Aconcagua, Andes

I have included 2 excellent stories of mere mortals attempting one of the most difficult mountains in the world (for hikers not climbers) and the highest in the Southern Hemisphere. The first was James’ (my nephew) climb in November 2017 and the second was Sean’s over 10 years earlier. Both describe the hardships and pleasures of the climb and their thoughts certainly bring the mountain climb to life. If anyone is looking to attempt Aconcagua they are essential reading…  

 Jump to Sean’s Climb of Aconcagua

James’ story – Aconcagua via the Ameghino Route

James had shown only limited enthusiasm for walking in this country but a year in South America (2017) clearly affected his mindset and led to an initial climb of El Misti Mountain in Southern Peru followed by an ascent of Aconcagua. His story now follows…..

The view of Aconcagua from the Ameghino route

The view of Aconcagua from the Ameghino route

To many amateur climbers, Aconcagua is one of the highest and most prestigious achievable peaks in the world.  Standing at almost 7000 metres high, it certainly is intimidating and the danger of altitude sickness is very real; however, it is not a technical climb and…crucially…with due care and attention, it is safe.  This is what brought me here; I was attracted by the potential achievement of a high altitude peak but without the genuine risk of death that comes with the higher summits of the Himalayas.  All that being said, Aconcagua is certainly not easy! 

When I arrived in Mendoza (meeting point for most expeditions to Aconcagua) one of the guides told me that climbing the mountain is a mental and physical challenge.  He said that “you have to be mentally prepared to go day after day in an environment that gets tougher and tougher”.  Having spent just over two weeks climbing the mountain, I couldn’t have summed it up better.  I hadn’t done anything like this before, having only once climbed a mountain where I camped overnight (El Misti, Peru, 2 days, 5800m) never mind for over two weeks.  This was one of the biggest challenges; you have to keep yourself mentally fit and also physically healthy during the lengthy climb, just to give yourself a chance at going for the summit, if the weather allows you to of course.

The company I decided to help give me a chance of getting to the summit was Aventuras Patagonicas (AP) with a relatively small but very professional group of Argentinian guides.  Most of the expeditions with AP climb via the Ameghino Valley route then descend via the normal route to complete a traverse of the mountain.  I hadn’t paid particular attention to the relative benefits of this route vs the Normal route, however, after a few days a few differences did stand out:

  • The Ameghino route climbs from the East which means the sun rise is not blocked by Aconcagua itself so the mornings were much warmer;
  • The Ameghino route is much quieter than the Normal route, we were one of the only expeditions in the base camp (Plaza Argentina); whereas there were numerous trips on the way up the Normal route once we reached its base camp (Plaza de Mulas);
  • Traversing the mountain does mean that everything that goes up beyond base camp must be carried all the way to the other base camp…and I mean everything…

The main meeting point for Aconcagua is Mendoza.  I had spent the previous month or so in Argentina and actually found Mendoza to be one of the most pleasant cities I had visited.  If you have time then be sure to do a wine tour around Maipu, the best way is to just head there on a local bus then hire bikes.  We were put up in a very posh hotel…it felt like the climbing equivalent of giving someone their favorite food for their last meal on death row.  That is being dramatic but the service in the Hyatt did seem like it would probably be at odds with what we could expect once the climb started.

Steaks in Mendoza are a real highlight

Steaks in Mendoza are a real highlight

Mendoza provided a good opportunity for us to all meet and for gear to be checked…I was found lacking significantly in the warm clothes area.  Our guides claim that he normally wore 4 pairs of trousers on summit day and that it could reach below -25 degrees Celsius, had scared me enough to buy a few extra bits from the local climbing shop.

The next morning we went to purchase permits for the mountain and then managed to set off by midday towards Los Penitentes, our last stop before we hit the trail.  This turned out to be one of the worst days of the trip for me personally.  A small spot on the heel of my left foot that had been lingering around for about a week had now started to grow and was now causing me quite a bit of pain.  This coupled with the start of a fever had concerned me enough to seek help from other clients on the trip (fortunately for me, one was a doctor and one was a nurse so I was in good hands).  It had gotten so bad by the evening that I could barely walk and I was shivering from the fever… 12 hours before we would start walking, I thought my trip was over before it had even began.  I told the guys that it needed to get a lot better otherwise I would struggle badly.  There was only one option, pop it, hope for the best for me and pump me full of antibiotics to fight the fever.  I will spare you the photo album on this bit but I assure you it was pretty gruesome.

Whilst I lay shivering and bleeding in my room; the others, minus the doctor and nurse who were helping me, had a wander round Los Penitentes.  It is a rather small and basic ski resort which is apparently slightly too low at 2,500m for good winter snowfall.  In the summer it was particularly quiet.  Just a few hotels and climbing centres seemed to be open.  Los Penitentes is named after the elongated blades of packed ice that the snow forms high on Aconcagua.  This phenomenon is unique to South America and produces quite beautiful sections of the climb up the mountain.

Penitentes snow formations on the way up Aconcagua

Penitentes snow formations on the way up Aconcagua

The next day, I started to feel quite a bit better, the drugs seemed to be working and popping the infected spot had released the pressure on my foot and I would walk with only a slight limp.  We left a large mule bag each containing our tents, sleeping bags and anything else we wouldn’t need for the day and hopped in the van to the trail head at Punta de Vacas.

The team at Punta de Vacas

The team at Punta de Vacas

Over the next 3 days, we slowly gained altitude towards base camp; each day trekking for about 6 hours, then collecting our bag from the mules, setting up camp, eating, drinking and generally having quite a nice time on what was actually a very pleasant hike.  We all knew it would change as soon as we got above base camp but for now we could relax and enjoy! They even had wine!!  For those not on antibiotics…

Base camp on the Ameghino valley route, Plaza Argentina, sits at 4200m.  This altitude was just about enough to give me and most of the group our first headaches.  Nothing to be concerned about and we had a rest day coming up.  The base camps on Aconcagua tend to surpass expectations in most areas.  The food is very good (eat up because you need the energy!), there are electrical sockets and even wifi for a price.  Base camp was so nice, I almost felt embarrassed.  I thought to myself, I can’t just log on to Facebook and message that I have reached base camp…This is supposed to be a hard climb, people won’t believe me…

Plaza Argentina (4,200m

Plaza Argentina (4,200m)

After our rest day in base camp, we felt refreshed and ready for the climb to camp 1.  AP employ the technique of “sleep high carry low”, this is the best way to acclimatise and carry gear up Aconcagua.  We would carry a full pack of gear up to camp 1, stash it under rocks then climb down again to sleep at base camp.  We would then carry the rest of our gear along with our tents and sleeping bags up, taking rest days as and when we needed them.

Base camp to camp 1 on the Ameghino route is quite challenging, an altitude gain of around 700m and a steep last section ensure a tough day.  Carrying from base camp to camp 1 then trekking back to base camp to sleep was very hard.  Our guides made the sensible decision for us to then have another rest day before climbing again to camp 1.  The benefit of this would also be the extra day of good food and facilities in base camp before the push up the mountain.

Steep snow section up to camp 1

Steep snow section up to camp 1

The evening after the carry to camp 1, we returned to bad news.  One of our team, the doctor who had helped me so much in Penitentes, was going to have to be evacuated from the mountain.  In the medical check, they had heard fluid on his lungs and they were concerned that it could have been the start of a pulmonary oedema.  It was a blow to lose someone who had been so positive and strong from the team and we all felt gutted for him to have his expedition being called off so early.

The next day, as we rested, he was flown back to Mendoza and recovered well.  We took time to reflect on this and then gathered ourselves for the push back up the mountain.  After climbing to camp 1, more bad news came… The weather window we had been aiming for on the 12th December had closed; the reports had become clearer and the wind was gathering.  It left us with no choice, no more rest days.  We would have 3 days to carry to camp 2 (5,400m), then move to camp 2, then move to camp 3 (5,850m) and position ourselves for a summit attempt on the 11th December.

