Jamie McGuinness

 

Subscribe to our

occasional newsletter





Aconcagua as we trek in close to Plaza Argentina base camp (unseen) - Jamie McGuinness

...thanks a million again. I had a blast and the summit just put the cherry on top!!

Amanda B, 2014

Firsts: Wasfia Nazreen (Facebook) summited Aconcagua with us, as the first ever Bangladeshi, and later summited Everest with us as well. The Google Streetview footage on Aconcagua was filmed on our expedition as well!

Our style

We run things a little differently from most Aconcagua operators and although we are real experts in the Himalaya first and foremost, we do run a good Aconcagua expedition.

Value

We try not to load you with extra costs. We include gear return from BC (base camp) back to Mendoza and lightening of your load after summit success. Unlike our Nepal and India trips we do share hotel rooms for team-building (and flights are less tiresome, therefore less recovery required) and share tents to save weight.

Summit focus

Aside from the more pleasant route, most expeditions don't allow enough time for bad weather. Instead of an extra day or two, we have four extra days - and if we do finish early then you can hang out in Mendoza, no hardship in that!

Out of those extra 4 days, in six expeditions we have used all of them twice. In other words if we had had only three extra days then we would have failed twice. We monitor a range of at least six different weather forecasts/parameters and don't rely on the "snow forecast" that the rest do and that everybody admits is only accurate a day or two out. We can usually plan a summit push accurately, so we can actually really aim for a real weather window rather than just summitting by chance. This is a major difference to other Aconcagua operators, and the reason every one of our expeditions so far have summitted.

Meals

We cook as a team on the way in to BC, salad and BBQ, muesli in the morning and a good packed lunch. At Base Camp we have meals, snacks and a dining tent provided, so really easy and practical too.

It is on the mountain that we do things differently. Normally Argentinean guides cook for their group, so there are calls of "hot water" and "dinner ready", with an emphasis on quantity. Instead we provide the supplies (from a Mendoza supermarket) and you decide what you want to cook, with one stove, two pots per tent. So each tent team is catering for themselves, tea/herbal tea/hot Tang/coffee when you want. Yes, perhaps a little more work, but also far more edible, and you can eat and drink when you want, and I help out a bit.

Load carrying

Your gear is carried on mules to BC then above there we carry everything ourselves, ferrying loads ever higher, i.e. your personal gear and the meals and tents. Most teams work like this, and this is the reason fitness and appropriate gear are critical. This load ferrying helps with summit fitness, too. We don't usually use additional porters on the way up but as a summit bonus we do lighten our loads on the way down (included; local companies charge).

Using porters all the way up the mountain adds more than $1000 on to the standard cost.

Acclimatization

We understand the process very well, will send some preparatory notes and discuss this extensively en route. We carry all the relevant drugs to save you getting them. So far on our expeditions nobody has turned back due to altitude/acclimatization issues.

There is one crucial place to spend lots of time so that you body can 'catch up' on acclimatization, and also prepare for higher, and that is at base camp where we spend on average a day longer than most other expeditions. Additionally if the wind is looking bad then we retreat to BC comfort, and head up again later, and in that case we are far stronger at altitude; virtually no other teams ever retreat like that.

The result is success. Each of our expeditions has reached the summit, sometimes a 100% success rate, at other times some of the team have turned back either due to reaching their physical limit or from prior medical issues. I can still say though, that everybody who was capable of reaching the summit, did get there. Logistics/bad weather were never the problem, so far, anyway.

Fitness

It is essential you are fit for this expedition, and are not overweight. From BC we carry ALL of the expedition gear ourselves - no porters, and we cater for ourselves. We ferry loads so that we are not overloaded BUT even with this strategy you will need to carry around 16-22kgs / 35-50lbs for each load carry and when we move camp up, and this really feels its weight at 4000+m. Luckily the distance between camps is moderate.

Gear

Our gear requirements are similar to our normal Nepal treks but with a few real differences, weight is CRITICAL. You don't need a climbing harness set. See our Aconcagua gear discussion.

Load-carrying strategy

Our first load carry from a camp will obviously be gear that we don't need at that camp for the night, so supplies (food, gas) for the higher camps, and perhaps also some of your warmest clothing and not needed lower on the mountain. This gear is cached at the next camp (that is what the ~55 litre stuff sack on the gear list is for), and we return to sleep at the lower camp. That means to clear the camp the next day we carry our personal gear, the kitchen gear and the tents. The loads work out to be roughly equal, and quite manageable.

Environment

Rubbish and human waste are well managed on Aconcagua. Up to and including Base Camp our rubbish and human waste is taken care of by the park and our local operator. Above BC we carry all our rubbish and toilet waste (not including pee). This means we have a rubbish bag each and a separate shit bag. It really doesn't get as heavy as you imagine, and with some tricks is clean to carry. We will discuss once there.

Aconcagua Park entrance fee

Parque Provincial Aconcagua, has an online system and form. We start in the mid-season which is approx US$250 cheaper than the peak season fee, of starting after 15 December. Note the park fee will only be set in October or so, a couple of months prior to the start of the season.

