Climb Aconcagua Solo
A first hand account of a successful unguided, solo climb of Aconcongua.
Having been a mountaineer for over ten years, I have tried and tested gear from a number of manufacturers. Being well equipped helps both comfort and safety. With very few exceptions, all of my gear worked very well and I never felt in danger to the elements with frostbite being the major concern.
Arcteryx Rho AR Top : I have always liked the athletic fit and quality of Arcteryx equipment. This top is no exception. It fits well and has exceptional warmth for its weight. Although the Patagonia Expedition base layer described next exhibited greater odor control, this piece was the base layer of choice for summit day.
Patagonia Expedition Weight Zip-Neck : Patagonia makes great base layers. I wore this top about 75% of the time at Basecamp and above. Although the cut is not quite as fitted as the Arcteryx Rho AR, it was almost as warm, has a nice long tail, and excellent odor control.
Patagonia Capilene 2 : Purchased both a long sleeve zip neck and a short sleve crew neck. I used these two pieces from the park entrance up to Basecamp. They were not used at camps above Basecamp but were good on warmer days and at lower elevations.
Patagonia Active Sport Boxer Briefs : I liked the fit and odor control. Purchased three pair and swapped out every other day. Light and comfortable.
Mountain Hardwear Power Stretch Tight : I pretty much wore these every day at Basecamp and above. Good temperature, comfort against the skin, and odor control. I really liked these. Great piece.
Mountain Hardwear Power Stretch Glove : I wore these 80% of the trip. Perfect for use in the tent at night and in the morning, and worked well for sun protection during the warmer days. They are not designed for tough use, and by the end of the trip expect a hole here and there. I still recommend these gloves and always keep a spare at home.
Outdoor Research Wind Stopper Gloves : I have owned these for number of years and am not sure what they are currently called. They are a medium fleece Wind Stopper glove for those in between days when your warmest gloves are not required.
Marmot Expedition Mitt : Warm mitt. Only necessary on the morning of summit day.
Outer Layer Jackets:
Arcteryx Venta SV Jacket : Soft shell Wind Stopper Jacket. Good fit, pit zips, DWR finish, and a drop hood make this a winner. Worn every day from Camp Confluencia to the summit.
Feathered Friends Frontpoint Jacket : Have liked the quality and warmth of this piece for many years. At Basecamp and above, there would be about a 50 degree temperature drop at sunset. Was never cold with this piece of gear. Goretex waterproof fabric probably not necessary at this elevation but is very durable.
Outer Layer Pants:
Arcteryx Kappa AR Pant : This is an insulated Wind Stopper pant that features full length zips. Used on summit day and for windy higher elevation days and evenings. One missing feature is the lack of any pockets on this purchase.
Arcteryx Rampart Pant : Although this is primarily a light hiking pant, It worked well for most days over my base layer Power Stretch tights. If the wind picked up or on cold days you would need to add the Kappa AR Pant described above. It is light weight, compresses well, and offers mild wind protection. If your legs get cold easily, consider a soft shell with greater wind protection or even a Wind Stopper pant.
Arcteryx Rampart Shorts : I brought a pair of shorts because I had read that the hike from the park entrance to Basecamp can sometimes be very warm. They are a great pair of shorts, but the temperature only allowed me to wear them once and they did not go higher than Basecamp.
Arcteryx Delta SV Jacket : This is a one of those furry fleece jackets. Not designed to be an outer layer, provides excellent warmth under an outer jacket. Used only on summit and the coldest days.
Marmot DriClime Jacket : This is the swiss army knife of light weight jackets. Serves an excellent temperature range and wicks moisture well. Worn every day just over my base layer.
REI Silk Weight Balaclava : I used this balaclava virtually every day. On warmer days, it provided sun protection to the neck and sides of the face. Additionally, it helps retain moisture as you breathe.
Campmor Hytrel Balaclava : This thicker windproof balaclava was only utilized on summit day.
The North Face High Point Hat : Worn during evenings, nights, and windy days. Slept wearing this hat Basecamp and above.
Outdoor Research Sun Hat : Wore this sun hat every day (On top of other hats if necessary). The sun is extremely damaging at high elevation. Even with sunblock, I recommend wearing a sun hat.
Socks / Feet:
SmartWool Light Hiker Socks : Wore these for the hike to Confluencia and while at Basecamp. Brought two pair. Did not take them to the upper mountain.
