Climbing the big one: Aconcagua

climbing-the-big-oneOn Christmas Eve, a 9-year-old well and truly put any lazy walker in their place – by summiting Aconcagua, breaking the record since records have been kept. Tyler Armstrong became the youngest person to scale the 6,962 meter  high mammoth mountain on 24 December 2013.

It certainly begs the question:

“If a 9-year-old can do it, why can’t I?”

But life on the slopes of Aconcagua isn’t as simple as a walk in the park. There are some easier routes that require no technical climbing, and can be done in record time – and the descent is sometimes just one day. As Tyler and Scott Lewis (who scaled the summit in 2007 at 87 years old) prove, age is also no obstacle.

The greatest obstacle though is the weather and although some climbing companies like to boast a marketing-friendly 80% success rate, the truth is that only around a third of climbers make it to the top, usually because of adverse weather conditions, falls or altitude sickness. A harrowing reminder that it is a life-threatening activity came only 4 days after Tyler’s summit, when a 53-year-old US climber died of a heart attack on his attempt. A couple of days later it appeared that three young US climbers (19, 22 and 28 years old) had gotten lost on their way up, proving that not taking a guide is an often fatal mistake. The youngest of the climbers made his way back down to safety, but the other two were discovered a week after their disappearance dead at the bottom of a ravine.

There are no central statistics on Aconcagua fatalities but over a hundred have died since most records began, and the sobriety and preparation required for this climb should not be overlooked. An essential trip to Aconcagua is the rather eery cemetery below the mountain where you can pay tribute to failed attempts, and realize the severity of the undertaking.

Aconcagua is a mountain to be taken seriously and acclimatization is fundamental to success just the same as with other big climbs. The best spot for acclimatization is at Penitentes for a couple days, where you can practice with smaller walks beforehand.

This climbing season (which began in November and will finish March) will see around 7000 people trying to scale the mountain and, like Tyler, some will come home with a success story, while others will hopefully come down with, at worst, a sunburnt nose and some great memories. Just make sure you bring all the right equipment with you for your climb, because as one mummified seven-year-old Inca boy can testify, it gets pretty cold up there.

For more information on Aconcagua climbs contact one of the local operators in Mendoza such as Inka Travel and Andes Vertical.

 By Amanda Barnes