Dispatches - Aconcagua 2003/04

February 16, 2004

During the southern summer of 2003/04, two Adventure Consultants teams endeavored to climb the highest peak outside the Himalaya, Aconcagua (6,962m/22,840ft). Their journeys are documented below.

Aconcagua Dispatches 2003-04

Team 1: 28 December 2003 - 19 January 2004

The expedition team members on the first climb, meeting in Mendoza on December 28:

Expedition Leader: Luis Benitez - USA
Team members:
John Rost - USA
Stephen Lennard - Australia
Tarn Pilkington - New Zealand
Elinor Slater - New Zealand

29 December 2003
Greetings everyone from sunny, windy, Argentina! We are off to the highest mountain in the southern hemisphere, the Sentinel of Stone, Aconcagua! Today, our 1st day on the road, was fairly uneventful. From Mendoza, it is about a 3-hour drive to our trailhead, the path leading up the Vacas Valley that will take us to Base Camp. Upon arrival here, the afternoon was spent weighing and sorting loads for the mules, the beast of burden that allows us to transport all our food and gear without carrying a heavy pack (champagne stowed with care for New Year's)!

John and Steven are in great spirits, ready to get the show on the road! Tarn and Eleanor, our husband and wife, guide and doctor team, will be joining us in a few days, as Eleanor is on her way back from Antarctica.

Until then stay tuned in for daily updates, progress on the mountain, and general goings on up here in the high country!

30 December 2003
Well the 1st day was everything we expected. Warm, windy, and wonderful!

5 hours of hiking brought us to our 1st night's camp, Pampa de Lenas. After a pizza dinner and trying to feed the leftovers to the mules, we are still trying to re-hydrate as the air here is so dry and dusty! Steven will be setting an altitude record for himself from here on out as this is the highest he has ever slept (about 10,000ft)! John is busy with his phone calling his kids and I am just happy to be back in the hills again!

So tomorrow night we will be in a very narrow part of the valley so no worries if you don't hear from us as the call may not go through, but we will try anyway! So until then, this is Luis and the dustballs, signing off...

31 December 2003
Greetings everyone, happy New Year's Eve!

Today was spent in the windy, dusty, dry Vacas Valley. We have reached our 2nd camp, our last on the trek before basecamp tomorrow. Tonight we are surrounded by other teams headed to Base Camp as well. The champagne flowed, albeit lightly given our altitude, resolutions were shared, and we are all looking forward to starting off our new year with an Aconcagua summit! Tomorrow will take about 6 hours and we are looking forward to the 1st day of 2004 being our 1st night at Base Camp.

Hopefully, Tarn and Eleanor will join us in the next few days and after a few days resting at base, we will begin to move up and down the mountain as a full group. So this is Steve, John and Luis wishing everyone back home a blessed and happy New Year!

Until Base Camp.....

1 January 2004
Happy New Year everyone!

Our 1st day of 2004 was spent walking to Base Camp. Along with the walk came river crossings, dusty wind, and a great welcome meal prepared by Carolina, our part-time Base Camp cook (read: I start cooking here tomorrow!). We are all settled in and looking forward to 2 days rest as we prepare loads to move higher up the mountain. Tarn and Elinor should be arriving tomorrow afternoon and the team will all be here! For now, we are content with our simple success in getting here, but also a bit sombre hearing news of the avalanche in New Zealand that claimed the lives of good people.

This strengthens our resolve to have a safe, fun and successful trip. Until tomorrow.

2 January 2004
Aaaaah, rest days.

Today was spent visiting new friends and old ones! Sorting food, checking gear for our carry to Camp 1, and generally settling into Base Camp. Around mid-afternoon, the team became complete with the arrival of Tarn and Elinor! Tomorrow will be more of the same, allowing our new arrivals to catch us up in the acclimatization process. There has been some deep soul searching the past few days around the avalanche back in NZ, as well as people's individual performance on the trip thus far. After careful consideration and thought, Steven has decided to make the climb with us to C1 in a few days and then return home. While this is a difficult decision to be sure, it gives Steven a personal best at an altitude 2,000m higher than he has ever been, in effect giving him his own kind of summit. I for one applaud his choice, as it shows a level of personal responsibility few exude in the mountains, given his struggles with the altitude thus far.