SmartWool Expedition Socks : Utilized from Camp Canada and above. Warm and comfortable. Brought three pair and swapped each day. No blisters.
REI Silk Liner Socks : Brought them but did not use since I had no blisters nor cold feet.
Feathered Friends Down Booties : Only brought the down liners. Worn at cold nights inside the tent.
La Sportiva Spantik Boots : The Spantik is the boot of choice for Aconcagua. It is both warm and light and was used at all camps above Basecamp. It seems to run a little small in the sizing. I used a size two full US sizes over my normal shoe. Be sure to be wearing your expedition socks and any custom soles when fiting. Also remember about natural foot swelling at altitude.
Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Boots : The Renegade has been my favorite for a number of years. The GTX is waterproof and kept my feet reasonably warm at Basecamp and for gear carrys to Camp Canada. They stayed at Basecampas I moved to higher camps.
Arcteryx Bora 80 Backpack : Not the lightest 80 liter pack in the world but it is the most comfortable. Does not magically make gear weight disappear, but the quality of the pack and hipbelt helps on those heavy load days. Do not consider a smaller pack as this would be the minimum pack size going solo. On the descent back to Basecamp, you will find yourself strapping gear onto the outside of your pack. If you are getting a new pack, make sure to adjust it porperly and test it out before the trip.
Arcteryx Cierzo 35 Backpack : Used this pack for the summit bid. I removed the foam back pad and used the pack as a compression sack during the rest of the trip. Spend some time adjusting the chest strap to keep it from riding too close to the neck.
Tent / Sleeping:
Bibler Ahwahnee Tent and Vestibule : I have owned this tent for a number of years and have been pleased with its weight and performance. The internal pole design is not always the easiest to set up, but it is the perfect size for one person on a long trip like Aconcagua. I would leave the vestibule attached when rolling the tent up to save time and effort setting up at the next camp. I brought four "parachutes" ease the guying process. Also, remember to bring extra tent cord; the ground at Camp Berlin was frozen and tent stakes were useless. You will need the extra cord to secure your tent onto rocks.
Therm-A-Rest ProLite Sleeping Pad : I have the previous ProLite series and not the newer improved model. In Mendoza, I purchased an Artiach Foam Sleeping Pad to use beneath my inflatable ProLite. It was nice having the comfort and additional R-Value of the two pads.
Feathered Friends Peregrine Sleeping Bag : I purchased this bag specifically for the trip. I owned a Western Mountaineering zero degree bag but determined it would not be warm enough for climbing Aconcagua. I tried wearing additional clothing in my existing bag but found it too tight a fit. The Feathered Friends Peregrine proved to be a warm (-25 degree rated) bag. I was never cold the entire trip using this bag. It contains a lot of loft, and would not fit in the sleeping bag compartment of my pack and would have to be transported in the main compartment. I did have one major issue with this bag. The zipper would constantly catch or get stuck both opening and closing near the top and was a constant frustration. I was seldom able to unzip the bag once inside and would be forced to squeeze myself out the top of the bag. One night in my trip log I wrote "I hate this bag". Due to hydration requirements, you will find yourself needing to get in and out of the bag three to six times a night to take care of nature. I dreaded that event every time. I will be contacting Feathered Friends to repair or replace the zipper. Unless I just happened to receive a defective bag, I would not purchase this product. I will update this review after contacting Feathered Friends.
Food, Cooking, and Water Purification
MSR XGK-EX Stove : This is my stove of choice. Multi-fuel, reliable, and burns like a blow torch. I performed burn time tests at home to determine minutes of burn per ounce. Although boil times are longer at altitude, you will have a rough idea of the burn at a certain setting. The ability to not have to melt snow for water (Where possible) will save a great deal of fuel. I used the MSR Fuel Bottles with two 30 ounce and one 11 ounce bottle.
SteriPen Adventurer Water Purifier : I chose the SteriPen Adventurer and SteriPen Water Pre-Filter over a conventional pump filter. I was pleased with the Purifier but in the field plan on getting only about half the battery life that was reported by the manufacturer. I would not purchase the Fits-All Pre-Filter. It clogged up after the first several days and was unusable. I noticed some using coffee filters as a pre-filter but have not tried this myself. Melting snow and run-off contains a lot of sediment so plan accordingly.
MSR Dromlite Hydration Bag - 4 Liter : I was able to use this hydration bladder for all days except summit day. I still used it as a reservoir on summit day but did not bring or use the tube. The bag worked well but I found the bite valve would drip. I ended up opening and closing the valve as necessary to prevent the drip.
