Climb Aconcagua Solo
A first hand account of a successful unguided, solo climb of Aconcongua.
Aconcongua Day by Day Trip Report
Here is a day by day trip report for my successful summit on Aconcagua. Click here for a Summary Table.
Afternoon flight from San Francisco to Dallas. Next leg was Dallas to Santiago, Chile. Final leg was Santiago to Mendoza, Argentina. By chance, sat next to Dave Miller of California Alpine Guides who was on the way to Aconcagua to guide a private client. I found Dave competent and personable and would recommend him to anyone that needed guided services. The Dallas leg was an overnight flight. In the layover from Santiago to Mendoza, found it interesting when half the airport started singing "Foot Loose" in English when the song came over the speakers at an airport restaurant.
Arrived in Mendoza late afternoon. On the flight to Mendoza, you would probably see Aconcagua from the air if you sit on the left side of the plane. I was on the right and could see the impressive Andes, but not Aconcagua. I had an great view of the vineyards of Mendoza after crossing the Andes.
Took a taxi direct to the Sec of Turismo to get the climbing permit only to find the office was closed due to building fumigation (Of course it would not have anything to do with the permit prices going up the following day). Obtained white gas and a sleeping pad at Casa Orviz and checked into the Hotel Cordon del Plaza. Went looking for "Strike anywhere" matches all over downtown with no luck. Went for a decent dinner as it would be my last good meal for a while. Note: I would probably add one or two additional nights in Mendoza if your schedule permits. A bit of rest from the flights and addition time to obtain the climbing permit and supplies would have been nice. I also wanted to take some normal food (Sandwich items, crackers, rolls, etc) to Basecamp but ran out of time to get to a supermarket.
Woke up early and was at the permit office at 8:00 am when they opened. I had already filled out the application that I downloaded from the Internet to save time. They instructed me to go to a place a few blocks away called "Facil Paga" (Easy Pay) for the payment of the climbing permit fee. I needed to exchange dollars to pesos and stopped off at the Casa de Cambio (Exchange House). Lines are usually long and it may take you twenty minutes or more to exchange your money. There are individuals on the street that will ask you to come to their store in a nearby shopping mall to exchange money. The lines are short and the exchange rates are good, but be careful for counterfeit bills.
After exchanging currency, I walked to the Facil Paga and encountered another long, slow moving line. After paying, they will give you a receipt which you take back to the permit office. Staff will then prepare and print out your official permit along with reviewing some rules and regulations.
I had to rush back to the hotel as I wanted to make the 10:15 am bus leaving for Los Penitentes. The bus station Terminal del Sol is a short taxi ride from downtown. I could not find any porters or carts at the bus station so I paid a young man to help me carry my gear to the ticket counter and to the bus "slip" location. Note: There is one official porter but you have to find him plus you have the problem of watching your gear. The only other option would be to "ferry" your gear ten yards at a time to your locations.
The bus was about $15 USD after paying a excess weight baggage fee and takes around four hours to get to Los Penitentes. There are a handful of stops along the way and I never heard an announcement of the stops. After about 3.5 hours, I would ask the locals on the bus as to how far away the stop was for Los Penitentes.
Los Penitentes is a small ski resort town. You could probably drive past the entire town in about five seconds. The bus stop is accoss the street from phone booth, and all of the hotels and hostels are in easy walking distance. I checked into my hotel "Refugio Aconcagua". It was about $50 USD for a private room and bath and it included dinner and breakfast.
Almost next door to the hotel was Grajales Expeditions, the firm that was handling my mules to Confluencia and Plaza de Mulas (Basecamp). Gear for the mules needed to be dropped off prior to 8:00 pm that evening. The pricing for the mule is the same whether you have one kilogram or sixty kilograms. I had about 50 kilograms of gear and utilized the remaining ten kilograms for bottled water. Note: All of your gear does not stop and spend the night with you at Confluencia. You must sort and separate your gear for Confluencia, and the gear for Basecamp. Make sure you do not forget any items that you will need for the night(s) at Confluencia plus any gear you would need for the next hike to Basecamp. I could have used an extra pant layer due to high winds on the way to Basecamp but that gear was packed away on the mule the day before.
