Mercedario is the 8th highest peak in South America. The surrounding area is a pristine place. Very special, very out of the way (and I mean out of the way). I saw only one other climber when I was there in 1993. And that was when we were leaving. Summit has a similar scree slope as Aconcagua for the last 800 feet. But other than that the normal or Inca route was a long scramble. Made more difficult at with heavy loads at altitude of course!
Information from Corax
Date: Apr 25, 2005 06:25 AM
John Biggar's peak list is probably the best around as it is regularly updated and cross referencing SRTM/GPS gives you an elevation that is very close to the real one.
In the latest edition of his list Mercedario is 6700m. I met some climbers who had summited the mountain and they were disappointed because their GPS-readings had shown "just below 6700m".
In order of difficulty here are some routes:
The West Wall:
Three camps within the wall, rock and ice climbing, a good approaching route is to cross the "Peine" through the "Valle del Colorado" Caballito Glacier: or East Face, marvellous glacier, two camps.
The South Face:
A constant 45 degrees ramp, one camp in the "Mesada", good as descending route to "Valle del Colorado". El Peine: or south ridge, rock climbing, three camps.
West Ridge:The fastest route, one camp, dip slope Polish route: never repeated since 1934. Is a variant of the normal one.
Normal route: or "Incas" route
Easy walking, but quite long, three camps.
Fly to Mendoza Argentina.
There is an issue if you go through customs at Santiago airport there is a good chance that you will have all meat and dairy products from your expedition food confiscated upon entering Chile. Stay in transit and take a short (45 min) flight on Lan Chile or Aerolinas Argentina to Mendoza, Argentina. This will allow you to keep your food, get your permits, possibly see Aconcagua from the air as they fly close to it at times, and save the 100$ U.S. tax Chile imposes on all Americans, Canadians, (and others). Chile has made things difficult for climbers (particularly those on a budget) with this tax and with the food issue.
It is recomended to fly to Mendoza as direct as possible.
For flights try.
Aerolineas Argentinas - USA - Home Page
Mendoza to Barreal
Hire tranportation from Mendoza to the mountain. The trip to Barreal is about 4 hours. Anibal at www.donmercedario.com can do the transportation, though this is not cheap. You can take a bus to Barreal, but you have to go to San Juan first (2 hours). The bus from San Juan to Barreal should take about 5 hours and may not operate frequently as Barreal is a very small town. Some helpful people can be found at the Andismar bus company in Mendoza. Claudia Yanzon is who to ask for. She can speak English and has connections in Barreal with those who deal with climbers.
You can easily head directly to the trailhead from Mendoza in a day, or you can stop for a final night in civilization in the sleepy town of Barreal. Stay at the main hotel The Hotel Barreal or Posada San Migual (sorry for the spelling). Very old house with courtyard but very cosy pleasent but sometimes nonexistant owners. Arrange mules either with the help of the hotel staff of the military whose base is located just up the street. As of 2007, there is also a nice hostel called Don Lisandro in Barreal. The young guys that work there can also do tranportation to the mountain.
Information from Uwe Krause
Contact: Ramón Gerónimo One double room were 30 US$, this means 15 US$ per person. It was not bad. But it was before the finance crisis. Uwe got his mules via Anibal Maturano Mercedario trips and mules
- but you can ask for Renzo Herrera in Barreal. He lives close to a small museum. But there should be also other people with mules. One mule to Valle del Colorado cost 160 US$.
Barreal to the trailheads
Its about 3 hours from Barreal to the shelter at Laguna Blanca (for normal, north route) by truck on a road that is steep and dangerous. For the south face route, you only have to go about half this drive to get to drop off point at Santa Ana, which is at the base of the Valle del Colorado. Hire a good driver who has done this route before. Make sure that the truck has four wheel drive can handle the rough terrain to the drop off point at Laguna Blanca. Arrange for a pick up and make sure you are there on time. Otherwise they will not wait for you on your return. The road is controlled and maintained by the mining company (see "red tape" below) and you will probably see convoys of mining trucks go by.
It is not uncommon for the road to be washed out. There was a massive flood in late 2005 that cut off access to the north route. As of December 2007, the road is open all the way to the Laguna Blanca shelter at 3100 meters, where the climb of the north, normal route starts. This is a logical and reasonably comfortable place to spend the first night for normal (north) route climbers and can be driven to from Mendoza fairly easily in a day, assuming you leave Mendoza in the morning. Before the 2005 floor and the subsequent road upgrade, you would have to start climbing from a place called El Molle, which is almost 1000 meters further down the valley. The new, improved road access is a tremendous advantage for normal (north) route climbers, as this leaves only an easy two hour hike to the common base camp at Guanaquitos. Therefore, it may make sense to establish a higher base camp, such as at Los Colorados a few hundred meters above Guanaquitos, particularly if you are paying for mules and want to get your money's worth.
T. Thatcher reported in July 2003 that access to Mercedario is controlled by the mining company that owns and maintains the road from Las Juntas onwards is requiring permission to use the road. This is due to the resumption of exploration operations at the mine that is much further up the road past Mercedario. They are a little paranoid of damage to equipment, etc. The border post at Las Juntas where you cross a bridge over the Los Patos river controls the access to the road. As of December 2007, you have to sign a form and show your passport at this station. If you are heading up the Valle Colorado, you need to repeat this process with the Gendarmeria at Santa Ana, where the hike in starts. Climbers have used Anibal's services at www.donmercedario.com and recommend using his services. If you are going to the north route, the road does not go the Santa Ana Gendarmaria and Anibal indicated it is not necessary to check in with them at all.
When To Climb
Mule providers and outfitters
Mercedario mules and trips
This provider is recommended. Check out his website for trip and contact information.
Casa Orviz can arrange everything for you from Mendoza (transport, equipment, mules...).
CASA ORVIZ; Juan B Justo 532; Tel. / Phone 0054 261 4251281; 5500 MENDOZA - ARGENTINA
www.orviz.com; [email protected]; [email protected]
Expediciones Ossa (Barreal) can arrange everything for Mercedario (Ramon Luis Ossa, TeleFax 0264-8441004; [email protected]).
Lodging in Barreal
Another contact in Barreal, with an amazing view of the Meredario, is the Dona Pipa Cabanas. These cabins are owned and operated by Ramón Ossa, an extraordinarily friendly fellow with an amazing knowledge of the Cordilleras. The Dona Pipa cabins are clean, comfortable, and very affordable. They also serve as the base of operations for Ramón's adventure tourism company, Fortuna Viajes. Because of this, you may also be able to coordinate transportation to El Mercedario through Ramón. I just stayed in the cabins for 10 days and was thoroughly impressed - there is no other place I would stay in the area! Contact information can be found at www.fortunaviajes.com.ar
Anibal's web site has possible schedules: www.donmercedario.com
Mercedario is almost as high as Aconcagua so you should plan for a similar amount of time for acclimatization and extra days for bad weather (high winds). The short approach for the northern route may allow you to save a day or two compared to the much longer hike in to the south face.
Here is a brief list for you.
3-1-litre waterbottles with insulators (drink at least 5 litres a day to help acclimatize)
Avoiding Altitude sickness
There’s not much you can do to prevent this problem, but there are ways of alleviating its effects. The key to doing this is simple: take it easy. Take a day or two before beginning the walk in to acclimatize yourself to the elevation. Go at your own pace, and don’t take chances. Even if you’re in excellent shape, don’t be fooled. The lack of oxygen at such high altitudes can definitely throw your lungs for a loop. Walk at a comfortable, slow pace and don’t carry too much weight. Make sure to hydrate yourself regularly, drinking 4 to 5 liters (nalgene bottles) of water per day; On some climbs camelbacks can be mountain companions because of their convenient water portability. The only problem being keeping the nozzle clean, I find they can get gross and need constant cleaning. Myself, I attach a 1 litre Nalgene bottle to each side of my backpack so that I can reach them easily without removing my pack. These solutions would have to be modified to suit the weather and conditions of climbing Ama Dablam. Bottles would have to be insulated and the tube from the camelback could tend to freeze up. Taking antioxidant vitamins (A, C, and E) also helps reduce the effects of high altitudes. Of course working out before you go is another great preventative measure. While this doesn’t guarantee an easier time when up high, it can enhance your lungs’ ability to cope with the challenges of high elevations.
Try to spread out your ascent over a period of two or three days to give your body more time to adapt. Play by the “climb-high, sleep-low” theory of ascent: go on a short hike to a higher elevation, then return to the (lower) elevation at which you’ll sleep.
Physical fitness, as mentioned above, is no guarantee against developing altitude sickness. Past excursions to high elevations without developing symptoms is similarly no guarantee against getting sick. There’s no way to predict who is more susceptible to altitude sickness, although climbers who overexert themselves, those who are panting or breathless, and those who stagger far behind the rest of the group are likely candidates.
Surefire signs of impending illness include extreme fatigue, headache,
loss of appetite, and shortness of breath. If you experience any of these symptoms, the best thing to do is take a break from climbing for a couple days to acclimatize. Once the symptoms disappear, it’s safe for you to continue. If the symptoms persist or get worse, you should descend to a lower elevation.
More serious levels of the illness include increasing tiredness, severe headaches, vomiting, and loss of coordination, and are indicative of acute mountain sickness (AMS). If such symptoms appear, don’t hesitate to get immediate medical attention. If serious symptoms go ignored for more than 12 hours, they could have dire--even fatal--effects, such as accumulation of fluid in the lungs or brain. The most important symptom of AMS is loss of coordination. If someone staggers or walks in a drunken gait, check them out for further signs of AMS. A good test is, essentially, the police’s test for drunkenness--ask the person to walk in a straight line, placing one foot directly in front of the other without staggering or losing balance. If the person cannot perform, he or she should descend immediately--and never alone. Go slowly and without exertion, and ideally while it’s light outside. Descend should continue until symptoms begin to decrease; relief usually occurs within 1,000 to 1,500 feet.
There are prescription drugs out there that you can take for severe symptoms. One of the most common is called Diamox; it works by stimulating your breathing. Diamox is a strong medication and has some slight side effects, such as an annoying tingling in the fingers and toes. You will urinate more frequently so getting out of the tent at night in a storm could be a problem (if you don’t use a pee bottle). This will also necessitate you dringing more fluids to compensate. If you take too much I have seen people get very ill. I avoid taking it if if I can.
Here are breakfast, lunch and dinner suggestions
Bag of cereal
Box of raisins
Small tinned fruit
Piece of cheese
or Coffee or tea
Breakfast bar granola
Bag of mixed nuts
Piece of cheese
Tin of salmon or tuna or ham or sardines
Cup of soup(s)
Freeze dried dinner
or tin or foil pouch of beans
Small tinned fruit
Tea or Hot chocolate
Peanut Butter tubes
Bag of mixed nuts
Piece of cheese
Dried apricots or similar
Squeeze gels (Energy)
Local food for the walk to base camp
Bread or rolls
Hard boiled eggs
Oranges and Apples
The next chore then is organizing your food into lodgical packs for transporting to base camp and each of the higher camps. This will depend on how many days you have set aside to do the mountain. I tend to break things down to 3-day packs (3-breakfast, 3-lunches/snacks, three dinners). But single day packs combined into stuff sacks works well too.
Trip report and photos from my climb of Mercedario