Can A Beginner Climb Aconcagua?
Updated: Jun 6, 2020
I say this with caution because it is a difficult question to answer without knowing who is asking it. In an ideal world, as a beginner, you should start with a lower altitude and work you way up but answering it from the perspective of a High Altitude Coach who has trained and prepared beginners for Aconcagua, I can happily say…
Yes, it is possible to climb Aconcagua without any prior experience, if you are willing to put in the time and effort it takes to truly prepare for such a big mountain and accept the consequences that it may not work out how you planned, simply because you don’t know how your body will respond to the altitude.
One example is my husband. I coached him and trained him over an eight-month period and helped him fully prepare for the adventure of a lifetime, with the understanding that his journey was by no means guaranteed. He fully accepted the consequences, both good and bad, and knew before he started that he wouldn’t know how his body reacted to altitude until he got there. If you’re interested in hearing his story, have a look at my book (“A Step-By-Step Guide To Mountaineering & Trekking Around The World”) where he shares his journey, along with seven other inspiring stories.
It is often frowned upon to skip the smaller peaks and jump straight to the highest mountain outside of Asia and I can understand that concern but at the end of the day, it is your decision and if you are willing to put the time and effort into preparing for it, then you absolutely can make it. My husband and several clients of mine are examples of that.
The unfortunate thing is that a lot of people, particularly beginners, fear altitude so they don’t even consider the possibility because they have already ruled success out. If you don’t ever try, how will you ever know what was possible and what wasn’t?
The thing is, you don’t store altitude experience. A mountain doesn’t know what altitude you have or haven’t been to before. That doesn’t mean to throw caution to the wind and go and attempt any mountain you see, but it does dilute the fear of altitude because even the best climbers in the world who have summited Everest can experience the ill effect of altitude on the lower peaks. It is not fear you should have for altitude it is respect. The affects of altitude don’t sneak up on you and surprise you and neither does altitude sickness. You will know when you’ve gained altitude and you will know when altitude sickness is knocking at your door.
There are 3 factors that make Aconcagua a huge challenge for the experienced mountaineer and even more so for a beginner:
Altitude - 6,962m
Duration – up to 21 days
Load – backpacks weighing between 15kg and 20kg
How To Best Overcome Those Three Factors And Give Yourself The Best Possible Chance Of Summiting:
You can’t outrain altitude but you can train in a mountain specific way so your body is as optimal conditioned for the conditions you will face on the mountain. This requires a dedicated and specific training plan. If you need help, read my book (link above in the third paragraph) or check out my Mountaineering & Trekking Training Program. I cannot stress this enough, you need to train and transform your body and mind for the task ahead. I often tell clients to imagine they were training for Everest. The magnitude of Everest is massive and although Aconcagua is not Everest, Aconcagua demands the same kind of respect and dedication from a beginner.
The longer you give yourself to train and prepare, the better. For a complete beginner, I would suggest between eight months to a year, depending on your current fitness levels. The climb is long, 21 days of hauling gear up and down the slopes at extreme altitude. The longer you have to prepare, the better your endurance will be and the better your ability to handle the 21 days.
As you build your endurance, you also improve your recovery speed. Having the base fitness and endurance that allows you to recover quickly is essential to your climb up Aconcagua. You’ll have many back-to-back trekking days and a handful of rest days. Give yourself as much time as possible to train and prepare, rather than rushing the decision to go and not having enough time to train and prepare. I suggest an average of 6 months for my clients to train for Aconcagua. You can checkout my latest "How To Train For Aconcagua" blog here, which includes a 6-Month training plan.
You will need to carry your backpack up and down countless times. During your training, you need to make a heavy backpack your best friend. If you’re walking the dog, take your pack, if you’re walking to the stores, take your backpack. The more time you give yourself to get used to the weight at sea level, the easier it will be at altitude. If it’s not easy or comfortable at sea level, its not going to get any better 12 days into your climb at 5,500m.
On a final note, if you are not going to fully dedicate yourself to preparing for Aconcagua or if you don’t have time to put 110% effort into it then don’t start with such a big mountain. You must be willing to give everything you have in your preparation so that you can give everything you’ve got at altitude.
If you can’t give your all from the comfort of your normal live at close to sea level then there is zero chance of you giving your all on and let me tell you… She requires your all.
Aconcagua is an incredible peak, and if you do give her your best then you absolutely can stand on her summit and breath the fresh, glorious air of a 6,962m peak, beginner or not.
Still need a bit of inspiration and courage? Read this blog: