Philippe Gatta
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Cerro Aconcagua (6962 m / 22,841 ft)
Normal Route - Andes, Argentina

Sunset on Aconcagua West Face (© P. Gatta)
Sunset on Aconcagua West Face (© P. Gatta)

Aconcagua (6962 m / 22,841ft)

The Cerro Aconcagua is located in Argentina. It is the highest mountain of both North and South America continents and it is also the highest peak of the South hemisphere. It is part of the Andes range, bounded by the Valle de las Vacas to the north and east and the Valle de los Horcones Inferior to the West and South. The mountain and its surroundings are part of the Aconcagua Provincial Park.

The normal route starts at the Horcones Parc entrance at 2950 m (9,678ft). It follows the valley up to the camp at Confluencia (3410m, 11,190ft). Above Confluencia, the valley continues up to the base camp at Plaza de Mulas at 4350 m (14,271ft). Above 3 camps are normally necessary to reach the top; camp 1 ę Canada Ľ at 5050m (16,568ft), the camp 2 Nido de Condores at 5560m (18,241ft) and camp 3 Berlin at 5900 m (19,356ft).

Sunset on Aconcagua West Face (© P. Gatta)
Sunset on Aconcagua West Face (© P. Gatta)

Map of South America and Aconcagua (Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Map of South America and Aconcagua (Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Aconcagua Expedition

December 26: Mendoza (700 m, 2,296ft) - Penitentes (2600 m, 8,530ft)

Once we had done all the paperwork and got the climbing permit, we drove from Mendoza to Penitentes. Penitentes is a small ski resort with a comfortable hotel. From there you can visit site of Punta del Inca.

Punta del Inca (© P. Gatta)
Punta del Inca (© P. Gatta)

December 27: Penitentes (2600m, 8,530ft) - Horcones (2950m, 9,678ft) - Confluencia (3410m, 11,187ft)

We reached the Horcones Park entrance after a short drive from Penitentes. You have to show the climbing permit at the park gate. The walk start there, toward Confluencia were we set the first camp. Itís a 7 km (4 miles) walk with 500 m of ascent.

Walk 7km, +500m, 2h15.

Almaceres, 5400m (© P. Gatta)
Almaceres, 5400 m (© P. Gatta)

December 28: Confluencia (3410 m, 11,187ft) - Plaza Francia (4000 m, 13,123ft) - Confluencia

Usually people stay 2 nights at Confluencia and do an acclimatization hike to the Aconcagua South Face, up to the French camp at 4000 m. Itís a 15 km (9 miles) and +800 m hike, round trip. The South Face was very dry with constant avalanches and ice falls.

Acclimatization walk: ~15km, +-800m, 5h.

Bouldering at Confluencia (© P. Gatta)
Bouldering at Confluencia (© P. Gatta)

Avalanche in the South face of Aconcagua (© P. Gatta)
Avalanche in the South face of Aconcagua (© P. Gatta)

December 29 : Confluencia (3410 m, 11,187ft) - Plaza de Mulas (4350 m, 14,271ft)

The trek from Confluencia to Plaza de Mulas is quite long, around 19 km (12 miles). The first part of the hike is quite flat and the trail crosses the river several times. Then it gets stepper and we pass the old Plaza de Mulas before reaching the new site for the Aconcagua base camp.

Walk up to base camp: 19km, +1100m, 4h45.

Camp de base, Plaza de Mulas (© P. Gatta)
Base Camp, Plaza de Mulas (© P. Gatta)

December 30: Rest day at Plaza de Mulas (4350 m, 14,271ft)

Rest day at the base camp. We sort out the gear, food and prepare the load carry of the next day.

Cerro Cuerno (© P. Gatta)
Cerro Cuerno (© P. Gatta)

December 31: Plaza de Mulas (4350 m, 14,271ft) - Camp 1, Canada (5050 m, 16,570ft) - Plaza de Mulas

After the rest day, itís time to start the load carry to the upper camp. The first one is called Canada (5050m, 16,570ft). Itís short climb from the base camp on steep trail and scree.