Woke up, had breakfast and was scheduled to meet at Grajales at 10:00 am for the short drive to the park entrance. While waiting for the car ride to the park entrance, I encountered several climbers that had arrived down from the mountain the night before. They stated that a unusual storm hit the mountain and shredded a number of climber's tents and leveled some commercial guide tents as well. I later found out that in this same storm, one climber at Camp Canada has his backpack blown out and lost from beneath his vestibule. Another climber at Camp Berlin during this storm stepped outside his tent only to have the entire tent and its contents blown away. It was reported that the week had a summit success rate of 18% due to weather.
I arrived at the park entrance, had my permit checked, and headed towards Confluencia. I met a man near the entrance that had an ankle injury on his descent and required a helicopter rescue. The hike to Confluencia is easy and the Horcones Valley is impressive. Was snowing for a short portion of the hike. After arriving in Confluencia, I checked in and was given an appointment for my medical check. I then located my gear that I sent by mule and setup camp. I took a two hour hike for acclimatization and to scout out the next part of the trail. I met two groups of climbers that were on a fully guided and supported tour. I would later come accross these individuals at various other camps on the mountain. The British team had a really great sense of humor and I ended up seeing them several times on the mountain. Note: Consider more than one night at Confluencia for acclimatization purposes.
Woke up early and broke down camp. Got my gear ready for the mule run to take my Confluencia gear to Plaza de Mulas (Basecamp) at around 14,340 feet. Was heading up around 7:30 am to Basecamp. Expect seven hours or more to Basecamp depending on weather. Can be windy hiking through the valley so prepare for a colder wind chill. The majority of the elevation gain is in the last few hours of this hike.
Located my gear that was transported by mule and I set up camp.
Acclimatization hike to Camp Canada (Approximately 16, 570 feet). Took it slow and easy with a light pack and it took me around 3.5 hours to get to Canada. Would get dark around 9:30 pm with sunrise around 6:30 am. Temperature falls substantially when the sun goes down.
Planned an easy schedule for today. Hiked and explored the outside of the refugio across from Basecamp. Could not go inside as it had not yet opened. Hiked about half way up the peak behind the refugio (Cerro Bonete). Returned to Basecamp and organized gear for a carry to Camp Canada. Played some Foosball (Yes, there was a table there) before dinner.
Did a carry to Canada taking 3 hours, 35 minutes up. Was back at Basecamp at 2:00 pm. Sorted out gear that was going to stay at Basecamp. Had my medical check this afternoon as I planned on moving to Camp Canada tomorrow. It is first come, first serve. The actual medical check took around ten minutes or so, but you may have to wait in line a bit.
Moved camp to Canada. Did not balance my carry well the previous and had too much weight in the pack. Was difficult with 60+ pounds of gear on the move up. Felt tired and beat up when I arrived at Canada. Melted snow for water.
Trail Notes: The "route" you take up to Canada will vary on conditions. This section was dry on my ascent but completely snow covered on the way out. There is typically an "ascent" trail and a more direct "descent" trail. On the ascent, typically look for the more gradual paths containing more switchbacks.
Scheduled an acclimatization hike to Camp Nido de Condores (Approximately 18,270 feet). To avoid the excessive load that I had moving up to Canada, I decided to take some gear up to Nido on today's acclimatization hike. Pace was a bit too fast today and arrived at Nido very winded. Will adjust my pace tomorrow.
Determined today that using a hydration bladder has the drawback of not knowing exactly how much water you have consumed (Or not consumed) when on the go.
Did carry #2 to Nido today from Canada. Slowed my pace down from yesterday with several long breaks on the way to help acclimatize. Took a relaxed five hours up and only thirty-five minutes back down to Canada.
Had an early lunch today and then performed the move to Nido de Condores. Morning ambient temperature went from 12 degrees to 57 degrees (Fahrenheit) in only thirty minutes at sunrise. Made the mistake of waiting past sunset to melt snow for water. The much colder temperatures substantially increased the melting time and thus burning more fuel than anticipated. Used eight ounces of white gas to obtain four liters of water.
Planned day of rest. Was able to locate a frozen pond about 25 minutes from camp for a water source. I utilized this for my water for the rest of my stay at Nido. Not having to melt snow for the remainder of my stay at Nido saved a considerable amount of fuel. Some chatter about a snow storm about to hit in a day or two.
Did an acclimatization hike and carry to Camp Berlin (Approximately 19,490 feet). Three hours up and 45 minutes back down to Nido. Chatter at Nido was a possible summit window in a few days with weather deteriorating steadily after that point. A few climbing teams made the decision to attempt the summit direct from Nido to try to beat the storm. Several other teams made the decision to descend back to Basecamp for additional rest, supplies, and to monitor weather conditions with the approaching storm.
