Aconcagua and Llullaillaco

Aconcagua and Llullaillaco © OpenStreetMap contributors, CC-BY-SA, Tiles: Mapbox
From the Llullaillaco, throne of the Inca Gods, to the highest mountain of America, the Aconcagua. There are only few mountains in the Andes which can offer such diversity as these two.
  • Quote by Peter Habeler, who has summitted the Llullaillaco several times: "A true gem regarding landscape and cultural history. With an interesting journey in, a beautiful ascent and still intact Incan sites of find."
  • For a good acclimatisation process, we first climb Llullaillaco, which is fairly easy from a technical point of view.
  • Who hasn’t dreamt of climbing the Aconcagua? On top of doing that, ascent and descent of the expedition will even be made on different routes.
  • Note: Please also check out our other Aconcagua expeditions. All of them differ regarding dates, included services and journey to the mountain.
  • Quality bonus: At the Aconcagua, 1 local guide per 4 participants, food preparation in the high camps, porters for tents and cooking utensils (during the ascent to and descent from the 3 high camps).

The Andes, shaped and characterised by volcanic activity in the past and the present, form the longest mountain range on Earth. The "roof of the Andes," the Llullaillaco (6,739 m), is the highest non-glaciated peak in the world. The Aconcagua (or "Cerro Aconcagua" in full), reaching 6,962 m, is not only the highest mountain of the American continent but in fact the highest mountain on earth outside of Asia.
In the north of Argentina, a little known jewel for mountaineers and anthropologists may be found: the Llullaillaco. The Incas considered it a sacred place. Traces of this may still be found today - though we aren't going to tell too much just now. Be surprised! What we can tell is that one of the reasons for the Incas to choose exactly this mountain might have been that it is the highest non-glaciated peak in the world. It is also one of the hundreds of volcanoes which constitute the border between Chile and Argentina.
On our way to the base camp, we will cross the "Tren de las Nubes", an old railway line which was built mainly for the transportation of nitre. The abandoned stations make it seem as if time has simply been standing still, almost, as if the trains would still traverse the site...
Our second mountain, the Aconcagua, was first ascended by Swiss mountain guide Matthias Zurbriggen on January 14 in 1987. The mountain giant is of volcanic material, even though the Aconcagua itself isn't a volcano. It is the highest mountain of America and lies near the Chilean border in the province Mendoza.

Travel Programme

Day 1: Flight to Buenos Aires

Day 2: Arrival in Buenos Aires
Arrival in Buenos Aires, one of the most interesting cities in South America. With delicious food we'll indulge in Argentina's "dolce vita," rounding it off with a visit to a tango show - after all, it was tango that made Argentina famous. Overnight stay at a hotel.

Day 3: Flight Buenos Aires–Salta
In Argentina, Salta is known as "La Linda" ("the beautiful"). It's not difficult to understand this name, for Salta is one of the oldest and most beautiful cities in Argentina, offering plenty of cultural surprises.

Day 4: Salta–Cerro Gógota–San Antonio de los Cobres
We'll leave Salta early in the morning, heading to San Antonio de los Cobres. Using the international route 51, we will pass the impressive Quebrada del Toro (Toro valley) before ascending to Santa Rosa de Tastil with its ancient ruins. Soon, the first 5000-5800m peaks of the Puna will appear on the horizon. Crossing the Abra Blanca (4200m) we'll arrive at San Antonio de los Cobres (3400m) at noon. In the afternoon, we'll start our acclimatisation with a short walk around the town.

Day 5: San Antonio de los Cobres–Tolar Grande
Departure to Tolar Grande in the morning. First travelling through the "Albra El Gallo", we'll then pass thourgh the mining camp Olacapato and the Pocitos Salt Marsh. Our journey continues through the Salt Mountain range, whose forms and colours seem to bear resemblance to a lunar landscape. Once having passed it, the Llullaillaco can already be seen in the distance. Arrival in Tolar Grande after midday. We'll go on a short walk to discover the surroundings, further acclimatising. Dinner and overnight stay at the Franco Argentino Refuge in Tolar Grande.

Day 6: Tolar Grande–Visit to Dead Man’s Cave/Sand Dune/Sea Eyes
Today, we'll undertake a visit to the Dead Man's Cave, an impressive formation of stalactites and stalagmites formed over hundreds of years. After this first impressive site, we'll head on to see the famous sand dune, which, immersed in the colours and the silence of the Puna plain, seems all the more majestic. In the afternoon, we'll visit the so-called "sea eyes," deep pools in the salt marsh which have been shaped by the water flowing from the Macon Mountains. Dinner and overnight stay at the Tolar Grande Refuge.

