20 December 2017

Our team has summited Mount Aconcagua!





The challenging Mount Aconcagua

Our fundraiser this year is for our executive director, Ben Freeth and his team to climb Mount Aconcagua, which is located in the Argentinean Andes. Aconcagua is the highest mountain in the world outside the Himalayas, standing at 6,962m/22,841ft. The sheer altitude, as well as high winds and deep snowfalls, make the climb extremely tough.

To acclimatise, they are first summiting Chile’s Cerro el Plomo (5,424m/17,795ft).

The money raised will go towards the vital work of the Mike Campbell Foundation in Zimbabwe. To donate, visit our JustGiving page:

Our Mount Aconcagua climbing team from the left:

Ben Freeth, James Egremont-Lee, Josh and Stephen Freeth, Tristan Egremont-Lee


23 November 2017: Message from Ben before he set off:

We are raising #thisflag to the world's highest point outside the Himalayas to raise money for justice and former farm workers in Zimbabwe:

“We have faced massive persecution and witnessed terrible destruction in Zimbabwe. It requires courage, tenacity and teamwork to overcome them and move forward. The camaraderie, grit and triumph involved in summiting great mountains are valuable lessons for life's other formidable challenges.”

I don't think I have ever been so ill prepared for an expedition. The last two weeks has been so full. In amongst planting crops, packing and distributing our maize seed to former farm workers and all the things of a new season, the President of 37 years has been overthrown in a bloodless coup. It has been charged with such emotion, such joy, so many hearts bursting and so many rivers of tears flowing. As I ended one interview yesterday "it's God, God, God all the way."

On Monday night (20 November) I broke the news to the team that we were going to have to cancel. On Tuesday evening (21 November) Mugabe resigned. One of my first messages was Christina Lamb from the Sunday Times. "Now you can climb the mountain" she said and she was right. The intervening days have been non-stop TV, radio and print media interviews along with all the social media posts. But we are now on our way.

We go to Johannesburg; Sao Paulo in Brazil and then Santiago in Chile. None of us have ever been to South America. After 3 hours sleep last night and not much sleep at all in the last two weeks, we will have a chance to catch up on the plane before going straight to the first acclimatisation mountain, Cerro el Plomo......


Updates from Ben and the team:

27 November 2017: Cerro El Plomo - 5,424m (17,795ft).

Perfect weather – now at 3,670 metres.  Cerra El Plomo towering above us.  Signal difficult. Hoping to get to Santiago on Thursday evening.

28 November 2017: Cerro El Plomo - camp at 4,140m


The team is now camped at 4,140m in a vast, barren landscape of rock and ice and snow. We aim to make the summit of Cerro El Plomo 1,300m above us starting at 1am tomorrow. We are tired but morale is good and the weather looks excellent.

30 December 2017

Yes! We’ve finished the acclimatisation expedition and it was magical (Ben).

5 December 2017:  Travelling between Chile and Argentina


We are now up on the high mountain pass between Argentina and Chile.  It’s high: on the way here in the bus the Brazilian sitting next to me got bad altitude sickness.

It’s Wild West sort of country – big arid mountain fortresses of rocky spires and impossible to scale steep winding valleys where banditos would hide and bullets would ping off the rocks if you let your imagination run just a tiny little bit.

There’s an old disused railway that also winds up through the valley with old cowboy film bridges over canyons and fast flowing snow melt rivers.  It’s straight out of a film set, except it is all real.

We have packed 190 kgs of food and gear and will be helping load most of it on mules tomorrow morning to get to base camp 3 days walk away.

It’s wonderful to be at last starting out on the proper expedition.  The mountains beckon.  We are all so excited.  The great super moon has risen.  It’s all a great adventure.  It’s such a tremendous relief to have finally sorted out the impossible paperwork and permits and payments that were all necessary.

7 December 2017:  Pumas near base camp!

News from the camp: All the team members are well, about 2 hours walk from base camp. They will be spending the next 3 or 4 nights at base camp and carrying kit etc up to camp 1 over these days.