But till the 6th of January, we will be a family of 5, so stay tuned for all the fun and excitement that's sure to come!

3 January 2004
Packing, sorting, trying to stay out of the ever-present wind, and repacking for our carry to Camp 1 tomorrow was mostly how the day was spent.

We also got a show of the winds strength today as we watched in horror while a tent loaded with gear was ripped from its lashings and promptly flew off down valley. Needless to say we went back and put a few more rocks around our tents!

Tomorrow's carry should take us about 5 hours up and 1 hour down. Why do we do it this way? 2 reasons: 1) It would be too hard to carry all our stuff in one go and 2) It allows our bodies to gradually get used to ever increasing elevations.

So stay with us to find out what fun it is getting to Camp 1!

Until then...

4 January 2004
Huff and puff and work your way up!

Today we took 5 hours to go from base to Camp 1. Upon arrival, we rested, drank lots and dumped our loads under a pile of rocks, just in time to head back to base in 2 hours flat! 

We are now relaxing after a huge carbo load and getting ready to watch a movie in the "love dome", the large Mountain Hardwear dining tent. 

Tomorrow's meant to be a rest day before we head up to move into C1 so the day will be spent relaxing and recovering from our carry today.

So stay tuned for further updates!

5 January 2004
Wow, summer in the Andes!

Today, was hot with little wind! Most of the day was spent prepping for tomorrow, talking about altitude related illnesses, and generally resting up for the week ahead.

If everything goes to plan, we won't return to Base Camp until after our summit attempt. Tomorrow as we go up, Steven gets to be a real cowboy, hop on a horse and head back to Mendoza! We all wish him safe travels homeward...

So stay tuned for our progress!

6 January 2004
Greetings everyone from 16,200ft! 

Tarn, John and I are all cosied into one big tent, as Steven and Elinor have decided to head home. We send them our best as they head back to Mendoza. Tonight promises to have lots of tossing and turning, as the 1st night at a new elevation always does. We are excited to be finally moving up the hill and there are lots of others heading up with us! Tomorrow will be a rest day here, then we will carry to Camp 2 and return to Camp 1, planning on moving to Camp 2 in three days. John now feels like a super important person as he now has 2 guides looking after him! Although he is hoping that includes carrying him as well if he needs it!

So stay tuned! There's more to come!

7 January 2004
Greetings everyone. Not much to report today, seeing as it is a rest day. The most exciting news is that we traded a rice dish for some good ol' fashioned mac and cheese! Made for a great lunch!

We are watching the herd of new arrivals, reading about the dotcom bust (we split poor John's book into 3rds) and hydrating getting ready for our carry to Camp 2 tomorrow. Wish us luck and keep your fingers crossed that the weather holds!

8 January 2004
On the way!

Today's carry to Camp 2 went smoothly. 6 hours up and 1 hour 15 down. Needless to say, John is feeling great!

The plan as it stands now is to move to Camp 2 tomorrow and have a rest day the day after to prepare for our summit bid. We are all anticipating the move, as according to reports, some potentially bad weather may be moving in over the weekend. So, we are hoping to tough it out at Camp 2, if this storm actually materializes.

Stay tuned, as we keep climbing towards the heavens...

9 January 2004
Here we are... Camp 2!

19,200ft. John did amazingly well, as he and Tarn both are setting a record for sleeping altitude tonight! As for me, I am happy to be back up here. Aconcagua holds a very special place in my heart, as it was the 1st high peak I ever did out of Ecuador and Europe. Tomorrow is planned to be a rest day; a chance for our bodies to adjust to this altitude. There's a lot of other teams on this side this year. There is a team of 3 from Colorado that are traversing the mountain and a fella up here on his own after his partner fell ill and returned home. Lots of stories and varying levels of experience, all with one goal in mind, the summit.

So we will pass tomorrow playing cards, hydrating, resting and I will attempt to beat John at chess, we will see...

There is weather moving in. Weather here can be fierce: snow, cold and wind so strong, it actually has a name, La Escoba de Dios (in English, the Broom of the Gods). Not to worry as we are all hunkered in, plenty of food and fuel and lots of time.

So check in tomorrow to see if the broom has come out of the closet!

