Aconcagua and the Southern Andes
by Jim Ryan
Book published by Cicerone Press
Guidebook to climbing Aconcagua, with route descriptions for trekkers to the Normal and Vacas Valley Routes. They take 12 and 14 days to complete respectively and cover a variety of difficult mountain terrain up to 6962m - suitable for experienced walkers and mountaineers. Also included are treks in the Vallecitos and Tupungata ranges.
This guidebook contains detailed route descriptions for the two main ascent routes of Aconcagua - the Normal and the Vacas Valley (Polish) Routes. It also describes treks in the southern Andes, the Vallecitos, the Tupungata ranges and the Maipo Volcano. In addition, the ascent of El Plomo near Santiago, the most popular 5000m mountain in the Andes is also described.
At 6962m the mountain of Aconcagua in the southern Andes is the highest peak in the world outside of the Himalayas. It is the highest of the seven continental summits after Everest and offers climbers the best value in terms of altitude gained for effort expended. Aconcagua requires very little technical expertise and it provides valuable high altitude experience for non-climbers.
Over 70 per cent of all climbers take the Normal Route. This is also known as the Horcones Valley Route. The approach is from the south, 36km over a rough river valley to basecamp at Plaza de Mulas. From there the route swings around to the east, over steep ground, eventually turning directly south to the summit.
The second popular trekking route is the Vacas Valley Route, but it is also known as the Polish Glacier Route. It is 47km from the road head to basecamp at Plaza Argentina. Initially the direction is, like the Normal Route, due north for 31km, then making a left turn to the west and going a further 16km up the Relinchos River Valley.
Via the Normal Route the summit will be visible for much of the journey to basecamp, whereas on the Vacas Valley Route it only comes into view when you reach the left hand turn after 31km. The average time (subject to acclimatisation) to the summit and back to the road head is 12 days via the Normal Route and 14 days on the Vacas Valley Route.
The Vacas Valley Route is tougher and longer than the Normal Route. However, for those not acclimatised, this plays dividends leaving them better prepared for summit day. Acclimatisation on another mountain, such as at Vallecitos or El Plomo, then climbing via the Normal Route is an ideal option.
The mountain is bleak and harsh. The winds on Aconcagua can be unrelenting and the temperatures severe. The incidence of failure as a result of altitude sickness and weather is particularly high. Walkers must remember to prepare before setting out on this trek as many climbers have arrived unprepared for the cold and the altitude and have to make return visits for second attempts.