They are at 4,000 m now and they will be at 5,000m at camp 1 so have to get acclimatized. Hopefully the team will summit on 15th or 16th December at 7,000m. They all sound very cheerful. They’ve seen little creatures that are like llamas. They had puma spoor within 6m of where they were sleeping!


An awe-inspiring lunar landscape

Supermoons in the Wild West


 8 December 2017: Ascending the Vacas Valley

From our start at Punta de Vacas at 2,400 meters we have been gradually working our way up the Vacas valley heading north for the last 3 days.  It has been a wonderful wild walk.  On the first evening we spotted foxes – and then during the night a puma came within 6 metres of our two tents.  James, ever the safari guide, spotted the unmistakable spoor in the morning after which the ranger got his camera out, very excited.

Today we took a westerly turn up a very steep valley with a gushing clear snow melt river that tumbled over rocks and cascaded down falls.  After 1,000 meters ascent we got to base camp. We spotted herds of guanaco up at around 4,000 meters.  They are a sure footed and hardy breed of animal about the size of a waterbuck, related to the camel and able to move over the most treacherous terrain.

We are now nearly two vertical kilometres higher than when we started.  We are based at Plaza Argentina at 4,200 m.  Aconcagua peak towers another 2.8 vertical kilometers above us to the West behind a jagged rocky face.

It is quite a shock to see other people here after having had a wild walk with no one on the same route as us.

Our weather has been fabulous.  Crystal clear blue sky days where visibility stretches for a hundred miles.  The stars at night have twinkled so hard that it has been like a silent discotheque to gaze up into them!

We hired a true cowboy – nicknamed Tuna – to bring up our excess provisions on his beautiful mules.  I have never seen such skillful handling of animals.  The mules go up anything, loaded with all our things, at a trot.

Loaded up and ready to go!

Tuna is a true “hombre”.  On the first night he slept outside behind a rock with a few jackets and sheep skins spread over him at an altitude considerably higher than Zimbabwe’s highest mountain.  We only knew he was there because we saw the pile stir.

He brought food for his riding mule which he tethered close by.  The other mules were hobbled and allowed to graze.  In the morning he rides off on his sheep skin saddle with his lasso to find them and bring them back.

Tuna is a solitary cowboy and a man of very few words.   When loading the mules he blindfolds them with a blanket and can put a few hundred kilograms on half a dozen animals on his own and be on his way in less than an hour.  Not a single load ever seems to slip despite the jiggling trotting up narrow and precipitous mountain paths with drops of hundreds of meters with one false step.

The boys are all bearing up well.  Nobody seems to be able to believe how well they are doing.  It’s very rare for boys to have a stomach to attempt such a feat – and seasoned mountain guides are very impressed.  Sebastian, from Inka who have been so amazing at helping us get the mules and get through the bureaucracy, was dropped off by his Dad at the age of 15 to climb the mountain.  He understands the spirit of adventure.

None of us have suffered from altitude sickness yet.  James, who did not do the Cerro el Plumo climb, has done really well, although he is much slower as a result of not having been up high in Chile.  This will soon change.

We will start ferrying food up to camp 1 at 5000 meters tomorrow if we are feeling strong and then probably move up there on Sunday.  Winds are forecast to be over 100 Km an hour on Tuesday at the summit.  Temperatures on the summit are around -20 degrees with wind chill factors of up to minus 38 degrees.

We will stay at camp 1 for a few days ferrying loads up to nearly 6,000 meters where we will be consolidating for the summit bid sometime after the 14th of December.  This will all depend on weather and on how we are all feeling.

It’s all so exciting!  Thank you for your support and prayers.  We hope that we will be able to raise a good amount of sponsorship money for this climb.

