Argentina is the beautiful and diverse country which takes up the bulk of the southernmost part of South America. It is a large country, covering a total of more than 2.8 million square kilometres and incorporates hugely varied terrain and habitat types - from the lofty heights of the majestic Andes to the flat and boundless Pampas. Most Argentineans are of European descent (97%), but there is a huge array of different cultural and national influences at play in this country.
The official language is Spanish (or Castellano as it is called throughout South America), but a wide variety of both European (e.g. Italian, French, German, and even Welsh) and indigenous (e.g. Quechua, Mapuche, Toba) languages are spoken in enclaves around the country. The potential traveller should note that Argentinean Spanish differs from European Spanish (Espa’ol) in a number of respects. English is spoken in the capital, as well as any tourism orientated regions, but outside of these, a basic grasp of Spanish is a definite advantage - if not essential. Argentina is well-known for the friendliness of its people, but both its beef and its sensual national dance - the Tango - are world renowned.
The severe and starkly uncompromising beauty of the Andes is something that can never be explained to the uninitiated, but which forms an unspoken connection between all those who have experienced it. The Andes stretches from the very top of western South America down to the chilly region of Patagonia in the south. Highest of these mountains is the mighty Cerro Aconcagua (6960 meters above sea-level). Aconcagua, for whatever reason, is by no means as well known as many other big mountains. It is always overshadowed by the much respected Mount Everest, but even mountains such as Kilimanjaro, Denali and Mont Blanc seem to be better known. Aconcagua’s pedigree, however, is worthy of any mountaineer’s respect. Being the highest mountain in the Andes chain, Aconcagua is consequently also the highest mountain on the continent. Even more impressively, Aconcagua is the highest mountain outside of Himalayan Asia (and thus the second highest mountain in that media obsession; “The Seven Summits”).
There is some debate as to the origin of the name Aconcagua. The most common theory is that it comes from the Quechua “Ackon Cahuak” which means “stone sentinel”. Another explanation is that it comes from the Mapuche expression “Aconca-Hue”, which can be roughly translated as “comes from the other side” (i.e. the Aconcagua River - which then passed its name to the mountain around which it came). Aconcagua lies entirely within the borders of Argentina, although it is fairly close to the Chilean border. The nearest Argentinean city is Mendoza. Any visitor to this beautiful little city will soon notice the warm regard with which Mendocinos consider Aconcagua.
First climbed in 1897 by a Swiss alpinist Mathias Zurbriggen, Aconcagua was only climbed by a local - Lieutenant Nicholas Plantamura - as late as 1934. Aconcagua has two trekking/approach routes as well as a third approach route for technical climbers. Although it is popular with trekkers from all over the world, Aconcagua should never be underestimated. It is a serious mountain; exhibiting unpredictable weather, extreme temperatures, and unrelenting and powerful winds. Those who know about such things (meteorologists, geologists etc.) assert that distance from the equator influences the weather as well as increases the affect of altitude. Those with experience (mountaineers) tend to agree. Thus, the fact that Aconcagua is relatively further from the equator than the Himalayas means that it should be treated with the respect one would show higher Himalayan peaks. This being said, sufficient training, proper equipment and sufficient experience (often in the form of a guide), puts Aconcagua in reach of any fit and able-bodied person.
Although it is easy to criticise this mountain, aesthetically or technically (terms like “slag heap” are occasionally, and perhaps unfairly, used about the mountain - often by exhausted or frustrated climbers), Aconcagua has a presence. It is this presence, we believe, that draws people back to this harsh and lofty mountain. For the picture-postcard traveller, we recommend the Alps. Aconcagua is for those who know what they want - and are prepared to do what it takes to get it.
It is important that prospective Aconcagua expedition members understand that reaching the summit is not guaranteed. There are many factors that influence the chances of summit success and our first priority is always safety and enjoyment of the journey as a whole. Each expedition member will play an important part and you will need to be part of the team effort. Unlike trekking on Kilimanjaro this is a true expedition where you carry a large backpack and cook for yourself. We at Venture Forth will do our best to adequately prepare you for this experience, but ultimately you need to give your full commitment to the climb.
The two currently available trekking routes are the Normal route (also called the Horcones Valley route) and the Vacas Valley route. The Normal route is, by far, the most popular - 70% of hopeful climbers take this route. The routes do, in fact, eventually converge, but do so only relatively high on the mountain.
The Normal route makes the approach trek to base camp (known as Plaza de Mulas) along the Horcones Valley. The Vacas Valley route approaches Plaza Argentina (the base camp on the Eastern side of Aconcagua) initially through the Vacas Valley and later through the Relichos Valley. Although the Horcones Valley could uncharitably be described as an endless, dreary gravel highway hemmed in by a row of brown and uninviting mountains, many find its deep silence and ascetic starkness restorative after the festivities of Mendoza.
The Vacas Valley route represents “the road less travelled” on Aconcagua. It is quieter, greener and has much more of a feel of the wilderness than the Normal route. You are unlikely to encounter many people during the trek to base camp, although one is able to see several of the few animal species that such high altitudes can sustain - animals that have all but vanished from the Normal route.
It is the Vacas Valley route that we at Venture Forth recommend - and it is this route we offer for ascents of Aconcagua. Beginning at Punta de Vacas, this route will take approximately 18 days to complete. We strongly recommend the reservation of “contingency days” - mountains are a law unto their own and make no allowances for the desires of mountaineers. The season runs from mid November to mid March.
Vacas Valley Route
23 days with approximately 18 mountain days - high altitude mountain trek.