Camp 3 (5,850m)

Camp 3 (5,850m)

Above camp 1, it becomes hard to access any water.  Our guides began melted snow but we were told that we would have to mix it with something to provide nutrients, options were…

  • Tang – lovely for the first couple of days but very sweet and not the sort of thing you wanted to drink 6 litres of in a day;
  • Cold tea – just adding a tea bag to cold water became my preference after about a week;
  • Salt – the raw technique…

Once we reached high camp, I had accepted that I had what I had started to call a perma-headache; it was here to stay, along with some slight nausea.  In truth, I had expected worse, the steady climb over a number of days had definitely helped.  I hadn’t been taking Diamox (drug often used to help prevent altitude sickness) early on in the trip because I didn’t want it to interfere with the antibiotics I was taking.  Now that we were high in the mountain, the guides were keen for me to stay off it; saying that I was acclimatising fine and I didn’t need it.  The guides would check each of our blood-oxygen levels at the start of each day and it was true that my numbers weren’t too bad.  Around 80% would probably be low enough for you to be put on life support at sea level but at 6000m, it was generally considered pretty decent.

The general opinion amongst the group was that we were happy that the weather had forced us to move faster.  We were almost two weeks into the climb by this point and if we got the opportunity to get up and down faster we were keen to take it. 

“Summit day is the hardest day of the expedition by far”….”Nothing compares to summit day”…

The words had been ringing in our ears since we first arrived in Mendoza and now it was time to go for it.  We left at 4am, an hour earlier than initially planned as the wind was getting stronger as the day went on, so we wanted to be back and in our tents by mid-afternoon.  It was hard to sleep at 6000m as it was so the early start was no one seemed to mind the early start.  It was cold, but far from the worst it could have been (probably around -20 degrees Celsius) and there was little wind.  We slowly made our way up the mountain, following the head torches as we went.  Clouds came and went, occasionally revealing stunning views across the Andes.  I personally, just found it incredible to look down and think of how high we were and how high we had climbed.

Around 5am on summit day

Around 5am on summit day

A few hours in, we approached the traverse, an area of snow slope that required crampons.  Two members of our group decided to turn back, one was being sick and the other was suffering from exhaustion and was concerned that if he could reach the top he might not be able to get himself down.  I was actually impressed by their clear decision making and their selflessness.  We had come along way and to turn yourself around on summit day would not be easy.  This left 3 of us to continue with our last guide (Rolo), who told us that if anyone else needed to go down then we would all need to go down because he was the only guide and he wouldn’t leave us this high on the mountain.  We all nodded and assured him we were feeling good and so we continued.

Approaching the Traverse

Approaching the Traverse

Rolo told us that some people say that Aconcagua doesn’t start until the Canaleta.  This is a steep snow slope just after a large rock called the Cave around two hours from the summit.  By this point we were tiring, Rolo waited until the last minute to admit that the last two hours were “up, up, up”.  Presumably he had considered the psychological implications of telling us earlier were too grave.  Anyway, we were here now…whilst the Canaleta was very steep and took a lot out of us, it was relatively short. 

Start of the Canaleta

Start of the Canaleta

At the top of the Canaleta, we had a break and Rolo told us “ok from here, we walk around 10 paces, then we have a very short break and just stand and breathe then we continue”.  This seemed excessive at the time, I could see the top, it looked very close, I thought it was basically in the bag.  This was when everything seemed to fall apart very quickly.  I couldn’t focus, I would speak without being aware of what I was going to say, I felt like I was almost hallucinating and not really in control of what was going on.  Over the next hour or so, Rolo kept the three of us moving and managed our energy levels.  The summit was getting closer and closer and just after noon, we stepped onto it.  The relief and joy of actually reaching the summit after weeks of climbing felt fantastic.  The clouds had come over, but I didn’t care, I’d seen views on the way up, I was just proud to be there.

