Live Broadcast from Realitatea TV studios on Alex's Makalu and Gashebrum 2 expeditions
August 2, 2008
Alex returned to Romania - see the news on Realitatea TV
July 30, 2008
Alex is returning to Romania
Alex is returning to Romania on August the 2nd, 18.50PM, with the flight from Athens after almost four months spent in the Himalayas.
July 21th, 2008
Too much wind.Too much snow.Too much danger. Too much unpredictability. Too much pain.
"the voice in my head says
love is the distance between you and what you love
whether you love what you love
or live in divided ceaseless revolt against it
what you love is your fate"
It's over for this time.
I just could not get to understand the weather pattern these days up the mountain. And what this pattern will later on evolve into. And the consequences of the different scenarios we were about to be exposed to. I just could not understand it this time…
But the fact that both Pawel and myself are alive and with all our fingers and toes in perfect condition and color might give us a hint about the rightness of our decision even if up there we felt that reaching the summit was possible. But what we couldn't foresee there at 7000m, was the price we should have had to pay for it.
We might have made it to the summit or in its proximity but the weather window was simply much too short to have allowed us to safely get back to our tent in Camp Three. I reckon we would have needed around fourteen hours just to reach the top from Camp Three and maybe six more on our way back.
The forecast coming from three different sources was perfect for making a bid to the summit on July 18th and 19th. On Friday night I was climbing the "Banana" ridge with Pawel up to Camp Two on an almost full moon. No headlamps were needed. We never turned them on. The light was somehow surreal and we were feeling confident and strong, making a fast progress. I think one of the most rewarding Himalayan experiences you can get is climbing an eight thousand meter peak in a small light party of two friends. On Friday morning I was climbing with Pawel towards Camp Three when we first met Gloria Brighenti descending and, after one hour, Simone La Terra and Hassan Sadpara, Gloria's high altitude porter. They were retreating after an unsuccessful summit bid the night before.
That night, around twenty people tried in vain to reach the top in what was the second massive summit push of the season. Simone got feet frostbite while ending the summit pyramid traverse and wisely decided to turn back. On Camp Four he tried to use the emergency oxygen to speed up his blood circulation but the regulator was dead frozen. He only managed to do this after about two hours of trying to "reanimate" it. The gas has most probably saved his feet, as he told later in the base camp. Hassan also got frostbite but this time on his fingers. He and Gloria reached about three hundred vertical meters from the top when the strong wind and the deep snow made them turn back, not before digging a snow hole to protect them from the wind for about one hour.
Black clouds started coming from the west and the mild snow fall from the morning got into a full blizzard while reaching the spot of the Camp Three at around 6900m. The spindrift was merciless beating my face and the area around my neck got wet and hellish. Last year on this mountain I had reached one hundred meter less before retreating due to high avalanche risk.The blizzard lasted all the day and Pawel was worried that our tent, including ourselves inside, would be blown down the mountain.
We had already got very concerned about going down to Camp One after the heavy snow fall since the slopes will be loaded with fresh dangerous snow, waiting for an irresponsible climber to trigger an avalanche.
The storm calmed down into the evening and, at around ten o clock, I told Pawel to turn off his headlamp since I was trying to get some sleep. Incredibly, it was not his lamp lighting our tent but a big round full moon outside. Nevertheless, some nasty clouds were still conquering part of the western sky. We spoke for some twenty minutes about what to do and decided to wait and asses the situation one more time early in the morning. And if the weather was good and looked stable, we would have a try to the top. If not, we'd better descend as soon and as safe as possible.
The next day came with high winds over 7000m and a sea of clouds bellow us. We could see the blizzard blowing the snow around the summit pyramid for distances of dozen of meters. It could have been suicidal to be around the summit in such weather. But something inside myself was desperately longing for the summit.
We took eleven hours of countless abseils and then descended over the ice fall till we reached the base camp in mild snowfall.
The same night, Finnish Veikka Gustaffson (twelve eight thousand meter peak summiter, the regular climbing partner of Ed Viesturs), Colombian Fernando Gonzales Rubio (with seven eight thousanders) and Spanish Esther Sabadell Simo (North Face Athlete, two eight thousanders) with Hassan, her high altitude porter, tried to reach without success the summit of the neighboring G1. Veikka retreated one hundred meters from the summit. Fernando stopped at around 7600m when he felt the things were just not right to continue and Esther with her partner started to go down from around 7400m.
