WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO CLIMB ACONCAGUA?

What does it take to climb Aconcagua? A lot of things, and there is no doubt about it. If we asked anyone that question — and we have — we would get two types of answers. One before the expedition and another, perhaps slightly different, at the end of it. One of the answers, and possibly the most obvious, would be to say “good equipment”, and it would not be incorrect, especially considering that Matthias Zurbriggen, the first man to reach its summit, had to climb it with clothes and gear that today would be considered as nothing short of impossible to use. Gear is not, at least nowadays, a problem. Fortunately for outdoor lovers, the technology of materials has advanced a lot in terms of quality, efficiency, and, above all, weight. Zurbriggen had to cover his chest with newspapers and carry sheep fleeces to protect himself from the merciless cold of the mountain, which is one of the few variables that has not changed in almost 130 years since that first expedition.

So, what else does it take to climb it? Another possible answer: time. An expedition lasts, on average, between 16 and 20 days, depending on the different programs, meaning that we must have at least twenty days between the flights and the expedition. Thus, time is another important aspect in a project of this sorts, but we have not yet reached what is perhaps the most important thing needed to successfully achieve the summit. Not yet, but we are already close.

Physical shape. As obvious as it may seem, excellent physical condition is essential to successfully complete a project of this type or any other similar. If we are not trained, it is practically impossible to reach the summit, and in the case of doing so, the ascent process will be the closest thing to torture, since the effort to which it will be subjected is quite extreme. Of course, there are people with a natural physical condition that is above average, and maybe — just maybe — they can indulge in preparing and training less and still get there, but we would never recommend this formula. The more physically prepared we are; the more chances we have to reach the top. So, is fitness essential? Is it the key? It is essential, but not necessarily the key.

Let’s review what we already know to be needed so far: equipment, time and physical condition. Nothing more? And now we do get to the heart of the matter. One of the intangible elements that are necessary, and probably the element that makes all the difference between reaching the top or not, is the state of mind. In other words, to be psychologically prepared beyond any doubt, since there is a moment in the expedition where — if the stars have aligned and the circumstances and everything mentioned above are present as well — in which our mind is going to start telling us to come down. Our mental attitude may be the only difference between putting both feet on the top or getting down empty handed, even when our body has the physical stamina left to reach for the top and return to the tent to enjoy a cup of tea and to celebrate the accomplishment. And the best part of such endurance state of mind is that it can also be trained, and that’s something we generally don’t do. But let’s clarify something. Training and preparing for physical sacrifice doesn’t mean in any way seeking pain or pushing our body way beyond its limits. In no way are we suggesting that a climber should suffer to get there. What we mean is that climbing Aconcagua is a physical and mental effort, and that both should be trained and prepared. On Aconcagua — and any other mountain with similar conditions — we will sleep badly, often feel tired, endure cold weather, and at times the sacrifice will seem unnecessary. After all, with a simple notice to our guide we will have at our disposal the option of abandoning the expedition to return to the city and all its comforts. There, at that precise moment, it is necessary to understand why we are where we are. It is imperative to remember that all that sacrifice we are submitting to is going to be worth it. And it is worth it. We have to get used to cultivating a mental state of resistance, because when the body is exposed to the roughness of the mountain, it will be our mental attitude what will take us to the top. On the other hand, the line that separates mental fortitude from irresponsibility is usually quite blurred, and that’s why guides have the obligation to evaluate our general condition at all times, to decide who is or isn’t fit to continue with the climb. In every expedition there are always people who confuse mental toughness with obsession, and nothing good comes of that. In fact, there have been great tragedies on the mountain that prove it, even on Aconcagua.

In short, you must come prepared. Fully prepared. Aconcagua is not just a “high altitude trek”. It is a more complex ascent, and not for being a technical climb. On Aconcagua no one is going to lead us by the hand, no one is going to give us supplemental oxygen — oxygen is used only in case of emergencies — and no one is going to place a rope for us to hold on to go up. It’s just putting one foot behind the other, patiently and with an iron determination to get to the summit.

What does it take to climb Aconcagua? Our determination to achieve the dream. And everything else too.

Comments are closed.