Day 7–8: Tolar Grande–Llullaillaco Base Camp
Today, we'll leave for Llullaillaco base camp. We'll cross the Arizaro Salt Marsh, the third biggest marsh of the world, framed by mountains which reach 6000m such as the Aracar or the Salim. We'll ascend to Caipe Station, from where on we'll have a beautiful view onto the Arita Cone in the distance and a spectacular panoramic view over volcanic formations, the salt marsh and the "island" which emerges from it. Overnight stay above the salt lake Tolar Grande. While we are heading towards Lluillaco Salt Marsh, resting for lunch by the marshes, we can see the Catamarcas maountains appearing on the horizon. Before reaching base camp, we'll visit an Incan cemetery site. Setting up base camp on the east face of the mountain, we'll be spending the night at 4850m. Overnight stay in tents.

Day 9: Base Camp
Acclimatisation day at base camp. We can explore the area around the camp; the equipment for the high camps will have to be organised and prepared. Overnight stay in tents. In the evening, we'll make preparations for the next day. Overnight stay at the camp.

Day 10: Base Camp–Camp I (5400m)
Ascent to the next camp, which will be established at 5400m. The rest of the day will be at disposal. (Acclimatisation: make sure to watch your intake of fluids!)
In the evening, we'll make preparations for the next day. Ascent: 5-8 hours.

Day 11: Camp I (5400m)–Camp II (6000m)
Ascent to the next camp, which will be set up at 6000m. The rest of the day will again be at disposal. (Acclimatisation: make sure to watch your intake of fluids!)
In the evening, we'll make preparations for the next day. Ascent: 6-8 hours.

Day 12: Summit Day
We'll start early in the morning; if the weather is calm, we can reach the summit after midday. Return to camp II. If the physical condition of all participants allows it, we can descend straight to base camp. Overnight stay at camp II or base camp.

Day 13: Base Camp–Tolar Grande
Descent and overnight stay at Tolar Grande.

Day 14: Tolar Grande–Santa Rosa de los Pastos Grandes–Salta
We'll return to Salta via another route: via Santa Rosa de los Pastos Grandes, base of the Quewar Volcano. Arrival in Salta in the afternoon.

Day 15: Bus ride Salta–Mendoza
Bus ride from Salta to Mendoza. As the buses in Argentina are quite comfortable, this 12-hour journey to Argentina's "wine metropolis" will pass in no time.

Day 16: Mendoza
Before continuing our journey, we have to apply for a permit to climb Aconcagua in Mendoza. We'll spend the day sightseeing in Mendoza, enjoying life with a good glass of wine and a bite of "bife de chorizo." Overnight stay at a hotel.

Day 17: Mendoza–Grand Hotel Uspallata
We'll then continue to the lush green valley of Uspallata and the Grand Hotel Uspallata. The afternoon is needed for preparations, our helpers for instance will be preparing the food for the journey. We will also have to assemble our personal equipment: A traverse is next on our agenda. Traverses, fascinating in their own way, are slightly more complex to organise, as we will not return to the same base camp. Overnight stay at a hotel.

Day 18–20: Uspallata (2000m)–Punta de Vacas (2415m)–Pampa de Leñas (2864m)–Casa de Piedra (3245m)–Base Camp Plaza Argentina (4198m)
After a one-hour drive, we'll be in Punta de Vacas, leaving our personal equipment here - it will be transported by Mules to the base camp Plaza Argentina. Thus, our journey in starts with a light day pack, as we head for Pampa de Lenãs. Overnight stay in tents.

Route:
What's ahead of us are three days with a walking distance of 20km per day and an ascent of 2400m to reach Plaza Argentina on 4200m. During the first 2 days, we walk trough the valley of Rio de las Vacas. We reach Pampa de Leñas (2864m) in 4-5 hours. Getting to Casa de Piedra (3245m) takes another 5-6 hours. In both camps, our local helpers will await us and we can enjoy the delicious food they have prepared for us. Shortly before we reach our second camp (Casa de Piedra) we are finally able to see the Aconcagua, towering over us like a rocky giant. What an amazing view! On the third day, the route becomes more adventurous: we have to cross the Rio de las Vacas. Having mastered this feat, the way leads steeply up to base camp Plaza de Argentina, which we can reach in 4-6 hours. It is amazing to think that the mules manage to climb up here! Plaza Argentina is a colourful tent city, yet smaller and somewhat more manageable than Plaza de Mulas, the base camp of the normal route.

