Aconcagua preparation program for fitness and mental strengths

My Aconcagua preparation program contained both a fitness and mental training plan. In addition I studied many trip reports from experienced climbers like Alan Arnette and did an extensive research on the gear for Aconcagua expedition.

YouTube videos have been an essential part of my Aconcagua preparation

As I didn’t have any high mountain experience except Kilimanjaro I wanted to SEE what awaits me on Aconcagua. Therefore absorbed tons of written trip reports and watched 40-50 Aconcagua videos on YouTube. I paid attention to all kind of details like boots, cloth, food. Furthermore I wanted to visually study how the track and the camp life look like. My main focus has been on parts of the ascent which are being reported as extremely difficult. Unfortunately most of the videos are only showing the first days, the camps, the breaks and the summit. It is nearly impossible to find someone who films inside Canaleta while climbing. This motivated me to produce my own Aconcagua video which will help others to prepare better. My Aconcagua video shows as many details as possible including all difficult parts of ascent. I proudly present the result in the Aconcagua documentary section.

My Aconcagua preparation program for fitness

I am not a mountaineer but a runner with some marathon experience and a passion for trail running with 30-40km of training/week. Few months before the expedition I converted parts of my running training into tracking activities. I live in an area with small hills up to 465m and I hardly had any chance to train in higher mountains. Thus I have used each and every hill around my home to move up and down. In the course of the 12 months before the expedition I ran 930km and hiked 620km. All together 1.550km (960mi) with an elevation climb of 31.000m (101,700ft) . Most of the hiking I conducted with my Aconcagua backpack and 20-30kgs ballast in it.

Good fitness is not enough for Aconcagua summit success

The estimated success rate at Aconcagua is about 30%. Weather and individual physical condition are two important factors. Usually the combination of both together associated with the high altitude effects leads to a failure. What most of Aconcagua climbers cannot train before is dealing with low partial pressure of Oxygen which decreases exponentially with altitude. It is about half of its sea-level value at 5,000 m (16,000 ft), the altitude of Aconcagua’s first High Camp Canada. Already on Kilimanjaro I have seen ultra-marathon runners who failed and chubby chain smokers who summited successfully. The ability to acclimatize is absolutely individual, not related to once physical fitness and also cannot be trained. That’s why I decided to add some mental training to my physical preparation.

My mental training for Aconcagua

My mental training for Aconcagua has usually been a combination of some aerobic exercise with an objective most of my friends considered to be mad. For example I went hiking for 6-10 hours usually over night alone in the forest (up and down). For most of my friends this was crazy enough. By the way it was not dangerous, because all this happened on known tracks rather close to civilization and always with a fully charged phone battery with live tracking enabled. Here are a few examples:

Aconcagua preparation program for fitnes and mental training example 4
53 kilometers flat an fast hiking course done over night
Aconcagua preparation program for fitnes and mental training example 3
The longest training session I ever did – partly in circles

The really silly / mental bit was the fact that I often continuously went in small circles. This means that I passed by my car every 20-30 minutes having the possibility to get on it and go home any time. Instead I continued over and over again… The first 6-8 rounds were usually OK as I listened to some podcasts or music. But later in the night when your body becomes really tired and your mind starts to question the nonsense you are doing the mental training begins. In conclusion the purpose of my mental training was to improve my discipline and achieve a goal while both body and mind denied to continue. It was supposed to be kind of a simulated Aconcagua summit night.

Aconcagua preparation program for fitnes and mental training example 2
16 times up and down – a truly mental training in darkness between 10pm and 4am
Aconcagua preparation program for fitnes and mental training example 1
Another mental training session – 16 circles over night alone started at 3am
My motivation for training and Aconcagua summit push
  • Firstly I set achievable goals, e.g. 8-9h continuous hiking (25km with approx. 1.000 climb – BTW: Aconcagua summit push takes 8-9h and 1.000 climb is required as well)
  • Secondly: I communicated the goals to most of my friends beforehand which added some additional pressure to achieve them. It’s similar to leaving for an Aconcagua expedition where most of your friends would also ask for a summit picture afterwards
  • Thirdly I set smaller goals and connected them with some reward. For me small caloric and tasty snacks every hour worked well. I took some sweets I normally abstain from in daily life.
  • Fourthly I kept repeating to me during the hard phase of the training that this is nothing compared to the real thing in front of me.
  • Finally I went to Argentina knowing that I have probably trained more than the average climber which gave me a lot of self-confidence. Aconcagua preparation programI felt well prepared and highly motivated to enjoy the adventure.
  • Another motivator and driver was the fact that beside this I had a second goal and wanted to extensively document the entire expedition including the hardest parts of it. This secondary goal served two purposes:
    1) The planning and filming during the expedition deflected the attention away from the exertion.
    2) My ambition to document those parts where others can barely brief and move was an additional driver for me.
Composition of gear

My starting point has been my Kilimanjaro gear I used four years before Aconcagua expedition. Therefore I had to acquire pretty much all of the high altitude gear like, double boots, warm down jacket, a capable sleeping back etc. Quite early during the preparation process I have decided to rent most of the high mountain gear.  Check out my packing list to see which products I exactly brought to Argentina  and rented in Mendoza.

I left my Apple Watch at home!?!

I love gadgets and I am a quantified self fan. Thus it has been obvious that I will be recording GPS tracks, my pulse and check my oxygen saturation at least 2 times a day. But I left my Apple Watch Series 1 at home. I simply did not believe that it would stand the rough environment. Furthermore I did not want the additional burden to charge it daily. For the Expedition I did not buy any new gadgets  but relayed on my tested gear you can find in my packing list.