|Aconcagua Expedition Itinerary Information|
|Aconcagua Expedition Packing Advice
A good understanding of our itinerary and the logistics of the expedition can help you both with your packing and also with your initial equipment selection. If you know what happens next, and in what sort of environment, you'll be better prepared and more relaxed.
Just as with any expedition, there are several distinct stages. In this document, we'll go through them chronologically. As an aid to understanding, we have included a map. Click on the various place markers to see their labels.
Also you can view our recommended equipment list here.
Travel to Mendoza, Argentina
You are most likely to fly into the airport in Mendoza. The two common routes are
There are a few minor differences in choosing one route over the other, we'll go through those here.
There are quite a few flights from North America to Santiago, and this route is a good choice for those coming from this direction. Santiago is a pleasant city, and a good place to recover from a sleepless flight.
At immigration you will receive a 90-day tourist visa. For North Americans and Europeans you do not need to obtain your visa in advance. All you need is a valid passport. If you have a connecting flight to Mendoza through Santiago, and do not need to claim and recheck your baggage, you can avoid the Visa Reciprocity Fee. But if you need to claim your baggage, or clear immigration, then, depending on your nationality, you may be required to pay the Visa Reciprocity Fee. This fee is levied on US or Canadian passport holders, and comes to about $140 USD. The fee can be paid in USD cash, or by credit card (Be sure to contact your credit card company in advance and warn them of your travel plans.). I believe that EU passport holders do not currently need to pay the visa fee.
The fee, and an Argentine equivalent fee, is charged only at the Santiago airport (and at EZE airport in Buenos Aires, see more info below). It will not be charged at other points of entry in Chile or Argentina. So for example, if you fly through Santiago (paying your Chilean fee), and continue on to Mendoza (where you'll enter Argentina) you won't be charged the Argentine fee upon your arrival there.
In the Santiago airport you may need to collect your baggage and go through customs. If your baggage was checked through to Mendoza, then you may not need to clear customs or immigration. Look for the Connecting Flights sign. Depending on your schedule you may need to overnight in Santiago. To get into Santiago, some 20 km away, you can either; take the bus (inconvenient but cheap), take a shared-ride shuttle (about 9 USD) which will take you to your hotel, or take a private taxi (about 40 USD). The shared ride shuttle services are located just outside baggage claim. You pay (Pesos, USD or credit card), get a receipt and head out to the waiting vans. There is also an ATM / Bancomat machine as you exit customs, if you need it.
The main advantage of traveling through Santiago as opposed to Buenos Aires, is that you fly in and out of the same airport. Also, Santiago is a smaller and easier to navigate city than the massive BA.
For those coming from Europe, your connections to Mendoza are more likely to go through BA than through Santiago.
Like Chile, you don't need to arrange a visa in advance (all you need is a valid passport), you'll receive a 90-day tourist visa, and U.S. or Canadian passport holders will be charged a visa fee. Argentina has adopted pretty much the same rules about visa fees as Chile. Again, the visa fee is charged only upon entry at the EZE airport.
Unfortunately, if you travel through BA on your way to Mendoza, you will most likely arrive at the Ezeiza International Airport (EZE) and your connecting flight will depart from Aeroparque Jorge Newbery airport (AEP, known as "Aeroparque"). So you'll need to get from one to the other. Since you want to allow about 2 hours for check-in etc. at AEP, you should allow at least four to five hours from your scheduled arrival time at EZE and your scheduled departure time at AEP. There is less traffic weekends and at night, which makes the transfer faster, but during a weekday, traffic can be frustratingly slow.
There is a good shuttle service between airports, Manuel Tienda Leon http://www.tiendaleon.com.ar/home/home.asp. You can book online to reserve a place. Cost is about 55 Argentine Pesos one way (about $14 USD). You can also take a taxi, though the cost is much higher.
