Aconcagua polish route

Polish Glacier Route

Polish Glacier Route – Mount Aconcagua
Polish Glacier Route – Mount Aconcagua

The Polish Glacier Route Aconcagua was open on 1934 by a group of polish mauntaniers (it explains its name) and it was the first route after the Normal Route. It´s known worldwide for its natural beauties its enormous landscapes and it has become in one of the classic routes for sportive andinists. Trough this route the itineraries are basically three: Polish Glacier Traverse Route (or False Aconcagua Polish Route), Guanacos Route and Polish Glacier Route (Original or Direct variants), all of them show us wonderful places of Mount Aconcagua. However, the possibility and the decition of which of them is go to choose depens on oneself, taking account the technical level, the experience and the risks it implies. The following is a complete breakdown of the route with information, maps and photos.

1. Polish Glacier Traverse Route (or False Aconcagua Polish Route)

1a. Approaching

Approaching – Stretch 1: Punta de Vacas (2350m) – Pampa de Leñas (2950m)

Punta de Vacas (2350m) – Pampa de Leñas (2950m)
Estimated time: 4 – 5 hours
600 m elevation gain

Around 160 km. from downtown Mendoza, Route 7 becomes a bridge over “Vacas” river and buildings from “Punta de Vacas” – where an important National Army post is located – appear soon after that. On the left side of the Vacas river is an open space where cars can go as far as 200m. This is the very place where the approaching path starts through the interesting valley in the Central Andes, once explored by Fitz Gerald´s expedition in 1897 and used by the Polish expedition in 1983 to set a new way of access and ascent to the Aconcagua. The always visible trail runs along the left river side. After crossing some of the Vacas River´s tributaries, the route leads to a fairly terrain dotted with bushes. The next stop is “Pampa de las Leñas”, there is, in addition, a park ranger´s shelter, where the traveler´s permits will be checked.

Approaching – Stretch 2: Pampa de Leñas (2950m) – Casa de Piedra (3250m)

Pampa de Leñas (2950m) – Casa de Piedra (3250m)
Estimated time: 5 – 7 hours
300 m elevation gain

The path continues for a few more meters until it gets to a bridge which goes over the river. The route heads up a steep slope, always on the right riverside, until it arrives at a quite large, level area. A green strip of a land and a jutting-out rock can be seen right at the beginning of the eastern side gulch: that is “Casa de Piedra”, there is a meadow with clear water springs. To the left is “Los Relinchos” gulch, and toward its back, the high silhouette of the Colossus of America appears. This is the first time the Aconcagua can be seen in this route. Only some 500m ahead, at Casa de Piedra, seeing it is no longer possible.

Approaching – Stretch 3: Casa de Piedra (3250m) – Plaza Argentina Base Camp (4200m)

Casa de Piedra (3250m) – Plaza Argentina (4200m)

Estimated time: 5 – 7 hours
850 m elevation gain

On this day, the huge Vacas gulch is left behind to enter another, sheerer and narrower one: Los Relinchos gulch. Vacas River will be crossed first thing in the morning. Although small, the river at this height carries fairly cold water, especially in the early morning. Therefore, it is advisable to arrange to cross it on mule back. Mule skinners are used to assisting travelers for a tip. This is the point where the ascent to the gulch really starts along the right side of the Relincho creek, a stream carrying lots of noisy water in the summer. Skirting along the mountainside north of the creek may involve some risk, the use of walking sticks is recommended. The route goes up to the slope now, among some long zigzags before the Relincho falls. The track continues to the higher end of the creek, over its cascades, where one must look for the right place to ford this sometimes difficult water, especially in years of intense thaw.

Crossing Vacas River

This point (3850m) will be the last wading across water, for the track continues along the left side of Relincho. This last stretch provides a magnificent view of the Aconcagua and of its northeastern neighbor: Mt. Ameguino left (5900m.), with its steep southern side. The last moraine can be avoided going left, at the border of a vast plain, to finally arrive at Plaza Argentina from the south. At this camp, there are medical services, park rangers and number of service providers.

1b. The Ascent

Ascent – Stretch 1: Plaza Argentina Base Camp (4200m) – Camp 1 (4900m)

Plaza Argentina Base Camp – Camp 1 (4900m)
Estimated time: 4 – 6 hours
700 m elevation gain

The ascent starts at a path which quickly goes up toward some rocky buttresses located west of the camp. Here the track turns into a diagonal, heading north in direction to the great frontal moraine which takes up most of the valley. A creek appears carrying pretty fast-running water, which has to be crossed. Depending on the season, a snow bridge or some gendarmes may be of help. We are now on a high plain made up of moraine, lakes and rocks. Ice appears every now and then among loose rocks, which represents some danger since they can turn into real chutes of dirty ice. Next is a great frontal moraine, which closes up the way between a new rocky buttress toward the south and Mt. Ameguino´s sides. Some snow slumps may also appear. The slope becomes gentle and the ground turns into a plateau. That is where Camp 1 is situated. There are two camping sectors in the area: the one just described and second one right above that, which is extremely useful for cooking and hydration; that is why keeping this water source clean is essential.

