On the Normal route a two day walk (overnight at Confluencia) will get you to a large basecamp (Plaza de Mules 13,500 feet approx). Stay on the left side as you enter camp (many loose bolders make there way down on the right side). Your second camp is Camp Canada at 16,200 approx. This is a good acclimatization stop but has limited space sometimes. Some people continue up to Nido des Condores (approx 18,000 feet). This is a large area but can be very exposed to the wind and elements. This is also a very big push from basecamp at 13,500 feet. This can break a lot of people. Your third camp is at Berlin (19,300 feet approx). From here you can go to the summit easily if you have acclimitized well. I use the word easily loosely, most of you will know what I mean. Non technical but a real slog in scree.
Day one- Puenta del inca to Confuencia. 3-4 hours
Day two- Confluencia to base camp. 6-7 hours sometimes longer
Day three- Rest day
Day four- Carry to Camp Canada 5-6 hours
Day five- Move up to Camp Canada
Day six- Rest day
Day seven- Carry to Berlin 5-6 hours
Day eight- Move up to Berlin 5-6 hours
Day nine- Rest day and trail exploration
Day ten- Summit day 8-12 hours round trip
Day eleven- Clean up camp and decend to basecamp.
Day twelve- Arrange mules and walk out to Puenta del Inca or Confluencia
Day thirteen- Walk-out if you camped at Confluencia
Note: Add extra summit days for bad weather
The route to base camp follows a mule trail with loose rock on the trail in some places. Bridges have been built at most of the major river crossings. So the walk in is a fairly easy trail. You will cross many finger streams on day two. So sandals are useful. At the end of day two you will ascend a glacier to the final 1/2 hour to Plaza des Mules (base camp). From here to Camp Canada you follow a series of switchbacks up passed two gendarmes and camp on the overhang. To Berlin again it is a series of switchbacks to Nido des Condores (18,000 ft.) across an open area the up more switchbacks to Berlin. To the summit from here it means following the switchback trail to Independencia then up over the hill in front (switchbacks again) to the base of the Canaleta which is the final 1000 ft. A scree slope which has turned back may. Keep to the right and follow the trail. If you are lucky there may be some snow that you can crampon up to the summit. Try to be off by 14:00 hrs as the clouds can build up in the afternoon.
Here is a brief list for you. This is approximately what I take.
1-pair of shorts for the walk in
2-pair t-shirts for the walk in
2-bandanas or a sun hat too keep off the sun
Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen plus zinc
Good sturdy Hiking shoes
1-sleeping bag (as warm as you can get)
1-sleeping pad (your choice the more confortable you are the better you sleep the more energy you will have) you can get a Crazy Creek chair that goes with your pad this is a good investment.
2-expedition weight Patagonia long underwear tops (or 1 depends on how dirty you like to be)
1-expedition weight Patagonia long underwear bottom
1 lightweight fleese bottom 1-heavy weight Patagonia or similar fleese jacket
1-Gortex shell jacket
1-Gortex shell pants (full length zippers)
1-Down filled jacket liner from Feathered Friends of Seattle, (optional but I always end up using it)
1-Downfilled Gortex guides Parka 1-Warm hat with ear flaps
2-pair of heavy dury mittens (inc ase you lose one up high)
1-pair fleese gloves 1-pair ski gloves
1-pair of Koflach double plastic boots, One Sport ($$$) or Asolo (I think Koflach are better)
1-pair of gaitors
1-pair ski poles
1-ice axe (mostly for digging tent platforms)
1-pair of sharp crampons (test them on your boots before you leave and make sure they fit perfectly)
1-headlamp with extra batteries
1-cup with spoon attached
1- stove of your choice (I use Markhill stormy hanging stone with Blueway cartridges, you can get fuel in Chile or Argentina as it is difficult to fly down) allow 10 canisters per 2-man tent. You can also get white gaz easily.
1-tent (you can bring two if you wish and leave one set up at base camp in case one of you has to stay down for any reason. Food for 12-15 days. If in doubt go with less rather than more as your appetite will decrease at the higher camps. You can fo a price purchase food at basecamp after January 1st. 3-1-litre waterbottles each (drink at least 5 litres a day to help acclimitise)
There is a permanent medical tent with up to four doctors at basecamp. Their services are free. You are now required to take a physical. They will take your blood pressure, listen to your lungs, and measure your pulse oxygen levels. If you do not measure up you will not be allowed to travel higher. At this moment in the permit office in Mendoza there is a sign warning that the use of Diamox is prohibited. The warning includes the message that the doctors have the right to send you packing if they find you are using this medication. If you intend on using Diamox, you have been advised. This presents a problem IMHO. The doctors at the camp will ask you what medications you are taking. To make an informed diagnosis on anyone's condition requires truthful disclosure from the patient. So if you keep it quiet they can't do their job. It is not the intention of this web site to advise you of what course to take on this. It is up to you.
There are regular helicopter visits at Plaza des Mulas and Plaza Argentina usually in the morning. This makes for quick transport out for people suffering from altitude sickness and thus improves safety. If the doctor is sending you out in an emergency the helecoper is free. Otherwise you will incure the costs.
Theft can be a problem on the mountain especially on the routa normale. Keeping your stuff locked in your tent at basecamp while away is good advice. Up higher I have witnessed boots being stolen at Berlin forcing a retreat in sneakers by a would be summiter. Don’t leave items lying around. It only increases temptation. Rangers are of great help in safeguarding your gear at basecamp awaiting pickup by mules on the way out. It is advisable though to leave one person in charge until pickup is made.