One last comment, if you need to change money in the EZE airport, you might want to avoid Global Exchange. There are lots of posts on the internet about the terrible exchange rate they give. There are other banks and other options in the airport. It sounds as though it is worth asking around for the best rate.
Arriving in Mendoza
Whew, you finally made it to Mendoza, hopefully with all your kit. It is simplest to just take a taxi to our hotel in Mendoza. The airport is not far from town and taxis cost about 15 USD from the airport to the center of town.
It is summertime in Mendoza, warm and very pleasant. Have a coffee or a beer and a street-side cafe and enjoy the beautiful people walking by. Argentina is famous for its gorgeous women (and men). But don't get too distracted, we have a mountain to climb!
Kathy and I will be arriving a couple days in advance of you, most likely on January 3rd, in order to shop and prepare trip food.
At the hotel, you can relax, catch your breath and think about organizing your gear. In the evening, depending on everyone's arrival time, we may choose to take this opportunity to pay our climbing permit fee, which is done at an office downtown. It is possible to pay in either USD, Euros, or Argentine Pesos. Generally, however, you'll get the best exchange rate by converting either Euros or USD to Pesos in a nearby casa de cambio.
The next day is a busy one and it helps if you can pack your duffel in preparation. You'll understand why once you read the next few sections. We'll all go out to dinner on the 6th. Think beef, red wine and a nice salad. Argentines eat late, and many restaurants generally don't even open until 9 pm.
Driving to Penitentes, January 7.
After breakfast on the 7th, we'll walk over to the Tourism Office to pick up our climbing permits. There are a few forms to fill out. All team members must be with us when we receive the permit. At around 10 or 11 in the morning, we are picked up at our hotel by Grajales Expeditions, the company that will organize our mules and other services. We continue our drive into the mountains to Penitentes, where our trek begins. Penitentes is about 3 to 4 hours from Mendoza. We recommend that you bring all of your belongings with you to Penitentes, leaving nothing at the hotel in Mendoza.
Penitentes is about 2600 meters in elevation. It can be comfortably warm in the sunshine, though nights are cool. There is often a wind that blows up or down the valley in the afternoon.
In Penitentes we finish organizing the gear. At this point you'll need to divide your gear in to three piles.
A small bag or extra clothes, shoes and travel items that you will not bring into the mountains. This bag will remain with Grajales Expeditions in Penitentes until we are done with our climb. Leave passport (though bring a couple copies with you on the climb), credit cards, computers, airline tickets, travel clothes and such in this bag.
The gear you want to have with you while we are trekking into Base Camp. It takes 3 days to trek into base camp. Though the mules carrying our expedition kit stay with us every night, so you'll have access to your main duffel then, we don't have access to this gear during the day, while we are walking. You'll want to trek in long pants, hiking shoes, and a long-sleeved shirt and sun hat. You'll also want to have with you a warm hat, an insulating layer and a shell jacket in case it rains (not likely, but possible). Add a camera, sunscreen, the lunch we pack for you, blister kit, trekking poles, water bottles, sunglasses and whatever else you like to hike with, and throw it all in your pack. If you brought a smaller pack for the hike in this is the time to use it, keeping your bigger pack in the duffel. If you have only one pack, then that is the one you'll hike with.
On day 3 of the trek in, you'll also want your river crossing footware (an old pair of trainers, or Crocs, sturdy sandals). You don't need these on the first r second day's trek, so for this day they can stay in your big duffel (pile 3 below).
Your main gear duffel. This is the big, soft (no wheels, no stiffening frame, no extendable handles) but sturdy duffel that will contain all the rest of your clothing; climbing boots, and equipment, extra clothes, extra snack food, sleeping bag and pad, and such. Again, we don't have access to this gear during the day, but will have access to it at camps on the trek in.
All the duffels need to be packed and weighed in preparation for the mules. Mules generally carry 2 or 3 bags, with a total combined weight of 60 kg. Maximum allowable weight of any individual bag is 30 kg. So there is inevitably some moving of equipment, balancing and shuffling. We may ask you to carry some group equipment or food in your duffel as we adjust weight. Keep this in the duffle until we get to base camp.