To see the detailed itinerary and more photos use a laptop/desktop browser or tablet in landscape (and hit refresh).

Detailed itinerary

Day 0 - suggested early arrival

We encourage arriving early, give yourself time to recover from flights and discover why Mendoza is a slice of paradise. Note also international flight prices can be substantially different between weekdays and the weekend. Arrive even earlier if you like!

Day 1 - arrive Mendoza 750m

We meet at the hotel and have an evening trip discussion over a Mendocino late dinner. Gear rental (if any) is best sorted out today.

2 - drive Penitentes 2750m

In the morning we get the Aconcagua Park permit and then we drive to the curious ski village of Penitentes and prepare loads for the mules. Overnight in the hotel there.

City gear can be left at the hotel in Mendoza.

3 - trek Pampa de Lenas 2860m

It is five minutes drive to the start of the trek, and around a 5 hour hike to our camp. For today and until Plaza Argentina you carry a light pack and mules carry your kitbag, the tents and rest of the gear. We cater for ourselves (barbequed steaks!), sharing the cooking and camp chores between us.

4 - trek Casa de Piedras 3250m

Glorious trekking! And another barbeque, thanks Ramon.

5 - trek Plaza Argentina 4200m

Another awesome days trekking brings us to our base camp, already set up. Here we have a dining tent and cooks prepare our meals - luxury!

We say adios, goodbye, to the mules and mule drivers, who drop our gear at BC.

6 - rest Plaza Argentina 4200m

It is critical to acclimatize several days here, we are already high. There is limited internet and we can check weather forecasts.

7 - rest Plaza Argentina 4200m

There are several good day trips possible, heading both below and above the base camp.

8 - Plaza Argentina 4200m

What, no sherpas? No! The hard work begins, we carry a load of climbing gear, mountain food and fuel (around 16kgs/35lbs each) to Camp 1.

9 - climb Camp 1 5000m

The park doctor checks everyone's acclimatization (oxygen saturation) prior to the climb, you are only allowed to proceed if they think you are ready. We carry our personal gear and tent up; anything not needed from this point on can be sent back to Penitentes.

From this point on the mountain we cater for ourselves, sharing all the camp chores. It is a stunning view from the camp, often a scenic sunset and occasionally endless lightning over the next range.

Camp 1

10 - Camp 1 5000m

We load carry to camp 2 (our camp 2 but its correct name is Guanacos Camp 3). This is only a few hours away, and part of our good acclimatization plan. We return to stay the night at Camp 1, so a second night at around 5000m to help acclimate. We should sleep well tonight!

11 - climb Camp 2 5500m

We move our tents and personal gear up, staying at Camp 2 (Guanacos Camp 3).

A snowy camp 2

12 - Camp 2 5500m

We load carry to Camp Colera, but stay at Camp 2, again, assisting with acclimatization.

13 - climb Camp Colera 5950m

We move the last of our gear up. This is our highest camp, and the highest point for our traverse itinerary - in other words we are not carrying our camp gear over the mountain... The views are stunning, which makes up for the functional camp.

14 - Camp Colera 5950m - summit 6980m

The big day!

We start early, just a little before it is light. After summitting we stay at Camp Colera, rather than trying to move down.

15 - descend to Plaza de Mulas 4260m

We carry everything in one go, no load ferrying... the reward is hamburgers, calzone pizza or steaks! At Plaza de Mulas meals are provided for us, and for the trek out.

16 - trek Horcones, drive Mendoza

Although we can break the trek with an overnight at Confluencia, most people prefer to trek out direct (6.5-8 hours out) and drive 3 hours to arrive late Mendoza.

17, 18, 19, 20 - spare

The weather is often extremely windy on Aconcagua and so we need spare days to have a real chance of summitting.

Day 21 - depart

You can leave any time today. The Mendoza festival, which include the wine festival, happens either the last weekend in February (which we catch if we come off the mountain early) or the first weekend in March.

Looking to travel further afterwards? How about Iguazu Falls and Buenos Aires, and then hit the Salvador da Bahia Carnival ("World's largest party") starting early March, and/or the Rio Carnival...

Your climbing choices

We hope that everyone who joins us is booking the right trip for themselves. Here is a rundown of your options.

Climb it alone

I don't recommend this, there is a better independent alternative, see the next on the list.

Basic logistics services from a local company

This suits independent types climbing in a team 2-4 good friends. Use mules arranged by the company and then the company also takes care of your rubbish and provides toilets at BC. Having BC meals supplied also makes the stay at BC luxurious.

Booking a local operator fixed departure expedition

Inka, Aymara, Grajales etc organize guided expeditions. There are usually multiple guides who cook for the large group on the mountain, and meals plus dining tent are provided at BC. The minuses are significant additional costs if you separate from the group, eg with altitude issues, and the itinerary is more or less fixed and so the team climbs up until either summitting or being turned back by strong winds.

Booking with an international guiding company

Do work out if they use a local operator for base camp catering (preferable) or not. Check if the guides are named, are porters provided and what is the maximum size of the team? There are some good options but all group sizes will be larger.