A View of Aconcagua

Aconcagua, Andes, Argentina, Rio Horcones

Aconcagua Dawn : Prints Available

Aconcagua and the Rio Horcones valley at dawn. At a height of 6962m (22,841 ft.) Aconcagua is the highest mountain in the western hemisphere. Read more about the hike behind this photo here.

One of the reasons for heading through Mendoza on this trip was to photograph Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the western hemisphere. Though I have little desire to actually climb the peak, I was hoping to do some hikes in the valleys around the peak. Unfortunately, however, we discovered that the park is for all intents and purposes “closed” until mid-November… something about too much snow and a general getting tired of winter rescues.

So, with that option off the table, I researched the map, did some scouting on Google Earth, and decided that a good alternative plan would be to shoot a sunrise from Cerro Banderitas Sur, a 4184m peak across the valley to the south of Aconcagua park. It was quite an adventure to get up there… read more about it and see more photos below!

Rickety bridge over the Rio del las Cuevas, Argentina
Rickety bridge over the Rio del las Cuevas

Finding specific information about the conditions in the mountains around here was proving to be nearly impossible in Mendoza, as anybody who might know wanted to put us on one of their expensive tours instead of share information. So with almost no idea what to expect up there, we hopped on a bus to Penitentes, a little ski area along the pass that goes over the Andes into Chile. A 2km walk along the road brought us to this rickety bridge which led into the Penitentes valley.

Martian landscape near Penitentes, Argentina

I was imagining that we’d be full-on snow camping, but instead we were greeted by this dry and bleak Martian landscape in the north facing valley. My concerns about the snow were replaced by worries about the wind and whether our summer tent would hold up!

Refugio Grajales, Penitentes, Argentina

We could see on the map that there was a refugio (a hut) up in the valley, and were relieved to find that it was unoccupied and not locked. Though basically just a cement box with a makeshift bench inside, the protection from the wind was a total luxury! The tent would have been much colder, even if it could survive the relentless wind.

Cerro Penitentes, Argentina
Cerro Penitentes, Argentina

Most people who come here hike Cerro Penitentes, the 4356m mountain seen in the background. Our goal, however, was on the other side of the valley, and we spent our second day there doing a scouting hike to check out the route.

Hiking above Penitentes, Argentina

It’s a good thing we scouted the route because there was no way I’d have been able to find my way in the dark otherwise. We followed a ridge up to about 13,000 feet before getting to a dead end and turning back. I was able to scope out a different route up a snow-filled cirque that I would take to the top in the morning.

Sunrise light on Aconcagua, Argentina.
Sunrise light on Aconcagua, Argentina.

The next morning I woke up at 2:00am and started retracing our route in the dark. The temperature was brutally cold and I had to keep moving to stay warm, but go slow enough that I wouldn’t arrive too early and have to wait up top; it was way too cold to sit around – I would have frozen. Eventually I arrived at the 13,600 ft. saddle just as the dawn glow started illuminating the mountains. Though my fingers and toes were nearly numb, the sudden impressive sight of Aconcagua lifted my spirits greatly and I rushed to find a spot to set up the camera. As the sunrise light touched the summit of Aconcagua, I shot as many photos as my freezing fingers would allow, shivering but stoked to finally get my shot of the big peak!

19 thoughts on “A View of Aconcagua

  1. More amazing journeys and excellent images! It is a lot of fun to check in on a regular basis.

    Enjoy your time down south. Ned

    1. I stumbled upon this page, and the pictures are amazing! Surely this must be one of your best adventures yet! Hopefully you’ll be able to climb some other summits, but do whatever you wish! Can you tell me how the view from the summit looked? Thanks!

  2. Beautiful images…what a place….very different from the mountain here looks like! Love them..keep them coming..stay safe! 🙂

    1. After reading more Jack…what an inspiring story…

      Though my fingers and toes were nearly numb, the sudden impressive sight of Aconcagua lifted my spirits greatly and I rushed to find a spot to set up the camera. As the sunrise light touched the summit of Aconcagua, I shot as many photos as my freezing fingers would allow, shivering but stoked to finally get my shot of the big peak!

      I think we photographers, find our inspiration and joy in moments like these and everything else, like waking up at the crazy hours of morning, long hikes, etc, etc,..becomes tolerable!

  3. Jack,

    Awesome, first post! Aconcagua is one of those mountains that I feel like would leave you in such awe. I can imagine that was the experience for you. Apparently there was a 6.2 earthquake in Argentina…did you guys feel it at all? You guys OK? I think it may have been north of you. Anyways, let us all know that you guys are OK when you can. Keep up the posts!

    1. Thanks Jackson. The high, dry country around Aconcagua is unique, to say the least. I imagine it like the Nevada desert but with huge glaciated mountains. Pretty bleak place.

  4. Great views of the big A and nice work getting in position for the sweet light. Every climber’s account tells of miserable cold and your backstory sent a shiver down my spine. Staying tuned for the next Jack and Claudia post…

  5. Awesome Jack!
    And it is even more impressive after reading what you have to go through to get these shots!
    Take care mate!

  6. We are planning a trip for mid-November 2014. We planning on taking the bus from Santiago to Mendoza. Do you know if it would be possible to stop in Penitentes for a night (in a hotel) on the way (hop off the bus and hop on the next day) and would we be able to see some of those stunning views by doing just a day hike into the valley? Is there a marked trail after the bridge?

    1. Hi Shari, when we were there in early October, it was kind of a ghost town – the bigger ski hotels were shut down, but there was one little hostel or pension where I’m pretty sure we could have stayed the night and had meals. Also the busses stop there on a schedule so yes you could get off there and on the next day… just be sure you know when the busses come! As for views, if you want to get up high and get a big view of Aconcagua like the top photo above, that would be a very very long day hike… possibly too long for one day, especially considering acclimatization factors. The trail is not really marked, but it is easy enough to follow, at least up to the little hut. The terrain is so huge there that with a map it is pretty obvious where you need to go.

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