Perhaps G2 is trying to teach me more things about the mountains and life than my three summit successes in less than two years on Cho Oyu, G1 and Makalu. Will I have the wisdom to keep my eyes opened enough for it?
Between April 10th, the day I left Romania and the time being, two of the leading alpinists of our days that I personally knew and deeply admired and respected have perished in the Himalayas: Inaki Ochoa and Karl Unterkircher. About Inaki I have wrote in my previous post named "Rescue in Annapurna."
I just found out Karl Unterkircher has died July 15th on Nanga Parbat when a snow bridge collapsed while lead climbing. Karl, together with Walter Nones and Simon Kehrer were trying to open a new route on the Rakhiot face. The whole night has been uselessly spent by his two friends in order to attempt a rescue. Walter and Simon where then forced to resume their climb up to 7000m to exit the face because of the unsteady nature of the route they were on and the impossibility to down climb it. A massive rescue operation for Walter and Simon is now under way, performed by a big Italian team lead by 14 eight thousand meter summiter Silvio Mondinelli.
I just cannot forget Karl lasts words to me while leaving the hotel in Islamabad: "Alex, be careful... G2...as is a very dangerous mountain..." I first met Karl last year in the same place I am now, the Gasherbrum Base Camp. He just made history by making the first ascent of the Gashebrum 2 North Face, of which I wrote on my June 26th dispatch of this expedition.
Some time you just meet some special people for a few very fleeting moments. And maybe you don't realize this in the beginning, but these encounters will remain with you forever. Because of the energy they give you, because of the inspiration you get.
When enough is enough, it is probably time to temporarily back down and change the water. No matter if this is up high on the mountain or in the everyday life.
Moutain is Mountain and His sovereignty is absolute.
I'm now into the Base Camp at 5000m, lying on two chairs, Texan style, with a cup of amazing hot chocolate on my left side. 91% oxygen saturation in my blood. My beard has grown a lot. Maybe I'm looking more mature. But only looking. Sharing my thoughts. Outside there is a bit of wind. I feel the mountain bellow the foggy curtain. LIFE IS GOOD.
July 14th, 2008
Still in Base Camp; summit push aborted due to bad weather
Well... we are still in Base Camp after we aborted our Saturday evening intention to start our summit push. The next try should have been this evening but the last night incoming snowfall made us again change our minds.
Nevertheless, last night Simone La Terra, Gloria Brighenti and Hassan Sadpara decided to start for the summit. Over the radio we found out they are now in Camp One where is heavily snowing as well. On G1, Veikka Gustaffson reached Camp Two in Gashebrum La together with the Spanish team and Colombian Fernando Gozales Rubio.
The North Face team is temporarily stranded at 7000m (tonight it will be their four night in Camp Three), the Finnish Kim retreated from his summit day due to high snow and the Polish team seemed to have made no progress as well from their Camp Two. Antonio Vicari reported over the radio just minutes ago he is unwilling to descend to Camp One due to avalanche danger.
The forecast that we had announced good weather till next Saturday with some strong winds over 7000m and with Monday being "not so good but still". Pawel and myself were planning to be on the top on Friday, starting on a full moon directly from Camp Three, but with the option open for a light Camp Four at 7500m as well.
For sure, I cannot climb the mountain by staying into the base camp but I learned that sometimes while out into the wild is just better of listening to my instincts. And I am glad to have remained here. I stated many times that high altitude mountaineering is in a way a game of the tuff nerves and of endless waiting for the good weather. And choosing the right moment to go up is maybe more an art than assembling meteo data. People now up the mountain might have their fair chance of getting to the summit in the following days but I am simply not confident to be up there in these moments. Last year I've been waiting into the base camp (to read, being afraid/cautious to go up) while on the same route and somehow similar conditions two people died after releasing an avalanche on the way to Camp Three.
It's just hard to get to understand this Karakoram weather.
Our next bid for the summit might start tomorrow evening. Might start...
