One of the perks of writing for South American Outdoors is that we get to experience some pretty awesome adventures. So when Aconcagua Mountain Guides approached me to write an article about trekking Aconcagua Mountain, I was pretty excited. But, I think spending my entire life at sea level has inhibited my abilities to be a successful mountain climber, I get altitude sickness very easily. There’s one more career path that I’ll never get to follow! So once again, Israel got experience high adventure while I hung out and had mini-adventures with the kids.
Aconcagua is 6961m and one of the Seven Summits, it is not only the tallest peak in the Americas, but the highest mountain in both the western and southern hemispheres. I had no idea this behemoth was right there when we arrived in Argentina! Aconcagua is just a few hours away from Mendoza and only 10km from the Chilean border. It was even visible from the bus on the way to Santiago.
My contact with the mountain guide company sent me a list of the gear Israel would need for the trek. That’s when we discovered that this was the real deal and not a just little day hike up to try and see some snow. He was going on an actual mountain climbing expedition. He would just do the four day, 4000m Plaza Francia trek and not the full 18 day summit, but still, this was a real mountain trek nonetheless. There was even a guy in his group that had climbed Kilimanjaro and a guy that climbed Everest.
The first day he took a shuttle with his group of climbers to Penitentes and on the way up the mountain he got to experience some amazing views. The first night they stayed in a hotel that we had passed on our bus ride into Mendoza. It looked old and run down, and we wondered then if it was even still open for business. It turns out that the hotel is a ski resort in the winter and during the climbing season it is open to climbing groups. Despite the hotel’s shabby appearance, it provided excellent meals. They were staying just 15 minutes from Puente del Inca, a natural geological bridge that I really wanted to see. (Israel got to see it after his trek, and pointed it out to me on the bus on the way back to Santiago. So, at least I got to see it briefly.) They stayed in the hotel at 2000m so they could get used to some altitude and they hiked around the hotel a bit that day to get a feel for the terrain and to acclimate a bit more.
The second day, after a hearty breakfast at the hotel, the shuttle picked up the group and took them to the park entrance where they began the trek to Confluenza. He experienced amazing views of the Andes and a mountain called the Pyramid where an Incan child mummy was found that we had seen in a museum in Santiago. The hike began at 2950m and ended at the Confluenza base camp at 3400m. They stopped every hour for snacks, water, and to help combat altitude sickness.
On day three the trek followed along the Horcones Glacier. The glacier is an amazing site and extends from the base of the snow 1000m down. After walking through glacial-cut ravines and next to a glacial fed stream he approached the final walk to Plaza Francia. This part of the hike he described like walking on another planet, red rock and barren plains gave rise the colorful Andes all around. This foreign landscape gave him a feeling like he was on Mars. At Plaza Francia he took in the incredible famed views of the south face of Aconcagua. After enjoying the views they hiked back to Confluenza for dinner, a medical exam (for signs of altitude sickness), and relaxation.
On day four he awoke to snowfall, such a change from the 90+ temperatures that we were experiencing back in Mendoza. This was his day to separate from the group. He descended alone, the rest of the group was heading for the summit. He had a peaceful hike down the mountain in which he marveled at the beauty of his surroundings while jamming to Bob Dylan. He said Aconcagua is a mystical mountain that holds you in its grip, that he wants to return some day to reach the summit.