Performed the move up to Camp Berlin in snowing conditions. About six other tents were at Berlin when I arrived. Cold and difficult setting up the tent solo in the wind and driving snow. The ground was frozen and I was unable to utilize tent stakes. Had to secure the tent using only cord. Melted snow and prepared gear for my summit bid in the morning.
Set my alarm for 4:00 am. There are two schools of thought for the summit bid departure time. Leave early for more time and face the brutal cold weather. Leave too late and risk running out of time to safely reach the summit and return back to camp safely.
Woke up at 4:00 am and heated up the stove to make breakfast and a hot beverage. Consumed one liter of water and had four liters prepared for the summit attempt. Began moving up the mountain at 5:30 am. Two other solo climbers left this same morning from Berlin and it appeared that several climbers were ascending up from Nido. There were also a number of teams that I encountered on the route that had departed from Camp Cholera. There was one individual accompanied by two guides. As the day progressed, I would witness teams turning around and retreating.
Winds were high and the temperature was cold. The Independencia Hut proved a good spot for food and a rest break. Although the hut is pretty much shredded, it did provide some protection from the wind. It was at this point that I placed on my crampons. Crampons could have been worn from the start at Camp Berlin, but were not required with the conditions I encountered.
Despite the wind and temperature, my gear kept me warm and comfortable. I really only had to contend with the altitude and the dreaded Canaleta ahead of me.
I was lucky that the recent snows and cold temperatures had frozen the ground on the Canaleta. Although the footing was rocky, I did not have to deal with loose rock and scree.
The Canaleta proved to be the most difficult climbing I have ever performed due to the altitude. Although I did not bring my pulse oximeter with me to save weight, I am confident that my heart rate was near maximum during this part of the climb. Although the Canaleta is "only" a thousand vertical feet or so, it feels never ending. About half way up the Canaleta, two guides descended past me with their client short roped.
About 45 minutes to the summit, I noticed an electrical storm developing in the distance. My blue clear skies were slowly turning gray. Health wise, I was feeling ok. No headache but I an occasion feeling of being light headed. I also had an unusual sensation of feeling like I could fall asleep and take a nap while climbing. Not too far ahead of me was a solo climber and I could see another solo climber in the distance on the way down from the summit.
After about twelve hours from my start in the morning I finally broke the summit. I maintained a slow and steady pace that I had hoped would get me to the top with minimal altitude issues.
I was thankful to have one other climber on the summit with me for photo purposes and to have some company on the way back down to Berlin. Weather was already moving in and there were no panoramic views from the summit. Only on top for about fifteen minutes with the storm approaching. Descending with another climber also gave the benefit of some additional safety as we were the last two climbers returning from the summit. By my count, a grand total of four individuals and two guides made the summit today.
Returning back to Camp Berlin, I noticed only three tents in the entire camp (My tent plus the two other solo climbers tents). I recall pausing with that thought but I was so tired that I was most concerned about heating up the stove to cook a hot meal. That night, the storm hit hard. This was the reason why Berlin was cleared out. Everyone else had descended. Winds were howling and there was no visibility with the driving snow. I was thankful that my tent remained intact through the night.
The wind was still blowing hard and the snow still falling before sunrise. I made the decision to break camp and descend right at sunrise. As the weather conditions were scheduled to worsen, I was not going to stay at Berlin any longer than necessary.
Descending was slow and difficult with all of the newly accumulated snow. I was "post holing" with rocky footing at the base. I took at break at Nido before heading down to Basecamp.
Back at Basecamp, I purchased both lunch and dinner and stayed in a bunkhouse on a thick foam mattress. There was no way that I was going to spend another night in a tent. Some climbers would spend an extra day or two at Basecamp to socialize with other climbers. I met a great group of people, had some good food, a shower, and a good night's sleep.
Woke up a purchased a good breakfast. Separated my gear for the mule and dropped it off to my mule provider. I was able to share a mule back to Los Penitentes with another individual to save on cost.
When you decide to return back to the park entrance, keep in mind timeframes. You do not want to leave too late or you will be hiking out in the dark. Also, if you get down too late (After the office closes at the park entrance), you may end up having to walk all the way back into Puenta del Inca or Los Penitentes if you are unable to contact your mule provider for a car ride.
If you arrive into town early enough, there may be a evening bus that can get you back to Mendoza that night. I spent the night at Los Penitentes and caught the bus out the next afternoon.