A four-hour bus journey west of Mendoza will leave you at the stone-entrance of the Aconcagua National Park. After a four-hour trekking through small paths up the mountain along Rio Horcones, you will eventually reach the Confluencia base. The first thing to do is to check-in — so they know at the entrance that you had made it — and then visit the doctor for a quick health check.
The Park Ranger’s shelter stays standing through the whole year, and is built from T-Plak, a long lasting, weatherproof material made from recycled Tetra Pak cartons. It has a corrugated iron roof with solar panels resting on it. The site has around five companies that offer different services like guided trekking tours, fantastic meals, renting of equipment, tents or a bunk bed in one of the geodesic domes. I stayed and fully recommend Inka, which are linked to ethical mountaineering NGOs Leave No Trace and UIAA. The domes can take different shapes and are brought up every year. They are built on site and wrapped in plastic sheeting, which is not the most sustainable material to produce, but its extremely durable, weather-proof and designed for reuse.
The sun powers Confluencia through 12V solar panels that are kept clean and turned towards the sun twice a day to get the most out of them. Some domes have reused wooden pallets or even floating wooden floors, while other use upside down carpets or are left simply with bare ground. Confluencia is a small and very friendly group of people that work on-site four months a year and see guides and (mainly) visitors from all over the world in transit to the Aconcagua’s peak. People from different backgrounds can mix in a beautiful yet extreme environment, sharing crazy stories of high altitude finds, and of course, the love for the mountains.
A solar-powered fridge is eco-friendly and works much better than a thermic one, which is buried in the ground. Inside the kitchen: useful bottom-pierced recycled aluminum cans for drying cutlery and a visit from a cheeky Patagonian Sierra finch, dubbed ‘boquenses’ for sharing Boca’s football team colors. Food at Inca is deluxe, balanced in calories and carbohydrates and range from fresh watermelon, homemade pizzas, roasted veggies, and even porridge and scrambled eggs for breakfast.
Eating and hydrating well before trekking or climbing is a must. Mules bring the food up and the rubbish down, they work hard but get plenty of rest after working a day and during the year. Confluencia’s water comes through a long plastic pipe from a glacier up the mountain, providing drinkable icy water suitable for cooking and cleaning. The toilets are a bit of a hassle to reach during cold dark nights. Local plants are sweet and tough, and you can find Jurassic period ammonites fossils inside the stones scattered around.
Each visitor to the Aconcagua National Park is given a plastic bag to bring its own rubbish back down to preserve the site, and there is a penalty in place for those who breach this agreement.
Living at 11,200 feet above sea level in the Andes is a fantastic and unique experience. The community spirit, the ever-changing landscapes, the extreme weather, the friendly birds, the millions of stars at night, and the fact that there is no Wi-Fi or mobile signal will allow you to finally find peace.
But just be warned, your skin will get extremely dry and tight, and temperatures can reach below freezing — it isn’t rare to get AMS, pulmonary edema or even die from the cold if you are ill-prepared. But all these difficulties are what makes reaching the the summit a wonderful dream to achieve.
Photo © Ana Lisa Alperovich for Inhabitat