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Polish glacier traverse

Approach to Plaza Argentina base camp

 

Those who have decided to climb Mount Aconcagua by the Polish Glacier Traverse Route, also known as the False Polish Glacier, should begin the expedition at the entrance of Aconcagua Park of Punta de Vacas, located 10 km. before Penitentes at 2725 m.a.s.l. / 8940 feet.
The distance between the trailhead and Plaza Argentina base camp, also taking into account the difference in elevation between these two sites, will make it necessary for mountaineers to first stay in two intermediate camps during the base camp approach. 

To arrive at the first of these camps, you will follow a well-marked path in the Valle de Vacas and cross a few small water streams (Rio Vacas tributaries). 
After 4 or 5 hours of hiking you will reach a flat area, well-suited for camping, called Pampa de Leñas (2960 m.a.s.l. / 9711 feet).
Here you will find the checkpoint for the Park Rangers.  Each person should present their Climbing Permit and afterward will receive numbered garbage bag that should be returned to the Park Rangers at the end of the expedition.

 

Aconcagua

 

The second day of hiking will be longer than the first. You will continue following the path that moves with the river, still staying in the Valle de Vacas. Not far from Pampa de Leñas you should cross a bridge and, after another 6 to 7 hours of hiking, you will reach the second intermediate camp by way of a low steep path. This camp is called Casa de Piedra (3250 m.a.s.l. / 10662 feet).

The third day of the trek to base camp is more difficult. The slopes are steeper and care should be taken while crossing the rivers due to the strong flow, especially during the melting season, and the frigid temperatures of the water. 

Upon leaving the Casa de Piedra camp its necessary to cross the River Vacas (you will be assisted by the muleteers who are in charge of carrying the expedition equipment by mules), should low temperatures present themselves in the water). Once the River Vacas is crossed you will leave the Valle de Vacas, advancing toward the Quebrada de Relinchos.
After a few hours of hiking following the banks of the Relinchos River, the slope becomes steeper.  Again, and for the last time, you will cross the river (Relinchos River). The expedition guides, familiar with the area, will locate the safest sector for the group to cross, due to fact that the river usually flows with more force in the summer. 
Finally, after 6 or 7 hours of hiking you will reach a flat area where Plaza Argentina base camp is located (4200 m.a.s.l. / 13779 feet).

We should stay in this base camp (Plaza Argentina) a minimum of 3 days before beginning the ascent to Mount Aconcagua.  This is due to the fact that we will reach Plaza Argentina after having completed a long hike, and therefore, adjusting our bodies to the elevation in a slower way than if we would have taken the Normal Route.

Three altitude camps are set up on the mountain to achieve the necessary acclimatization and adequate rest, and for moving food and equipment to the altitude camps while descending to sleep in lower elevations. Camps 1 and 2 will be used for resting and acclimatization, keys to a successful expedition.

 

Ascent to Mount Aconcagua via the Polish Glacier Traverse Route

Upon leaving Plaza Argentina base camp, you will ascend a mostly straight path. After 6 or 7 hours of hiking through an area that usually has snow, slabs of ice and loose scree, you will arrive at a flat area and find Camp 1 (4950 m.a.s.l. / 16240 feet).

 

Leaving Camp 1, the path will begin bordering the hillside of Mount Ameghino until for a short time, eventually returning toward Mount Aconcagua. The path is a zig-zag, with a moderate slope that continues for 6 to 7 hours of hiking until reaching Camp 2 (5570 m.a.s.l. / 18274 feet), located at the foot of the famous Polish Glacier.

Leaving Camp 2, you will continue for 4 to 5 hours until you reach Camp 3, Plaza Cólera (5870 m.a.s.l. / 19258 feet), on the Normal Route. The path is very visible, although you should always be attentive at these altitudes for ice on the path (that will force you to use crampons and ice axe) and the strong winds that are always present on Mount Aconcagua

Due to the physical wear produced by the altitude, it is suggested that the group stay the least possible time in this camp.  The more time spent in these altitudes, the greater the physical wear will be on your body and the less chance you will have to reach the summit of Aconcagua.

 

Aconcagua Summit Day via the Polish Glacier Traverse Route

This will be the long-awaited day, but it is also important to know ahead of time that this will be the most challenging day as well, both physically and psychologically.  One should pay close attention to their physical state and not stop to gaze at the summit.  It is imperative to follow the guides' instructions and recommendations, as they are in charge of the expedition.

The day will begin before sunrise. The guides will carry out acclimatization checks on each of the members of the expedition, verifying that the personal equipment is adequate and making sure that our customers are not missing any important tools or equipment.

Following a path and not long after leaving Camp 3 the group will arrive to a site called Piedras Blancas from where you can gain access to the northeastern side of Aconcagua. The trek will later lead to the Refugio Independencia and after to the edge call Portezuelo del Viento, where begins the area known as the travesia.  This area, the travesia, is usually covered by ice and it is of the utmost importance to use crampons and an ice axe to go across it.  Upon completed this crossing, we will get to the famous Canaleta (300 meters in length), which also has a steep slope (35º to 40ª) and, at times, ice. Later, we will cross the Filo de Guanaco.  The summit of Aconcagua will already be visible from this point, located at 6800 m.a.s.l. / 22309 feet.
 
In spite of the short distance that separates the summit from this area, the altitude will force you to take the walk slowly, with frequent rests.  For these final meters, it usually takes a demanding and exhausting walk of an hour or more. 

Finally, a rocky path will bring mountaineers to the long-awaited summit of Aconcagua (6962 meters above sea level).

 

Aconcagua

 

After a short stay in "the roof of America," the descent to Camp 3 (Plaza Colera) will begin. The descent will be slow, exhausting and will require numerous rests.  Upon arriving to Camp 3, you will have completed a day that depending on numerous factors (the weather, your physical state, etc.) could have lasted anywhere from 8 to 12 hours.

The following days hold a descent to base camp and a return to Mendoza to end the expedition.

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Summary of the expedition via the Polish Glacier Traverse Route, altitude and approximate hiking times
             
From Elevation (meters) Elevation (feet) to Elevation (meters) Elevation (feet) Hiking Times
Mendoza 760 2493 Penitentes 2725 8940 3 hours (in van)
Punta de Vacas 2360 7742 Pampa de Leñas 2960 9711 4 to 5 hours approx.
Pampa de Leñas 2960 9711 Casa de Piedra 3250 10662 6 to 7 hours approx.
Casa de Piedra 3250 10662 Plaza Argentina 4200 13779 6 to 7 hours approx.
Plaza Argentina 4200 13779 Camp 1 4950 16240 6 to 7 hours approx.
Camp 1 4950 16240 Camp 2 5570 18274 6 to 7 hours approx.
Camp 2 5570 18274 Camp 3 -Colera- (Normal Route) 5870 19258 4 to 5 hours approx.
Colera 5870 19258 Summit (and back to Colera) 6962 22840 8 to 12 hours approx.
Colera 5870 19258 Plaza de Mulas 4370 14337 8 to 9 hours approx.
Plaza de Mulas 4370 14337 Horcones 2950 9678 6 to 8 hours approx.
Horcones 2950 9678 Mendoza 760 2493 3 hours (in van)
             
Note: This summary only details the places where the group will spend the night and trailhead. 
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