It is easier to fly via Santiago in Chile than Buenos Aires. You will need to make your way to Mendoza, the centre of the province that is Argentina’s most famous wine-growing region. There is an equipment check – mayhaps some of your clothes will be insufficiently warm, in which case there are nearby shops where you can acquire the alternatives recommended to you. In the afternoon, if you are climbing with a commercial operator, there will usually be a briefing at your hotel. There is time for sightseeing. Dinner presents you with the opportunity to sample fine Argentinian cuisine and wine.
From Mendoza you will need to get transported westward to the Penitentes ski area, 8,500 feet up. The drive winds along the Rio Mendoza, deep within the rugged Andes mountain range. An afternoon hike is recommended but avoidable.
You approach Base Camp at Plaza Francia, giving you the chance to acclimatise and offering one of the most pleasant sights you will come across. You follow the Horcones Valley, spending your first night in the open in Confluencia, 10,900 feet high. You thank the mules for graciously carrying your gear. Mules carry two 66lb bags, so spare a thought for the beast and pack accordingly. So long as you adhere to this limit, mules are well treated, although you will not envy their load.
Acclimatisation continues. You hike to the base of Aconcagua’s southern face, a truly majestic sight, then return to Confluencia.
Passing through colourful desert landscape, you reach Base Camp – 13,800 feet.
Today sees yet more acclimatisation to maximise your chance of making the summit. You practise snow and ice techniques on the Nieve Penitentes, where the snow and ice formations created by sunlight are unique.
Unless you have a porter, you haul a load to Camp I at Plaza Canadá, 16,170 feet high. There can be found a huge rock named “the 5000m stone.” You return to Base Camp.
You leave Base Camp for Camp I, a beautiful campsite where the views of Aconcagua’s north side and Cerro Cuerno are impressive.
You and your load make for Camp II – Nido de Condores, meaning “condor nest,” not that you will see any. This is 17,820 feet high. The view of the mountains around you is spectacular.
Now is the time for Camp II.
Today you climb to Camp III, Piedras Blancas – High Camp. This is 19,200 feet high.
Camp III is surrounded by interesting rock formations and is a mere day from the summit.
Summit day, although the date is flexible for fear of inclement weather and the need for further acclimatisation. You climb the North Ridge, ending up at Independencia Refuge. You ascend via the Portezuelo del Viento then climb la Canaleta plus Filo del Guanaco before reaching the summit. The prize is an unimaginable 360 degree view at 22,841 feet.
You descend from High Camp to Base Camp.
You hike out of the Horcones Valley. Mules are lumbered with your gear. In the afternoon, you come to Penitentes. After a shower, you head for Mendoza. If the extra days go unused, you will arrive one or two days earlier.