Prep Time: Six months
Time Off Work: Three weeks
When to Go: December–January
It's easier to get to than the Himalayas, and nearly as high. It's tougher than Kilimanjaro but easier than McKinley. Simply put, Aconcagua is the best all-around mountaineering experience of the seven continents' highest peaks. "It's also more accessible than any of the other seven summits," says Willie Benegas, who was raised in Patagonia and has summited Aconcagua 50 times. "You arrive at Mendoza, take a car to the trailhead, and that's it. You start hiking." Most will opt for nontechnical, glacier-free routes like the relatively gradual (and uncrowded) Polish Traverse. The climb begins at 8,000 feet in the Vacas River Valley, then continues to base camp at Plaza de Argentina, which, at 13,800 feet, sits on a rocky glacial moraine. From there you'll trek to high camp, where you'll join the Normal Route at 20,600 feet. Make no mistake: This is a long, grueling climb at serious altitude, and a true expedition in every sense. But at the 22,835-foot summit, your reward is South America's best panorama: sharp snowy ridges of the surrounding Andean peaks, the Argentine pampa, Chile, and all in one eyeful.
Start Today: Get used to wearing a heavy pack. Porters in Argentina are far pricier than in the Himalayas, so it's likely you'll be carrying your own 50-pound backpack. Do a combination of hour-long strength, cardiovascular, and hill workouts, four to five days a week, minimum. "Strength training is especially important because of the load you'll be carrying," says Doug Schurman, co-founder of Body Results, which specializes in training mountaineers. He recommends training with a heavy pack on, working up from 15 to 60 pounds over time. address the altitude issue. "The better shape you're in, the less likely you are to be affected," says Garrett Madison, expedition manager for U.S. outfitter Alpine Ascents International. To be safe bring the drug Diamox. "We recommend people use it when they start to feel sick," Madison says. "It really helps speed up acclimation."
Don't Leave Home Without: Earplugs. Shut out the screaming wind that blows through camp at night with Heartech's SilentEar earplugs, which can handle 110-plus decibels and come in a bright-orange that's easy to find in your pack on the snow (heartech.co.il).
More Info: Climbing permits can be obtained in Mendoza (aconcagua.com).
MJ Insider: There was a time when only elite mountaineers could prepare for a climb with the help of a hypoxia altitude chamber that surrounds your bed and pumps in nitrogen to simulate an oxygen-starved summit.
Credit: Kenneth Koh / Getty Images