Aconcagua Expedition The Kit

These are the high mountain top tips I picked up from the gurus:

- Aconcagua is going to be very hot until base camp, then VERY cold and getting colder;
- Let mules pass on the tracks (they don't stop)
- For $3 you can get a mule to carry you across the thigh deep glacial river (why does anyone wade it?? People were literally crying on the video footage)
- My 30-year-old ice axe will do the job fine, even if it is vintage
- Keep water bottles upside down, to stop the lid freezing (my personal favourite)
- 3 pairs of gloves are essential (thick, thicker, thickest) and at 6000m+ never take your gloves off, even inside the tent
- Take plenty of your favourite boiled sweets to stop your throat drying out in the rarified air
- Alcohol and salt don't mix with high altitude; and NEVER drink super-cooled water as it'll want to leave immediately through any available orifice
- On summit day you'll need an extra 1.5 hours to get ready as everything slows down enormously up there

Top tips

Kit Reviews

Berghaus (or "mountain house") does what it says on the tin... A whole lot of mountain gear. A week before my trip to Aconcagua - a 3 week hike to the highest mountain in the western hemisphere - I was still lacking a decent pair of trekking trousers. This was starting to bother me when OutdoorGB recommend I try the new Berghaus Taboche Women's Trousers. These are soft shell, windproof, and made with shower-proof-yet-breathable Gore Tex 'infinium'. They got what might be described as "a decent thrashing" in the extreme conditions on Aconcagua - high winds, huge temperature fluctuations (-30 to +35), excessive dust and scree, blizzard snow and horseback river crossing, all whilst carrying a large rucksack. The zipped mesh protected vents running from hip to knee were fantastic for temperature control, and when it was colder I wore merino leggings underneath which worked well. These trousers look great (and shed a lot of dirt), are amazingly comfortable (I barely took them off) and when I got home and washed them they looked like new. Anything I'd change: I was surprised they didn't come with a webbing clip belt, which I had to borrow from some other trousers; and the Berghaus size chart guided me to a size 12 which I had to send back and get the size 10 which is my normal size. Other than that, these are tough trousers perfect for tough terrain. Happy hiking!

It was only a few weeks before I set off for Aconcagua that I discovered Sea to Summit did more than long handled camping spoons (great for digging the remnants from a rehydrated meal pouch, by the way) and brightly coloured collapsible bowls. Thanks to Outdoor GB's recommendation of a Sea to Summit Alpine III sleeping bag I was fearless in the face of minus 30, which we experienced several times in the upper camps. I can honestly say that looking forward to zipping myself into this ultra warm bag kept me going through many a chilly acclimatisation day. With the tent madly flapping in the raging wind, this sleeping bag's down-baffled zips, hood and neck warmer, not to mention the huge downy loft, ensured a snug night's rest. This was helped of course by the Sea to Summit Etherlite "mattress", a full 10cm of air and down insulation between me and the rocky ground below. NB my top tip for inflating this mat is to simply hold the pump sack into a howling gale to fill it, rather than using your own valuable oxygen.

Plus points of the Alpine III: super warmth to weight ratio (a 1.99kg bag with a -40 warmth rating); awesome roomy yet snug shape and super warm hood; cheerful bright red colour; handy stuff sack; 100% "responsible down standard" and hydrophobic filling.

Could improve only by choice of bag length e.g. for smaller people (as per available in the Etherlite mat, which also comes in a woman specific shape).

Overall this is a top notch sleeping bag that got me through 17 consecutive nights of extreme camping at ultra cold high altitude. Would highly recommend.

Before my adventure to Aconcagua I have to confess to not owning any kit from Swiss brand Mammut. I've perhaps always regarded it as a bit elitist, surely for much better mountaineers than me! However, needs must; if you are going to be facing the extreme conditions presented by Aconcagua, it's only sensible to "spec up", as it were. So OutdoorGB's recommended pick of the Eiger Extreme range of waterproof jacket and trousers sounded exactly what was required, supplemented by Mammut's windproof balaclava (described as "essential" on my kit list) and the funky knitted Norwand beanie.

I first tried out the "Norwand Advanced hooded jacket" and "Norwand Pro hard-shell pants" (aka 'trousers') in a blizzard in Scotland. My hiking companion on that day was very glad I'd selected the 'Sunset' colour - a bright orangy pink - so he could spot me in the white-out. To be honest I hadn't really intended to go top-to-toe 'Sunset', but the Black pants had run out in my size. Turns out I love the orange trousers! I wore them most days on Aconcagua over a couple of other layers, they were vital in fending off the super-strong Andean winds. They have great inner ankle protection against crampon scuffing, and a plethora of features like 'snow skirts', a secure sliding stud fastening at the waist, a high waist back to keep out drafts, removable braces and are very comfortable to wear with the jacket and a 15 kilo rucksack. I ordered a size up to give room for thick layers underneath. The jacket has a more crinkly feel than I expected, but fantastic at temperature regulation. The hood is excellent at keeping out wind and snow, and the roomy chest pockets stay accessible when wearing a harness or rucksack.

So, bottom line - is this outfit worth the, let's face it, rather 'Extreme' price tag? These are not the lightest weight waterproofs you can buy, but for the extreme conditions they were tested in, their resilience and the protection they offer - it's outstanding. Also, as well as mountaineering they will be awesome for ski-touring, my second favourite activity.

I wore only 2 items of footwear on my 3 week expedition to Aconcagua, both of them Scarpa and both of them absolutely brilliant: the Scarpa Manta Pro - the robust stiff-soled trekking classic; and the frankly stylish double-walled Phantom 6000, for extreme cold at altitude. From the road, the trek in and out of Aconcagua's two basecamps circumnavigates the mountain and takes 4 days covering about 80km. This is rough rocky walking, mainly very dry and dusty, sometimes steep, with some wading across often chocolate brown rivers. The SMPs were totally at home on this terrain - the grippy sole and ankle support gives a lot of confidence and protection from sharp rocks and awkward boulders, particularly when load carrying. The handy lace locks mean there is no loosening off in support over the course of the day. The boots were 100% waterproof when stepping through river channels. At times we were walking in 35 degree heat in the approach valleys and I found these boots good at regulating temperature.

Scarpa sizing comes up slightly small; my normal shoe size is 38/39, whereas I wore a size 41 in Scarpa. This enabled me to fit a liner and trekking sock and still have plenty room in the toe box, important for downhill walking. These boots are slightly heavier than some alternatives but I didn't really notice this, and for the extra confidence and foot support they provide is very much worth it.

After Basecamp it is compulsory on Aconcagua to use a double walled boot designed specifically for high altitude and cold. In the past there have been too many cases of frostbite, so the National Park rangers now insist on this basic protection for everyone. The Scarpa Phantom 6000 are ideal. After some initial teething problems with blisters on my UK training hikes I was a little nervous about spending too much time in them. However I needn't have worried. Once they were on they were in their element. The inner bootee is extremely comfortable and makes an excellent tent shoe. It is easy to put on the outer boot and secure it with laces, the unique off-set zip and a stud fastening. Again, the sole and ankle support offered by these boots is outstanding, and my feet never felt cold. It was easy to fit crampons (Grivel 12 point), providing a lot of confidence and security on ice. The boots look fantastic and got a number of compliments. Unfortunately one of the outer zips split slightly, which I put down to the dusty conditions. I cleaned it and fixed the problem, but application of some silicon zip gel might help to avoid this in future. Overall a great boot and I can't wait to use them again!