PS: at my 6 pm radio contact with the guys up the mountain I was told my tent in Camp Two has been broken and blown up by the wind, luckily not off the mountain but in a nearby crevasse. It seems all our gear it's ok but as for the tent we have to go up with a replacement.
July 11th, 2008
Alex Gavan about the tomorrow summit push live on Radio Guerrilla.
After some days of resting in Base Camp we will finally start our push to the summit of G2 tomorrow evening. Let's hope the weather will hold and give us the opportunity for a safe and successful ascent.
July 10th, 2008
False Summits. True Vanities.
"Great things are done when Men and Mountains meet,
This is not done by jostling in the street." (William Blake)
I think the mountains should be a space of freedom and of purity. And of the elevation of the soul.
Tired of the never ending question of why do I go up there and risk my life and meet great sufferance, I thought for many times of trying to condense into one single phrase my mountaineering credo and philosophy: "Climbing mountains Outside is climbing mountains Inside". For me it is just as simple and as basic as that. At the first glance this might seem contradictory but it is not. And I do not have any wish or any need to be more explicit than that. It is just who I am. Period.
Only a few days ago I had the assignment of writing a few words for Cotidianul, one of Romania's biggest daily newspapers and I think the lines are quite properly chosen to fit my curent posting on CloudClimbing: "Our base camp is a kind of a global village whose tents are united by an invisible common wire: the successful ascent of the summit. Italians, Polish, French, Americans, Spanish, a Romanian etc etc. Some of them I know from other expeditions, some of them from the internet, due to their achievements. With some of them you become a close friend, others remain just some people you've met and some you will not remember at all. It's like in life. A base camp, if it gets to accommodate a significant number of climbers, will simply reflect the outside world at a microscopic scale. This is what I think. Without any idealizations. That's why I usually prefer the locations where there's a fair chance to meet fewer teams on my chosen route. But you are here for the mountain and for having a special life experience."
At the same time, the people in the base camp are the people on the mountain. No different. With their pluses and minuses, their strengths and weaknesses. For some, the pluses and the strengths gets bigger, for others, the minuses and the weaknesses might get bigger as well, I guess. But I am not here to judge, for I do not have the right to judge.
But I cannot stand liars especially when their lies can affect the decisions and the future actions of other people wishing to climb. Decisions that can endanger their lives , especially when they want to choose a commercial outfitter for their "expedition", or when they make up their minds to go for one peak or for another.
On the night from Saturday to Sunday July 6th a big number of people made a push to the summit. The first to reach it was the team comprising Slovak Peter Hamor and Polish Piotr Morawski. It seems before them came the Spanish Jorge Ecogheaga, but he went on a wrong point of the summit area and then when he realized he was not on the right position for claiming the summit he went after Hamor and Morawski.
Herbert Rainer, the guide from Amical Alpin stopped around 50m under the top and said to his clients that this was the top (info I got from one client of Amical). When one client said the top is obviously higher, the guide was constrained to take the client to the real top. Eventually, the summit (if they went to the true summit and not on the point where most of the people went) was reached by Herbert and client Ralf Arnold. On the Amical Alpin website (www.amical.de, but also you can see the print screen) is clearly stated that the Amical Summiters were Josef Polster, Andreas Kichmeier and Ralf Arnold. According witness accounts (inside Amical group) Andreas Kichmeier stopped 50m under the summit. The German translation of their website announcement reads: "First success on Gasherbrum II. On the 6th of July, Josef Polster, Andreas Kichmeier and Ralf Arnold together with the AMICAL alpine guide Herbert Rainer reached the peak of Gasherbrum II. The team of AMICAL alpin is heartily congratulating everyone."
On Kobler&Partner website (http://kobler-partner.ch/blog/ , but you cand also see the print screen) we found an announcement posted on July 7th: "Peak success on the Gasherbrum II. Mohammad Ali has informed us in an email that 6 of the participants and 3 of the porters have reached the 8035 m high peak of Gasherbrum II. The 4th report of the journey has reached us now, in which the ascension is described. We are congratulating everyone heartily on the achievement of their great purpose!"...followed by a comment on July 8th, written by Kari Kobler himself: "To be home and to be scared is more difficult than to be there in person! I congratulate all Gasherbrumers for the extraordinary success. A big thank you for the Nepali Sherpas, for their help in the rescue mission. Regards, Kari Kobler".
