As one of the most experienced guides on Argentina’s 6962m Aconcagua, Angel Armesto is wired for the outdoors. He lives and breathes nature, having summited Mount Everest twice and climbed South America's highest mountain a dizzying 80+ times!
We had a chat with the climbing enthusiast who shared some of his treasured moments on a mountain, how he tackles fear and what he does to stay fit and healthy.
“Among my friends, some call me "The Oracle"… but in a few words I can say, I love mountain guiding as it offers me an incomparable opportunity to meet outstanding people and provides a source of an unbelievable wisdom you can’t get from books.”
Based in Argentina, Angel lives in the charming wine capital city of Mendoza, so it may not come as a surprise that he’s also a bit of a culinary connoisseur – he's known for cooking up a mean meal on his expeditions!
With over 20 years of climbing experience under his climbing belt, the 43-year-old professional mountaineer has led expeditions to some of the world’s most remote peaks, like Vinson Massif in Antarctica, which has seen him engineer very complex logistics. Spending hours and hours studying and researching every aspect related to expeditions to ensure participants' safety, it’s no wonder he holds an outstanding summit success rate and safety record.
Angel is one of our most popular expedition leaders thanks to his vast knowledge. He can offer a world of wisdom on what it’s like to climb Aconcagua, and also discuss on end about gut biology, world macroeconomics and even quantum physics.
What first inspired you to pursue a career in mountaineering?
I first looked to the mountains when I was five and growing up on the edge of a countryside town I was connected to nature all the time; so mountains were only another exotic playground to explore. My first climb was at the age of 14 and it was since then that I realised I was born for it.
How do you think trekking and climbing helps people grow or evolve on other levels?
Mountaineering requires us to be introspective. Walking on a snow covered mountain and watching the horizon turning from dark blue to the golden glow of the sun in absolute silence on a summit day is the closest environment I can compare to meditation in a gompa.
Today’s lifestyle pollutes our minds with information and noise and does not allow us much space to "self-think". Mountaineering does.
Trekking is the best way to understand a new culture; learning folklore from a book is like trying to study love from watching a wedding film.
I've collected some of the best treasures in the form of a huge smile and a cup of tea in a remote village, and these treasures cannot be exchanged, traded or even pictured. It's the eye-to-eye experience which turns a moment into a magical one.
Amazing scenery as travellers ascend Aconcagua.
Have there been instances where you’ve felt vulnerable when trying to make a summit and disaster struck? How did you cope in those situations?
Yes, I've been dealing with a too close to call named Cancer, just before my first Everest climb as expedition leader. I cope with it the same way mountaineering taught me. If you fall, get up, wipe out the dust and keep on going. Life has so much in common with mountaineering, but whilst at altitude, everything is more intense and clear.
Is fear something that’s ever been an issue?
My good friend Fear; it’s been with me since I remember. I feared clowns, thunder and tax.
Sometimes I ask Fear if he likes me or despises me. He loves me so much that he can't live without me, and I without him, as he helps me to live healthy. Fear does come along with me to the mountain, but Knowledge is my closest climbing partner and because he is on my side, Fear never, ever tried to interrupt me.
Journey to the summit of Aconcagua.
Having guided over 80 expeditions to Aconcagua, what makes you continually return to this mountainscape?
After 84 trips to Aconcagua, the reason I still like to return is simple: there are few landscapes like this in this planet. So, taking the time to appreciate the outdoors – getting your head out of the tent, taking your tinted glasses off and watching everything around you, like when the sun is about to break away from the horizon – is why I continue being a guide.
You’ll be leading the Aconcagua Expedition with World Expeditions this year and in 2021. What tips would you suggest to someone who is keen on taking on this challenging climb?
My advice for everyone aiming to climb Aconcagua is to join a respected company. Much of the success from big projects in life is due to the quality of the leaders and a good team will get the best choices when the leader is motivated. Good operators always choose motivated crews.
What’s your regular fitness/training routine like?
I live a life of outdoors. My favourite training is to get a pack and go bushwalking with friends, and bringing along a huge sandwich, some fresh fruit and a bottle of wine.
Laughing with friends keeps my abdominal and facial muscles strong, and cycling is my favourite transport. Anyone having a life like this will have enough fitness to climb Aconcagua.
Trekkers at the beginning of the trail towards Aconcagua and they're already welcomed by magnificent vistas.
What’s your favourite gear/equipment when going on an expedition?
Whatever makes a climb safer is my favourite piece of gear. Safe in a way that protects one’s health, not just as life-survival equipment.
In the high altitude environments, a must in my gear list are mittens. I don’t let any member come with gloves, regardless of how good the salesmen at the shop might advise they are. To me, a summit is not worth a single fingertip of frostbite because an injury is not a sign of bravery, but a sign of something not well made.
Another piece of gear I love is my notepad, a book to read at base camp and, of course, a picture of some of the best looking girls on earth – my beautiful daughter and wife. I always have a portrait of my daughter Sara, who reminds me everyday what true love means and the many things the low land has waiting for me on my return.
Mountains are not my entire life, as I’ve heard others say, they are a big part of mine.
Want to conquer one of the Seven Summits? Join Angel Armesto on the Aconcagua Expedition to climb the highest point in the Americas – the January 2020 trip is guaranteed to go and still has a few places open!