In August 2003 a planned journey to the Indian Himalaya had fallen through so I started to plan an alternative. The question was, to where and with who?
The conditions for "where" were simple enough. I had tasted isolation in India with an IMC expedition (this was an expedition because we set out to climb the highest unclimbed peak in a province) and wanted to find something similar again. A high mountain in South America, not mentioned in magazines or books would fill the bill. People should ask "where is that?" when I told them where I was going.
When we go mountaineering in Europe we decide where to go, how to get there and what to do when we get there with no help from any other outside agency except ferry operators or airlines. As far as possible I wanted to follow the same principle on this holiday. There are easier ways of doing things - booking onto a commercial group for example - but they drain some of the adventure out of the whole experience.
My first choice was Tupungato, 6500m, on the Argentina/Chilé border. I had read the book of the first ascents of Aconcagua and Tupungato by Fitzgerald and his Swiss guides and this made it seem possible and interesting. I knew that it was south of Aconcagua and believed that I had once glimpsed it from the road to Punta del Inca. Nobody I knew had ever heard of it and that was recommendation enough.
Next I had to get some information. Fitzgerald's book is in the RDS library but I no longer had access to this so I scoured the web. Amongst the billions of web pages of information on every topic under the sun I found reams of information about the discovery of a long-lost airliner in a glacier on the mountain but only one account of a climbing trip.
www.jmilne.org/mntn seemed interesting, a US citizen who went alone and climbed Tupungato and another peak 100kms to the north, Mercedario, 6750m. This seemed like all of my birthdays coming together - 2 worthwhile unfashionable mountains to climb rather than one. I decided to imitate Milne.