Aconcagua, at 6962 m, is the tallest mountain outside the Himalayas and one of the “Seven Summits”. It’s a beastly challenge, but an attractive target for the adventurous soul. It has good access and different routes for varied levels of climbing expertise. So what do you need to know to make the summit?
1. Know Thy Mountain & Team
Researching your mountain to find out the dangers, routes and weather windows is an absolute must. Aconcagua isn’t a technical mountain, in fact, the normal route is an arduous long trek, but with extreme weather fronts battering the mountain to –60 °C, it’s important to know what’s in store. Opt for the Polish Glacier route and expect to make numerous pitches and chisel your way to the summit—it’s altogether another category of climbing. Think of it this way: the more technical the climb, the more dependence you put on your team; and when you’re only as good as the collective sum of your team’s experience and fitness, it’s imperative to trust them and know what the mountain is going to throw at you.
2. Get Physical
Training can be dull, monotonous and time consuming, but it’s essential to increase your chances of making a safe and successful summit. A great way to condition your body for low oxygen levels is to improve your VO2 max (the highest level of oxygen your body can consume). If you can absorb more oxygen, your physical output will be greater, so strap on the swimming goggles, lace up the running shoes and start polishing that bike.
3. Be Mentally Tough
Being mentally tough isn’t just about perseverance, it’s being able to make the right decisions at critical moments in extreme situations. This goes hand in hand with maintaining a positive attitude to beef up team morale, as a difference of opinion can quickly lead to fatal mistakes. Remember, knowledge is power and will allow you to leverage your mental strength to battle against any negative ideas or emotions that could throw you off track.
4. Get Organised
Planning to ensure you have the right kit for extreme wind and weather conditions can mean the difference between life and death. Too many people are guilty of buying the latest kit and taking it out of the box several days before they get to the mountain—big mistake. You need to know what to take and how to use it. When on the mountain, making sure you have quick access to what you need and being able to use it without thinking is vital. Don’t leave these things to the last minute.
5. Acclimatise Properly
People react differently to reduced oxygen levels, and it’s your responsibility to know how your body performs in these environments before you get to the mountain. If you struggle with altitude, then factor in a few extra rest days on your climb to allow your body to adapt.
Most people don’t have access to peaks over 3500m, but if you do, head out and camp up high in the few weeks prior to your departure. Giving yourself a head start with the acclimatisation process and increasing your red blood cell count allows you to absorb more oxygen and will help greatly when the time comes to tackle the big one.
Written by Luke Blezard and Hugh Taylor