Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America and one of the Seven Summits, is a popular destination for mountain climbers of varied experience levels. It is part of the Andes mountain range, located in the Mendoza Province of Argentina. The mountain is approximately 6,960m (22,837ft) overall in height. The mountain was created by the subduction of the Nazca plate under the South American plate with the convergence of the two plates forming a ridge.
The mountain has many interesting defining features. It possesses many glaciers, the biggest of which is the Ventisquero Horcones Inferior at approximately 10km in length. Two other notable glacier systems include the Ventisquero de las Vacas Sur and Ventisquero Relinchos which are approximately 5km long. However, it is The Polish Glacier that is the most well-known upon Aconcagua.
The mountain attracts many climbers, with thousands visiting each year. It’s popularity is down to several different factors. It is particularly useful for climbers who wish to test themselves at high altitudes. Also, for those wishing to attempt Mount Everest, Aconcagua is good for preparation and is often used as a training step.
There are many things to consider before climbing Aconcagua. For example, it is important to plan which route you are going to take beforehand. The Northern Route, also known as The Normal Route due to its popularity, is relatively easy in that it does not require specialized climbing equipment. It follows the north ridge from Plaza de Mulas and is well marked out. The Polish Glacier Traverse route, also popular with climbers, is a little more difficult but still manageable. It ascends the southern face of the mountain, crossing the Vacas valley before ascending the Polish Glacier. While these are the two main routes, there are others to be considered as well. It should be noted that routes on the southern face of the mountain are more difficult than those on the northern side.
The climb and descent takes approximately 15 days overall, varying depending on the route taken and the skill level of the climber undertaking the challenge. There are several campsites en route and it is important to plan the journey beforehand to reach each campsite in good time while allowing a substantial rest at each stop.
Regardless of the relative ease of the climb, reaching the top of Aconcagua is no easy feat. The altitude effects of the climb are severe, though oxygen tanks are not necessary, and altitude sickness will affect the majority of climbers to some degree. This can really take its toll and may cause severe headaches and, thus, anyone wishing to attempt the climb must be prepared for the altitude. Temperatures are extremely cold and it is essential that climbers are prepared for the extreme weather and freezing conditions as most of the casualties that occur on the mountain are weather related. The best conditions for climbing occur from December to March, making this the general climbing season for Aconcagua.
It is necessary to train and prepare yourself before the climb. Running regularly will improve your general aerobic fitness, making the ascent easier on the body. It is also important to improve your overall strength, perhaps by weight-lifting, before undertaking the challenge. It is especially vital to start by climbing smaller mountains and working your way up rather than making the mistake of going straight for Aconcagua to prepare the body for the difficult gradient and conditions.
It should be noted that it is estimated that only 60% of those who attempt to climb the mountain successfully make it all the way to the summit so do not feel disheartened if, while climbing, you feel you cannot make it all the way to the top. As long as you gave it your best and had fun doing it.