Aconcagua Climb Frequently Asked Questions
Why Choose IMG
Why Should I Choose IMG for my Aconcagua Expedition?
Climbing Aconcagua is serious business. We are very proud of the way we conduct ourselves and feel that we provide the best package available. We encourage you to contact us personally to discuss the details of our program. We know we are not the cheapest deal around, and we don't want to be. We spend more providing the best personnel, equipment, logistics and risk mitigation things that many lower-cost programs cannot afford and do not have. We don't cut corners. We feel we provide the best value on the mountain, without question. We invite you to shop around and compare the quality of service with the price. There is a difference between our expeditions and the expeditions of our competitors and an enormous difference between us and local outfitters. Please consider the following:
- IMG is the longest continuous guide service on Aconcagua. Legendary mountain guide Phil Ershler, IMG co-owner and Aconcagua program director, began running our Aconcagua expeditions in 1981 and has led or organized IMG's expeditions each year since. Phil has led literally hundreds of international expeditions over the years including dozens of Aconcagua expeditions with incredible success. Phil helped pioneer guiding on Aconcagua in general, and the False Polish route specifically.
- IMG's expedition success rate is one of the highest on the mountain, if not the highest. Since we began running expeditions on Aconcagua, almost all of our expeditions have had one important thing in common; the summit. Our guides love getting to the top and giving our clients every opportunity to do so without jeopardizing safety.
- Most Experienced Guides. IMG guides have tons of international experience and are true professionals. At IMG we have the pleasure of offering expeditions led by an immensely experienced team of guides. They are some of the finest in the world and operate according to the highest American standard of client care. Most of our guides are American and all are extremely knowledgeable about client care and satisfaction. IMG only hires guides that we have complete trust in. Most of our guides have a long resume of certifications beyond their even longer resumes of personal high-altitude experience world-wide. They are the pride of the company and the reason for our success.
- IMG is accredited by the American Mountain Guides Association, and many of our guides are certified guides through either the AMGA, UIAGM or both.
- Safety and Success: Our goal has always been to send our clients away with fond memories of an arduous but enjoyable expedition. Foremost, our concern while on the mountain is always safety and we go out of our way to take all the necessary precautions to be able to deal with any situation that may occur while on the expedition. Our other main goal is to give our clients the best chance of summiting Aconcagua. To achieve this second goal, we have chosen a slightly slower on mountain schedule which allows all team member to acclimatize fully and naturally. We have inserted a few rest days in to the itinerary which allows our bodies a greater chance of dealing with the arduous nature of high altitude climbing. We also have scheduled several contingency summit days to give us more room to deal with inclement weather. The pursuit of these goals has allowed us an impeccable safety record and a success rate that is well above the average of other guided and non-guided mountain groups.
- IMG offers the most personalized service. We pride ourselves very much on the quality of expedition that we run; we feel it's the best out there, and it's an excellent value. Other guide services boast about running 20 expeditions a year or churning 100+ clients through their program a season, with a factory type approach to guiding. That is not our style. We want to build a relationship with our clients and know them on a personal level while offering them a customized experience based upon their needs, in a smaller group setting. IMG's focus is on the quality of the client's experience. Our focus is on personalized, professional service. We want to build a relationship with our clients and give them the best possible expedition.
- IMG's logistics are unmatched. We have been running expeditions for 30+ years on Aconcagua which has given us more than enough time to perfect our logistics. We make sure our expeditions run smoothly so you can focus on the climb.
- IMG is the best value expedition. We are very proud of the way we conduct ourselves and feel that we provide the best package available. We encourage you to contact us personally to discuss the details of our program. We know we are not the cheapest deal around, and we don't want to be. We don't cut corners providing the best personnel, equipment, logistics, and safety measures - things that many lower-cost programs cannot afford and do not have. However, we feel we provide the best value on the mountain, without question. We invite you to shop around and compare the quality of service with the price. There is a difference between our expeditions and the expeditions of our competitors and an enormous difference between us and local outfitters.