Summit!! (6963m)

Summit!! (6963m)

It was warm and calm on the summit, the sort of conditions that could trick you into forgetting the journey you had to get down.  We spent close to an hour on the top of South America before we started down.  Back down at high camp, the boiled couscous tasted particularly good that evening. 

We spent the next two days trekking out the mountain fast.  First down from high camp to the base camp of the Normal route, Plaza de Mulas; this was a tough day with heavy packs.  Plaza de Mulas had even more luxuries than Plaza Argentina, pre-prepared tents and you could even buy a beer…which I did!  Most importantly though, the mules were back and we gratefully handed over our bags to be carried the rest of the way for us.  The next day we walked the remaining 18km out of the park and headed back to Mendoza.  We arrived back to the Hyatt at around 8pm; there was a fancy party on with a red carpet.  It was not the sort of place that should be welcoming 6 people who hadn’t showered in two weeks but they did and we were so happy to be back. 

I would highly recommend Aconcagua to anyone who is really looking to challenge themselves.  You don’t need to have high altitude experience or technical skills but you do need to be prepared for it to be tough and to dig in stick with it if you are going to give yourself a chance of summiting.  We also heard a lot of stories of people being turned around because of bad weather so you have to also be willing to accept that you might not make it and that might not be within your control.  If you can do those things then pack your bags and don’t forget your gloves!

 

Sean’s Story – Aconcagua via the Hocornes Valley 

I have known Sean since teenage years and his life has taken him in a non conventional route. He has always enjoyed walking but loves skiing, particular in Chamonix where he owns a flat. When he is not in Chamonix or his home town of Newcastle he spends his time on the European Golf Tour as a successful caddy. His story of Aconcagua follows… 

Why Aconcagua ? Well it is the highest mountain in the world… outside the Himalayas. It is one of the seven summits. And on that summit the chances are that you’ll be the highest person on the summit of the earth. And won’t that sound cool at the next meeting “ice breaker” …? 

Looking very challenging

Looking very challenging

Any one of those sounded like a good reason to book up on a trip to Aconcagua, so I there I was on the Jagged Globe website signing up for the trip in February 2004. First stop the gym. I’d never been to one in my life, but I reckoned it had to be infinitely better than running round the streets in an English winter in a vain attempt to get fit for the trip. So I signed up, found I actually enjoyed going, and 5 weeks or so later I was definitely fitter than I’d ever been before and raring to go.

Travelling to the hill And so about 6 weeks later there I stood in Gatwick at the appointed rendezvous time waiting for the other members of the trip to arrive. And one by one they did. Some old. Some young. A real mix of people. You forget everyone’s name as soon as they tell you. But in a few weeks you won’t forget any of them. Some you’ll like. Some you may not. Some will become lifelong friends. The mountains are like that. “How high have you been before ?” seems to be the most burning question. Already altitude is high on the agenda. First stop in Madrid. Then the overnight Aerolineas to Buenos Aires. Or rather Buenos Aires via San Paulo as the plane was running out of fuel due to fierce headwinds across the Atlantic. A quick hop across to the other airport, and then another 2 hours or so across to Mendoza in the west of Argentina. And what immediately strikes you looking out of the window is how vast this country is. Miles upon miles of prairie. And thousands upon thousands of cattle. Or steaks as they’ll become soon enough.

Day 1 is a rest day for us. A day by the pool getting used to the heat. It might have been 8 degrees in London, but it’s more like 38 here. And a day spent doing a last minute check of everyone’s kit. Fortunately there’s a local climbing shop for any last minute extras … like huge down mittens for example.

Day 2 and it’s off to sign up for the climbing permits, and a bus ride out to a mid-point hotel in the Los Penitentes ski-resort I remember only for its impossibly thin bedsheets and a lot of post dinner hilarity as many depart early for bed. Early on day 3 you suddenly get your first view of Aconcagua. Unannounced it appears as you come round a bend close to the entrance to the National Park. The hairs on my neck bristled immediately. And I’m sure I wasn’t alone. It simply towers above the valley floor. White. A knarled mass of snow and ice against the bright blue sky. Everyone is silent. We’re climbing that ?! 