According to first witness accounts of Peter Hamor and Piotr Morawski, the Sherpas did not make it to the summit, stopping to the point where initially Jorge was and then they went down. You can just imagine about the clients...
When asked in base camp by Polish Pawel Michalski, how many persons from Kobler's team summited, Klaus, the outfitter's guide, answered he doesn't know, since it was fog. So, one guy, guiding one eight thousand meter peak, did not know, three days after the ascent, how many of his clients summited!
Jorge Egocheaga, cited by ExplorersWeb at http://www.k2climb.net/news.php?id=17402 said: "spaniards Rafael Belderrain, Jorge Egocheaga and Martin Ramos reached the summit of GII on Sunday morning". In a later base camp talk with Italian Simone La Terra, Rafael declared he was on the summit with Kobler's two sherpas (the same Sherpas Hamor and Morawski have been clearly seen as not summiting)...
Last year two of the Amical Alpin clients died on Gashebrum 2 in an avalanche (plus one into the Base Camp) and more being injured in what was a crazy summit push determined by the lack of time. The guide totally disconsidered the highly dangerous conditions up the mountain and went up immediately just after one week of heavy snowfall.
On July 8th the helicopters evacuated two clients. One from Amical Alpin. One from Kobler&Partner. One with pulmonary edema (he was brought back to base camp with severe frostbite as well as breathing supplementary oxygen). The other with snow oftalmy. It shall be noted that until before the summit push, the clients only spent one acclimatization night at 6400m only. Where is the responsibility of the guides for their clients?
It is all about money, big money for the commercial outfitters. And for that they need the summit. The summit became "a must" for the safety of their future business.
And then you have a look at the statistics. And you see an incredible number of "summits". And say for yorself...wow!!!...G2 might be the right mountain for me. And then you come here and you die. If there are no fix roped in the key sections, maybe 80% of the people will not get to Camp Two, let alone reaching the summit.
Having just reach the summit plateau of Cho Oyu is not the summit, Sisha Central is not Sisha summit, Broad Peak rocky fore summit is not Broad Peak summit, fifty meters under a summit is not the summit etc etc etc. Sorry! Sorry ! Sorry! …but no sorry!
I wrote this from a deep respect of the bold mountaineers who have the power to turn only few meters from the summit due to bad weather or poor mountain conditions and have the dignity to say "I did not reach the summit!"
What do we call a summit?
I think the true answer deeply resonates in all of us, and we might as well get the "glory" and the appreciation of the others as being "the summiters" but we will never be able to hide the facts from ourselves.
July 9th, 2008
Alex is sharing with Marius Vintila the story of the last days on the mountain and the next steps
We have finally managed to set up the first two camps up the mountain and came down from Camp Two to Base Camp yesterday at midday, just the moment the weather got bad.
Camp One is at about 8km distance from Base Camp ( GPS measurements taken last year) and 900 meters level difference, over a nasty icefall. But this year we found the icefall to be much more "friendly" than in 2007. Nevertheless, negotiating the crevasses unroped for most of the way would have been pure madness.
Only days ago, the accomplished extreme skier Jean Noel Urban found his death after falling into a very deep crevasse while a snow bridge gave away, giving no hopes to rescue him. Jean Noel and his partner Nicolas Brun were just leaving their tent at Gasherbrum La and were heading for the base camp. The two French were unroped, the party's rope being carried by Jean Noel himself.
We had heavy packs up to Camp One at 5900m, of around 20kg. Among other things, I carried along a 150m static rope which we should later use for setting a part of the route from Camp Three to Camp Four at 7500m. This was part of the deal with the other teams present in base camp as to share the work for equipping the mountain.