Till then, this is Luis, saying buenas noches. 

10 January 2004
Mmmm, freeze-dried food. One of the best parts I think of expedition life.

Today's been spent pretty much the same as all other rest days, eating and drinking with a little light exercise. The difference here is that just walking to visit the other tent renders you breathless! The much-anticipated storm seems to have blown by us. Given the ominous sky last night I for one am not convinced yet that all has passed, we will see.

Right now our plan is to leave for the summit at 4am. That means up at 2am, eating and drinking as best as you can at that hour. Right now I am anticipating 10 hours up and about 3 down. The route we have chosen will actually turn around the mountain, joining the normal route on the other side for the last 3,000ft or so. 

For us, on this remoter side of the mountain, it will be like sitting quietly in your back garden then hopping the fence to find your neighbours throwing one heck of a party. Lots of people on the other side, should make for an interesting story or two.

So tune in as we will try to call from the summit, condtions permitting. If not, I will send along news when we return to high camp tomorrow evening.

Till then this is Luis, telling everyone back home to send good summit day conditions our way!

11 January 2004

Sorry it took so long to send this out but we just returned to camp about an hour ago. Today had a bit of everything; wind, snow, drama from other teams, oh yes and a summit for us! The weather was upon us for part of the day. We are all back in camp now having dinner. All tired, but immensely satisfied.

So tomorrow we head down to base to celebrate, weather permiting.

Thanks for all the good wishes from home!

Till Base Camp...

12 January 2004
Another looooong day!

Straight from Camp 2 aaaalll the way down to Base Camp in 5 hours motivated by thoughts of pizza and cold beer! Tomorrow will be a day to organize and say goodbye to Base Camp as the mules come for our stuff the day after. But for tonight, it is time to celebrate!

More tomorrow, for now I have to go and fish the beer from the river!


13 January 2004
Hola everyone, my name is Marcelo the mule. Luis and Tarn and John have asked me to do the final cybercast as they are busy packing up camp, getting ready to put their junk on my back, so I can take it out to the trailhead for them. Life up here isn't easy, but talking to Luis it seems like they had a great trip. They all look healthy and eager to get going tomorrow. As for me, Tarn promised me a carrot, so I am gonna try to wait, how do you say in English? Be patient.

Oh yes, Luis just told me to tell everyone back home thanks, and so long from Aconcagua!

I must go, as typing this is beginning to hurt my hooves and get me some strange looks.

Adios hombres,


Team 2:  29 January - 21 February 2004

After a successful Aconcagua summit by the first Adventure Consultants expedition, the second expedition was ready to begin. The team met in Mendoza on January 29 and the expedition team members were:

Expedition Leader: Tarn Pilkington - New Zealand
Assistant Gude: Mark Sedon - New Zealand
Team Members:
Andrew McDonald - Australia
Donald Stott - New Zealand
Andrew Wall - New Zealand
Ellen Sagmyr - New Zealand

28 January 2004
Hola from Argentina.... Testing, testing.... come in... do you read me?

Hello everyone from the pool side in Mendoza. Four of the Aconcagua Expedition team members are here already and yesterday we went on a little wine tasting tour. Today it's down to business, checking group gear and food shopping. The two Andrews arrive tonight, then our group is complete. 

Hasta luego for now....


29 January 2004
Hi again from sunny Mendoza! The entire team are now together and enjoying the spoils of Argentina. Tonight we will enjoy our last buffet dinner with wine (and no doubt a few cocktails) before hitting the hay. Tarn and Mark have been busy finishing all the shopping and have checked everyone's gear before the early departure tomorrow for Penitentes. The rest of the team (especially Ellen) have been making the most of the shopping and practicing Spanish on the locals. Tune in again tomorrow to hear about the mule-loading at Penitentes and life at higher elevations.

Until then, ciao!


30 January 2004
Kia ora from Penitentes! 2,600m

The drive up out of the flat, dry Mendoza Valley was spectacular as we wound our way up the fast flowing river. The countryside is very similar to the deserts of Nevada, USA, with red, white and brown layers of soft crumbly sandstone. Penitentes is a small resort nestled below some fine looking skiing terrain. It's a bit like a windy shanty town in an old western movie. Deserted, dusty and we kinda expect to see clumps of tumbleweed rolling down the street.