11 December 2017:  High winds and snow forecast

All well at base camp. Josh and I (Ben) did a portage up to camp 1 on Friday and we all did a portage today (sat). We have established a tent up there at 5000 m – higher than Mont Blanc in the alps! We may have a rest day tomorrow and then move up on Monday.  There is snow forcast that afternoon and 130 kmh winds the next day on the summit.  We will hunker down and wait it out.

13 December 2017: 5,500 metres and fearsome winds roar

Our portage of food to 5,500m was very successful.  Our bodies have acclimatised well to being above where all life ordinarily exists.  We are now hunkered down with tents cracking their rip stop nylon in a fearsome wind that roars around the rocks ferociously.  Some gusts are difficult to stand up in.  The wind will be worse tomorrow and then lessening.  We are gradually creeping upwards.

14 December 2017:  One step....


Onward and upwards, one step at a time!

“One step.” We take “one step.” The pattern repeats: “one step.” On and on it is “one step.”

Forever so minuscule but “one step.” Time passes and the steps go on. Through the night and under the sun.

The steps do not stop repeating. An endless rhythm of continuous foot falling. The steps are an old age shuffle, weak and so obviously mechanical, A function of the minds iron will, Overriding the body indefatigable.

Never ceasing though the body’s screaming. The lungs gasping nearly bursting. The steps continue towards the top The sights are set: they will not stop. Patterns flow through those wearied feet, Making ground through cold and heat Traversing landscapes harsh and cold The patterns from the mind unfold.

Will we reach the goal above? We cannot fly on the wings of a dove. The air is thin. The way is steep. The body wants to succumb to sleep. But the mind is strong. The will is there. We want to go up the summit stair. With God we want to reach for the highest place; With Him we will climb in life’s great race. With Him we want to build our country!

With him we want to see Zimbabwe Rise beyond the desolate land; Where hunger stalks we must make a stand. We want to see what we can do, push the limits to do things new, Stir the mind to take one step more To find the limits on that distant shore. One step on. One step more. One step and a million more. One step and the top is clawed To reach the place where the condor soared!

15 December 2017: Sharing teabags at 5,500m

We are happily ensconced at 5,500m. It’s a classic spot between glaciers and looking down on snow clad peaks.  The sky is the deepest blue imaginable.  We are all strong – even after the heroic portage by the others in the horrible wind.  James had antibiotics and after 16 pain killers they have relieved my tooth-ache.

James and Tristan spotted a fox at 5,500m today.  This is a full 1,200m above the last hardy plant we saw.  We can see the whole Andes range stretching away to the north. It’s an inspiring sight. 

Our main drama currently is we are seriously short of tea. Each tea bag has to do about 4 cups at this stage.

15 December 2017:  Quiet determination.  Portage to 6,000m

We had a good night at 5,500m and will all be portaging to nearly 6,000m today.  Tomorrow we will portage the remaining gear and the next day we appear to have a weather window to make an attempt to struggle to the summit. This is so exciting and at the same time rather daunting.  There is a quiet determination amongst the boys.

18 December 2017:  Ferocious storms at 6,000

We are up at 6,000m in a ferocious storm.  It took two hours to get the tents up and another two to build a protective wall.  The noise is deafening.  It was a real struggle to get here today.  We hope it dies out by morning. If not we will postpone the summit bid.


Weathering the storm

19 December 2017:  Thank God for the rescue hut ....

Last night we were caught in a tremendous storm where our tents were damaged.  The wind was appalling. We managed to collapse the tents after the boys’ tent began migrating south east towards the summit at about 3 a.m. 

Fortunately we managed to get into a tiny emergency refuge to weather the rest of the storm and then descended to 5,600 to recuperate until our next summit bid on Tuesday. Moral was at rock bottom but is now soaring with some warmth and food and laughter.


Loaded up and ready for the summit bid


21 December 2017:  Aconcagua success! We reached the summit:  6,962m/22,841ft

We have been sleeping and climbing above 5,000 m over the last 9 days so apologies for the very brief updates on the satellite phone which finally died yesterday.