Nalgene Everyday 1L Wide Mouth Bottle : I brought two of the Nalgene one liter "Everyday" bottles and one Nalgene HDPE one liter bottle to be used as a pee bottle. The HDPE is slightly lighter and has a different texture which makes it easy to differentiate in the dark (Don't want to mix bottles). The Nalgene Everyday bottle is able to withstand higher temperatures. I will fill these bottles with hot water every night to place in my bag for additional warmth. Water bottles left outside the sleeping bag overnight would typically freeze at higher elevations. On summit day, I used insulated bottle sleeves by Nalgene and Outdoor Products to help prevent freezing.
GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Soloist Cookset : I really like this cookset. It is inexpensive and about the same weight as titanium.
Mary Janes Farm Instant Meals : Food can be a challenge as the selection is smaller for single serving meals. Try a number of different dehydrated and freeze dried foods before your trip. Find your favorite flavors and have a good variety. My favorite breakfast was Mary Janes Farm and also found some flavors I liked from Enertia Trail Foods. I found both of them very good with a number of different flavors. As a bonus, Mary Janes reports to be organic. The Enertia surprised me with its good taste as I had not before seen that product. The Enertia compacts in a small form factor, the Mary Janes almost packs flat. I also brought some Mountain House Foods but found the 16 ounce serving a bit too large for me to consume the whole portion at altitude.
Lara Bar Protein Bars : Just as with your freeze dried meals, try a variety of power bars and gels. Place them in the refrigerator and even the freezer to see how hard they get when the temperature drops low. My favorite bars were Lara Bars and I also brought Clif Bars. For gels, I brought a variety from Hammer, Clif, and Gu (You may want to stay away from caffeine in these gels depending how your body reacts to it at elevation).
Cytomax Performance Drink Mix : I used Cytomax mixed in my water as a performance drink and Endurox R4 as a recovery drink. Both of these are excellent products and work well. Two other items that I like are worth mention. The first is good old Kellogg's Froot Loops. They are light weight, easy to eat, and supply some quick energy. The final item is Land O Lakes Supreme Hot Cocoa Mix. It tastes great and is nice just before bed and in the morning.
Petzl Tikka Plus 2 Headlamp : This is a bright and compact headlamp. I utilized this lamp for navigation.
Mammut S-Lite Headlamp : I used this as my evening, in the tent, and backup light. This was my everyday light and even slept with it on my head at night.
Suunto Vector Altimeter Watch : Had this watch for years. The standard for altimeter watches.
Canon PowerShot SD 4500IS Camera : This camera takes excellent pictures, has image stabilization, and works well in low light situations. The only drawback is battery life. As the batteries are specialized rechargable only, I brought three spare charged batteries to the mountain.
Kodak Zx1 Video Camcorder : This is a very inexpensive HD video recorder. Although the image quality is very good, it is difficult to hold an image steady by hand. I would not advise any camera without image stabilization.
Nonin GO2 Achieve Pulse Oximeter : Found this pulse oximeter helpful in my evaluation of my acclimatization.
Spot Satellite GPS Messenger : This can help locate you in an emergency but I consider this an optional device. The same with bringing along a satellite phone for communication or a GPS which would be helpful if you are caught navigating at night or in poor visibility.
SanDisk Sansa m250 mp3 Player : It is hard to find a mp3 player that uses replaceable batteries. This 2 GB unit uses one AAA and has decent battery life. Although optional, this will help sitting around camp or on the move.
Omron Go Smart Tri-Axis Pedometer : An optional item, I was going to be curious as to how many steps I took during the climb.
Camp Corsa Ice Axe : This is an extrememly lightweight ice axe. I took this axe to the summit. Actual conditions will dictate its use. I also took a pair of Trango Alpine Light Crampons. These were used on summit day and for about half way back to Basecamp.
Adventure Medical Kit: Ultralight .9 : This is lightweight and watertight basic medical kit.
Grabber Hand, Toe, and Foot Warmers : The hand warmers worked. The foot and toe warmers did not work at all.
Neutrogena Spectrum SPF 100 Sunblock : I like this as a sunscreen. Effective and I like the texture on the skin.
Zeal Optics Eclipse SPPX Goggles : I like these goggles because they are photocromatic and work with a variety of lighting situations.
Julbo Cebe 4000 Glacier Glasses : I have owned several pair of Julbo glacier glasses and have been pleased with their overall fit and performance.