Train before you go
If you think you’ll get fit on the walk-in, think again. Not only is Aconcagua a big height gain for many people, but it’s also the first load carrying expedition for most.
I’d say the best way to train for carrying a rucksack, is to wear a rucksack. I spend most of my time fell running with only a bum bag, so although I have the “hill strength” it’s not really helpful when you put the heavier pack on. To overcome this I prepare by walking, first with a lighter pack and then slowly beginning to increase the weight. The easiest way to do this is with water, especially if you are combining it with going up hills, that way when you get the top you can pour the water out to save your knees on the way back down.
Think about big days out, and consecutive days out, it’s about time on your feet. I find long slow runs or cycles work best. Coming to the Weekend Meets is a great way to train, as well as ask questions, or our Scottish Courses also help with training whilst learning the winter skills needed for Aconcagua.
Get the right rucksack
Does it fit you and does it fit all the kit you need in it? Carrying the extra weight is much easier with a good fitting rucksack, and make sure you try on the pack with weight in it. I use the Mountain Hardware South Col. Also make sure that you can fit everything on the kit list in it, without having everything hanging off the pack. Learn how to pack it – I make sure everything is always in the same place, top pocket for any emergency stuff (gloves, hat, sun tan lotion) and things I will use that day. Then at the top of the main pack I put my extra layers to pull on and my goretex. I use compression/dry bags, trying hard to keep them so I know what’s in each. Even if your pack is waterproof you should use dry bags inside, as if water gets in either from a wet jacket or leaving the lid open when you are trying to retrieve things then everything gets wet. Nobody wants a wet sleeping bag.
Get yourself mentally prepared
Windy, dusty, staying in tents, collecting ice, boiling water, peeing in the wilderness and pooing in bags; this is not a list of negative things about Aconcagua, it’s a reality. Get yourself mentally prepared about it before you go and accept that these things are just part of the climb. A little bit of preparation and practice will go a long way to help.
Remember to close your tent doors fully to try to stop the dust coming in, gather ice early to use later rather than leaving it until it’s cold when the sun goes down. Take a pee bottle (and funnel if you need it) into your tent, this saves getting out of the tent at night. I have a little stuff sack in the top pocket of my rucksack and then in the tent pocket at night, I store the poo bags, wet wipes, toilet roll and hand sanitiser, then you always know where it is if you need to go.
I organise my tent the same way each night and get into a routine, just like I would at home. I roll my down jacket up into my fleece as my pillow, it is really comfy and it’s ready if I have to go out the tent for any emergencies. I have everything to hand I may need during the night: torch, water, a cereal bar and just in case a couple of headache tablets. That way you don’t need to rummage through everything to get to them and you won’t wake up your tent mate.
Get the right gear
You don’t always have to have the lightest weight kit, but sometimes it helps. You should also make sure and test your kit; if you know your kit works, then you don’t need to take multiples of each item.
Primaloft trousers are my favourite piece of gear! Obviously great for summit day, but also great for sitting getting dinner ready, or if you have to nip out the tent in the night!
Down booties – These are great for when you get to the tent, you can take your sweaty socks off and they can dry in the tent and then you can use the down booties in your double boot instead of the inner.
Big mitts and hot pads – I get cold hands, so for summit night I pop hot pads in my mitts while I’m having breakfast and then they are toastie for when I head off. Because I already know my gear I don’t bother even trying with bigger gloves now I just reach straight for the big mitts on summit night, but everyone is different.
Little things make a big difference
Nalgene bottles – These are easiest to fill with boiling water and when you keep it inside your down jacket it’s like a hot water bottle (if you trust it you can even put it inside your sleeping bag – MAKE SURE IT’S SEALED!)
Thermos Flasks – If you boil water before going to the summit you can leave it in your thermos flask ready for getting back down.
Bring everything inside – Make sure you bring your stove, gas, boots etc inside your tent at night – you’ve not got time to thaw these out, especially on summit night.