The climb up to Camp Two at 6400m has been done during the early night, and not the early morning as most of the people on the mountain did. It was just a matter of what Pawel and myself preferred to do, both of us being a kind of evening birds. We went up lightweight, only with our down suits with us, no sleeping bags. The two acclimatization nights we spent at 6400m proved much colder than expected, actually we got almost no sleep, with feet rubbing from time to time and long bear hugs. Time looked as infinite and what should have been routine acclimatization time actually sucked the energy out of our bodies. Sometimes your plan or strategy looks perfect but it can just happen to miss some apparently minor things and have everything ruined by an incredible small amateurish mistake.
At the time we left Camp One we just could not imagine the cold at 6400m for the next two nights. And we both spent nights there on 2007 and we both slept only in our down suits at altitudes above 6400m. The incoming bad weather on Sunday convinced us to get down to base camp instead of climbing up to 6900m, as we had planned along with spending an acclimatization night there and establish Camp Three.
The forecast is not too optimistic, till next Sunday we shall expect bad weather. We will take advantage of this and rest in the Base Camp and try to recover and regain our strength and energy again for what it will be our final move on the mountain: the summit push.
July 2nd, 2008
SMS update: Alex and Pawel are planning to go up tonight
The weather seems to settle down. Tonight at 11pm I will climb up over the ice fall together with Pawel and hopefully we will manage to set up Camp Two at 6400m.
July 1st, 2008
Alex Gavan discussing the situation on G2 with Marius Vintila live on radio Guerrilla
Climbing up Camp 2 aborted due to bad weather; Vlado Plulik supposedly lost on Broad Peak
We had to give up our intention to climb up the mountain and establish Camp Two at 6400m due to bad weather; and the forecast seems to stay bad till next Tuesday at least…
In a way all these long days spent in Base Camp were good for me since the cough that I got on the dusty road from Skardu to Askole seems to have settled down. The same goes for my stomach problem which got considerably better in the mean time.
Worrying news from Broad Peak (8047m)…it seems Dodo Kopold's climbing partner Vlado Plulik failed to return to Base Camp from his summit day on June 26th. Vlado went up the normal route while Dodo made a variation reportedly summiting at 9pm. The Slovaks tried a lightweight bold ascent (no sleeping bags or tents, only bivy bags) of Broad Peak, just days after their success on Gasherbrum 1 and 2. Currently the other teams on Broad Peak have only managed to establish Camp One at 5500m, no other tents being available for shelter up the mountain. By the time of writing ( Monday, June 30th ), Vlado has not returned yet into the base camp…
Last night avalanche after avalanche were thundering down the slopes. I think I counted from the warmth of my sleeping bag in the base camp more than ten of them. One in the early morning was particularly huge since I felt as if all the mountain was blasted by an atomic bomb.
June 26th, 2008
Alex shares his thoughts on his new attempt on G2, Annapurna rescue mission, his successful climb of Makalu and the partnership with Mihnea Radulescu
Gasherbrum 2 Base Camp (5000m) – the story goes on
It was a quite long break in writing (but not in updating the website). After all that happened since my Makalu summit and Inaki's passing away, I was just not in the mood to write down my thoughts. Some time must pass till you start understanding again, till you get the strength to have your eyes open again, to help things get revealed. To see the true meanings of the happenings of your life. It's not about rage, but about understanding.
The climb does not change you.
It will be a too sudden and maybe dangerous process. I think change is a state when you suddenly jump from point A to point B. With just nothing in between. Only the void. And you have that dumb look on your face screaming " What the hell happened?" . And not many clues to learn from. Change can be so sudden that can have an unstoppable destroying force.
The climb instead transforms you. A step by step process, but extremely steadily.
We must deal with change making it an interior transformation process.
For some things you must just allow yourself enough time to melt inside for making you a better and a stronger person.
I think we are as good as our power to envision things and inspire and influence positive transformation around us (to note I didn't say change).
...well, I'm back in the Karakoram for last year's unfinished business.
I was here in 2007 to have an attempt to both Gasherbrum 1 (8068m) and Gasherbrum 2 (8035m). You can have a look at that expedition at http://gasherbrum.cloudclimbing.ro/
It was an infamous season, two German climbers died in an avalanche between Camp 1 and Camp 2 on Gasherbrum 2; one Czech found death on his summit day up on Gasherbrum 1 and another German died while being in Base Camp apparently due to a stroke.