Load carry to Canada camp: 22kg, +-700 m, 2h30 up and down.

Camp 1, Canada, 5050m (© P. Gatta)
Camp 1, Canada, 5050m (© P. Gatta)

January 1: Rest day at Plaza de Mulas (4350 m, 14,271ft)

Another rest day at the base camp.

South Face of Aconcagua (© P. Gatta)
South Face of Aconcagua (© P. Gatta)

January 2 : Plaza de Mulas (4350 m, 14,271ft) - Camp 1, Canada (5050 m, 16,570ft)

We go back to Camp 1, Canada to spend the night there. Like in most camps on Aconcagua, finding water can be tricky. We have to walk toward the West face to try to find some snow or small stream.

Climb to camp 1, +700m, 2h15.


January 3 : Camp 1 Canada (5050 m, 16,570ft) - Camp 2 Nido de Condores (5560 m, 18,240ft) - Camp 1

We leave the Camp 1 to make load carry to the Camp 2, called Nido de Condores at 5560m, 18,240ft. The climb is similar to the previous day, steep trail with switchbacks and scree. There might be some snow or ice too.

Load carry to camp 2: 17kg, +-600 m, 2h50 up and down.

Camp 2, Nido del Condores, 5560m (© P. Gatta)
Camp 2, Nido del Condores, 5560m (© P. Gatta)

January 4 : Camp 1, Canada (5050 m, 16,570ft) - Camp 2, Nido de Condores (5560 m, 18,240ft)

We put the tents down and move from camp 1 to camp 2 with all the gear. We pitched the tent at C2.

Climb to camp 2: +600m, 2h15.

Bivouac, Nido de Condores (© P. Gatta)
Bivouac, Nido de Condores (© P. Gatta)

January 5 : Camp 2, Nido de Condores - Summit of Aconcagua (6962 m) - Camp 2

We felt good and didnít want to make another load carry to Berlin and then go back down and up again. So we decided to go for the summit straight from Nido de Condores and skip the Berlin camp. The other reason is that itís very difficult to find water or clean snow at Berlin.

We left Nido de Condores at 4am, it was windy and quite cold. The route goes up to Berlin camp 5900 m (19,360 ft), and then to Piedras Blancas (6000 m) and Independencia (6350 m) where there is a ruined Hut. Then there is the long traverse to the right in scree called Gran Acarreo. At the end of the traverse, there is a cave and the famous Canaleta. Itís a 240 m and 35ļ couloir made of sand, scree and lose rocksÖ or snow if you are lucky. After the Canaleta we reached the summit of Aconcagua which is quite flat. A metallic cross marks the top. It took us a bit less than 9h from Nido to the top.

As the clouds were starting to build up, we went down. In the middle of the traverse we took straight in the slope, directly toward Nido. There is not well marked trail but the descent in the scree is ok and quick. We reached Nido de Condores in 2 hours.


Total of the day: +-1560m, 11h up and down.

Summit of Aconcagua, 6962m (© P. Gatta)
Summit of Aconcagua, 6962m (© P. Gatta)

January 6 : Camp 2, Nido de Condores - Plaza de Mulas

We put the tents down and went back down to the base camp.

Descent: -1200m in 1h


January 7 : Plaza de Mulas - Cerro Bonete (5004 m, 16,417ft) - Plaza de Mulas


Ascent of Cerro Bonete, +-1000m in 5h

West face of 'Aconcagua seen from Cerro Bonete (© P. Gatta)
West face of 'Aconcagua seen from Cerro Bonete (© P. Gatta)

January 8 : Plaza de Mulas - Horcones (2950 m)

Descent to the Park entrance, 26 km, +400m / -1750m, 5h15

Horcones, Park entrance (© P. Gatta)
Horcones, Park entrance (© P. Gatta)

7 Summits Challenge

The Aconcagua is part of the 7 Summits Challenge which consists in climbing the highest mountain of each of the 7 continents.


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