A Complete Guide to Climbing Aconcagua

A Complete Guide to Climbing Aconcagua

There is a lot to take into consideration when climbing Aconcagua! How much does it cost to climb Aconcagua? It depends. Are you going with a guide? Will you use mules to base camp (Plaza de Mulas)? What about porters between high camps? Meal services? Or, are you climbing without a guide and without any services, all by yo’ strong self?!

I did a ton of research before climbing Aconcagua …. but it was a little stressful.

Disclaimer: I ended up choosing to climb Aconcagua with mules to base camp, but without porters, meal services or guides. I summitted, my partner did not, and I learned a lot first hand about the benefits of the other services. So, to help you make a successful summit, here’s the low down.

Aconcagua is the tallest mountain the world outside of Asia / the Himalayas. The highest mountain in South America and all of the Western Hemisphere. One of the 7 Summits, a circuit that consists of the tallest mountains on each continent.

That said, it gets significant traffic – about 3000 people a year attempt the summit with a 30-35% success rate. That’s a pretty low number due to the fact that Aconcagua is a non-technical climb, so many people with not enough experience try to tackle the summit.

Climbing Aconcagua via the Normal Route
One of my favorite views on Aconcagua – Cuernos Mountain, visible from Base Camp and Camp 1 (Canada).

Let’s evaluate your options for climbing Aconcagua.

Option 1: Climbing Aconcagua with a guide

Climbing Aconcagua with a guide is your safest bet, obviously. While non-technical, it has multiple factors that can turn your expedition around – altitude, extreme climatic conditions, extreme cold, and, not to be undersestimated, muscle fatigue. It’s quite normal to have sunny blue skies one minue, and then half an hour later have 20% visibility with white out wind/snow. The distances between high camps are short, but on your 7th, 8th, 9th day in the mountain, carrying 20+kgs / 45+lbs up inclines and through snow, your body gets tired.

Local guides know the route, literally, like the back of their hand. They know where the fresh water is, where the best points to rest are, for how long to rest in each spot, when you need to push through the tiredness, and they know how to interpret the volatile and dynamic Aconcacua better than anyone else.

Before heading to Aconcagua, my partner and I met with our friend and local guide Luciano Badino (who we met on Ojos del Salado) who has 30+ successful summits and a lifetime on Aconcagua. He literally took out a pen and drew us a map of the summit day – outlining the entire route to show where was hard, where to rest, which route to take, with time check points, and many other invaluable tips that impacted our trip and made my summit possible.

Climbing Aconcagua via the Normal Route
Aconcagua Summit Day – the long stretches start to wear on you mentally.

I also need to shout out to Jaime Xavier who I met on the mountain, another local guide with 20+ Aconcagua summits, who very generously allowed me to tag along with him when my partner could not continue after Nido de Condores (camp 2).

Guides make sure all the logistics are in place so you just have to climb… so you don’t spend your energy worrying about the summit when in reality, you missed a detail in the beginning that results in you not even getting past Base Camp. Your Acongagua summit is significantly more possible with a guide.

Here’s the contact information for local guides that I vouch for 100%. Reach out to them!

Option 2: Using Mules to Plaza de Mulas, Base Camp

This was how I climbed and I highly recommend this option, if you aren’t going with a full guide service. For starters, using mules allows you the “with assistance” permit price – $400 vs $570USD for people residing in Latin America and $800 vs $950USD for those outside Latin America (during high season).

Mules cost around $250/$300USD for Penitentes – Base Camp each way (ie: $500/$600USD total). There is no discount for round trip. One mule carries 60kgs / 132lbs.

For my partner and I, one mule was perfect. We sent the mule directly to Base Camp Plaza de Mulas, and then carried about 20kgs / 45lbs on our own backs to Confluencia, the first camp spot. Luciano, who I mention above, gave us the fantastic tip to ask if we could buy a few kilos extra on a mule when we headed from Confluencia – Base Camp.

That way, we wouldn’t have to do the 20km / 15mile trek with such heavy backpacks. That worked out perfect and we sent 10kgs / 22lbs on a mule from Confluencia to Base Camp. This cost us $5USD / kilo and we walked 5kgs lighter. Perfect!!

Climbing Aconcagua via the Normal Route
Mules, they get the job done.

The route to Base Camp is very long and, really, I wouldn’t want do it without mules.