Only four people climbed Gasherbrum 2 that season: two Italians making the first ascent of the North Face (Karl Unterkircher and Daniele Bernasconi; Michele Compagnoni stopped short before the summit) and Jean Troillet together with Mike Horn following the normal route, around two weeks after I left base camp.
In the end I managed to climb only Gasherbrum 1, making on the summit day a variation on the left (starting from 7500m, due to dangerous snow conditions) of the 1986 Japanese Route, in one single push from base camp to summit, making also the first Romanian ascent of the peak. No supplementary oxygen, no sherpa support. It was my second eight thousander, after Cho Oyu in 2006, and I was so happy to have been on its top.
On Gasherbrum 2 I got to just 6900m and retreated in one of my most dangerous days I have ever spent on a mountain (few days later a lethal avalanche killed the two Germans). I had no regret of going back without the summit, although I wanted it so much. It was not a defeat nor a quit.
You cannot really speak about conquers or defeats on a high mountain. As I use to say, for me, the success at high altitude is to come back in one piece. Summit is great if you achieve it but itis not mandatory. Your coming back alive is.
So it was just a matter of time till my coming back to try again Gasherbrum 2…and here I am!
I am part of a group comprising the Italian climbers Simone La Terra, Gloria Brighenti and Antonio Vicari but my climbing partner is Polish Pawel Michalski, with whom I climbed last year Gasherbrum 1.
Since I did not lose all my acclimatization from Makalu yet, my plan is quite straightforward: tomorrow night (June 28th ) I climb up with Pawel an establish our Camp One at 5900m. We sleep there one night and the following day I climb alone and put Camp Two at 6400m. Pawel came on June 25th so he doesn't yet have the acclimatization level to join me up the Camp Two. I will sleep there one night and then rejoin Pawel and come together in base camp for rest. If I feel fit and mountain conditions permitting, I will try then a fast push to the summit, making two more bivouacs at 7000m and 7400m. On my return I will let some gear up the mountain to help Pawel with his ascent. But usually the reality turns soooo different from the initial plan that minor essential J adjustments will be needed. I should have put till now camp one by myself but some nasty stomach problems kept me maybe for too long in the base camp…but envisioning myself making the last steps towards the summit gives me a confident mood.
But before our leaving for Camp One I also want to share some thoughts that I left unspoken during the last period: about Mihnea, my friend and partner; about the Annapurna rescue mission for Inaki Ochoa and finally about my summit success on Makalu…
Some words about a great man - Mihnea Radulescu
While on Makalu summit I could not help myself but think for a few moments of my friend and partner Mihnea. He deserved so much to be that day with me on the summit, at least as much as I did. And I also know how much Mihnea wished to climb Makalu. Some altitude problems kept him from climbing above 6800m and, as he is a genuine mountaineer, he decided it is better to stop for his safety and for the safety of the team. I would never forget the bear hug he gave me and the happiness in his eyes for seeing me safe and sound back in Base Camp while he and our cook and friend Kumar came on the moraine to welcome me.
I want to thank you Mihnea for all your contribution and commitment to our expedition and for helping me to reach the summit. For our long talks and for your friendship. For me, you truly are the perfect partner and I am looking forward to climbing with you again.
Rescue in Annapurna
The very next day we found out that Horia and Inaki are in trouble. Mihnea and I took the plane to Phokara and from there the heli to Annapurna Base Camp. We didn't think too much about our decision to go, just made our rucksacs and flew. Mihnea contacted Pablo, Inaki's brother so we could join forces with the other people eager to help. Actually a part of our gear was still to come from Makalu, so we bought new mattreses, gas and food from Phokara. I will not write here about the chronology of events, about why and how this tragedy could happen since you can just google it or you can access the links I gave on that matter on one of my previous posts.