- IMG brings advanced technology to the mountain. We carry a satellite phone, VHF radios, well-supplied medical kits, state-of-the-art tents, etc. Carrying a satellite phone allows us to maintain contact with the IMG base in the United States at all times and allows us to deal with potential emergency situations.
- IMG provides updated dispatches for friends and family while you're on the mountain. Our Aconcagua lead guides check in with the IMG office on a regular basis via satellite phone. A blog is maintained throughout the expedition to allow friends and family back home to follow your progress.
- IMG guides are medically trained. We require at least a Wilderness First Responder certification (80hr intensive course) of our lead guides. Many of them have higher wilderness medicine certifications as do a lot of our assistant guides.
- IMG expeditions live well and eat well while on the mountain. We offer excellent mountain food while at the upper camps on Aconcagua and fresh "in-town" food on the approach hike and at base camp. We bring most of our food down with us from the United States and supplement as needed with local food such as fresh fruit, vegetables, and meats from Argentina. We shy away from excess sugars and offer you a balanced, hearty diet that will allow you to climb your best. Coffee from Seattle, steaks of Argentina, fruit salad, French toast, juice boxes on the trail; this is all very typical of our trek in and time spent at base camp. We bring in other amenities to make you feel at home as well such as tables, chairs, a double-burner stove, etc. We spare no expense at trying to make you feel comfortable on the mountain.
- Pulse-Oximeters: IMG's lead guides bring along a pulse-oximeter, an instrument used to measure oxygen saturation in the blood, to observe how clients are acclimatizing on the mountain. This device gives us an indication of how clients are reacting to the altitude and allows us to make more informed decisions about pace, illness, etc.
- We use the best mule and transportation support possible and have had a relationship with our Mule company, Grajales, for more than three decades. In fact, we were one of their first clients in the 80's. We only hire the best outfitters on the mountain to assure us a great expedition. Because of this we use Grajales' Mule service and transportation. They have an excellent history and the owners are well known mountaineers and personal friends.
- IMG complies with all local, state federal and international regulations for the countries in which we climb. This includes proper visas and climbing permits, full insurance and equipment for employees, and complete adherence to all environmental regulations. Our great safety record allows us to operate with full liability insurance. All client funds are deposited into a regulated trust account.
- IMG offers an extended itinerary for better acclimatization and more contingency days for a summit bid. All of our expeditions incorporate a slow acclimatization schedule to avoid altitude illness. We employ the "carry high, sleep low" high-altitude mountaineering principle, by carrying up to our next camp and then returning to a lower altitude to sleep before moving up the following day. This schedule has played an important role in our high success rate.
- IMG Traverses the Mountain. We finish by traversing the mountain and descending the normal route to Plaza de Mulas. This allows us to see a different side of the mountain, have an easier decent, and have a shorter hike back out to the road. The circumnavigation takes one day off the decent and allows us one extra summit contingency day.
- IMG's References: Joining a high-altitude expedition is a serious decision. You should be completely confident in the organization and leadership before you make that decision. Many of you have climbed with us before elsewhere in the world, and because your experience was good, you've decided to join us again. For those of you who haven't climbed with us before, we strongly encourage you to interview us thoroughly and also talk to our past customers. We are happy to provide you with a complete list of references.
- IMG offers professional office and travel support before and after the expedition to make every detail of the process run as smoothly as possible.
Who will be guiding the climb?
At International Mountain Guides we have some of the most qualified and experienced guides in the world. They are all extremely enjoyable to work with and lead expeditions adhering to the highest American and International guiding standards. We only hire guides that we have complete trust in. Most of our guides have long resumes of certifications beyond their even longer resumes of high-altitude climbing experience. They are an integral part of our company and continued success on Aconcagua.