First Sight of Aconcagua

First Sight of Aconcagua

Except that that is the south face of the mountain. Our route, and I have to say thankfully our route, is “round the back.” But it still looks high. Very high. Formalities at the park gates over and we’re ready to begin our attempt on Aconcagua. First up an easy 3/4 hour hike to our first camp at Confluencia. Nothing too strenuous, with lunch on the banks of the river flowing off the mountain thrown in.

We arrive at camp in the late afternoon, pitch tents, and are soon enjoying steak for dinner. Night falls and the first of many star gazing sessions begins – there’s absolutely zero light pollution here so it’s a truly amazing sight. As it is every other clear night on the remainder of the time we spend on Aconcagua. As the sun doesn’t hit camp until 10am (ie. it’s very cold as we’re already at 2900m) we sensibly stay up talking until gone 11, fill water bottles with hot water, and then duck quickly into tents/sleeping bags. Our water bottles act as feet warmers for the first hour and then a few hours later an instant cure for a night-time headaches which become a common, even nightly, occurrence even at this altitude.

Day two and it’s another gentle 2-3 hour hike in the morning to Plaza Francia, the viewpoint over the knarled south face of the mountain we first saw from the roadhead. We also gain some valuable altitude, then it’s back for some lunch and a siesta. No-one seems to be suffering with the altitude thankfully. But it is at the back of everyone’s minds. Ok now time to “head up” the mountain. We set off across and up the Hocornes Valley the next day, destination Base Camp at Plaza de Mulas, altitude 4200m. We should be there in 6-8 hours. It’s easy going at first. A flat almost desert-like landscape, with even some vegetation from time to time. 

Horcones valley

Horcones valley

We gain altitude (that word again) all the time, passing 4000m mid-afternoon, with the last hour being rather steeper up to the Base Camp we’ve been able to see most of the day in the far distance. There it’s the familiar routine of pitch the tent, arrange the gear, dinner, chatting, fill the bottles with hot water, star-gaze, bed, wake up a bit parched and a bit headachey, pee, drink and then back to sleep. Peeing. Ah yes. You pee in a pee-bottle. You definitely don’t go outside. The brave and dextrous can do it in the sleeping bag. Me, I’m half out on my knees. What you definitely do is reach out of the tent and pour away the contents …. an hour’s time mid-pee is definitely not the time to discover that a quart really doesn’t fit in a pint pot !

We have the luxury of a rest day first day in Base Camp. Some choose to head off to the hotel for a shower; some (like me) choose to do nothing; and some (against advice) decide to climb up to Camp 1. All of us drink water. And lots of it. All the while Joe is here there and everywhere. Bits of advice here. Teaching crampon skills to those without snow/ice experience there. Making sure everyone is well. And herding everyone to the mid-afternoon rendezvous with the Base Camp doctor for the pulse-oxymeter test. 

Base Camp

Base Camp

Everyone has to do this before heading any higher up the mountain. Everyone is oddly nervous (too high/low a reading and you may be sent down), but everyone passes. Anyone taking Diamox is advised to stop: it can mask very real symptoms higher up. It’s a windy old night at Base Camp. You literally hear the wind approaching our little tent before rattling it wildy before then heading off far into the night. But by morning it’s all gone and we emerge to a perfect sunny morning.

Today is the start of our climb proper: objective, a load carry to Camp 1 at the Canadian Place, and return. Loads are evenly distributed amongst everyone. It’s probably only a few kilos but it feels like more. And today we don our plastic boots in anger for the first time. It now all feels very real, and there’s a palpable sense of anticipation – and maybe nervousness – in the air. Up the side of the hill behind Base Camp to a rest stop at its highest point, Conway Rocks. It’s maybe only a few hundred feet but Base Camp still looks small from here. Onward and upward for another hour and it’s time for another rest, before the final hour up to Camp 1. In total it probably takes 3 hours, maybe a little longer. We sprawl out in the sunshine, before turning on our heels and heading back down the way we came. With no weight in our sacs, it’s an easy hour back down. 

