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Without Prior Technical Hiking Experience, I Summited One of the World's Highest Mountains: Here's How You Can, Too

2023-05-25  Maliyah Mah

Argentina’s Aconcagua

The highest peak located outside of Asia is Aconcagua, which is located in Argentina. Climbing to the summit of this mountain is a realistic goal for hikers.

For those who aren't familiar with it, the world of climbing can seem intimidating (and even hazardous). However, you do not need to be on the same level as Free Solo's Alex Honnold in order to safely push your limits in some of the highest spots in the earth. Beginner mountaineers don't need much more than a sturdy pair of legs, good lungs, and some resolve to climb some of the globe's mountains; there are plenty of mountains all over the world that are within their reach.

In point of fact, the highest peak in the Americas, Aconcagua, is classified as a mountain of this type. This Argentine giant, which stands at 22,838 feet and is the highest peak of the huge Andes range, is approximately 10,000 feet taller than any mountain that can be found on the continental United States. In point of fact, it is the tallest peak that is located outside of Asia anyplace in the entire planet. Although it may sound scary, the normal route up Aconcagua is nothing more than a walk, even in poor weather circumstances. This is in contrast to the majority of other mountains that are of a similar level. Climbers are required to lug heavy loads up steep slopes, but they are not required to use ropes, crampons, ice axes, or any other traditional "climbing gear," nor are there any areas that require technical climbing.

Aconcagua is possibly the highest elevation on the earth that can be reached without engaging in technical climbing; if you are an experienced camper and hiker, it is a goal that is within reach, and it presents itself as an attainable objective.

During the month of January, my father and I climbed the mountain alongside my good buddy Damian Begenas, who is a member of the Benegas Brothers Expeditions. Both Damian and Willie, Damian's twin brother, are well-known Argentinian guides who used to be professional climbers in the past. Together, they have reached the pinnacle of Mount Everest twenty times and Aconcagua over one hundred times, in addition to dozens of other mountains located on each of the seven continents. In the late 1980s, Damian and Willie began climbing on the mountain, and they were among the first people to begin offering commercial guiding services on the summit. (In point of fact, Willie broke the record for the quickest ascent and descent of the mountain in the year 2000 by competing in a race that began at the trailhead and continued all the way to the summit before returning to the starting point.) In contrast to the large-scale guiding enterprises that are also present on the mountain, their outfitter has maintained its close-knit nature and continues to provide individualised itineraries with a little environmental impact.

mule drivers

We arrived by plane in the subtropical mountain town of Mendoza, which is filled to the brim with world-famous vineyards, excellent cuisine, and spas. It was there that we spent a few days getting our things ready for our adventure. We began our journey in Mendoza, Argentina, and drove three hours west to the small mountain village of Las Cuevas, which is located on the Chilean border close to Aconcagua National Park. Las Cuevas, which has an elevation of 10,400 feet, is the ideal place to acclimatize before attempting Aconcagua. We acclimatised ourselves to the thinner mountain air and the harsh alpine sun by spending several days hiking up and down the neighbouring peaks and travelling as high as 14,000 feet in elevation.

As soon as we were acclimated to the higher altitude, we made contact with mule drivers just outside the park in order to send the majority of our belongings on pack mules in advance. We had hundreds of pounds of equipment with us since Damian and his colleagues were making a documentary. After entering Aconcagua National Park, we hiked for two days and 18 miles to reach Base Camp. Our route brought us along the expansive dried riverbed of the Horicon's river valley, with mountains rising on each side of the valley. At one point, we made our way across a miniature wire bridge that was featured in the movie "Seven Years in Tibet." As we travelled farther into the valley, the mountains on either side rose to ever-greater heights, and the path began to wind its way up cliff bands and through rocky defiles. Eventually, we arrived at Plaza de Mulas, also known as Base Camp, which is located at an elevation of 14,300 feet.

In this lofty alpine valley, at the base of the tallest peak in the Americas, dozens of outfitters have put up a tent camp, complete with coffee shops, bars, and even the highest altitude art gallery in the world. In order to get ourselves ready for the climb, we spent several days camped out in a complex of tents and domes that was run by BBE's local outfitter. The meals were delicious, diverse, and substantial, and there was always more than enough food for me to finish each day feeling completely satiated. We stuffed ourselves on thick quinoa soups, succulent steaks, sausages, and vegetables barbecued on the grill. Each morning, in addition to steaming cups of coffee and tea, there was an abundant supply of freshly squeezed orange juice, as well as beer and wine.

After several days of stuffing our faces with food in Base Camp, it was finally time to start the actual ascent of the mountain.

Some expeditions only spend four or five days atop the mountain, making their way in a series of pushes from Base Camp to Camps I, II, and III before finally reaching the summit. The ascent to the summit and descent can be completed in a matter of hours by climbers who are experienced in the sport. (A new record was set in January 2022 when an American ultrarunner named Tyler Andrews ran all the way from the trailhead to the top in just seven hours and 35 minutes.)

On the other hand, we spent the previous ten days completing what mountaineers refer to as "rotations," which involve moving up and down the mountain from Base Camp. The first thing that we did was go up to Camp I (Plaza Canada at 16,500 feet) and then hike back down. After that, we hiked back up to Camp I, slept there, hiked up to Camp II (Nido de Cóndores at 18,200 feet), slept there, and then hiked back down to Base. Following a few of days of recovery, we began our ascent towards the summit, spending the night each in Camp II and Camp III (Plaza Cólera at 19,500 feet) before making our final push to the top.

This strategy of going back and forth may appear pointless, but it is of tremendous assistance in acclimatization. It gives your body the opportunity to adjust to the lower levels of oxygen and helps prevent acute mountain sickness (AMS). There are a lot of people who try to climb Aconcagua too rapidly, and they end up getting altitude sickness. This can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, and even worse things, and it can delay or even ruin your chances of reaching the summit.


On the other side, our six-person group, which had an extended period of time to acclimatise, did not experience any difficulties. In addition, each camp was well worth the stay because it provided a distinctive perspective on the huge array of peaks and valleys that spread out below this lofty top. In addition, each camp was graced with breathtaking sunsets, during which the sky transformed into a warm haze of molten glass that flowed across the mountains in all directions. Without a shadow of a doubt, I can say that they were the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen.

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On the day of the summit, we set our alarms at 4:00 in the morning so that we could start climbing at 5:30. We took our time climbing the mountain, making our way up the steep snow slopes using switchbacks and slogging along the narrow ridgelines as the brilliant sunrise bathed the entire landscape in an orange glow before dawn. Because Damian and his crew wanted to record in multiple locations and fly their camera drones, it took us far longer than other groups to reach the top, and we didn't get there until the early afternoon.

The clouds rolled in, so we couldn't see much from the summit, but there is no feeling quite like that of standing on one of the world's tallest mountains, regardless of whether or not you can see anything from there. Because of the unusually large amount of snow on the mountain, we had to use our crampons for the majority of the day; yet, the entire journey, from the beginning of the trail to the peak, consisted of nothing more than a lengthy, steep trek at a very high height. The scenery was just breathtaking. It was by no means a simple task, that much is certain; yet, it is completely possible to complete even without the slightest bit of prior experience rock or ice climbing.

The months of December through February, which coincide with the height of the Argentine summer, are the months in which the mountain should ideally be climbed. Conditions are often at their warmest and driest throughout these months. Climbing earlier or later in the season may assist with pricing and crowding, but the weather conditions are more unpredictable at certain times of year. The climbing season runs from November through about the middle of March. Visit the website of Benegas Brothers Expeditions to acquire additional information and to communicate with the company.

2023-05-25  Maliyah Mah