Climb Aconcagua Solo
A first hand account of a successful unguided, solo climb of Aconcongua.
Tips and FAQ'S:
The mules generally carry 60 kilograms. It is difficult to share a mule going up due to weight. I had 50 kilograms of gear and food and took bottled water to make up the remaining ten available. I utilized the water at Confluencia and the first serveral days at Basecamp.
For the return trip from Basecamp to the park entrance, try to find another solo climber to share a mule to split the cost. The outfitters charge the same fee whether you have one kilogram or sixty. Your load should be light enough on the way out to share one mule. Carry any excess on your back in your pack.
Take your time to acclimatize. Although there are rough guidelines and schedules on the Internet, listen and monitor your own body's physiology. Take your time and don't get in a big rush. Ascending too quickly may bring on altitude illness. Don't be afraid to descend or spend extra days at a camp if necessary. Consider bringing a Pulse Oximeter. Although oxygen saturation is not the only factor, an oximeter can be a tool in the evaluation of your acclimatization.
I maintained a slow and steady pace with a concern for safety and acclimatization. Weather, darkness, and available campsites were the only other factors in determining my climbing speed.
Visit the Medical Issues section for more information.
Fuel / Water:
I brought a total of 61 ounces of white gas (two 30 oz bottles and one 11 oz bottle). The amount of fuel you use is mainly dependent on water sources. If melting snow is you only water source, you will burn through your fuel at a rapid clip. I was able to get water at a frozen pond at Camp Nido de Condores which saved a considerable amount of fuel over melting snow.
The water at Confluencia did not look very potable. I recommend you take bottled water on the mule for drinking here and for the hike to Basecamp. At higher camps, if you have to melt snow, do this task at the warmest parts of the day to conserve fuel. The temperature drops substantially at sunset and the time needed to melt snow increases as the ambient temperature falls.
Load Balancing for Gear Carries:
Climbing Aconcagua solo means that there is much more gear for you to carry yourself. There is no "common gear" that is shared with a climbing partner to lighten the load. As the weather can suddenly change, you must be careful to not take too much gear (in your carries) to the next higher camp nor would you want to be caught down low with insufficient gear. You will also do not want to have too much gear with you down low as it can make a difficult final move up. As a thumb rule, I usually kept several extra days of food at my "sleeping" camp for contingencies. I recommend that you load your pack at home to simulate a carry and final move to the next camp. Weight and pack space are factors here.
I utilized large outdoor trash bags for my carries. There are plenty of rocks at the camps to place on your gear to help keep it from blowing away. Some climbers utilized large rip-stop dry bags for their carries and most of the commercial expeditions used large plastic rice/flour bags.
I mostly used double carries but had one triple carry. As you will be performing acclimatization hikes to the next higher camp, you might as well take up some gear with you.
For acclimatization hikes and camp movements, I generally preferred leaving just after an early lunch. This would typically get me either back or to my next camp with plenty of time and daylight to acquire water, prepare for the next day, and cook dinner. Early morning weather can be brutal and I found it overall more pleasant to move in more comfortable temperatures.
Bring extra cord to secure your tent in the event that the ground is frozen. At Camp Berlin, my tent was only secured by cord to rocks as my ground stakes could not penetrate the surface.
In an emergency, most of us will put more effort in helping someone they know as opposed to a complete stranger. Many of the climbers you encounter on the mountain will maintain similar (But not exact) schedules. I saw many of the same people at the various camps or passed them moving up or down the mountain. It is possible that other climbers my have equipment (GPS, Satellite Phone, extra fuel, etc) or weather information that could be useful. I made several good friends on the mountain (Two other individuals were solo and on a similar schedule) and although we were not exactly climbing together, we kept an eye out for each other where possible.
Comfort and Warmth:
I would remove my boot liners and would place them in the bottom of my sleeping bag at night. Your boots will start off too cold in the mornings if the liners are left just inside the tent or in the vestibule. I would also heat up water in my Nalgene bottles and would place them in the sleeping bag for some additional warmth. If I had a water bottle simply in the tent and not in my sleeping bag, it would typically freeze during the night.
Take care of yourself. Hydrate properly and drink a minimum of four liters of water per day. Frequently apply sunscreen and lip balm to help prevent burns, blisters, and skin cracks. I strongly recommend a sun hat and light balaclava or scarf (For sun protection and to help retain moisture in your breathing) when moving on the mountain. Bring along some antibacterial wipes for a number of good reasons. Although you will be two weeks or longer without a shower, try to maintain good personal hygene.
Toilet: There are portable toilets at Confluencia and Basecamp. You can typically use the facilities maintained by your mule company at these two camps (Ask about this when reserving your mule). At other camps and locations, you are required to pack out your solid waste. You are provided a numbered bag checking into the park to be used for solid human waste. I recommend bringing a number of "single use" black plastic bags for solid waste. I would then consolidate these smaller bags into a larger plastic bag. Do not find the thinnest bags for this purpose as you do not want any "accidents"or breakage. I had my toilet kit in a ziplock bag which contained toilet paper, plastic bags, and antibacterial wipes.
Also, do not forget your pee bottle for the tent at night. It's not much fun to have to take care of nature with a sub-zero wind chill in the dark. I used a specific Nalgene Bottle for this purpose as it is light and has a different feel and texture from my drinking water bottles. You can also find adaptors and bottles made specifically for women. Yes, there was one woman on the mountain during my climb climbing solo and unguided.
Storms and Weather:
The weather on Aconcagua can be unpredictable and can change with little or no notice. Use common sense and consider retreating or dropping down to a lower camp (Or even Basecamp) if necessary if the weather becomes too severe (and if you can descend safely). Should you consider to try to wait out a storm, be sure to evaluate your food, water, and fuel levels. Remember that regardless of the quality of your tent, the "White winds" of Aconcagua can flatten it in a heartbeat.
You may be able to get weather reports if you have access to or if you bring a satelite phone or VHF radio. You will find a lot of chatter at the camps regarding weather and summit windows. Use this information as a tool but know that the weather and forecasts and change drastically from one day to the next. One website that can be ultilized for weather forecasts is www.aconcaguanow.com.
Seek help if possible, but try to maintain good common sense and descend if there is a question of safety. Avoid a bad situation as climbing solo it could be days or weeks before anyone would know you were missing.
Consider bringing a Spot GPS Messenger. There is an SOS function that they state will contact emergency personnel with your coordinates when activated.
Consider bringing an altimeter. Knowing your current elevation as well as camp and summit elevations can be helpful in planning, monitoring progress, and getting back to your camp.
Consider bringing a GPS. Even more helpful if you leave "tracks" and mark your camp locations. Unforseen circumstances could place you in poor visibility or even darkness to find your way back down.
Consider bringing a VHF radio. There are emergency containers at several points on the mountain. These containers are locked but can be opened by utilizing a VHF radio for contact to the emergency frequency. Commerical guides and park rangers monitor these frequencies and could prove to be useful.
Do not be a statistic. Drop down to Basecamp if necessary to rest, obtain medical assistance, or to acquire more supplies if you are running low. Do not place others in danger by utilizing poor judgement. Be prepared to totally bail on the climb if necessary. As stated before, the summit is optional, getting home safe (With all toes and fingers) is mandatory.