I’ve been to Mendoza, got my permit, dodged immigration and hired my mule, I have no idea how much coverage I will get during the climb so here are the details so you can see where I will be each step of the way. Most of this has been taken from here if you want to read more. If you want you can also track the weather and see what I’m dealing with.
After over 200km of walking, the climb begins proper from Puente Del Inca. There is a short walk back along the way I came to the start of the trailhead at Horcones. After the usual procedure at the park ranger station, showing my newly acquired climbing permit, I will be provided with a numbered bag for trash, everything that goes up needs to come down.
The first day´s goal is getting to Camp Confluencia at 3,390m where I will spend my first night.
Walking along a well-defined track, I will arrive at the next distinctive spot: the bridge over Horcones River (built during the making of the film “Seven Years in Tibet”). Crossing the river, there is a fairly green spot at the end of the El Durazno gulch. From then on, the path is always visible on the right side of the river. There is a gentle, yet steady slope up to Confluencia Camp. There will no doubt be a lot of other climbers so I don’t think I will ever be alone during the whole climb, which will be a nice change.
The next goal is Plaza de Mulas at 4,300m, where I will stay for a second night and maybe a third.
The next stretch is quite long, so I may or may not take a rest day and go trekking to the viewpoint on the Southern Wall (originally Plaza Francia – 4000m) as an acclimatization warm-up before starting it, in order to arrive at Plaza de Mulas in better shape.
From Confluencia, there is a path leading to the bridge over lower Horcones River. After crossing it, the path goes along the left riverside of lower Horcones River to an area of old moraine, to end at Playa Ancha, a 10-km-long plain, situated between 3600 and 3800m of altitude. Quebrada del Sargento Más offers a quite interesting spot from where both peaks of Aconcagua can be seen.
Playa Ancha is a formation of alluvial material and boulders which ends at another distinctive spot of this trip: Ibáñez, situated at the very base of the “towers” which signal the beginning of Aconcagua´s great western wall. At this point, the ground turns rougher and steeper, going through deposits from the western face which alternate with other moraine deposits, always on the right side of Horcones River. The next spot is Colombia (4070m), the remains of a former military shelter on the left side of our path, which was destroyed by a huge avalanche. At this point I will be higher than Mt Cook back home.
The path goes along moraine to Plaza de Mulas, where the ranger´s shelter is and where I must “check in”.
Plaza de Mulas is a real city of tents. Many companies provide services concerning guides, tent rentals, stoves, meals and restrooms, hot-water showers and internet connection. There is, in addition, a coordinates service which includes specialized medical care, a rescue patrol (Mendoza Police) and park rangers.
And for some reason, Plaza de Mulas also has a live webcam feed to enjoy.
If I don’t take a rest day at Confluencia camp, I will definitively take one here as the real “real” climbing begins from here (see below).
The next goal is Plaza Canada camp at 5,050m, and another night.
A well-defined and rather steep, winding track starts at Plaza de Mulas and leads to El Semáforo (4550m), a narrow path between rocky formations.
From there, the ascent follows clear tracks up to a monotonous, isolated rocky spot known as Las Piedras de Conway (4750m).
The ascent continues to a diagonal path which zigzags left of the rocky pinnacle that forms Camp 1 Canadá (5050m).
Plaza Canadá is left behind through a long diagonal path leading to a huge rock known as the 5000m stone. From there on, the winding path reaches another strategic point: Cambio de Pendiente (5300m), an ideal place to put up tents and camp, but I will be pushing on higher to the next spot.
From Cambio de Pendiente there are two possible ways up: a) zigzagging northwards to the Gran Acarreo (the huge scree) to finally reach Nido de Cóndores; or b) following the straightforward ascent through the cirque formed by Gran Acarreo and Cerro Manso, if there are no snow lumps blocking the way. This will bring me to Nido de Cóndores at 5,550m and another night and probably another rest day.
The next stretch is another short stretch, but altitude influences breathing at this point, so traveling becomes a lot slower now. The route continues eastward on its way up to a group of rocky hills and Camp Berlin at 5,930m, the last camp. Above 5,800m I should be able to see the Pacific Ocean which will be pretty special, since it indicates where I started and the distance I have traveled.
The next day is the summit push, and it’s a big long day. It’s said that arriving at Berlín is the first half of the journey and the summit day is the second half, or in my case arriving at Berlin is the second third and summit day is the last third…
Summit day starts pretty early. The route is clear and extends among rock formations up to an area known as Piedras Blancas (6060m), where is continues on the northern edge of the mountain to later reach -through a narrow path- its northeastern side. From there on, the ascent continues to a zigzagging area which, in turn, leads to one of the key spots on summit day: Refugio Independencia (6380m).
The journey then continues up a ridge known as Potezuelo del Viento, situated west of the shelter. Then, the long trekking goes above the Gran Acarreo from the east to west . Conditions here may vary greatly. Strong morning gusts usually come up from the valley, which accounts for serious wind chill and I have already been advised it’s much colder this year than previously Some huge stretches of frozen snow -or even ice- may appear, so the use of crampons and axes may be needed. Although the slope is only about 30 degrees, slipping on the ice at this height might cause serious problems. The route leads to a much steeper diagonal and this, in turn, to the base of the so-called La Canaleta, where there is a rocky, concave-base wall of conglomerate known as La Cueva (6650m).
The paths up La Canaleta are rather steep and extend along its west end, near the rocky wall, which narrows down untill it disappears in El Acarreo. Progress to the right among loose rocks becomes slow at this point, where the route is steep. Short zigzags will now lead to the mountains ridge. This spot is 6800m high and the summit can be seen toward the east.
Short as it may seem, this final stage might take as much as forty-five to sixty minutes of hard trekking on the end of an already 10 hour long day. This is the point where climbers´physical, mental and acclimatization training is really tested. Toward the end of the Filo del Guanaco, there is a very rocky passage up the northern peak and a few rocky steps which finally lead to the summit, the highest point in the Southern Hemisphere.
All going well, (weather included) it should be 10 to 11 days up and down. 2 Days walking to Plaza de Mulas, followed by a rest day. 2 days climbing to Nido de Cóndores, followed by another rest day. Then climb to Camp Berlin on day 7, push for the summit on Day 8. Down to Plaza de Mulas on day 9 (possible extra rest day), then walk out on day 10 or 11.
Here are some pics of what it should be like…