Aconcagua is complicated equipment-wise. Due to its height and high winds, the conditions at Camp 3 and up are rather Himalayan, not Alpine. On the approach hike, however, it is easily sunny +30 C (86 F), but even there is a catch – dust tornadoes will keep you from enjoying the hike in shorts & T-shirt, especially in Horcones Valley. Full-cover, including head and face would be more appropriate.
Here is my top 7 of specifics for that particular mountain:
- Neck buff. Make it several neck buffs. Indispensable on approach it can fulfill several functions high on the mountain. Starting from a light head cover and up to a nose cover “a-la face mask” on the summit bid. Do your respiratory system a favour – breathe through the neck buff at least up to the Base Camp. Dust and sand may hurt your nasal cavities and throat and provoke complications high up.
- Down parka is a must. My preference is to have loose mid-weight down parka (down fill 650; the parka’s weight about 600 – 800 gr) and combine it with other down layers underneath. (like Montbell UL Down Parka or synthetic UL Thermawrap Jacket). That way I get maximum warmth, protection and versatility. The underneath layer should also be compatible with your shell (e-vent or Gore-tex) and loose mid-weight parka should be wearable on the top of the shell.
- Down / synthetic pants. I have skimmed on big warm pants, having with me only Montbell UL Down Pants – when packed they are the size of 0,3 l (10 oz) bottle and weight nothing. It was enough up to Camp 2. Camp 3 demanded a thicker gear, especially after the sun is down. On the summit day I decided not to wear down pants under the shell, being afraid of overheating on the move. I layered the heavy weight bottoms with a E-vent shell instead. My feet froze immediately, 15 min out of the tent. Looking back, I should have taken thick pants, fully zipable, and put them on the top of the shell. Then taking them off would be not an issue. Much warmer boots would be another way to go. If you are cold, but the weather is clear, you only have to battle until the sun is up. It gets much better after, although my feet defroze in only 5 hrs during the climb.
- Footwear. Hiking shoes to the Base Camp. Ankle support depends on your personal preference. Not an issue on the Horcones route, may be desirable on the Polish Traverse. Higher up boots choice is a tough cookie. First of all, boots depend on the route. For all normal non-technical routes double layered plastic boots with super-warm insulation boots would be perfect. Triple boots, like Olympus Mons / Millet Everest would be bullet-proof protection-wise, but would not hold the terrain. Most of the climb is scree & rock without crampons, the fragile sole of triple boots would be completely depreciated in just one climb. The trick is – heavy super warm double plastic boots are not 100% for Denali (but may work for some), not enough for Hymalayan peaks and are too much for Alpine. Unless you climb a lot in 6000 – 7000 m range or winter Alpine you will not be using them often. One more option is to take lighter boots and use neoprene overboots for the summit bid. While it gives extra insulation, it also demands wearing crampons while jumping on rocks in La Canaleta. I went for that option. Saying mildly, my calves got quite some training. For the Polish Direct triple boots + crampons are ideal. If due to the route conditions you choose to abandon the Direct option and switch to the Traverse instead the point about sole depreciation will apply. If you’ve chosen approach via Vacas Valley, take water shoes. You need the ones with a firm foo hold and thick sole to protect you from underwater rocks. Toes protection is a bonus.
- Shells. On the Normal Routes a super hard-core shell is not a necessity. Up to the Base Camp soft shell is ideal and higher on the mountain, up to Camp 3 you definitely can get on by wearing mid-weight shells and layering insulation wisely. I think hard core shells are great for wet and windy conditions with a lot of snow and that is not what Aconcagua has for you. Wind is a big factor, but the air is dry. Another argument in favour of a lighter gear is a hike down. In case if you do not meet your duffels, sweating underneath a super Gore-tex shell will not add pleasure to the trip. On the Polish Direct, on the other hand, snow can be waist-deep at times. Here a pro-shell would be more appropriate and you would need less insulation due to higher effort.
- Gaiters. Only for the Polish Direct. On the normal routes you look for light dust-protection ones, but they are not a necessity.
- Thin (silk / merino) gloves. In dry and dusty air endless tent pitching and rolling / unrolling of sleeping matts and sleeping bags put more strain on the skin than one can imagine. Without due protection, painful cracks may appear even before the Base Camp. One or two pairs of silk gloves would reduce the damage and also serve as a sun protection. For extra pampering a small tube of heavy hand cream (heavy Neutrogena or anything high on Shea butter) is a bliss.
Everything else is common sense. If you want a more detailed gear list – drop me a mail and I will dwell in the depth of my computer and try to extract it from there for you.
Do not sweat small details. Mendoza has excellent shops, including huge and well-stocked Carrefour right in the center. You will have at least half a day at your disposal for last minute shopping, after you are done with permits. Stuff like portable hygiene items, band-aid, snacks, etc – you can get it all there.
Find out more about Aconcagua:
Intro Route Equipment Training Vegetarians