We've weighed all our gear for the mules and while Tarn & Mark sip a cold beer, the others have gone for a short walk.

We're all excited about getting on the trail tomorrow up the Vacus Valley with our mules...


31 January 2004
Hi from Pampa de Lenas! We have completed our first trekking day and are enjoying a warm starry night. The 5 hour, 13km trek follows the river through the narrow Vacas Valley until reaching the first official camp site. The mules arrived right on time with our 250kg of gear and after registering with park staff we put up our tents, wolfed down some pasta and headed to bed early as tomorrow will be an early start.

This is the AC team signing off!


1 February 2004 - Casa de Piedra
Hello again from the beautiful Vacas Valley. We arrived at Casa de Peidra (3,200m) about 3:00pm today after an early start. The valley widened up and it was easy walking up the track. Tussocks and small shrubs lined the track with 1,500m of rolling hills above us, broken by crumbly cliffs. Just before camp, we got our first view of Aconcagua up the Relinchos Valley. What a sight! It looked fantastic. After setting up camp we rested and drank, attempting to replenish the liquids we're sweating out. It's very hot and windy. Tomorrow it's up 1,000m to Base Camp.


2 February 2004 - Base Camp arrival at last (4,200m)
Today we finally left the valley floor and climbed 1,000m to the luxury of Base Camp and our wonderful hostess Carolina. Tonight we will enjoy pizza and some beers before a well deserved nap. Everyone is looking great and coping with the altitude well. The next two days will be spent acclimatizing and preparing loads for the upper camps. The weather thus far has been sunny and hot. Conditions on the mountain are reported to be excellent and the team is psyched and ready to get out on the hill.

More coming from Base Camp soon...


3 February 2004 - Chillin' at 4,200m
Hello again! What a setup. We're sitting in our luxurious Base Camp facilities, sheltered from the wind and sun, while everyone else slums it outside.

Looming above us is Aconcagua (6,962m) and Mt Ameghino (5,918m). We're all resting up, drinking and eating. Brunch was bacon, scrambled eggs and sausages. Ellen and Macka showered this morning while Mark and Donald shaved. Arnie's not feeling well, so is resting in his tent. Tarn's starting to look a little rough around the edges, but still smiling, even with the extra pressures of being Expedition Leader. Luckily he managed to find Mark's lost chocolate stash or there could have been tears.

Another rest day tomorrow, but the guides will be busy organising loads for our first carry to Camp 1.

Bye for now...


4 February 2004 - A sad day at 4,200m
This morning we had to farewell team funny guy, Andrew Wall (aka Arnie). Arnie got flown from Base Camp due to medical reasons. He's planning on a trip to Argentina's sunny beaches before meeting us all in Mendoza after our summit attempt. We're all sad to see Arnie go and his humour will be missed. But safety comes first and he was in good spirits.

The rest of the team have acclimatised well and are enthusiastic to move up the mountain.

The rest of the day was spent sorting food for tomorrow's carry to Camp 1 and manufacturing insulating for our boots and drink bottles. The mountain seems very quiet with hardly any people around Base Camp. A lot different from Tarn's last trip. Quite enjoyable though.......


5 February 2004 - On the move to Camp 1
The team was on the move today overcoming Base Camp lethargy to complete a carry to Camp 1. After a casual breakfast, we wrestled our large packs up the moraine to what will be our new home at 5,000m. It felt good to be on the move and the crew made short work of the carry, returning to Base Camp in six hours. We stopped just below Camp 1 in melted snow formations (called Penitentes). Everyone is feeling fighting fit and continues to eat ravenously (Ellen is already fantasizing about steak!). Donald and Andrew are now taking a wee nap which leaves Mark and Ellen to create tonight's culinary masterpiece. So until tomorrow, this is the AC team signing off


6 February 2004 - Base Camp Feasting
Today's rest day has been an orgy of eating and resting. It all started with pancakes and fruit, followed by scrambled eggs, hash browns and toast for lunch. Dinner was thanks to our departed friend, Arnie, and his left over greenbacks. A roast chicken, potatoes, carrots and pumpkin!