The expedition is organized by Phil Ershler. Phil was a member of the 1982 China-Everest Expedition, climbing leader of the Seven Summits Everest Expedition in 1983 and was the first American to climb the North Face of Everest on the 1984 China-Everest Expedition. Phil was also a member of the 1987 and 1990 K2 International Expeditions and climbed the North Face of Kangchenjunga on the 1989 American Kangchenjunga Expedition. He has guided on Mt. Rainier for over 30 years and has led countless trips to Alaska, Mexico, South America, Russia, Africa, Asia and Antarctica.
In May 2002, Phil and his wife, Susan, reached the summit of Mt. Everest making them the first couple ever to successfully complete the seven summits together. It also made Phil the first person to climb the Seven Summits twice. Phil is a partner at International Mountain Guides, a Certified Alpine Guide with the American Mountain Guides Association and a member of the American Alpine Club.
Phil hand selects IMG guides to lead each expedition whom he feels will carry on the high standards that he has held himself to over the years. You can expect to have world-class guides who have plentiful international climbing experience, medical certifications and are all around great leaders.
Training & Skills
How should I train for Aconcagua?
You cannot over train for high altitude climbing. Concentrate on your heart, legs and lungs. If you are in a position to do any hiking or climbing at higher elevations, do so. An aerobic program of running hills, stair climbing, bicycling, etc. plus a conditioning program for quad, glute, and calf muscles is necessary. You will be better prepared, increase your chances of success and enjoy the trip more if you are properly prepared. Summit day on Aconcagua is as or more demanding physically than the summit day on Denali.
What skills do I need?
Prior knowledge of ice axe arrest, cramponing and rope team travel is required. Past experience with cold weather camping, multi-day expeditions and some altitude experience is also quite helpful. This climb is not overly difficult technically but does require excellent physical conditioning and the ability to carry a heavy mountaineering pack.
What is the route like?
All of our expeditions will ascend the mountain via the False Polish Route (Guanacos Variation) that IMG helped develop. This route is also referred to as the "360" since we will be circumnavigating the mountain. Traversing the mountain allows us to see more terrain and also have an extra contingency day for weather during the expedition should we need it. The descent down the Normal Route from our high camp avoids us having to retrace our approach and is a lot easier on the knees. The False Polish route begins with a three-day trek through the Vacas and Relinchos Valleys to reach Plaza Argentina, which will serve as our basecamp for the ascent. The Guanacos Route has been closed indefinitely for quite some time now for environmental reasons and the False Polish is a great alternative.
Three camps will be established above Plaza Argentina to put the expedition in position for a summit attempt. The three camps are the Polish Glacier Camp 1 (16,372'), Guanacos Camp 2 (17,953') and Cholera Camp 3 (19,587'). The camps we have chosen to use incorporate shorter carry and move days including better climbing terrain and will allow us to utilize the "climb high, sleep low" technique which has proven to be the accepted high-altitude mountaineering practice. We finish by traversing the mountain and descending the normal route to Plaza de Mulas via the Horocones Valley. This allows us to see a different side of the mountain, have an easier decent, and make for a shorter hike back out to the road.
Travel and Insurance
Do I need a passport?
If you do not already have a passport, or if your current passport is due to expire within 6 months of the start date of the expedition, you must obtain a new one. A CURRENT PASSPORT IS REQUIRED FOR ENTRY INTO CHILE AND ARGENTINA. Also, if your passport is "well-traveled," make sure there are blank pages available. Passport information is available from your main post office.
We also suggest that you carry a photocopy of the front pages of your passport and a couple of extra passport photos. This simplifies replacement if a passport is lost. Carry these in a place separate from your passport.
Is a visa required?
Entry into Chile and Argentina no longer requires an advance visa. You will only be asked to fill out an embarkation/disembarkation card. Chile does have a fee for their entrance cards which is paid in Santiago and is currently $100. However, you will be in transit while you are in Chile and therefore are not required to pay this fee unless you plan to leave the airport. An embarkation card and your passport are required for entry into Argentina.
