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Guidebook to climbing Aconcagua, with route descriptions for trekkers to the Normal and Vacas Valley Routes. They take 12 and 14 days to complete respectively and cover a variety of difficult mountain terrain up to 6962m - suitable for experienced walkers and mountaineers. Also included are treks in the Vallecitos and Tupungata ranges.
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This guidebook contains detailed route descriptions for the two main ascent routes of Aconcagua - the Normal and the Vacas Valley (Polish) Routes. It also describes treks in the southern Andes, the Vallecitos, the Tupungata ranges and the Maipo Volcano. In addition, the ascent of El Plomo near Santiago, the most popular 5000m mountain in the Andes is also described.
At 6962m the mountain of Aconcagua in the southern Andes is the highest peak in the world outside of the Himalayas. It is the highest of the seven continental summits after Everest and offers climbers the best value in terms of altitude gained for effort expended. Aconcagua requires very little technical expertise and it provides valuable high altitude experience for non-climbers.
Over 70 per cent of all climbers take the Normal Route. This is also known as the Horcones Valley Route. The approach is from the south, 36km over a rough river valley to basecamp at Plaza de Mulas. From there the route swings around to the east, over steep ground, eventually turning directly south to the summit.
The second popular trekking route is the Vacas Valley Route, but it is also known as the Polish Glacier Route. It is 47km from the road head to basecamp at Plaza Argentina. Initially the direction is, like the Normal Route, due north for 31km, then making a left turn to the west and going a further 16km up the Relinchos River Valley.
Via the Normal Route the summit will be visible for much of the journey to basecamp, whereas on the Vacas Valley Route it only comes into view when you reach the left hand turn after 31km. The average time (subject to acclimatisation) to the summit and back to the road head is 12 days via the Normal Route and 14 days on the Vacas Valley Route.
The Vacas Valley Route is tougher and longer than the Normal Route. However, for those not acclimatised, this plays dividends leaving them better prepared for summit day. Acclimatisation on another mountain, such as at Vallecitos or El Plomo, then climbing via the Normal Route is an ideal option.
The mountain is bleak and harsh. The winds on Aconcagua can be unrelenting and the temperatures severe. The incidence of failure as a result of altitude sickness and weather is particularly high. Walkers must remember to prepare before setting out on this trek as many climbers have arrived unprepared for the cold and the altitude and have to make return visits for second attempts.
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List of maps and illustrations
Foreword by Sebastian Tetilla
Two trekking routes
Guides and mules
PART 1 THE ASCENT OF ACONCAGUA
Mendoza to Puente del Inca
Changing money and paying for things
The road to Puente del Inca
Mendoza–Santiago disused railway
Puente del Inca
Routes to the Summit
The Normal route
The Vacas Valley route
The long walk out
PART 2 ACONCAGUA, VALLECITOS AND THE MAIPO VOLCANO
Routes near Aconcagua
Puente del Inca and Los Penitentes
A walk to the statue of Cristo Redentor
Horcones Valley to Plaza Francia
Routes from Vallecitos
Vallecitos Ski and Mountain Lodge
Lomas Blancas 3850m
Cerro Vallecitos 5770m
The Maipo Volcano
PART 3 TUPUNGATO AREA
The Andes’ Great Mountain
The Route via Chile and Rio Colorado
Tupungato Provincial Park
Wilderness trek to Friar’s Col
PART 4 SANTIAGO AREA
In and around Santiago
Routes near Santiago
El Morado valley
La Campana national park
El Plomo 5430m
Provincia and San Roman
Appendix 1 Maps, guidebooks and further reading
Appendix 2 Guides and mountain services
Appendix 3 Accommodation and local facilities
Appendix 4 South American cuisine
Appendix 5 Spanish–English language notes
The mountain of Aconcagua in the southern Andes is the highest peak in the world outside the Himalayas. It is the highest of the seven continental summits after Everest and it offers the climber the best value in terms of altitude gained for effort expended.
The purist might contend that climbing in double plastic boots, with crampons and an ice axe, in temperatures of -20ºC, can hardly be classified as a ‘trek’. Nevertheless, Aconcagua does require very little technical expertise and it provides valuable high altitude experience for non-climbers.
In recent years the pursuit of climbing and hill walking has attracted more and more enthusiasts. Travel to far off places has become more popular and easier to arrange. Mountain guides clog the internet with advertisements for their adventure holidays. For those who tire of the commonplace, goals such as Kilimanjaro, Island Peak and Aconcagua are there to provide the adventure.
Aconcagua is seen as an essential stepping-stone for those with eyes on the big prize – Everest. However, the serious alpinist will have to rub shoulders with the adventurous trekker. As for any mountain, there are numerous routes up Aconcagua. The majority are categorised as extremely difficult, but two routes are available that require minimal technical expertise and they are the routes described in detail here.
The area of South America in which Aconcagua is situated is quite civilised, transport is good, and there is an established infrastructure for mountain access. There are no nasties in the region, such as snakes, mosquitoes or wild cats. The people are friendly, food is great and language is not a particular barrier. The region has many other attractions, such as the vineyards of Chile and Mendoza, white water rafting, the beach at Viña del Mar, rodeos and numerous other scenic and cultural items of interest.
Lest the impression be conveyed that Aconcagua is a bed of roses the following caution is appropriate. The mountain is bleak and harsh. The winds on Aconcagua can be unrelenting and the temperatures severe. The incidence of failure as a result of altitude sickness and weather is particularly high. Many climbers arrive unprepared for the cold and the altitude and have to make return visits for second attempts.
There are no less than 164 peaks in the Himalayas that have greater altitudes than Aconcagua. In the Americas, however, Aconcagua tops a list of 43 peaks, all in South America, ahead of Denali (Mount McKinley) in North America.
Alpinists consider Aconcagua to be much more difficult than a large proportion of its Himalayan cousins. This they attribute to its harsh environment, its unpredictable weather, the dreaded Canaleta scree slope that must be overcome at 6800m and its long distance to basecamp. The relative distance of Aconcagua from the equator, compared to the Himalayas, is considered to be a factor in terms of weather and altitude. The further one travels from the equator the thinner is the earth’s atmosphere.