This was my first solo trip abroad as well as my first time at altitude so obviously I messed some stuff up. Okay, I messed up a lot of stuff. Here is my attempt to help you sort out the logistics. I will not focus on the climbing as there are lots of other trip reports which do a great job of this. Hope you enjoy the most boring trip report in history!
Here is the general outline with details in each section below:
There are a few options for this but most will have a layover in Santiago, Chile. The flight I booked made me get my luggage and go through customs in Santiago and re-check it for the flight to Mendoza. Not sure if this was just because it was a cheap ticket or what, but something to keep in mind.
I needed to check 2 bags and it cost a lot. Seems like airlines are getting crazier about fees and weights. So make sure you add baggage online before your flight as it is cheaper than just showing up with extra.
You can take a bus from Santiago to Mendoza for cheaper than a flight but standard South American bus rules apply, always be on guard of your baggage.
Few helpful places in Mendoza:
Hipermercado is the best grocery store
El Refugio Mountain shop with white gas or butane
Hostels are cheap for a single locking room ($20 per night) or hotel ($40)
Simple right? Nope. If you are using a logistics company for mules go to their office first as they have papers you need to get the permit.
The mule services are usually priced as one way! So what I thought was $450 for mules turned out to be $900. Make sure you book round trip if you are not planning to bring lots of cash with you on the mountain. Lanko let me pay by credit card when I got back to their place. I heard one story how some company wants you to pay on the mountain in cash and these girls didn’t have any. So basically just ask about round trip prices and how & when they expect payment.
The company will enter you into the park service website and give you a print out of your permit price. I think it varies by approach but for me to go in via vacas was around $950 usd. This translated to 36,000 something pesos.
The price will vary based on your form of cash payment. Paying in USD vs Pesos will end up with a different price. I think it’s slightly more to pay in usd but who knows.
So I just go to an ATM and take out the pesos right? Nope. The ATMs have a daily limit of 12,000 pesos and a single transaction limit of 4,000. The ATMs charged around $5 per transaction which adds up quickly. There are two different ATM networks (Banelco and LiNK) of regardless of bank. So you can take out 24,000 per day if you do it right. Luckily I had an extra day in Mendoza so I could wait for the daily limit to reset, which is 24hrs after your last transaction, at least for my bank.
Ok so now that you have the pesos you need to go to a “Pago Facil” place to pay the permit cost. These are all over, just look for the same logo that is on the printout. They are basically a bill payment center type outfit. Once you pay in pesos or dollars they will give you a receipt of payment. You need this for the next step of the process so make sure you get one.
So now you can actually get your permit. Google maps will take you to the beginning of a park. Follow signs for the information center and there will be a small sign for Aconcagua. They will put all the papers together and print out your official permit.
This is worth the small hassle to save a lot of cash by taking the bus ($3) vs having a logistics company drive you ($100 or more). You can buy a ticket in advance for the same price, which I recommend, or buy right before the bus at the station. The bus from Mendoza leaves early around 6am. I was able to get my hostel to call a taxi for me to the station. It’s was about a 15 minute trip and cost $3. Definitely worth it with all my gear. The bus makes a few stops and then you are either at for the vacas approach or horcones for the regular approach. Then you find your logistics company and they will weigh your bags and get them ready for mules. They will also drive you to the trailhead with whatever pack you want to take with you for the trek.
By now most of all your logistical nightmares are over. The ranger will check your permit and give you a numbered bag for trash. They will give you the rundown in Spanish but not so well in English. Basically you have to check in at each stop along the way. For the Vacas route this is pampas de lenas, casa de piedra and basecamp. They just sign your permit. At basecamp they will give you an orange bag for turds above basecamp. There are toilets at basecamp. In fact there is practically anything you want at basecamp if you have cash to pay for it.
As a side note I’m not a trekking pole kind of guy and hardly ever use them. But you definitely want 2 of them for the trek as the terrain is pretty awful. They are also really nice to have for load carrying.
I initially planned to climb the polish glacier direct solo. The rangers do not want you to do this and will try to scare you off. They will want you to have a uhf radio so you can be in contact with them if something goes wrong. Buy one before you get to Acon. I went around to see if I could rent one and none of the companies really have any extras. One guy was going to give me his extra for $150 for a few days. I told him I needed to think about it. They don’t really rely on satellite messenger there so a radio is good to have no matter which route you do. The altitude was harder than I initially thought and I abandoned the direct solo for the flaso polacos traverse. Here is a quick daily summary:
"Polacos" is the traditional camp 2. My camp 2 is shown by the red waypoint "Camp 2".
When you return to base camp you need to turn in the orange turd bag to the rangers. Then they will sign your permit yet again. You will also need to give the white garbage bag to your logistics company and have them sign your permit as well.
Check with your logistics company about mules back down. Seemed like they are never really sure how many mules are coming that next day so you may or may not get your stuff on a mule. I waited an extra day at basecamp. Later I realized I didn’t have to do this and could have gone to pampas, see below. If you are not with a guiding company they will put you as a last priority.
For the vacas trek most will head from basecamp to Pampas de Lenas in one day and then back to the trailhead the next day. The mules will take your bags directly to Penitentes that same day. So if you plan to stay in Pampas bring everything you need (tent, sleeping bag, food) because you will not have access to your bags.
If you are in a rush to get out you can go from basecamp to the trailhead in a single day around 21 miles. I did this because I really wanted to get out and it was not fun. It took me 10 hours. River crossings and sand in your shoes mixed with the loose dirt and scree makes for a long day. Once at the trailhead the ranger will check your permit for the final time and call your logistics company to come and pick you up. Depending on what time of day you get out you may have to wait for the mules with your bags.
I stayed a night in Penitentes because I did not feel like getting on a bus and booking a hotel. I stayed at the Lanko Refugio and it was $45 for dinner, bed and breakfast the next morning. They also gave me a short ride to the bus station with all my bags.
I hadn’t booked a return flight so I wound up staying 2 days in Mendoza eating steak and drinking wine. Get a taxi from your hotel it’s only about $3.