In years past, US, Australian and Canadian citizens traveling to Argentina were required to pay a $160 reciprocity fee. As of January 1st, 2018, this reciprocity fee has been waived by the Argentine National Immigration Agency and no fee is required.
Again, please make sure your passport is current.
How do I get there?
Seats can sometimes be in short supply to South America and flight schedules can change frequently. Because of this, we encourage you to make your reservations early. You can fly on Lan Chile from MIA or LAX to Santiago and then with Lan Chile from Santiago to Mendoza.
The group will meet together officially on Day 2 of the trip itinerary at our hotel in Mendoza. Flight arrivals in Mendoza tend to be spread out which makes organizing a group shuttle next to impossible. For this reason, it's best to just grab a taxi upon your arrival in Mendoza and head to the hotel where you will be greeted by your lead guide. Taxi drivers will except USD and you can exchange your currency easily once you reach the hotel. Our guides arrive in Argentina one day before the group to take care of last-minute shopping and gear prep.
Remember, you are responsible for making all of your own flight arrangements.
What kind of insurance do I need?
We invest in insurance coverage for commercial liability and medical and disability insurance for our employees while participating on our programs. We cannot insure you for your personal needs, but we do expect you to be as fiscally responsible as we are. We require that you insure yourself against potentially expensive difficulties that may arise. First, Trip Cancellation Insurance may provide financial relief should you be forced to withdraw from the program before it even happens. Next, make sure you have adequate Travel Insurance for coverage should you have a problem during the trip. Medical care and evacuation in remote locations can be expensive. For more information, please see our page on cancellation, rescue/repatriation insurance or contact the IMG Office.
We again remind you that no insurance of any kind is provided for trip participants.
How should I pack?
Most of us will pack our gear in two duffle bags. Put your climbing pack in one of these bags. Most airlines limit checked luggage to two pieces each weighing no more than 50 lbs, depending on the airline. Use zip ties or TSA-approved locks to close the zipper tabs on your bags to prevent any pilfering. These are nice for your peace of mind. In addition to these two bags, it's nice to use a small backpack as your carry-on. Try to pick a carry-on that can also be used as your day pack for the 3-day trek into basecamp and the trek out at the end of the trip. Mules will carry all of our equipment to basecamp, so this backpack should be large enough to carry items similar to what you would bring for a day hike.
We also suggest that you purchase one of the many light money belts that are available or get one of the pouches that you can hang around your neck and place inside your shirt. This is a little safer way to carry your money and travel documents.
Get to the airport early and make sure your luggage gets checked through to the correct destination. Also, make sure that your flight connections aren't too tight. Lost luggage is a pain. Try to keep the number of connections to a minimum when you are making travel plans and use the same airline as much as possible. Leave expensive jewelry and watches at home. We would like everyone to have a wrist watch with an alarm along, they are quite handy. It's convenient to have a pen with you for filling in travel forms.
Although we will be wearing mountain clothing for the bulk of the expedition, bring along some casual clothing and nicer attire for meals out in Mendoza. Mendoza can be VERY warm so plan accordingly for the time spent there before and after our climb. Our accommodations in Mendoza have a pool, so don't forget a swim suit and flip-flops.
Gear, Food, and Other Questions
What kind of gear do I need?
The Aconcagua Equipment List is for your guidance. Most items are required, a few are optional. Please consider each item carefully and be sure you understand what its function is before you make any substitutions. Keep in mind that this list has been carefully compiled after years of Aconcagua experience. If you have questions, please call.
What will the food be like?