Note:
The permanently installed base camp bears the advantage that in case of emergency, we can always abort and descend (e.g. due to high-altitude sickness or bad weather conditions). The camp is also a good place to rest, recover and recharge before the final departure for the summit. At base camp, a compulsory medical examination done by an Argentinian doctor will take place, who will give permission to continue with the ascent.

Day 21: Equipment transport
Today, we'll carry our equipment to camp I at 5000m, returning to base camp for the night. This is the more convenient alternative to transporting everything in one go and sleeping at camp I (5000m).

Route:
The ascent starts on the broad ridge, along a narrow trench until said trench opens up again. Shortly before camp I, the path becomes slippery, the many loose rocks making it more difficult. Camp I follows just after the terminal moraine. Time for the ascent 4-5 hours, descent about 2 hours. Overnight stay in tents.

Day 22: Base Camp–Camp I (5000m)
We already know the ascent route. Carrying a heavy backpack, we take it slow - we can take the entire day if we need to. If needed, you may give some of your equipment to the high-altitude porters to carry. Overnight stay in tents.

Day 23: Equipment transport to Camp II (Guanaco, 5520m)
We'll transport food, fuel, etc. for the last two nights in camp II (Guanaco) and camp III (Colera) today, so that our backpacks will not be too heavy the following days. Good acclimatisation is still of vital importance, this transport hike is another chance to support it. In the afternoon we descend to camp I. Overnight stay in tents.

Route:
The path laid out before us, we start on a wide flank until reaching an intersection, the left path leading to Independencia, the right path leading down over two ridges to Guanaco. Time for ascent about 3 hours, descent about 1.5 hours.

Day 24: Camp I (5000m)–Camp II (Guanaco, 5520m)
Today we will walk only a short distance - but we do so with a heavy backpack, covering an altitude distance of 520m. Once again, we already know the way and we can take the entire day if need be. Overnight stay in tents.

Day 25: Camp II (Guanaco, 5520m)–Camp III (Colera, 6000m)
Soon we are able to see the rocks surrounding Colera. We climb up slowly, always careful not to waste too much energy. Still - we will be feeling the weight of our backpacks! Since are not making an equipment transport to camp III, we have to carry everything up in one go. The summit getting ever more closer, our excitement grows steadily! Overnight stay in tents.

Route:
After having passed camp II, there is a short but steep part before the ascent becomes more gentle. Leaving the white stones behind, we reach a stone barrier; Colera lies right behind it.

Day 26–27: 1 summit day and 1 spare day
We'll start between 4 and 6 o'clock in the morning, depending on the current weather conditions. It's going to be cold; hopefully, the wind will stay calm this day. Following the well visible path, passing the white stones, we'll soon reach the ascent line of the normal route. Once we've reached the small wood cabin (Independencia) at about 6400m, we will stop for a break. Then, we'll continue to the crest from where on the path to the crossing to Canaleta is well visible. What follows is a long crossing, which depending on snow conditions can be more or less demanding. The wind can make things more tricky here and complicate the ascent – it's the one part of the ascent where you can feel it the most, and it's coming directly from the front! At the foot of the Canaleta, there's an ideal place for a rest, which we will make use of before we attempt the last stage of the route. Without climbing, we can continue upwards through the famous Canaleta, which stops just below the peak. This final stage, just below the highest summit of the American continent, can be quite tricky. The summit itself is big enough to play football on, and the view onto the other Andean summits is majestic.
We'll descend back to camp III; after reassembling our forces and disassembling camp III, we descend back to base camp Plaza de Mulas. Though it is possible to spend the night in camp III, we prefer the direct descend to base camp. Our descent first follows the normal route in the north, passing the Nido de Condores, to base camp Plaza de Mulas, where finally, we'll meet civilisation again – quite literally.

Note:
The ascent to the summit and to the individual camps will be done differently according to the group and the current preconditions. It may well happen that a camp is skipped. The expedition guide will decide upon the right strategy for the ascent on site.
Participants who do not want to go to the summit can descent directly from camp III via the normal route to base camp. Ascent 7-9 hours. Overnight stay in tents.