Canadian Place

Canadian Place

We’ve already been higher than Mont Blanc and there’s no obvious strugglers yet. On the way down we see the Army expedition who have been a day ahead of us throughout the trip (we’ve been arriving in camps as they leave so we’ve got to know them) descending from high camp at breakneck speed. We later discover one of the party has been found unconscious in his tent at the High Camp suffering from a pulmonary oedema, and packing him into an expedition barrel and basically wheeling him down the mountain has effectively been the only way of saving his life. We also later find him laughing about the whole thing in a bar in Mendoza …. thankfully. But it does bring home to everyone that this a big mountain and people do die on it. Gulp time.

The cycle of climb high, sleep low is repeated on day 2, but this time the objective is Camp 2 at Nido de Condores. We climb up to Camp 1 again. Only this time it takes half the time, and, or so it feels, half the effort. Everyone makes good time to Camp 2 too which we reach in mid-afternoon after a few hours upwards traverse and zig-zags from Camp 1. The view is stunning. Simply stunning. As is my headache. It’s the altitude for sure. But water and descent seem to offer some respite, and soon enough we’re back in Base Camp. Only my tent mate has a problem. A big problem. Having walked down with me most of the way to see I was alright, my “you go ahead and line up the orange juice” results in him doing just that, only a bit too quick and one turned ankle later it’s a trip to the doctor, and crushingly his trip is over before it’s really begun. It’s really quite emotional saying goodbye the next day as we head up again while Steve prepares to head down on the back of a mule. This mountain – or maybe the trip – is like that. Friendships made become lifelong ones. Even 6 years later a few of us are still in touch. It just happens like that. 

Heading off

Heading off

So up we go. First stop Camp 1 again. We arrive late afternoon to boil-in-the-bag food prepared by our three Argentinean guides, then crawl into tents for a fitful night’s sleep. Morning comes all too soon, and then it’s onwards and upwards up the zig-zags to camp 2 once again. Again we all reach it in good time, all strong and all in good spirits as the weather is great and the views even better. Our third day is a split one: the morning is spent relaxing or honing crampon skills on the snow field just about the camp itself, then in the afternoon it’s packs on again and a load carry up to the high camp (named the Berlin Huts) we’ll use for our summit attempt in the next few days. 

Berlin Huts

Berlin Huts

The weather however is starting to turn, and by the time we all reach the high camp it’s cold and windy with light snow falling. But we all make it in good time, before heading straight back down the easy track to the sanctuary of our tents at Camp 2 and a welcome meal delivered to the tent by the guides. In the morning the weather is still cold with the threat of snow as we pack up for the summit attempt. For one of the guys however (sadly) it’s the end of the road – on Aconcagua you just know when it’s time to stop and go down for whatever reason.

By the time the rest of us reach the Berlin Huts later that afternoon it’s snowing, and snowing quite heavily. It’s also cold. Straight into the tent and straight into the sleeping bag, emerging only to eat another boil-in-the-bag dinner brought round by our amazing guides. If the weather is good we’ll attempt the summit in the morning. Very early. And while it’s certainly early the next morning, the weather certainly isn’t good. At least not towards the summit where there are gale force winds making any summit attempt doomed to almost certain failure. We emerge from the tents for breakfast in the hottest sun I’ve ever experienced. You can feel it burning your face almost immediately. Yet below us you can see cloud. The thick black cloud of another storm heading up the mountain our way. 

Storm approaching

Storm approaching

At 2pm it hits us. The temperature drops 20 degrees almost immediately with driving snow, sending us scurrying back into the tents for another afternoon stuck in our sleeping bags. Reading, CDs and fitful sleep is the order of the day. Fingers crossed we can go in morning. But in the morning comes bad news. Joe gathers everyone together. We all instinctively know what he’s going to say. And what he does say is that the guides say the first big winter storm is coming, tonight it will be -45 degrees, and we should go down. Sounds sensible to me. And sounds sensible to 9 out of 10 of us – there’s always one ! So it’s crampons on, packs on, and off we go, all too aware that that storm is coming: mainly because we can all see it brewing 1000s of feet below us.