Another critical factor is that using mules also links you with a company, ie: INKA (the biggest agency), Fernando Grajales (a very good medium size agency), etc. Once you give them your gear in Penitentes, they arrange a transfer for you to the entrance of the Park, Horcones. Also, when you’re linked with a company, in Base Camp you can:

  • use their porta pottys (don’t underestimate this luxury!),
  • ask them for water (you don’t have meltable snow in BC!!),
  • warm up or relax in their larger “social area” tents
  • give them your garbage so you don’t have to carry it to high camps
  • have their friendly faces to check weather updates, ask questions, bounce ideas, chat and, not to be undervalued, someone who at the very least, has their eye on you!! This adds a little peace of mind in whatever tight circumstance.

Option 3: Having porters carry your equipment between high camps

Porters are the very strong guys and gals who are working in Aconcagua nd help climbers who don’t want to carry their bags. They are highly acclimatized and used to the route, so they basically run up and down the mountain, transporting people’s gear between high camps. They are like machines!! They open freshly snowed routes and, even so, make record time between camps.

With the porter service, they carry up to 20kgs / 45lbs from one high camp to the next and also set up your tent. That way, you walk with less weight and you arrive with your tent all ready and waiting, so you can slide in, replenish calories, and rest.

You can contract this service before hand or on the spot with one of the main agencies (ie: if you did mules with Grajales, they also can offer the porter service) or with the porter association that has a tent in Base Camp. Prices vary but an average is $150USD to Camp 1 Canada, $200 to Camp 2 Nido de Condores and $250 to Camp 3 Colera.

You could also choose, for example, to porter unnecccesary gear directly to Nido or Colera and then independently carry the rest with you from Base Camp. Or, if there’s a big snow one day and you don’t want to open route with so much weight, you could just pay a porter from Camp 2 to Camp 3, for example.

Climbing Aconcagua via the Normal Route
Portering equipment between high camps helps a ton with the weight and acclimatization. We chose to porter our own equipment, but you can also pay someone to do it for you.

Option 4: Opting for meal services in Base Camp and High Camps

In the end, it’s all about weight. The less weight the better. And food weighs a lot. When we were loading our mules, I couldn’t believe how much weight, and volume, that our food was taking up. If you’re interested in meal options, if you have mule service with Grajales, you could also reserve some / all meals with them beforehand. Or, on the spot when you’re at camp, with any of the other providers depending on availability.

A full meal service (which is breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack for en-route) is called a “pensión completa”. However, if you just want a meal here and a meal there, you can do that too!! Or, bring all your breakfasts and lunches and just buy dinner, whatever works for you!! This can save important weight, because in addition to the food, is the gas, the cooking pots, the water, etc.

For an idea of meal costs:

  • Full meal plan in Base Camp Plaza de Mulas $150USD ($100USD in Confluencia)
  • Breakfast $50USD
  • Lunch $30USD
  • Dinner $50USD
  • Snack / En Route Food  $20USD
Climbing Aconcagua via the Normal Route
If you use a guide or mule service, you can use your agency’s tents for warmth and comfort in Base Camp.

Option 5: Climbing Aconcagua without a guide, solo

If you’re a total machine, you’ve got a lot of mountain experience on your back and in your legs, you know how to pack not an ounce more than you need… go for it!! Hats off to you 🙂 At the same time, there is so much diversity and so many ways to mix and match services that there’s a solution for every budget. There’s nothing wrong with splurging for mules or a meal here or there if it gives your mind or body the break that it needs to keep going and reach that summit!

Here’s a recap of my journey on Aconcagua. We used just the mule service… but then very hungrily and happily splurged on a pizza and wine on our last night as a summit reward!! Best pizza of my liiiife!!

Climbing Aconcagua via the Normal Route
After summiting Aconcagua, you MUST eat pizza in Base Camp. It’s pure heaven on earth.

In all transparency, and to help everyone achieve their summits, my partner who didn’t summit says that when he tries again, he says he will use mules + porters, as body fatigue was an issue, combined with cold / climatic elements. It’s important to know yourself and how your body has reacted in similiar situations to choose your best climbing strategy.

With this, I hope you can choose your route to climbing Aconcagua, the Roof of the Americas!! Best of luck and let me know in the comments if you have any questions!!

Chelsey’s complete guide to Climbing Aconcagua: 

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