Breakfast, lunch and dinner will be provided to climbers for the first six days on the mountain, as well as the last two days after our summit attempt. While climbing above basecamp, IMG will provide breakfast and dinners and we ask each team member to bring his/her own snack food for in between these meals. (See what IMG guides like to snack on in the mountains.) The common phrase in the mountains is, "lunch starts after breakfast, and finishes right before dinner." These snacks will be used during the hours on the trail and summit day. You should plan on bringing 8-10 days' worth of snacks at about one pound per day. Hot drinks will be offered during group breakfasts and dinners which will include cocoa, tea, cider, coffee etc. Starbucks Via packets have become very popular in the mountains and if you're a big coffee drinker make sure to throw a few in.
Many food items will be brought down from the States, while other foods will be purchased in Argentina. Lower mountain menus, in particular, will be nicely supplemented with local foods. We will be accompanied on the trek into basecamp by local Gauchos (cowboys) who will prepare us a traditional Argentine Asado (bbq) of meats and vegetables over an open flame for our two nights in the Vacas Valley. Although Argentina is known for their beef, the Gauchos can prepare amazing vegetarian options as well with eggplants and squash. Individuals will be responsible for paying for their restaurant meals before and after our time on the mountain.
How much money should I bring?
Cash should be carried in the form of U.S. dollars. Well-known credit cards are also accepted at better business establishments throughout the world. Plan to take about $500 for spending money. This is likely more than you'll spend but it's always nice to have extra dollars.
You will also need to bring cash to pay for the Aconcagua permit that we will acquire in Mendoza prior to our expedition. The permit price for peak season in 2017/2018 was close to $900USD. We will let you know the expected permit fee for the 2018/2019 season when it becomes available to us. Bring crisp $100 bills to pay for your permit.
What is the weather like on Aconcagua?
Aconcagua is a mountain of extremes. Historically, the best weather windows for an ascent of Aconcagua are December through February. Extremely hot weather can be expected on the approach, in the arid high-desert climate of the Vacas Valley as well as the final walk out in the Horocones Valley after the climb. As the group ascends higher on the mountain, very cold and windy weather should be expected. Chill factors high on the mountain can be as cold as those encountered on Denali. Our required equipment list reflects these extremes which will allow the team to show up prepared and ready for all conditions.
What immunizations will I need?
No immunizations are currently required to enter Chile or Argentina. It is recommended that you consider the following:
- Tetanus/Diphtheria: There is no natural immunity to the tetanus toxin and since it is found throughout the world, immunization is a universal recommendation regardless of age. A combined tetanus/ diphtheria booster is available, good for ten years.
- Hepatitis Vaccine: New vaccines are available for both hepatitis A and B.
We recommend that you consult your physician, or visit the travel clinic at a major University Hospital or your local Public Health Department for the most up to date info on travel requirements. You can also check the Center for Disease Control website at www.cdc.gov.
What's included in the expedition fee?
Costs Included in Trip Fee:
- Guide fees
- Double accommodations in hotels (3 total nights in Mendoza, 1 in Penitentes)
- Shared accommodations in tents
- Group transportation
- Group equipment including stoves and fuel, ropes, cooking gear, group first aid kit, technical climbing equipment, radios, etc.
- Mule support for Plaza Argentina approach and final exit day
- One shared porter from C1, C2, and C3 to carry down group garbage and human waste.
- Meals while climbing except for snack items. Check out what guides prefer to eat in the mountains: guide snack tips. Mendoza has a wide variety of food shopping options but bring your favorite items from home.
Costs Not Included in Trip Fee:
- International airfare including airport taxes
- Aconcagua climbing permit (2018/2019 season estimated to be $900)
- Meals while not climbing
- Airport transfers in Mendoza
- Personal porters
- Personal clothing and climbing equipment included in the Aconcagua Gear List.
- REQUIRED Insurance: IMG requires that all international trip participants purchase Travel Insurance that includes coverage for medical evacuation, repatriation and medical expenses for the duration of their IMG program. Trip Cancellation Insurance is strongly recommended. Trekking and mountaineering programs are true "adventure travel."
- Guide gratuities