Day 28: Plaza de Mulas (4367m)–Horcones (2800m)–Uspallata
Today, a long march lies ahead of us, leading us all the way to Horcones, where we will be picked up by car to travel back to Penitentes and finally Uspallata. Fortunately, the mules will be carrying our extra luggage, so we can travel with a light backpack. The way back through the Horcones valley is less adventurous than our walk-in through the Vacas valley but the rock formations and the view back to the majestic Aconcagua south face are all the more impressive. Another reason why encircling the Aconcagua is ideal is that the ascent is slower, which helps with acclimatisation. The descent then, on the other hand, takes only one day. In Uspallata, we check into the hotel we already know before we enjoy a nice dinner, reminiscing fond memories of our adventures. Overnight stay at a hotel.

Day 29: Drive from Uspallata to Mendoza and travel back home
We'll leave Uspallata, our small island after the ascent of the Aconcagua, heading once again towards the “wine metropolis of Argentina.” Mendoza has much to offer, which is one of the reasons why Kobler & Partner offer travelling back via Mendoza. Should the ascent of the Aconcacua be achieved earlier than thought, Mendoza is a paradise for explorations. Expenses for additional nights in Mendoza, however, will have to be paid for by the participants.

Day 30: Arrival in Europe

Included services
  • International flights, incl. airport taxes
  • Domestic flight Buenos Aires–Salta
  • Baggage (for allowance see K&P handbook)
  • All transfers, trips by bus and jeep (which will be important at the Llullaillaco)
  • Organisation of the entire expedition
  • Information meeting at Bächli Bergsport, Bern
  • Full-board during the entire expedition (for individual snacks see K&P handbook)
  • Hotel accommodation in double rooms (see travel programme)
  • Good group tent, toilet tent
  • Tips on behalf of Kobler & Partner (for individual tips see K&P handbook)
  • Accommodation in double tents
  • Tents for high camps
  • High mountain stoves
  • High porters for tents, fuel, stoves and group food (only at the Aconcagua)
  • Preparation of food by local mountain guides in the high camps
  • Communication (radio) at base camp
  • Walkie-talkies (9 volt)
  • Satellite phone, call charges excluded (only at base camp)
  • Weatherforecast at the Aconcagua base camp and at the Llullaillaco by local agency
  • Pack animals to the Aconcagua base camp (ascent and descent, see "support")
  • Pharmacy at BC including pulse oximeter
  • Kitchen: cook and kitchen assistants
  • 1 local mountain guide per 4 participants for Aconcagua
  • Certified mountain guide
Excluded services
  • Insurance (see "insurance")
  • All beverages
  • Personal porter to/from high camps (can be organised on site)
  • Personal medication (see K&P handbook)
  • Summit permit for the Aconcagua (see "support")
  • Additional costs arising due to changes in the programme
Support

Additional help for a successful ascent:
- Certified mountain guide who can assist you and deal with many small concerns, mainly helping you build trust. Often, this person is the one who “tips the scales.”
- High porters for tents, petrol and cooker of the group.
- Native mountain guides: They prepare the food in the high camps. If a participant should have to descend, they can assist; thus, the rest of the participants don't have to stop the expedition.
- Personal high porter at the mountain: Different people attempt the Aconcagua for different reasons. Many of them want to carry their luggage on their own but end up reaching their limits and are happy if they can turn to someone else who helps carry all or part of their material. The costs for the high porters can vary depending on the stretch to be covered. In 2011/12, the costs per porter (carrying 20kg) were:

  • Base camp (Plaza Argentina)–camp I: USD 160
  • Camp I–camp II: USD 270
  • Camp II–camp III (Colera): USD 380
  • Camp III–Plaza de Mulas: USD 220

Another possibility is hiring a personal porter. A personal porter during the climb (ascent and descent) costs about USD 1200. However, it makes more sense (and it usually is cheaper) to share a porter with other participants, as the costs are always per porter and not depending on the weight (so whether the porter carries 1kg or 20kg doesn't influence the price).

Waste has to be carried back from the high camps as well. This is included in the price so that no unexpected additional costs arise for you.

Included in the price of the Aconcagua 360° expedition is the transportation of material which we're not using from the Plaza Argentina to the Plaza de Mulas during the summit period of our expedition.