2004 expedition to Aconcagua (6962 m)

Altitude sickness


Altitude sickness is a complex of health problems that occur as a lack of oxygen. Usually one will not suffer from it in the lower altitudes (< 3500 m). Almost everybody will have some form of altitude sickness when climbing higher than 5000 meters. A full acclimatisation needs 7 to 10 days and your body will not acclimatise fully above 5500 meters. There are three types of altitude sickness. They may occur on their own or together:

  • Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)
  • High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE)
  • High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE).


Symptoms of AMS are:

  • Headache
  • Dizzy
  • Sleeping problems
  • No or less appetite

You may suffer from AMS if these three facts are all valid:

  • You’ve been climbing recently and usually over 300 meters a day
  • You have been on altitude for some hours now
  • You suffer from a headache that you did not have before.

In addition, you must suffer from one of these:

  • Feeling sick, no appetite, vomiting
  • Very tired
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Having sleeping problems that you normally do not have.


These two forms of altitude sickness are potentially lethal. You may suffer from HACE if:

  • you have a very heavy and persistent headache
  • You behave like a drunk
  • you seem to lose your coordination, you hallucinate, you have epileptic attacks etc.

To be brief: if you have both AMS and suffer from typical brain disorders (that you normally do not do) you may have HACE.

You may suffer from HAPE if:

  • you have AMS
  • you have a persistent cough
  • you feel very tired
  • you need a lot more time to recuperate.

Almost everybody will suffer from some kind of headache. A minor headache, which reacts well to painkillers, is not very important. However if you develop a headache during nighttime and it does not react to painkillers, you must wonder whether it is more serious than just AMS.

How to avoid altitude sickness

Here are some tips for avoiding or minimizing the chance that you get altitude sickness:

  • Recognize the symptoms and know what to do
  • Avoid a fast ascent to height above 2500 meters
  • Two or three night sleep on 2500 m
  • Avoid a gain of over 300 meters a day. It is good to climb higher that day but your sleeping altitude should not be over 300 m higher (Climb High, Sleep Low)
  • One extra day of rest after every 1000 meters
  • If you have any altitude sickness symptoms, do not climb higher
  • Descent if the situation worsens
  • Drink, drink, drink.

How to react


  • Descend immediately; at least 500 meters; try to reach the 2500 meters altitude
  • Use dexamethason
  • Stay at lower altitude until you have fully recovered (this may last a week). Ascending to soon may kill you!


  • Descend 500-1000 meters
  • Use nifedipine


  • Do not climb higher
  • Drink a lot
  • Use painkillers and/or diamox

Everywhere on the internet you can find score lists. This is a questionnaire, which helps you in diagnosing. A Dutch version can be found here.

Acclimatisation plan

In order to minimize the chances of altitude sickness a thorough acclimatisation is mandatory. Most commercial operators are doing a tour to either Cerro del Plomo (2-hour drive from Santiago de Chile) or Cordón del Plata (2 hours from Mendoza). We decided to opt for the latter one, because you have the possibility of summits of different altitude and you can ascend more slowly than when climbing Plomo.

Cordón del Plata

The plateau can be found 80 kms SW of Mendoza. There is no regular transport to this ski-resort, so you have to charter transport in Mendoza. We paid $180 for transport at Rudy Parra. In Vallecitos (end of the road) there is a refuge where you can spend the night. If you need mules you can rent them there. One hour above Vallecitos is a very good place to camp: Las Veguitas.

Planned itinerary for acclimatisation in Cordón del Plata

Below is what we planned to do. In the expedition log you can see what we really did.

Cordon Del PlataDay 1
Transport to Vallecitos form Mendoza. Pitch our tents in Vallecitos (2900 m) and climb the cerro Lomas Blancas (3800 m), cerro Estudiante (3900 m), cerro Cáucaso (4000 m) and cerro Iluso (4100 m). These summits are all nearby. Sleep in Vallecitos.

Day 2
Move to the camp at the base of Adolfo Calle (3400 m). Setup camp and climb either Adolfo Calle (4200 m) or Stepanek (4150 m). Sleep at the base of Adolfo Calle.

Day 3
Move to Piedra Grande (3500 m), Setup camp and ascend Cerro Franke a bit. Sleep in Piedra Grande.

Day 4
Move to El Salto (4200 m). Here you will find a refuge where you can get drinks and meals. It is the base camp for Cerro Vallecitos and El Plata. Make a short afternoon walk to La Hoyada (4500 m). Sleep in El Salto.

Day 5
Climb as far as we can get to El Plata (6100 m). Sleep in El Salto.

Day 6
Break up camp and descend to Vallecitos. Transport to Puente del Inca.

Download GPX file