Ballpark Estimate: $850 to $5,000
Aconcagua (elev. 22,840 ft.) is the tallest mountain in the Americas and, outside of Asia, the tallest mountain in the world. Towering 4,000 feet above neighboring peaks in the Argentinian Andes, the “Stone Sentinel” draws climbers from all over the world who log the ascent as a training climb for the Himalayas, or climb it for its own sake, as one of the Seven Summits.
The three most popular routes are the Normal Route, the Polish Traverse Route, and the Polish Glacier Route. While the Polish Glacier Route is a very serious and technical, high-altitude climb, and the Polish Traverse is moderate difficulty, the Normal Route is non-technical and receives the most traffic. However, don’t assume that it’s a walk in the park. The ascent requires strong mountaineering skills, familiarity with an ice axe and crampons, and you must be in excellent physical condition. Conscientious training is essential to success. Long hours spent carrying 40- to 60-pound packs up and down stairs or trails is suggested as part of your training regimen. Ideally, you should have at least some experience climbing above 10,000 feet. The guide services offer a selection of prep mountaineering classes, and encourage clients to train hard for at least four months prior to the expedition.
Mountaineering Prep Class: $1,000 to $1,800
To participate in a training class, or to train adequately at high altitude on your own, you will need plenty of specialized gear. Guide services provide you with gear lists, and you can rent the big ticket items, if you choose not to buy. While Aconcagua isn’t as serious a climb as Everest or Denali, you’ll still need a down sleeping bag rated to at least -10°F; you’ll carry an ice axe and wear crampons, plastic mountaineering boots, expedition gaiters, an expedition-weight down parka, etc.
- $3,500 to $6,500 – high altitude mountaineering gear and clothing
While you train, you should be attending to your paperwork as well. It can take as long as three months to get your passport and finalize your travel plans. The best months to climb Aconcagua are December through February, when the weather is most stable. You will fly into Santiago, Chile and then catch a connecting flight to Mendoza, Argentina. Traveling from the U.S., the trip will take about two days, and you should be prepared for unexpected delays and occasional confusion. Trip cancellation insurance is always a good idea, as well as checking your health insurance travel policies.
- $1,000 to $1,720 – Round trip from New York City to Mendoza, Argentina
- $1,144 to $1,300 – Round trip from Los Angeles to Mendoza, Argentina
Guided Aconcagua Expedition: $2,750 to $5,000
Choosing a guide service means that you are responsible only for your travel to Argentina, your own personal gear, and your physical and mental preparation and training. The guide service will usually cover hotel rooms, restaurant meals, ground transportation, the climbing permit, all climbing gear, and food while on the mountain. The guide service also arranges for mules used to transport gear to and from base camp, and for human porters who carry most of the gear to the higher camps.
Cost variation can depend on factors such as length of trip (17 to 21 days), guide to climber ratio, number of porters, amount you have to carry, quality of food and lodging, and reputation of the lead guides and the service in general. The longer days allow for more time to acclimatize to the altitude, thereby increasing your chance of summit success.
- $1,000 – Porter support is included in the charge for most guide services, but some leave it as an option, charging an extra fee.
- $500 to $1,000 – Cash to cover your extra expenses and gratuities for guides, porters, and staff
Independent Expedition: $850 to $1,750*
Aconcagua is a non-technical ascent. If you are in top physical shape, have experience climbing at altitude, and can arrange for all your gear, food, accommodations, transportation, porters and mules (optional), permits, and fees, then you can probably do the climb without a guide.
Aconcagua hotels and food are relatively affordable. You will have to deal with all personnel on your own, so knowledge of Spanish is a plus. You can buy supplies and stay a couple of nights in Mendoza before taking a bus to the Parque Provincial Aconcagua. One of many decisions is whether or not to use mules or hire porters. If you do, you’ll have to negotiate those transactions on your own, but you won’t have to haul your own gear. On the other hand, ferrying your own supplies, over the course of several days, allows you to save money, further adjust to the altitude, and if you have enough food, you can do all this at your own pace, building your endurance and strength.
- $300 to $325 – Climbers’ fee for the Normal Route
- $120 to $160 – Cost per porter per load. You may need 5 to 6 load carries from Base Camp (Plaza de Mulas) to High Camp, so maximum cost could be $960
- $200 to $250 – Cost of two mules with muleteers
- Food, supplies, and gear for three weeks
*plus food, supplies, restaurant meals, lodging, porters, and mules
There is a down side to doing Aconcagua on a shoestring budget. Some parties have found that skimping on things like hotels (in favor of tents) and food (hoping to get in, climb quickly, and get out) impedes their success on the mountain. Bad weather can extend your stay at Base Camp or above, and you may find yourself huddled in your tent, finishing off the last of your food supply. Some parties try to save money by shortening their stay, but they often underestimate the time it takes to acclimatize properly, and end up turning back. Finally, interpersonal problems arise when individual climbers arrive from all over the world and end up in groups, guided or not, with language barriers or personality conflicts. Aconcagua takes a psychological toll, as well as a physical one, and knowing you can count on team members is crucial.