Andes, Argentina

Latin America’s highest mountain, Aconcagua, is found in Argentina and is not far from the Chilean border. It reaches almost 23,000 feet in elevation and offers some pretty easy climbs depending on point of access, weather conditions, and time of year travelled. If well prepared and properly acclimatized, those with basic training and a qualified guide can have a fair chance of success at reaching the summit.

Despite the general feeling that Aconcagua is quite a welcoming mountain to climb, it does come with its dangers. Altitude sickness and the chance of falling or slipping are always present, and one must be properly prepared and supervised on the climb. The route is dotted with base camps along the way, some with full service and permanent staff.

In the early 1880s, Europeans began the first attempt to scale the mountain, reaching up to just over 21000 feet, and the first successful scale was accomplished by the Swiss in 1897. An 87 year old, Scott Lewis, became a record breaker by climbing the mountain. There is evidence to suggest that local Incas had, if not reached the summit, ventured pretty high into the slopes of the mountain and left traces of their climbs.

The mountain is one of the seven summits—counted as the highest mountains on each continent—and sees over three thousand people successfully reach the summit each year along the relatively straightforward Northwest Ridge. The main dangers in scaling the mountain arise when climbers underestimate the importance of being well prepared and don’t take the necessary precautions to ensure a safe climb.

Those attempting the climb usually enter via Santiago in Chile or perhaps Mendoza in Argentina, where they must purchase the compulsory hiking pass. Before setting off from the base camp, all climbers are now required to attend the camp doctor, who will examine each entrant and determine if they are healthy enough to continue climbing to higher altitudes along the route.

The lower levels of the mountain are easily accessible to those looking for an easy day out, and there are measures in place to ensure that the natural environment is not destroyed by the heavy footfall on the mountain. Littering on the mountain is policed, fines are applicable and the area is monitored to ensure the beautiful natural landscape is preserved as best as possible.

One of the most popular routes is the Polish face, which should take about two weeks from top to bottom depending on ability, and climbers need to take a rest day every couple of days to get acclimatised to the altitude. Others take the Normal Route, and it is also possible to ascend up the Polish and descend down the Normal Route in order to get the best views from both faces of the mountain.

(Image by galeria miradas on Flickr)

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