Ascent – Stretch 2: Camp 1 (4900m) – Camp 2 (5850m)

Camp 1 (4900m) – Camp 2 (5850m)

Estimated time: 5 – 7 hours, 950 m elevation gain

The path stars with long diagonals on the Ameguino skirts and reaches a distinctive spot: col de Ameguino-Aconcagua, 5200m high. From then on, the path is fairly easy and leads straight to the summit of the Aconcagua. The track now zigzags up toward a group of dark rocks. A couple of paths appear some 50m before, turning right and thus avoiding such rocks. The rock formation breaks up and the path one more becomes a steep slope which ends up in a enormous natural terrace, right at the foot of Los Polacos Glacier. Here amidst the moraine, is Camp 2. The view from the base of Los Polacos Glacier is stunning, as it is the one to the east, with all the valleys along the way up, the Relincho valley and great Vacas valley. Northeast is “Cerro Tambillo”, and “Cordón de la Ramada”, to the north.

Ascent – Stretch 3: Camp 2 (5850m) – SUMMIT (6962m)

Camp 2 (5850m) – Summit (6962m)
Estimated time: 8 – 11 hours
1112 m elevation gain

This is a long, hard day. It is convenient to assess the evolution experienced in the lower camps so as to decide upon the best strategy to apply. After Camp 2, it is possible to camp one more time, either at Camp 3, at 6250m., or at shelter Berlín, a trekking which does not add meters to the ascent but helps to shorten the journey. A long diagonal known as “Falso Polaco” goes across “The Acarreo”. The route is always visible and the trekker must beware of frozen snow, which might result in dangerous strip of ice. This stretch takes about three hours until it reaches the Normal Route, at 6300m, right below the zigzagging trails leading to shelter “Independencia” and a few meters above Camp 3´s terraces. From this point on, the description of the ascent is similar to the Normal Route.

2. Polish Glacier Route

2.1 Original variant

Brief Description

Polish Glacier Route – Original variant
Starting point: Plaza Argentina Base Camp (4200m), Difficulty: Fairly Difficult

To ascend the Polish Glacier Route along the Original 1934 route, Camp 2 is used at Plaza Argentina. The route starts on easy terrain, made up of some rocky islands dotting the dirty ice. As progress is made along the glacier’s slopes, the ice becomes cleaner and the track steeper (around 30 degrees). It is advisable now to have the most distinctive spot of the route at the sight: “Piedra Bandera” (6400m), where Camp 3 is based. The diagonal must be carefully chosen considering the existing cracks, slopes and other aspects which may vary according to the circumstances. The last day starts ‘dodging’ Piedra Bandera to the right, the point at which the route steepest (40 degrees). This is the access to the south-eastern ridge, formed here by the South wall and the Polish Glacier. The ridge at this point rather wide and gentle, but it is quite a long way to the Summit. This route demands better training conditions and technical preparation than the Traverse. It’s very important to have

2.2 Direct variant

Brief Description

Polish Glacier Route – Direct variant
Starting point: Camp 2, Difficulty: Fairly Difficult

This route is the most commonly used to ascend the Polish Glacier. It is more difficult from the technical point of view, but is shorter, therefore, less camping time is requiered and the overall ascent is faster. Camp 2, at the very foot of the Glacier, is a good option for camping if one follows this route. Cólera and Berlín camps, both on the Normal Route, are other options. The way goes straight up the Glacier, toward the right, and approaches the base of some rock formations which extend into the Glacier horizontally, narrowing steadily down until they disappear. The last distinctive point in this direct route is the rocky formation close to the ridge (at 6700m), which can be left behind going through a narrow fluting path of around 15 meters. Then, the ridge must be reached through a – usually – icy stretch, to finally Summit, always following that ridge. This route demands better training conditions and technical preparation than the Traverse. It’s very important to have experience in walking on snow and ice and in using crampons, ropes, harness and ice axe.

3. Los Guanacos Route

3a. Approaching

Approaching – Stretch 1: Punta de Vacas (2350m) – Casa de Piedra (3250m)

Punta de Vacas (2350m) – Pampa de Leñas (2950m)
Estimated time: 5 – 7 hours
850 m elevation gain

The approach is similar to that described for Plaza Argentina Base Camp up to Casa de Piedra.