Yesterday (20 December) was a phenomenal day.  After our tents got so badly damaged in the storm at camp cholera on the 17th our chances for summiting were much reduced.  Morale sunk to a very low ebb.  We were due to make our summit bid that day but it was impossible with the weather conditions.  

We descended to a camp at 5,600 m and used an "Inka" company tent which was not being used for the night.

The next day we moved back up to 5,900 meters and with our ice axes cleared a small wooden hut of snow - which it was full of.  The hut was about 2m by 2m and on a slope towards the door.  Fitting 5 people in such a tiny place was a challenge!  I opted to go by the door to collect snow for melting to cook and rehydrate.  It was snowing outside and the door was cobbled together with a bit of wire.  Snow drifted in through all the cracks - and with the other 4 continually drifting down the slope from the other side none of us had a good night.

In the morning the snow was still blowing and it took us a couple of hours to melt enough snow to all rehydrate.  The forecast was better for the afternoon.  We only therefore left after 7 am.

At the infamous camp cholera James was told we were mad to carry on with the wind blowing the snow around the way it was.

We carried on slowly gaining height.  The weather started to improve.  It was a slow ascent but we kept at it - one little step at a time. 

The first part of the ascent is a giant scree slope of several hundred meters of vertical ascent.  We got to Indepencia hut - the highest hut in the world at 6,400 m in good shape.  Needless to say this tiny hut is a ruin with the severe weather it has to withstand.

From there we proceeded up a steep snow slope to "windy ridge" and then onto another great scree slope where we traversed to the right. We needed crampons for this.

We got to the cave before the infamous Canaletta within about 6 hours.  Here we were told by 2 mountain rangers who were climbing the mountain at the same time that the turnaround time was 3 o'clock as there was more weather coming in.

James and Tristan, who were a bit behind, asked for an hour’s grace.  I was in no mood to compromise and told Josh and Stephen that we would declare war with our ice axes if we were made to turn around just before the summit.

Each step up was becoming excruciatingly difficult.  At first with our well acclimatized bodies it was one breath a step.  Later it became 2 breaths, then 3, but now it was 4.  When the foot slipped back on ice or scree, the 4 breaths would have to begin again. 

We could see ahead but each landmark took so terribly long to get to.  A rock 20 metres distant might take 5 minutes to reach at full stretch.   And then if we had overdone it, we might be forced to rest.  We had to be so disciplined about the rest though.  Time passed resting gets you nowhere.  The temptation is to rest.

We forced our exhausted bodies upwards.  Eventually, at about 3 pm, Stephen smelt the summit.  Where he got the energy from I don't know.  It was only 30 metres away but he pushed himself upwards.  Josh followed suit and I stumbled up behind. 

Mission accomplished – the summit at last!

We found great strength at the top to hug each other like bears.  Down below we could see James and Tristan.  They were heroically making their way up.  It was 3.45 when first James and then Tristan came over the final crest.  The hugs began again and the tears flowed.  We had made it!  We had got to the top of the highest mountain in the world outside the Himalayas!  We hammered an identical cross we had put on the top of Kilimanjaro on to the top - with the 10 Commandments  inscribed into it.

Down at base camp today, nearly 3 vertical km lower, we are being treated like heroes by the Inka team and other climbers.  The Inka team have been so amazingly friendly and helpful and generous!

So few complete teams make it to the top.  Children making it to the top are almost unheard of.  Children making it without porters or guides are a complete rarity. 

"It's God" James said as we are stumbling down this morning.

"Yes" I agreed.  "It's God!"

The cross erected by the team at the summit of Mount Aconcagua

Thank you all for your wonderful support


Ben Freeth

Executive Director

Mike Campbell Foundation

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The Mike Campbell Foundation seeks justice for victims of torture and abuse in Zimbabwe; Works towards the restoration of the rule of law; Assists those forced to live in extreme poverty with survival skills; Brings hope where there is only despair.

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