Is it easy to ascend the Aconcagua?
It depends upon what we understand for “easy”. We can see the difference between technically easy, physically easy or mentally easy, depending on what will be taken in consideration: how to climb, how much effort to put on or how much suffering it will produce.
The apparently technically-easy way that this mountain presents for climbing must not be mistaken for an “easy mountain”, and then think that a serious ascent can be replaced by a simple trekking. This trap has spent much lives, precisely because the Aconcagua sometimes allows non-experienced and poorly equipped persons arrive at relatively-easy-but-potentially-very-dangerous sites, walking along the technically simple North or Normal route. The other routes, more technical, add the technical difficulties of the climbing to the environment typical hardness.
Is it necessary to climb using the hands?
Not in the North or Normal route. Hence, by the Normal Route, Aconcagua is a technically easy mountain. Only walking upwards is needed. But in certain years hard snowpatches appear in the final section, being adviseable to perform a careful slope travel. In such a case it is convenient either to have a certain experience or to contract a guide. On the other hand, in the rest of the routes diverse technical difficulties are found, being the Polish Glacier the most moderate. The Southwest ridge and South ridge have very punctual difficulties in some steps, being the tremendous solitude the main feature, and the South Face having an extreme difficulty.
Then, is the normal route easy or not?
It is not easy. It is physically a very great challenge. One needs to be both in the best shape because altitude is considerable, and in addition equipped very well. It is not trekking. The ascent demands perseverance, continuous effort and also certain speed.
Does it means that just to be trained and wrapped up is needed?
It is not that simple, as any healthy person having both time for training and money to get the equipment, could summit then. In the Aconcagua many people having much time and money have failed. One requires a deep and hard motivation and tenacity.
The last three days could mean a remarkable suffering for some people, that it is only possible to carry out by being encouraged on the prospect of getting it, or avoid it by abandoning the attempt. That is perhaps the moment to make the most important decision, not only for success but also for safety.
Is it dangerous?
Not more than any great mountain climbing. It is easy to deal with the inherent danger by choosing with responsibility and discipline the resources to face it. The problem is when anyone ignores or despises such tools, thus climbing Aconcagua becomes an adventure in which, as said above, it is very easy to arrive at potentially risky places.
Which are those resources?
As already said, the basic feature is to have both good high mountain equipment and superb physical training. But it must be directed by a hard motivation, be completed with mountaineering experience, and the whole must be thoroughly hefted.
How is that obtained?
Consulting about and really choosing the best gear, without improvisation. Today good quality is accessible and the great commercial competition has lowered the prices, and in addition most of it can be rented. It is not necessary to say much about training: it must be intense and extended along several months before the expedition. And motivation must stay on and educated throughout all the process. Many leave without enough fighting, although it is true this natural escape has saved lives.
What about mountaineering experience?
A great part of the accidents and anecdotes of this mountain are related to a lack of experience of unscrupulous visitors, which has been the cause of countless small problems and great tragedies in the Aconcagua. Leaving out those related directly to the Andean technique, and therefore to the technical aptitude of the climber, some typical problems do not stop to repeat. Most frequent facts related to the inexperience are: path deviations, hardness of the environment, changing weather conditions, and persistence in spite of the exhaustion or physical problems.
But past 20 years statistics show that those problems practically have a null occurrence when the expedition rely on the leadership of a professional mountain guide. It is very important to deal with local guides. Some accidents with foreign guides have occoured.
It is true that the ideal is that the Aconcagua be another step preceded by other mountains and that not be the last one either. This way, the fight for the summit will stay in its right dimension, without being disturbed neither signed by the own limits nor by the good luck. Today it is possible to trust “the administrative” part of this fight to a mountain guide. He will make the logistic and tactical decisions, he will avoid unpredictable surprises and he will put us in a relatively “comfortable” perspective for fight. He will not take us to the summit -only our legs, heart and brain can do it-, but he will carry our weapon and he will be our shield in the fight. This way we will be able to focus in the target, the guide just contributing with the experience we may lack of.
Is the summit such target?
This is a question of personal values. The summit is just a name for our victory or failure. This name can be the target, but the true culmination is to return home with the joy of the fulfilled challenge, whatever the metric result has been. It is a concern of the guide to interpret those feelings and to help to achieve them. Definitively summit is not the priority of the guide, but safety. His art lies in getting the objectives that have been entrusted to him, without skipping safety not even a moment. This balance is neither pure safety -that does not exist- nor pure sport success.
Who are the professional guides?
The Natural Renewable Resources Direction (DRNR) of the Government of Mendoza, manages the Provincial Aconcagua Park and spents the visitors permits. You can find there the official registry of mountain and trekking guides breveted to operate in the Aconcagua.
They have, most of them, provincial validity by official qualification given by the Provincial School of Mountain and Trekking Guides (EPGMT); and some with national certificates from the Mountain Guides Argentine Association (AAGM), of which we are few living in Mendoza, with exigencies regulated by DRNR. It is not possible to certify foreign guides with such standards, because they cannot work formally in Argentina due to migratory regulations.