An Open Letter to those interested in Climbing Aconcagua
[The following letter from Willi Pritte applies to any route or guide service on Aconcagua, there is no easy way up.]
After nearly 30 expeditions and 40 summits of Aconcagua in the past 15 years, I have made many observations about the types of problems which prospective high altitude climbers tend to have most commonly, especially on this mountain.
First and foremost, many tend to underestimate the physical fitness needs of a high altitude expedition such as this. Yes, Aconcagua has the reputation of being an “easy” and “non-technical” mountain by normal routes (more on this later). This does not mean “non-physical” by any stretch of the imagination. Over the years, I have had many climbers on my expeditions who have climbed Denali before coming to Aconcagua. Almost universally they believe that Aconcagua is more physically demanding than Denali was for them. Take heed of this. The greater the fitness you show up with, the better you will tend to do and the more you will enjoy the expedition. At the very least this can mean that you can sit back and enjoy the afternoons instead of being whipped every day! It is also worth noting that less fit or overweight people are pushing themselves far more, and this additional stress can seriously adversely affect the entire acclimation process which is so important on high altitude expeditions.
Regarding the "non-technical" nature of Aconcagua: This is only true sometimes. There is much misinformation about this mountain both in guidebooks and on the internet. Like any big mountain, things can change frequently and rapidly. Often a climb of Aconcagua, even by one of its normal routes, can involve lots of trail-breaking in deep snow, and/or long traversing sections of hard ice where the knowledge and proper use of crampons and ice axes are critical to safety. If you have no mountaineering experience, these situations can be demanding but we still consider this a non-technical climb by mountaineering standards. If your only mountain experience has been something such as Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua is a big step up in challenge. Real technical mountaineering experience, such as our 6-Day course, should be considered first. Have you put a 50 or 60-pound pack on and climbed extensive mountain terrain? Are you comfortable with the use of crampons and ice axe when tired and looking down a long way? If the answer is no, then you need to get that experience before joining an expedition. Being both fit and technically competent for the challenges of an expedition is a very important part of being a productive team member. When you come to Aconcagua (or any expedition), you are not 10 individuals attempting to climb a mountain, you are part of a team functioning together to enhance the safety and enjoyment of the expedition. If you come unprepared physically, technically, or equally important, mentally, then you are not a productive team member and others must then make up for your deficits which negatively impacts the team and can negatively impact safety.
Be realistic about any personal limitations you may have. Do you have a history of heart problems? Make sure that you seriously consider what you are attempting to do on an expedition, and how physically demanding it is (and consult with your doctor) before you decide to join. Do you have exercise induced asthma? Realize that Aconcagua is a very dry and at times cold and at times dusty environment, probably the likes of which you have never experienced. Bring plenty of your normal meds and be prepared for the possibility that you may have abnormally bad reactions which may mean you will need to leave the expedition early. Whatever personal health limitations you may have, you never know how your body will cope with an environment such as Aconcagua until you try it a few times, so be conservative.
We are sometime asked about the use of porters on Aconcagua. A high altitude climb in the Andes is not on the same scale as en expedition in the much higher and larger mountains of Central Asia (Himalayas, Karakoram, Pamir, Lun Kun, etc.). The entire process of carrying reasonable loads, doing multiple carries, and using sufficient camps is the time tested way of acclimatizing here in the Andes mountains. Porters are a traditional tool to assist in mountains of a larger scale. Many groups here on Aconcagua who advertise the use of porters use one or two for a group of 15 - 20 climbers. Functionally speaking, that is no different than what Alpine Ascents does as we have 2 - 3 guides working with groups of 6 - 10 climbers and the guides always carry more group supplies and equipment than the climbers.
We do have porters available at an additional cost to assist with carrying loads and personal equipment, please contact us for details.
When properly prepared for this expedition, I’m sure you will be favorably impressed with the magnificent scenery, the culture, and the great climbing here. I look forward to meeting you and climbing with you in Argentina! You will occasionally read on the internet, or in magazine articles, or in guidebooks about how ugly Aconcagua is. I’m convinced that two types of people write these things. The first type have never been here in the first place and are only parroting what they have heard from someone else. The second type have no soul and don’t belong in the mountains anywhere!
Happy training and climbing.
Senior Guide, Alpine Ascents International