Polish Glacier on Aconcagua: the best of both worlds

The Aconcagua Polish Route up Aconcagua combines two of the mountain’s most desirable aspects. This untamed Andean glacier is of Himalayan size, making it a challenging mountain to climb. Similar climbs in more isolated ranges may be harder, but Aconcagua is easier to climb because the logistics are clear, the camps are well-equipped, and it is easy to get to. To the practicality of the climbing season (December–February), add a lengthy summit day at over 7,000 meters, demanding yet protected by the fixed ropes. You have the ideal preparation for a Himalayan trek.

Strategies based in the Vacas Valley

Polish Glacier, a major glacier, spans the northeast face of Aconcagua from about 5,850 m to the summit ridge at about 6,700 m. Most mountaineers take three days to trek to the Plaza Argentina base camp. It takes about 180 kilometers to reach the trailhead from Mendoza, where most hikers start their excursions.

Because the Ro de las Vacas valley steadily rises in altitude, its gentle slopes are great for getting used to the altitude. Since nearly all mountaineers have mules transport their belongings to base camp, light loads make for a pleasant stroll. Attractions on the way there include breathtaking views of the glacier and a typical “Asado” (Gaucho BBQ). The meals, service, and friendly faces at Gradates Expeditions are also noteworthy.

Unlike the Polish Traverse or the 360° path, this one is unique!

The three high-altitude camps used by guided expeditions are based on the time-tested principle of “carry high, sleep low”; each day, some of the equipment is moved to the next camp, and then the next day, the balance of the equipment is carried. Some unaccompanied, strong teams journey from Camp 1 to the center at the glacier’s base in a single, exhausting push.

The Polish Glacier Route and the Polish Traverse (the False Polish or 360o route) share the first two camps above British Columbia. This is one of the “regular” or “standard” ways up Aconcagua, meaning it doesn’t involve any technical climbing skills. It’s a different path, even if the names sound identical. To reach Camp Cholera, the Normal Route’s high camp to the north, the Polish Traverse follows the mountain’s contours.

On the other hand, the Polish Glacier route stays on the mountain’s north side and sets up a high camp near the glacier’s base (at 5,863 m). All climbers, including the guided parties, start their ascents from this camp. One of the difficulties of this climb is the long summit day, which involves more than a thousand meters of vertical gain on steep terrain.

Polish Glacier First Ascent.

The Polish Glacier was named after the first (known) trip to the Upper Vacas Valley, which successfully investigated the area and climbed the glacier. A group of six formidable Polish mountaineers accomplished a remarkable expedition of first ascents of 6000ers in the Central Andes in the early months of 1934. Mt. Mercedario (6,720 m) and other peaks in the Ramada Range were climbed using self-designed footwear with spikes and tents. 


The three primary paths up Aconcagua Hike are depicted clearly on the map. On the Normal Route, climbers follow the Northwest ridge to the peak. The path is commonly referred to as a “trekking” route because it does not involve any technically challenging climbing. But the great altitude still makes the journey hazardous. Occasionally, ice axes and crampons will be required.