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Mountain Climbing > Aconcagua Mountain
Climbing Aconcagua - Training and Tips
Photo by JHTC Productions
Elevation: 22,841 ft (6,962m)
Cerro Aconcagua in Argentina, South America is the highest peak in the Andes Mountains and the highest mountain outside of Asia. Many climbers use their experience on Aconcagua as a launching point for an attempt of Denali (Mt. McKinley) in Alaska, for one of the Seven Summits (highest peak on each continent) or as a test of acclimatization for climbing in Nepal or attempting Mt. Everest. Body Results trainers have helped design appropriate mountaineering conditioning programs to help clients reach the “Andes rooftop” since early 2000.
The three main mountaineering routes on Aconcagua include the technically easy Ruta Normal or “normal route” up the Northwest Ridge (north side), the second most frequented Polish Glacier Traverse route, also known as the "Falso de los Polacos" route, and the Polish Glacier route itself. The Traverse approaches the mountain through the Vacas valley, ascends to the base of the Polish Glacier then traverses across to the normal route for the final ascent to the summit.
How does Aconcagua compare to other high peaks mountaineers generally gravitate towards? The terrain on the Normal Route is comparable to what you find on Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa. However, the higher altitude, length of climb, greater southern latitude and more extreme temperatures make this climb more challenging than a trek to the rooftop of Africa near the equator. Aconcagua is similar in elevation to Alaska’s Mt. McKinley (Denali) and also at comparable extreme latitudes. However, it does not require sled dragging on the approach, like an alpine-style climb on Denali, and requires less technical skills than a Denali expedition.
Most Aconcagua climbers will hire mule support up to base camp. Each climber is limited to 30 kg (67 pounds) for personal gear; mules can carry 2 such duffle bags. Above base camp, unless you plan to hire a personal porter, you can expect to do heavy carries with group gear and personal gear, as much as 50-60 pounds per carry. Due to the extreme altitude, frigid conditions, cold winds, and many days of repeated effort to reach the summit, it is a physically and mentally demanding peak.
Whereas peak climbing season in the northern hemisphere is typically mid-May through end of September, in the southern hemisphere the ideal time to climb Aconcagua is during the months of mid-November through end of March. Permits are at a premium during Argentina’s High Season (12/15-1/31) when weather and snow conditions are optimal for high altitude climbing. Climbing permits are issued for 20 days, so allow at least 3 weeks for any trip to Argentina to climb the country’s highest peak.
Aconcagua Technical Skills
Climbs of Aconcagua may require the use of an ice axe and crampons on summit day, so be prepared to gain experience with these tools before attempting your climb. Know how to do the rest step and pressure breathing so that on summit day you can optimize your oxygen uptake. Be comfortable with self-arresting in the event that you need to use such skills to stop a stumble on ice. Be quite familiar with your equipment and gear so as you ascend to greater elevation you can focus on your body’s physical and mental progress without getting distracted by mundane tasks or fumbling needlessly with your gear.
High Altitude Progressions
A great way to get the skills set suggested above, and to see how both your body and mind perform at high altitude, is to experience other lower-altitude expedition-type climbs before hand. A good mountaineering progression for the novice climber aspiring to reach the summit of Aconcagua would be to first tackle a 14,000-foot glaciated peak such as Mt. Rainier or a mildly technical 14,000-foot peak in the Rocky Mountains. Next, try some climbs in Ecuador or Mexico to gain more experience with higher altitude. If you can arrange for extra time in Argentina or Chile to further acclimatize before your trip, do so. Assuming you have tested your acclimatization, skills, and conditioning, you will be ready to tackle Aconcagua.
Psychological and Physiological Requirements
Perhaps one of the toughest things about climbing a mountain like Aconcagua is keeping motivated for several weeks. Plan to spend time in your tent waiting for the opportunity to go higher on the mountain. You may have climbing mates who get sick, who have to descend without you, or who need your help with some of their pack weight. At some point you may even get a bit sick yourself from food issues or altitude, yet still have to perform. Being in the best physical condition you can get, even above and beyond what you expect you will need, will help you prepare for any unknown circumstances.