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Explore Aconcagua and the Southern Andes with a Cicerone guidebook - Sample Route

Cover of Aconcagua and the Southern Andes
10 Nov 2009
17.2 x 11.6 x 1.4cm
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Aconcagua and the Southern Andes

by Jim Ryan
Book published by Cicerone Press

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.

  • Seasons
    possible mid-November to mid-March; high season is December/January; weather is best mid-December to mid-February
  • Centres
    Santiago, Mendoza, Puente del Inca, Los Penitentes, Tupungato
  • Difficulty
    although the highest trek in the world, Aconcagua is relatively non-technical; climbers must acclimatise to the altitude and to the cold
  • Must See
    Aconcagua, highest mountain in the world outside the Himalayas, summit of the Americas; elsewhere in the Southern Andes Tupungato and El Plomo; Santiago City
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List of maps and illustrations    
Foreword by Sebastian Tetilla    

Two trekking routes    
Climbing history    
Trekker/climber profiles    
Getting there    
Guides and mules    

Mendoza to Puente del Inca
Changing money and paying for things    
Buying provisions    

The road to Puente del Inca    
Mendoza–Santiago disused railway    
Los Penitentes    
Puente del Inca    

Routes to the Summit
The Normal route    
The Vacas Valley route    
Summit day    
The long walk out    
Other routes    

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    

The Andes’ Great Mountain    
Tupungato routes    
The Route via Chile and Rio Colorado    

Tupungato Provincial Park
Wilderness trek to Friar’s Col    

Santiago City    
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    


Sample Route

View Sample Route Map


Tupungato via Chile and Rio Colorado

Time: 12 days
Distance: 96km round trip
Terrain: Varied
Maximum elevation: 6550m
Total climb: 5000m    
Water sources:Good

From Santiago the route is via the Cajón de Maipo, southeast of Santiago, through Las Vizcachas, La Obra and El Manzano. You must go into San Jose de Maipo to the army base to have your papers checked and stamped, and then proceed to the gates of AES Gener at Alfalfal. It is then 25km of dirt track road up to the start of the trek at Chacayal. En route you will pass arriero huts where you can hire mules. The dusty road is very busy with lorries from the open cast mine across the river from Chacayal.

At Chacayal there are good places to camp on grass and there is clean water. You may notice the many holes in the ground here, and you will see them again between Baños Azules and Vega de Los Flojos. These are made by little black moles, which make or clean out their burrows in the early morning. On this side of the Andes the flora is somewhat different to the Argentinean side, and there will be no chance of seeing guanacos.

The trail from Chacayal is along the right hand, southern bank of the Rio Colorado, along narrow precipitous paths, high above the raging river below. The first campsite is short of the Rio Museo (2400m). Known as Baños Azules, the site lies under the peak of Pan de Azucar (Bread of Sugar). The water running over the bare rock beside the campsite is heavy in minerals and not suitable for drinking, but there is good water below the campsite and further along the trail.

The second day is a 20km trek to Vega de los Flojos (3300m), a tough climb of 900m. Leaving Baños Azules the trail rises and falls to cross over the Rio Museo via a wooden bridge. Crossing the Rio Azufre is energy sapping, with three ascents and one descent to make. There were no bridges over the Rio Museo or the Rio Azufre until the arrieros constructed makeshift crossings as recently as 2006.

Once the rivers are crossed the trail is relatively uniform until you reach the base of Piedra Azul. This is an alternative campsite an hour or so short of Vega de los Flojos, perched above a mound of basalt, where the arrieros have built a shelter under a rock overhang. The campsite enjoys a wonderful view of Tupungato, but the disadvantage is that you will get wet in the morning crossing the Rio Tupungatito. Going all the way to Vega de los Flojos allows for clothes that get wet in the river to dry out in the afternoon, ready for the morning.

One further point to consider is that it is not unusual for clouds to build up in the afternoons between Baños Azules and Vega de los Flojos, resulting in no sighting of Tupungato. Camping at Piedra Azul would ensure a wonderful vista of Tupungato in the early morning.

Perhaps in time the arrieros will build a bridge over the Rio Tupungatito, but in 2009 there was still none, and the crossing at Mal Paso is an exciting, quite precarious, event. Vega de los Flojos (spring of the loose rocks/ground) is a green area, somewhat similar to Piedra Numerada on the El Plomo trek. At 3300m it is relatively well sheltered and has good water nearby, but there is no view of the mountain. You will have noticed the cattle and horses that graze the lands between Baños Azules and Mal Paso, and wondered how they were brought in and taken out, for the path from Chacayal to Baños Azules is hardly suitable for large animals.

All the way from Baños Azules to the summit of Tupungato there are multiple campsites to choose from. Above Vega de los Flojos it is now customary for climbers to make their basecamp at Los Penitentes (4400m), however, there are choices below that, such as at Los Espanoles (4000m). There is no water available here, but there is at Los Penitentes.

Above Los Penitentes it is usual to break the climb into three stages, making Camp 1 at 5200m, and a second camp at Los Arenales (5900m).
Summit day from Los Arenales is only 650m, and is not taxing as summit days go. Expect the day to be extremely windy, with a severe wind chill effect. There are no particularly difficult or technical obstacles to overcome en route to the summit.

Since the final surge to the summit is relatively short, there should be time to break camp and descend all the way to basecamp on the same day. The next day can be as long or as short as desired. Some feel it is enough to cross the river below Vega de los Flojos, and make camp at Piedra Azul to dry out, and for a last look at the mountain in the morning. Others will want to make haste as far as Baños Azules.
On the way down there are significant ascents and descents required to cross Rio Azufre.


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