The duffel's trip into Base Camp on mule back is a rough one. The duffels get tied very tightly to the mule's pack frame, and are jostled around with considerable vigor in the course of the day. Pack with the goal of having it all arrive more or less undamaged.
Trekking into Plaza Argentina Base Camp
The trek in is fairly pleasant. Our packs are light and the temperatures are usually comfortable. On the first of the three day trek we first drive to Punta de Vacas. The walk to Pampa Leñas camp takes about 5 hours, climbing gradually up the Rio Vacas. Sunburn is the greatest hazard here. Actually, it really can be a significant problem. We recommend long pants and a long-sleeved light cotton shirt, with a good sun hat. We'll distribute lunches and most likely stop for a good lunch break a couple hours into our hike.
On day 1 of the trek, we often arrive at our camp in Pampa Leñas ahead of the mules. So be sure to have that extra layer of warmth as described above. On days 2 and 3, the mules arrive at camp well in advance of us.
Days 2 and 3 of the trek are similar, though getting cooler as we climb higher. We also have a "refreshing" river crossings first thing in the morning on day 3.
In Base Camp
We will arrive in Base Camp on January 10 and have an entire day to rest and organize, January 11.
Base Camp is located at about 4200 meters, so we'll be feeling the elevation a bit. It is cold at nights, but can be reasonably warm during the day, if the wind is not blowing very hard. The area is rocky with boulders and dirt. There are flat camping areas. The mule handlers have erected some large tents. We will most likely take some of our meals in these tents, but most of the time we'll be nearer our own little group of tents.
In Base Camp we again have to organize gear. In order to organize, you'll need to understand our planned itinerary. First, we plan to traverse the mountain, descending down the other side of the peak, into the Horcones valley. All the gear, food and fuel that gets carried up to the upper camps will have to be carried over and down the other side. It is important to go as light as possible. Once we leave Base Camp, and move up to Camp One (likely date is January 14) everything we bring will have to go with us to at least High Camp.
In addition to what we move up the peak, there will be extra food, fuel, clothing, light walking shoes, your smaller day pack, and odds and ends that we do not plan on bringing above Base Camp. This gear will be carried out by mule once we arrive at high camp, and hence are 100% sure we will complete the traverse. We will radio down, and ask Grajales to pick it up.
As we move up the peak to successively higher camps, usually we will double carry. That is, we move a load of gear up to the next higher camp, then return to a lower camp for the night. We may take additional rest days as required by energy levels, acclimatization and weather. But for the most part, the schedule has us moving gear up, returning to a lower camp, resting, then moving to the next higher camp. Finally, we, and all of our gear, will arrive at our High Camp at what is known as Col Cólera.
We also plan to have a bit of equipment brought by mule into the Plaza de Mulas Base Camp on the Horcones side. This small selection of equipment will be brought out from the Vacas-side Base Camp and then into the Horcones-side camp. It can include your light hiking shoes, your small hiking pack and your lighter weight hiking pants. We are having this gear brought in so our last day's hike out from the Plaza de Mulas Base Camp is a bit more comfortable. On this last day of hiking out we will have mules carry the bulk of our expedition kit, tents, sleeping bags, boots, cook kits, climbing gear, and such.
In order to prepare your gear in Base Camp you'll need to divide your equipment into four categories;
Moving up to Camp One
On about January 14th we will move up to Camp One. We will have already carried up to Camp One, probably on the 12th. Once we leave Base Camp to move up, everything we bring, and everything we have already cached there, will need to be carried up to at least high camp. This is the point where we leave the "luxury items" behind. We need to go as light as we reasonably can. Though we will be double carrying up to High Camp, on the way down to the Plaza de Mulas Base Camp, we will have to carry everything in one trip. We'll hire a few porters to help carry the group gear, but unless you want a private porter to carry your personal kit (240 USD for a 20 kg load) plan on carrying all of your own personal climbing equipment and clothing.