In between all this eating, we showered, shaved, washed clothes and slept. It's even a wind free day (rare up here), so everyone's sitting outside in the warm sunshine. Tomorrow we're moving up to Camp 1, finally on our way towards our summit push. Weather and bodies permitting, we hope to get into position for a go at the top by about February 12/13th. It's exciting to be packing and thinking about the next weeks adventure.

Stay tuned...


7 February 2004 - Move to Camp 1 (5,000m)
orale is high but the bodies are weary after the move today to our new home at Camp 1. Our packs seemed even heavier today as we struggled up the final moraine wall (three steps forward, two back). We were however faster this time than our first carry and everyone is acclimatising extremely well. Life however is about to get a whole lot tougher as we now move onto mountain food and leave the pizzas and roast chickens of Base Camp behind. Tonight's delicacy will be a creamy carbonara and a cup of hot chocolate for dessert! The team gets a sleep in tomorrow as we will rest before our first carry to Camp 2.

Catch you tomorrow, buenos noches!


8 February 2004 - Horizontal at Camp 1
Our first night at 5,000m was pretty cool. A storm swept in with light snow and gale force winds. It would be calm for a few seconds, then we'd hear the wind coming like a freight train, smashing into our tents, shaking and battering them for a while before going calm again. It was quite the show, with us tucked up warmly in our sleeping bags.

The clouds have gone today, with the wind remaining moderate to strong. We're all napping and snacking while our bodies adjust to the altitude. All going well we'll carry a load to Camp 2 tomorrow. Mmmmmmm, what can I eat next?


9 February 2004 - Flogging ourselves up to Camp 2
A big day for the team today with the first carry to Camp 2 at 5,850m. New personal altitude records were set by Ellen, Donald and Andrew who styled it returning to Camp 1 in six hours. Plenty of folks were on the move today to Camp 2 and the race was on for the primo campsites. We were overtaken by galloping Poles and other international mixes of hard breathing and sweating Aconcagua hopefuls (slow and steady wins the race!). The views were fabulous as we climbed out of the main valley and could see into Chile and north along the Central Andes. A well deserved soup and cheese board is now being demolished and a quick nap will follow for sure.

So until tomorrow, this is the well exercised AC Team signing off.



10 February 2004 - Donald's observations
Today is rest day at Camp 1 before we leave to set up Camp 2 at 19,000ft (just worked out the conversion from m to ft). As I try to find a comfy position amongst the rocks I can see our expedition leader Tarn resting in his tent after a hard morning of making dehydrated scrambled eggs. Meanwhile his assistant Mark is sunbathing reading a book on his padded chair! To be fair they will need all the rest they can get to piggyback me to the summit at 22,835ft -yeah right! Seemed so much easier at 6,962m. With all these wirey mountaineering types up here I must look like the mountain going to the mountain! Big boy looking good so far.

Tarn is now in his second most favourite position - bent over the MSR - cooking again. Macoroni cheese to help us make the big climb to Camp 2 tomorrow. Mark has taken his shift in the tent and the rest of us are trying to find comfortable possies to relax out of the sun. We have discovered that the most important skills a modern day guide can have are computing and electronic skills. Neither Tarn nor Mark ever look as tortured dealing with our questions, making weather calls or guiding our movement up the mountain, as they do each night when it is time to wrestle with the technology and send the dispatch. The variables needing to be managed to do this successfully makes dealing with the people and environment look like a walk in the park. But they have approached this challenge with the same commitment and professionalism they have to all the other aspects of of the expedition and we have heard the language to prove it! Here comes lunch and its not freeze dried - better run, er, well walk....



Andrew's notes: As the sole Australian amongst a hoard of Kiwis, this climb has been a difficult undertaking. In addition to the obvious demands of climbing there has been the need to translate the Kiwi-nese language into my native tongue (English). Despite the difficulties this has created on both sides, I just take it all with a smile and say, "ey bro it's all sweet, after tha climb we'll go and puck up som fush und chups".

P.S. The guides are speechless!

11 February 2004 - Freezing at Camp 2
We made it to Camp 2 at 6:00pm today after a late start. A snowstorm rolled in yesterday evening at it snowed right through the night, until mid morning today. The was a heap of wind also so it was pretty miserable. 