Time really is of the essence here, and in record time we’re all down through camp 2, then camp 1, and soon enough (ok, it was about 4 hours but seemed far quicker) we’re all safely back in Base Camp. I can’t really remember being too disappointed about not summitting: it just wasn’t meant to be I guess. But on the walk out the next morning I do remember looking at the plume of ice blowing off the summit of the mountain, and thinking that our guides made the right call: summit-ting that morning was absolutely out of the question. For sure. 

South Face Aconcagua from Plaza Franza

South Face Aconcagua from Plaza Franza

28km later we pose for one last photo with the mountain in the background before heading straight back to Mendoza and some R&R before retracing our steps back across Argentina to Buenos Aires, and the overnight flight back to Europe. Trip over. So ok we didn’t make the summit. But 11 out of 12 made it to the high camp, with the other being prevented from doing so by injury. That was way way way above average for trips that year. But we all made it back down safely ! And that’s always the most important thing. 

Team Photo

Team Photo

Aconcagua remains on my “must do” list. Trip Details My trip to Aconcagua was with Jagged Globe (www.jaggedglobe.com), and while they may not be the cheaper company offering the trip, they’re generally regarded as the best in the market. The itinerary of this trip has changed since my trip in 2004, and an initial acclimatisation summit on the first day at Base Camp, and additional nights sleeping on the mountain: all designed to maximise the chances of success.

The full itinerary is available on the Jagged Globe website (see link above). Again it would be rude not to mention again our guide Joe Gittins. Leading these trips isn’t easy. You have to bring a group of complete strangers together, integrate them, whilst getting them up and down a potentially dangerous mountain safe and sound. And while we didn’t get to the summit, Joe did all the rest brilliantly. Interestingly it took Joe another 2 trips the following year to actually make the summit such are the vagaries of the weather on Aconcagua, even in the middle of the peak climbing season. You can contact Joe through his website (allterrainadventures.co.uk). I would !

Supporting Joe was the Argentinean lead guide Lucas with his dreadlocks and steady steady pace, the other guides who did such a great job helping pitching tents at altitude, and bringing hot food and tea to the tents, and the Base Camp team who looked after our every need and several that we didn’t know we needed but did. Like the Sherpas on Everest, without them the expedition doesn’t happen. And final thanks to Alan, Steve and Dave whose company on the trip I won’t forget in a hurry, and 7 years later we’re all still in pretty regular contact despite being dispersed to various corners of the earth. Top men.

Random Thoughts Most importantly, the Argentinean guides spend half their lives on Aconcagua and if they say the summit day is off or it’s time to go down, then it is. It might just save your life. Don’t argue. Don’t think you know better. On any mountaineering trip you will spend quite a lot of time cooped up in a tent … so choose your tent-mate wisely ! On Aconcagua I felt best when I drank lots of water. And I mean lots of it. As in 8-9 litres each day. The pre-trip advice from Jagged Globe didn’t advise you to practice drinking this amount in the weeks coming up to the trip for nothing ! They were spot on. I used Icebreaker underwear throughout the trip, and would highly recommend it as it just doesn’t smell ! Vega shin. So called because Scarpa Vega (it was 2004 so plastic boots might have improved by now) boots do strange things to your shins, so it’s definitely worth tramping around in them before you go.

Don’t go out to eat before 9pm in Argentina … at the earliest. Nothing opens before around 9:30-10pm. Definitely eat steak – it’s the best anywhere in the world. And always always round the meal off by a trip to the ice cream shop … there’s seemingly one on every corner. There must be 50+ flavours available and at a few pence for a quarter kilo you can’t go wrong.

You generally summit Aconcagua outside the climbing season in Nepal, so above the high camp you’ll be around/above Everest Base Camp

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