Preparing For Aconcagua: Gear and Training
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Having been home from my successful Vinson summit a few weeks now, my attention has shifted from reflection to planning. The next climb is Aconcagua in mid January. There are two major activities at this point: gear review and continued training.
This will be the second climb in The 7 Summits Climb for Alzheimer’s: Memories are Everything. Of note, this one has the second highest vertical gain of all the climbs at 14,377 foot gain second only to Everest.
First a bit on Aconcagua. It is both well-known and unknown at the same time. The primary claim to fame is being the highest mountain outside the Himalayas at 22,841′ or 6962 meters. Also being one of the 7 Summits as it is the high point for South America.
It is located in Argentina near the border with Chile. It is not part of the Andes mountain range but on an adjacent range thus stands out prominently above the surrounding peaks. I will fly into Santiago, Chile then to Mendoza, Argentina to meet the rest of the IMG team. From there we will take a bus to Puente del Inca to start the trek to the high camps.
I have summited Aconcagua twice, 2005 and 2008 both times via the False Polish route using the Vacus Valley approach. I used both climbs primarily as means of staying in high-altitude shape or for Everest training. Aconcagua has a reputation as an “easy” climb not requiring significant technical skills. That said, every year there are multiple deaths including two already in the 2010/2011 season.
Weather is the largest challenge on Aconcagua. Given it’s prominence from other peaks, it creates it’s own disturbances. High winds regularly stop teams cold. In December 2010, the mountain came to a complete halt for several days with severe winds and cold. Summit temps can be well below zero. However, temps can approach 100F during the approach in the desert-like valleys. Also it is quite close to both the Pacific (100 miles) and Atlantic (~600 miles) oceans. In fact on a perfect day you can see the Pacific and sometimes the Atlantic from the summit.
OK, so with that background, let’s look at gear. There are three very different requirements: trek, climb and summit. I try to leverage as much of the gear as possible in order to reduce the weight I need to carry.
Aconcagua starts with a three day trek in desert valleys with extremely high temps and river crossings. So this requires light clothes yet sun protection and good boots yet something to protect feet when crossing streams. I will use zip-off nylon pants and a thin long sleeve base layer type top. My boots are high tops since the terrain is rocky and quite rugged. Good sunglasses and cap with a bandanna for neck coverage finishes off this section. Oh and lots of sunscreen is a must.
Luckily on Aconcagua mules do the heavy lifting if you choose – and I do! So my pack on the approach will be a light daypack with a rain jacket, water and snacks. The mule train will deliver tents, stoves, sleeping bags and the rest each night up to the high camp near 14,000′. From there, we become the mules!
As is usual on these climbs, layers are the order of the day. I will use my lined soft shell pants as my primary pant for the entire climb. I will regulate my body temp thru my top layers consisting of merino wool base layer, R1 Hoody, wind soft shell and cold weather down or primaloft jacket. As usual I will use my glove system and wool hats and buffs for hands and head.
Above the 14,000 camp, I will switch to a lined double boot with a bit thicker socks. At this point we are hauling all our personal and group gear so I will use my large 85 liter pack and count on strapping pads and tents on the outside – especially on the descent. These loads are some of the highest of all the 7 Summits similar to Denali.
On summit day, I will add another base layer of heavy polartech material, down pant or gortex bibs and my 800 fill down jacket. From experience, I know I will probably add and subtract layers throughout the day. We will also use an ice axe and crampons since some of the route will be on somewhat steep snow and/or ice.
A quick update on a few new items I used on Vinson. My Kayland 8001 mountaineering boots were excellent. I found the fit good, temperature control excellent. I used a -20F Mountain Hardwear Wraith sleeping bag. It was great. I appreciated the detail around the hood baffles. Finally, I found the gels and energy bars from Honey Stinger to work for me like no other product. They are 100% honey but not too sweet. They provide a consistent source of extra energy without the highs and lows.
You can see all my gear complete with the brands I use on my gear page.
Training is never complete! Vinson was not a terribly physical expedition but I still lost a few pounds and a little muscle mass. So I have been lifting weights the past few weeks working on my upper body. Plus I am back on my regular schedule of an hour and half each day on the elliptical machines working on stamina with interval training.
Of all the 7 Summits, Aconcagua is one of the most physical. The issue are the loads you carry after the summit to meet up with the beloved mules. Trust me they are a welcome sight after carrying 70lbs down thousands of feet on steep slopes. So training with loads is always excellent preparation.
I plan on a few long day hikes with 40lb loads in the snow to 12,000′ before I leave but I am careful about injury at this point. My priority is to maintain my current condition and stay healthy.
OK, that’s about it for now but I am very excited to return to the Stone Sentinel.
Memories are Everything
Arnette is a speaker, mountaineer and Alzheimer's Advocate. He is climbing the 7 Summits starting with Mt. Vinson in November 2010 to raise $1 million for Alzheimer's research. You can read more on his site.