ApproachIf you go the Polish traverse route allow three days at least for the approch. Here is how it can go. You can alter as you go depending on how you feel. Note this route is longer than the Normal one. An increase of an extra day in and out on the walk in. The route to the summit is approximately 20% longer. The actual trails are similar in nature.
Day one- Road to Pampa Lena (8,200 ft)(4-5 hours)
Day two- Pampa laina to Casa Piedra (9,200 ft)(5-7 hours)
Day three- Casa Piedra to Plaza Argentina (13,200 ft)(6-8 hours long day)
Day four- Rest
Day five- Carry a load to camp 1 (16,200 ft)(4-5 hours round trip)
Day six- Move up to camp 1
Day seven- Rest
Day eight- Carry to camp 2 (19,200 ft) (high camp) (5-7 hours round trip)
Day nine- Rest
Day ten- Move up to camp 2 (19,200 ft)
Day eleven- walk to 21,500 feet Independencia to understand the route
Day twelve- get up early 3:00am and start for the summit with headlamps and crampons this is a long day allow 10-12 hours or longer for the round trip.
Day thirteen- decend to base camp then arrange mules with the rangers for you gear and walk out to Casa Piedra to spend the night.
Day fourteen-walk out to the highway at mouth of the Rio Vacas have you pick up scheduled in advance and have the rangers confirm it if possible. If not you will have to walk or hitch hike (which is difficult since it is so close to the border). You can always call the hotel at Penitentes from the truck customs building at the mouth of the Vacas. They will pick you up if you will stay or eat there. So have the number tucked away.
Route DescriptionThe approach is from Penetentes. The three days to basecamp is along a mule trail with some rough areas of lose rock on the trail. There are 5 rivers crossing in total. None on day one. One on day two crossing first thing at Pampa Lenia but on a brand new bridge. At the beginning of day three you will cross the Rio Vacas first thing but the stream will be wider and more shallow. The rest of the day will involve three other crossings that are usually a hop. This year in 2006 due to the haevy snowfall in th eprevious winter, the crossings over the Rio Lenchos after the melting of the snow bridges can be very dangerous you may have to use a mule or link arms for more stability. The time of day is important to remember. It is always more dangerious at the end of the day than early in the morning whan the river is lower.
After a long walk on the mule trail you are at base camp Plaza Argentina. To camp one you will be following a trail over a glacier to the base of a scree slope. This you will have to plow up the final hour to get to camp 1. To camp 2 the trail is a series of switchbacks which are easy to pick out. But its a slog due to the altitude. From Camp 2 to the summit you follow a long traverse which you should mark with cairns the day before. If it snows you will find these helpful. You will meet up with the normal route at the ned of this just below Independencia. From here it is also switchbacks till you get to the base of the Canaleta(SP). from this point the final 1000 feet is a scree slope keep to the right where the scree is either more consolidated or if you are lucky there is some hard packed snow which you can crampon up.
Essential GearFor the walk-in (3-4 days) you will need good sun protection.
In December it can be chilly but the suns rays will still burn you in as little as 10 minutes. It is the same for January and February but add the heat. Water can be an issue so bring lots (at least 3 liters) for the first day. There is water at various places along the way but the last source is a stream just 10 minutes outside of Pampa Lena. If you head uphill above where the mules cross it is clearer but must be filtered. The nmext day which can take 5-8 hours has a few streams but most of then are in the first 2 hours after you have crossed the Rio Vacas. There is water at the end at Casa Piedra. The following day to base camp has water the first half of the 6-8 hour day. But there is water at basecamp over across the glacial stream to the right as you look at the mountain. The rangers can be of help if this pipe is not working for any reason. Filter this as you would any water on the mountain.
Equipment list info:
Here is a brief list for you. This is approximately what I take.
1-pair of shorts for the walk in
2-pair t-shirts for the walk in
2-bandanas or a sun hat too keep off the sun
Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen plus zinc
Good sturdy Hiking shoes
1-sleeping bag (as warm as you can get)
1-sleeping pad (your choice the more confortable you are the better you sleep the more energy you will have) you can get a Crazy Creek chair that goes with your pad this is a good investment.
2-expedition weight Patagonia long underwear tops (or 1 depends on how dirty you like to be)
1-expedition weight Patagonia long underwear bottom 1 lightweight fleese bottom 1-heavy weight Patagonia or similar fleese
1-Gortex shell jacket
1-Gortex shell pants (full length zippers)
1-Down filled jacket liner from Feathered Friends of Seattle, (optional but I always end up using it)
1-Downfilled Gortex guides Parka 1-Warm hat with ear flaps
2-pair of heavy dury mittens (inc ase you lose one up high)
1-pair fleese gloves 1-pair ski gloves
1-pair of Koflach double plastic boots, One Sport ($$$) or Asolo (I think Koflach are better)
1-pair of gaitors
1-pair ski poles
1-ice axe (mostly for digging tent platforms)
1-pair of sharp crampons (test them on your boots before you leave and make sure they fit perfectly)
1-headlamp with extra batteries
1-cup with spoon attached
1- stove of your choice (I use Markhill stormy hanging stone, you can get fuel in Chile or Argentina as it is difficult to fly down) allow 10 canisters per 2-man tent. You can get white gaz easily.
1-tent (you can bring two if you wish and leave one set up at base camp in case one of you has to stay down for any reason. food for 12-15 days. If in doubt go with less rather than more as your appetite will decrease at the higher camps. You can fo a price purchase food at basecamp after January 1st. 3-1-litre waterbottles each (drink at least 5 litres a day to help acclimitise)
Doctors and helecopterThere is a permanent medical tent with up to four doctors at basecamp. Their services are free. You are now required to take a physical. They will take your blood pressure, listen to your lungs, and measure your pulse oxygen levels. If you do not measure up you will not be allowed to travel higher. At this moment in the permit office in Mendoza there is a sign warning that the use of Diamox is prohibited. The warning includes the message that the doctors have the right to send you packing if they find you are using this medication. If you intend on using Diamox, you have been advised. This presents a problem IMHO. The doctors at the camp will ask you what medications you are taking. To make an informed diagnosis on anyone's condition requires truthful disclosure from the patient. So if you keep it quiet they can't do their job. It is not the intention of this web site to advise you of what course to take on this. It is up to you.
There are regular helicopter visits at Plaza des Mulas and Plaza Argentina usually in the morning. This makes for quick transport out for people suffering from altitude sickness and thus improves safety. If the doctor is sending you out in an emergency the helecoper is free. Otherwise you will incure the costs.