I just want to share now some personal thoughs…
First of all, I personally had a very minor role in this rescue operation. Since I was just recovering after my Makalu summit without using supplementary oxygen, I had only climbed on Annapurna at 5400m when I started feeling very weak and I took the decision that it is better to return to Base Camp at 4000m rather than become one more victim and complicate the situation for everybody. Since I did not know the geography of the place (there was fog not allowing you to see three meters ahead), I kind of had an epic returning to a Base Camp whose location I knew only marginally. And did it after ten hours. While I was finding my way over the glacier, Robert Szymczac, the Polish doctor in our rescue team ( Mihnea, Robert, Serguey Bogomolov and four Nepali Sherpas had reached in the meantime Camp Two) , sent me an sms announcing Inaki's passing away...................and all this with all the heroic efforts Horia, Ueli Steck, Denis Urubko and Don Bowie (maybe the four persons most involved in this rescue mission) put on saving Inaki's life.
Up there in Camp Four at 7400m, Horia did what only a man with a huge human value could do: he stayed with Inaki till his own condition started deteriorating at a dangerous pace. Horia could only be determined to leave Inaki when Ueli Steck asked him to come down and make the trace trough the snow for Ueli to climb faster to help Inaki with Dexamethasone ( medicine for cerebral (main) and pulmonary edema). We need more of him in the high mountains and not only…
I also want to acknowledge the simply wonderful men who came up from nowhere (apparently only) when the signal for help was in the air. This was surely a gesture in the very true spirit of mountaineering, opposite with what happened on Everest with David Sharp or other people who kept silent over the Nangpa La shootings.
I think everything which could have been done, has been done for Inaki.
Ueli Steck and Simon Anthamatten gave up their attempt to open a new route on Annapurna South Face. Ueli was just the best person to be there and to first reach Inaki. Ueli set a new speed record on the Eiger North Face in February, scaling the peak in an incredible 2 hours, 47 minutes and 33 seconds (usually the wall is normally climbed in two, three days). So the perfect man for the job. Simon also has a record for the Eiger's north face speed ascent but this time for the team time. He and Roger Schali needed 6 hours and 50 minutes to climb from bottom to top. Simon felt bad at a certain point on the way and eventually he needed to go down.
Denis Urubko, a man of incredible physical strength and modesty (13 eight thousanders under his belt, out of fourteen!!!) just fresh of summiting Makalu was carring the emergency oxygen together with Don Bowie and they were only four hours away when Inaki died. They managed to make the difficult climb in two days from near Macchapuchare Base Camp (where the heli left them due to windy weather) to just close to the spot on the exposed ridge were Inaki's tent was.
Serguey Bogomolov (twelve eight thousanders) coordinated all the action and went to Camp Two despite his frostbitten finger (luckily Serguey's finger was saved).
Alexey Bolotov, the only one to make it to the summit of Annapurna this year on the same route Inaki and Horia were attempting, remained at high altitude to help despite the fact that he was also starting to have lung problems.
Robert Szymczac came only days after climbing Dhaulagiri with Artur Hajzer and prepared to give professional medical care in Camp Two.
Mihnea went to camp two despite the fact his altitude problems might occur again (but he felt strong all along the way). The team also comprised four sherpas already acclimatized from different expeditions: Pemba Ongchu Sherpa, Ongchu Sherpa, Wangchu Sherpa and Chhiring Finjo Sherpa.
I think Inaki Ochoa was one of the most accomplished high altitude mountaineers of our time. And one of the happiest men, judging by the way he lived his life.
In Horia Colibasanu's tent down in Annapurna Base Camp lied between piles of gear a hard cover book. It was Messner's "Annapurna: 50 Years of Expeditions in the Death Zone". I asked Horia the permission to have a look at the book. To my surprise, at the beginning of the book was a fresh dedication from Inaki to Horia, a part of it consisting of a Sanskrit Proverb, perfectly matching Inaki's life philosophy: " Better to live one day as a tiger than one hundred years as a sheep".
Annapurna's South Face is a killer and some of the top high altitude climbers met their end there. Ian Clough of Bonnington's '70s expedition, Pierre Beghin Anatoly Boukreev are just three of the most famous.
Great deeds are accomplished by taking great risks. It is as simply as that. When you are striving to make the things at the level Inaki and Horia were trying to do on Annapurna's South Face, you must be well aware of the huge risks involved. And to accept full responsibility for it. These guys surely did and surely knew what they were doing.
I think the main challenge of climbing eight thousand meter peaks is to keep yourself alive, or as Messner put it some time ago, " The true art of climbing is survival."