Our exact itinerary as we move from camp to camp will vary depending on weather, our acclimatization and other factors. There are lots of options here. We'll make all of these decisions as the ever-changing factors become more clear.
Arriving at High Camp
After several days of moving gear, moving camps and resting, we eventually arrive at the Col Cólera High Camp at about 5970 meters. We will spend at least two nights here, possibly more if acclimatization or weather dictate. Though it is a good camp area, the high altitude and exposure to the westerly winds suggest we don't want to stay longer than needed.
Once we are ready and the weather is acceptable, we will make our summit climb. This can be a very cold day, and requires an early, pre-dawn start. If all goes well, we should be back at the Col Cólera High Camp in the mid to late afternoon. We have allowed about four days in the itinerary for summit attempts, if needed. Occasionally, health or weather suggests waiting a day or two. Also, if bad weather has hindered us lower on the peak, then we may have used up one or more of our extra days. However, we typically do not need all of our allotted days, and are likely to be descending a day or two early.
On summit day, if conditions are good, we are not likely to need either crampons or ice axe. However, if the route is snowy, we may need these tools, and it is prudent to bring them. The route starts easily, climbing vague trails up the north side of the peak. At about 6400 meters, the trail begins a long traverse on the west side of the mountain. Snow sometimes is an issue here, and crampons may be needed. The traverse leads to the base of the Canaleta at about 6700 meters. The Canaleta is a broad blocky gully. Though steeper, it is still easy with sections of trail alternating with easy scrambling. Eventually, at about 6860 meters we reach the ridge overlooking the immense South Face. Another 100 meters leads to the summit.
Regardless of which day we climb, odds are quite strong that we will spend the night following our summit attempt back at Col Cólera High Camp.
Descending to Plaza de Mulas Base Camp
The day after our summit climb, we will descend the "normal" route to Plaza de Mulas Base Camp at about 4350 meters. This is a big descent with heavy packs. Most of the going is on easy trail, and there is little if any technical difficulty. The thickening air and warmer temperatures are very welcome.
Hiking out from Plaza de Mulas and returning to Mendoza.
The next day we trek out from Plaza de Mulas. We will have picked up our lighter hiking shoes as well as our smaller packs and light hiking pants that have been deposited in Plaza de Mulas. While we were higher on the mountain, these items were moved around from the Plaza Argentina Base Camp to the Plaza de Mulas Base Camp.
We prepare our big packs, climbing gear, camping kit (sleeping bag, pad, tents, stoves, etc.) as well as our big boots to be carried out by mule. We only need to keep with us and carry those same items that we needed during the days' hiking on our approach march into Plaza Argentina.
It is a moderately long day's walk to the road near Puenta del Inca. The trail is rough, with lots of river cobbles and dust. But the warm air will feel wonderful. Normally it takes about 7 hours of hiking to reach the carpark. At the trailhead we will be picked up by car, and taken back to Penitentes. The gear on mule-back may arrive in Penitentes after we do, perhaps around 7 or 8 in the evening.
If the mules are on schedule (we can confirm this by radio) we can continue all the way to Mendoza that evening, perhaps stopping in Ushpallata for dinner. If the mules are running late we may decide to stay in Penitentes for the night.
The very last day of the trip, scheduled for January 26th, we either either have an extra day in Mendoza, or if we had overnighted in Penitentes, we finish our drive to Mendoza. We spend one last night there before departing the following day for home, or wherever….
On most of our previous Aconcagua trips, we have not used all of our available extra summit days. There is a reasonable chance that we may choose to return to Mendoza a day or two early. If this is the case, you can either enjoy town, relaxing in plazas and cafes, visit a winery, or possibly move your flight forward for an earlier return home.
Kathy Cosley & Mark Houston
AMGA Certified • SNGM members
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