting with the interspersed greenery. Gauchos, the ‘cowboys’ of the Argentine Pampa, will lead mules carrying our equipment to the base camp at Plaza Argentina (4,200m/13,800ft). During the trek we will be accompanied by the gauchos, enabling us to hike with lightweight day packs and to be ferried across the Rio de Las Vacas, if the waters are high.
Upon arriving at Plaza Argentina Base Camp, our sleeping tents will be established in rock windbreaks on the moraine of the Relinchos Glacier. We utilise a large heated and insulated dining tent, complete with sturdy flooring, and have excellent catered meals whilst at base camp. After dinner, we can relax in the comfortable lounge area to read or socialise with other members. There is power for charging devices, wi-fi and hot showers available free of charge. A valuable acclimatisation and organisation day will occur before we begin carrying and caching equipment to Camp 1 (4,700m/15,400ft) the following morning. We continue to ascend in a lightweight expedition style progressively establishing three camps over a seven to ten day period. Camps on the mountain are as comfortable as the conditions allow; we have a dining tent in Camp 1 and Camp 2 where meals of ‘real’ (not dried) food are prepared by your guides and at Camp 3 there is a large cook tent staffed by a dedicated guide who assists in preparing food and drinks and provides additional support to the group.
The exact climbing itinerary is not fixed to allow for the optimal acclimatisation program and any inclement weather. The Aconcagua massif is often subject to very cold temperatures and storms that sweep in from the Pacific Ocean; 160km to the west. Hence your guide will be working around any forecasted weather systems to plan for the best summit program.
Climbing at altitude is more arduous than at lower elevations due to the thinner atmosphere. Our experience at high altitude has enabled us to develop a successful strategy for climbing high peaks with sensible acclimatisation. Rest days will be interspersed between camp move days and load shuttling. The terrain during the majority of the ascent entails unroped travel over moraine, scree and permanent snow fields where the unique neve penitentes or ‘ice towers’ will be encountered.
Summit day begins from Camp 3 and it is here we join the normal route from the Horcones Valley, which meanders up the ‘Canaleta’ and through to the summit. The ascent is never technical and conditions are varied; some seasons the route is completely free of snow, whereas other years see deep snow on this section so we must be prepared for all eventualities. Aconcagua is known for very cold weather high on the mountain. About 6-10 hours after leaving top camp we reach the summit and its splendid panoramas. It’s only a few hours back to the camp and a well-earned brew!
Having completed the climb, we now descend in one day to Plaza de Mulas in the Horcones Valley for a good meal and rest at the comfortable Base Camp. The following morning we embark on the trek out down the valley and pass through Penitentes, to then return to Mendoza on the same day.
To maximise safety and summit opportunities our schedule allows several contingency days. We operate with small groups to ensure individualised attention and further enhance our efficiency and safety. We place special emphasis on ensuring the highest standards in accommodation, transport, food, equipment and guiding expertise.