Approaching – Stretch 2: Casa de Piedra (3250m) – Plaza Guanacos (3800m)

Casa de Piedra (3250m) – Plaza Guanacos (3800m)

Estimated time: 5 – 7 hours
550 m elevation gain

The same as the third day approaching Plaza Argentina, Vacas River must be crossed. Once on the left (west) riverside, the trekkers ahead, the steep slopes coming down from Mt. Amegino´s buttresses make progress difficult. Therefore, it is convenient to cross the river again and go along it´s right side for some kilometers, only to cross back to the left side at the point where it turns to the west. No more crossing will be necessary, since the route from now on appears clear and always on the left riverside. The journey proceeds now among large moraines to reach the end of Vacas valley, also known as “Los Guanacos” valley. At the end of the valley, a cirque of snow-capped peaks can be observed. From left to right: “La mano” peak (5550m.), “Cúpula Nevada” hill (5400m.), Zürbriggen hill (5322m.) and Fitz Gerald hill (5357m.) Just when the gulch seems to be closing in, another narrow, fast-flowing gulch appears toward the south, on the left side of the path: it is “Vieja Alta”.

Los Guanacos Valley
It is a huge valley covered whit grass where many families of these typical -of-the-region animal -guanacos-are grazing.

A couple of kilometers away – always going along the lefts side of the creek – is “Plaza Guanaco”, the base camp of this special route. There are no permanent service providers here. Members of the expedition take their own camping gear. There are no permanents porters or communication systems available either. What is more, there are no mules arriving on a daily basis, as is the case in the other camps during the high season; no medical services and no rescue patrol. This information helps understand that the area is quite secluded and that it is necessary for climbers who get to that point to have some previous experience in high altitude expeditions.

3b. The Ascent

Ascent – Stretch 1: Plaza Guanacos (3800m) – Camp1 (4300m)

Plaza Guanacos (3800m) – Camp1 (4300m)
Estimated time: 4 – 6 hours
500 m elevation gain

The path stars at Plaza Guanacos base camp, the lowest of the Aconcagua, goes through some moraine, then up some mountainside on the left of the gulch, to finally reach the zigzagging path which leads to the rocky buttresses. The slope becomes gentler here. The route continues up to a moraine front which goes down the gulch, now encased on the left side, to the southeast. At the end of the journey, among some massive rocks on the left, is former Camp 1. The new one is a little higher, on the front moraine. The path continues amidst the moraine through small ridges up to an area of “carved” terraces, situated on the right of a creek bed which, sometimes in the summer, carries drinkable water. This is Camp 1.

Ascent – Stretch 2: Camp 1 (4300m) – Camp 2 (4900m)

Camp 1 (4300m) – Camp 2 (4900m)
Estimated time: 3 – 4 hours
600 m elevation gain.

The path is clear among the moraine until it gets to a moraine front, with loose rock and a steep slope, forming a blockage at the end of the valley. The path crosses the moraine in a place where the track somehow fades away, due to the characteristic of the terrain. Thus, the upper part of the moraine has been accessed. The slope is now gentler and the ground firmer. Some small stone walls and terraces announce the vicinity of Camp 2. Huge rocky walls peaks, “Cordón de la Ramada” and Mt. Mercedario (6770m) appears as the dominant summit.

Ascent – Stretch 3 / Stretch 4 – Stretch 3
Camp 2 (4900m) – Camp 3 (5500m)

Camp 2 (4900m) – Camp 3 (5500m)
Estimated time: 3 – 4 hours
600 m elevation gain.

The path is clear among the moraine until it gets to a moraine front, with loose rock and a steep slope, forming a blockage at the end of the valley. The path crosses the moraine in a place where the track somehow fades away, due to the characteristic of the terrain. Thus, the upper part of the moraine has been accessed. The slope is now gentler and the ground firmer. Some small stone walls and terraces announce the vicinity of Camp 2. Huge rocky walls peaks, “Cordón de la Ramada” and Mt. Mercedario (6770m) appears as the dominant summit.

Stretch 4: Camp 3 (5500m) – Camp 4 Plaza Cólera (5970m)

Camp 3 (5500m) – Camp 4 Plaza Cólera (5970m)
Estimated time: 3 – 5 hours
470m elevation gain

A couple of zigzags skirt some rock formations toward a huge area of loose boulders, sorted out now up the diagonal, which up the diagonal, which is trekked in the opposite direction to that of the day before. This diagonal leads to an area of small towers and very clear, hollowed rock needles. The track zigzags several times before accessing, through a narrow path, a quite flat area, where Plaza Cólera terraces are situated.

Ascent – Stretch 5: Campo 4 Plaza Cólera (5970m) – SUMMIT (6962m)

Estimated time: 7 – 10hours
992 m elevation gain

The path is clear among the moraine until it gets to a moraine front, with loose rock and a steep slope, forming a blockage at the end of the valley. The path crosses the moraine in a place where the track somehow fades away, due to the characteristic of the terrain. Thus, the upper part of the moraine has been accessed. The slope is now gentler and the ground firmer. Some small stone walls and terraces announce the vicinity of Camp 2. Huge rocky walls peaks, “Cordón de la Ramada” and Mt. Mercedario (6770m) appears as the dominant summit.

Sommet du Mont Aconcagua, t’attendant.