It must be around -10°C here tonight, but it's great to have camp set up. Tarn's sitting here, puffed after blowing up his thermarest. Dinner was freeze dried Thai chicken curry, not bad for about 5,900m.

There's a rumor of a storm tomorrow, but we'll see. It's a rest day, hopefully followed by a summit bid on Friday the 13th... he he. Lucky none of us are superstitious.

Time for sleep.



12 February 2004 - The tough life at Camp 2
Yes it's a tough old life here at Camp 2 (5,850m). The weather is beautifully sunny today with light winds and cool temperatures. We have spent the day eating, reading, resting and keeping an eye on two people moving very slowly up the Polish Glacier. Camp 2 is a hive of activity with around twenty new people checking in for the next few nights. Snow lies about and the route to the Summit is a snow path - last month it was the "Aconcagua Shuffle" on loose rock all the way to the top. Our plan is to acclimatise one more day before the summit attempt so everyone is feeling strong and ready for the long day to 6,962m. Weather permitting we hope to be on the summit around 3pm Saturday which is 7am Sunday in NZ.

So until next time this is the AC team (all in bed at 3pm) wishing you well.


13 February 2004 - Freeze-dried at Camp 2
Let's portray life at 5,800m a little more honestly; freeze-dried meals, down jackets to keep the cold out and hard rocks to sit on.

With rumors of a big storm coming in, we were tempted to have a go for the summit today. But thanks to the AC office staff in Wanaka, NZ, and our sat phone, we were able to get a 'real' weather forecast, allowing us an extra rest day. The entire team is feeling better for it and excited about tomorrow's climb. Today we went for a short walk and are now packing and preparing for tonight's climb. 

We'll be leaving during the early, cold dark hours and climbing the 1,100m to the summit. We estimate getting there around 2-3pm (6-7am Sunday, NZ time). Conditions look great with snow from here to the top.  

We're taking the phone, so a lucky few might just get an early wake up call?  

Wish us luck...


14 February 2004 
We made it - Summit success - We got there!!

At 4 pm today, AC team members Donald Stott and Andrew Macdonald with guide Mark Sedon stood on the summit of Aconcagua (6,962m). Conditions were windy and cold all day but many teams from the Polish and normal routes braved the blustery conditions - there were 25 on the summit when our team arrived!

Ellen and Tarn made it to the base of the Caneleta (6,600m) but decided to turn around due to the cold conditions. The summiters rolled back into Camp 2 around 8pm making for a very long day considering we started at 4:30am this morning . A quick brew and everyone is well crashed out in bed after and no doubt dreaming of hamburgers at Base Camp.

Ciao, Tarn

15 February 2004 !! Baths Needed !!
'Five smelly climbers back at Base Camp' - We arrived back at our luxurious Base Camp facilities at 5:30pm, after leaving Camp 2 at 12:30pm. Our packs were obscenely large, and bodies very tired from yesterday's climb. But now we await a delicious dinner cooked by Carolina, our Base Camp manager, and will enjoy dinner, beer and wine. 

Sleep will come easily tonight...


16 February 2004 - The End (Last dispatch from Aconcagua)
For our last dispatch from Base Camp I decided to open the floor to the whole team:

Ellen: We all know the impact the people you are with can make to the quality of your experience. This was a high quality experience with lots of laughs, unlimited amounts of support and accommodation of people's individual needs - and quirks. The team, the beauty of Aconcagua and the challenges it presents have made this a really worth-while trip.

Andrew: Big hill, nasty weather, good people, great experience. What next, higher? Tougher?...Chess?

Donald: Highly recommend this as an alternative to a beach holiday. Looking forward myself to getting back to sea level and a flush toilet.

Tarn: Looking forward to a night without Mark trying to spoon me and whispering Jo in my ear. Seriously though, its been a fantastic trip with great people (we missed you Arnie) on a much underestimated mountain.

Mark: Since I'm the last to write I may as well come clean. It was great to spoon Tarn on the cold nights, listen to his sweet snore, smell his mountain musk and listen to his pee bottle filling near the top. What else can I say... Great experience! I'll be home soon Jo...

Well that's it... we walk out tomorrow to Pampa de Lenas and reach Mendoza on the 18th with late nights and hangovers sure to follow. So from all of us here hasta luego... The AC Team

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