We would like you to experience more of Argentina than just the mountains; so our itinerary is planned to include seeing the great, lively city of Buenos Aires and experience the laidback atmosphere of Mendoza. Our itinerary departs from Cape Town, South Africa, but you can also choose to join us in Buenos Aires or Mendoza by making your own way there.
Please note that this is purely a proposed itinerary and that plans may have to be changed while on the expedition.
The flight from Cape Town to Buenos Aires takes approximately 7 hours. We overnight in a comfortable lodge.
Spend the day at leisure to explore and experience Buenos Aires and maybe do some last minute equipment purchases.
Days 3 - 4
Flight from Buenos Aires to Mendoza. In Mendoza we overnight in a comfortable hotel and here we finalise our arrangements for the climb. We purchase all food requirements for the expedition and collect our permits.
Day 5 - 6
Road transfer to Puente del Inca at an altitude of 2800m. We stay at the hostel for two nights to acclimatise, pack equipment and rest.
Day 7 (5-6 hours hiking; gaining 400m)
We start our trek at Punta de Vacas (2400m) from where we take a slow pace to cover the 14km to Pampa de Lenas (2800m) by late afternoon. The trail follows over moderate terrain with few steep parts, the only obstacles being a number of river crossings. When we reach Pampa de Lenas we will officially sign into the Park and be issued with rubbish bags for the trip. We camp overnight here.
Day 8 (6 - 7 hours hiking; gaining 400m)
We continue up the Vacas Valley towards Casa de Piedra (3200m), once again following a trail over mostly gentle terrain for approximately 15km. On the final approach to Casa de Piedra one gets excellent views of Aconcagua.
Day 9 (7 - 9 hours hiking; gaining 1000m)
Although the hike is shorter today (12km) it makes for a fairly tough section of walking due to the great altitude gain of 1000m and crossing the 4000m mark. There are a number of river crossings today and the trail can be quite rocky. We should reach base camp at Plaza Argentina (4200m) by nightfall.
Rest and acclimatisation day at Plaza Argentina (4200m).
Day 11 (6-8 hours hiking; gaining 800m; climb high sleep low)
We make a load carry to Camp 1 on day 11 and then return to Plaza Argentina for the night. This process aids with acclimatisation.
Rest and acclimatisation day at Plaza Argentina (4200m).
Day 13 (6-8 hours hiking; gaining 800m)
We set off with the remaining load carry to Camp 1 (5000m) and then overnight at Camp 1.
Day 14 (9 - 10 hours hiking; gaining 850m; climb high sleep low)
We make a load carry to Camp 2 on day 14 and then return to Camp 1 for the night. This process aids with acclimatisation.
Rest and acclimatisation day at Camp 1 (5000m).
Day 16 (9 - 10 hours hiking; gaining 850m)
We ascend to Camp 2 (5850m) taking all our requirements for the next few days and we then overnight at Camp 2 for the first time.
Day 17 (2 - 3 hours hiking; gaining 150m)
A short day carrying loads from Camp 2 to White Rocks (6000m) and then we rest for the summit attempt the next day.
Day 18 (15 - 18 hours hiking; gaining 960m)
Summit day. We leave White Rocks at about 01:00 and aim for Independencia (6400m) from where we head for the infamous Canaletta and then on to the Roof of the Americas! We descend the same way and overnight at White Rocks again or, if time and energy allows, we head back down to Camp 2 or further.
Day 19 (5 hours hiking)
We descend back down to Plaza Argentina for a well-deserved rest.
Day 20 (8 - 10 hours hiking)
We hike out of the park and return to Mendoza.
Day 19 - 21
Flight from Mendoza to Buenos Aires.
Return to South Africa.
Add-ons and Options for this adventure:
- Argentina is a traveller’s paradise with endless activity options available at reasonable rates. Speak to us about white water rafting, cycling tours, rock climbing, wine tours and other options.
Numbers and Guide/Client ratio:
- We can accommodate 1 to 16 people per group. Larger groups accommodated on special arrangement only
- Minimum of 1 guide: 8 clients
Trekkers must be of good trekking fitness and able to carry a fully loaded backpack continuously for many days. You will need to carry some of the group equipment and your own food. No previous trekking or high altitude experience is required but it is highly recommended that you participate in a few multi-day trekking trips before attempting Aconcagua.
Venture Forth will provide you with a suggested fitness program on receipt of deposit payment. We will also provide you with a fitness consultation with our in-house fitness expert, Andre Hawarden. If you are not Cape Town based Andre will do an online consultation with you and guide your training.
Catering and Porters:
Venture Forth will assist you with menu planning and cooking equipment but you will be doing most of your own cooking while on trek. There are restaurant tents at Plaza Argentina and Plaza de Mulas where you can have meals if you so choose. Porters are not generally used on this trek, but we use the service of mule trains to get the bulk of our equipment to base camp. Porters can be arranged at an additional cost.
You will require all trekking equipment, technical equipment and clothing suitable for high altitude mountain conditions. Venture Forth provides mountain tents, expedition stoves and cooksets. Certain personal items can be hired from Venture Forth. Please download the Aconcagua Expedition Packing List. Venture Forth will help you with equipment procurement and obtaining good prices.
Venture Forth will provide you with a price quoted ex-Mendoza. Airfare to Buenos Aires while the leg to Mendoza will be quoted separately and can be booked with Venture Forth. Road transport from Mendoza to Aconcagua National Park return will be provided by Venture Forth. While in Mendoza we travel mainly on foot or you can use taxis for your own account.
Recommended follow-up programs:
- A day, maybe make that a week, at a spa! (or any other Soft Adventure)
- MDT Advanced Mountain Leader course
- Introduction to Traditional Climbing course
- Guided technical climb like Mt Kenya.
- Climb to the Roof of Africa and summit Kilimanjaro