Makalu in 20 days - some thoughts from high places
Twenty days after Mihnea and myself had set the foot on Hillary Base camp at 4800m altitude, I was standing on the summit of the mighty Makalu, the Great Black, one of the "positive" obsessions of my high school years and a dream that just a couple of years ago seemed so unattainable to me and so far away, as if from another life. But one of the reasons we do live on this Earth is to continuously strive to outdo yourself and to never stop marveling. Because to keep marveling is the door to learning from the different things and experiences that we cross path with.
I never had the intention or the thought (till then) of climbing one eight thousand meter peak in just twenty days since reaching the base camp. In no case the fifth highest mountain in the world with its 8463m height. I think this is quite suicidal from many points of view. But I believe one of my strong points is the capacity of envisioning things or actions at the very limit of what is possible ( or a bit over that limit ) and to create there a space of possibility in which I can safely deal with the risk set at a level I find acceptable. In my summit push my brain divided the whole time into two: one part was monitoring my body and the other was permanently connected with the mountain. Each second weighting on the assertion "you go up or you go down". Each moment prepared. And it was the same brain I was asking to think objectively at an elevation where the aircraft pilots are flying in pressurized cabins.
In my most optimistic forecast, given the fact that absolutely everything would go smoothly (which at high altitude actually never does), my closest summit date should have been May 23rd and the realistic one somewhere close to May 30th.
The plan was to establish our Camp Three in Malau La at a height of 7400m, sleep one night there for acclimatization and descend the following day. We had only three days to rest in Advanced Base Camp at 5600m when Mihnea and myself went to Camp Two with the intention to make it to Makalu La. There Mihnea did not feel at his best and decided it's better for him to go down.
All the way to Makalu La an apparently crazy idea begun to grow and grow in my mind and to develop in a whole mind map with pros, cons, concequences, strategies, etc. ….WHAT IF…WHAT IF…I will try the summit this time?
I was very aware of the fact that I was not fully acclimatized and my success or failure will depend of three critical key factors: the first was for me to be in perfect physical condition once reaching Makalu La and later on, while reaching the spot of Camp Four, the place of my high bivouac at 7800m (I never slept so high before); the second factor was my speed and my ability to "cheat" my body by climbing fast enough and descending fast enough in order for it not to really realize the height of the ascent while I was there; and the third factor, equally important, was the weather; if bad weather would have occurred on my descend from the summit and trapped my in my tent at 7800m, I would have just got myself in a big huge trouble, because my body would have started to feel my lack of acclimatization and within short time I would have developed pulmonary or cerebral edema, or both. And this would have been a close call.
I reached Makalu La early in the evening witnessing a magnificent sunset over Everest and Lhotse, one of the views that will always remain deeply etched on my soul and which I can recreate in my mind every time I will need a sudden influx of energy.
The next day I felt very fit and powerful and continued through the spot of Camp Four, a tiny and exposed spot to accommodate only two tents. I left the tent at 7800m at around three in the morning. It was cold. Damn cold. Too cold (actually a lot of people got severe frostbite this season on Makalu). Some of the most difficult sections in the upper part and on the mixed ground have been fixed by the British team that summited first. Not the couloir. I reached the summit at around 2 pm, Pakistani time, almost one hour after Denis Urubko and his three mates (which I encountered on their descent from the foresummit). I was astound but felt no headache, only deep tiredness. But strangely strong. Still, on my summit video I am saying " May 10th 2007", instead of " May 12th 2008". At that altitude you're stoned even if you don't admit it .
Makalu might be "one of the hardest proposition of all" (Sir Edmund Hillary) but for me, while I was up there in the summit push, was the right amount of humility mixed with perfect timing, endless and long hours of training and pain that paid off, strong faith in myself…and luck (and you always need a certain among of luck while up into the "Death Zone"); and of course, it was the little wooden seahorse I always had upon myself since leaving Romania. Now it lies deeply buried in the summit frozen snow, watching over the lucky summiteers. And with it there, also lies a part of my soul.
Much too often we forget who we are. Summit, Success, Life, Love…I am a human and each and every day I confront my humanity.
June 24th, 2008
Alex reached Gasherbrum2 Base Camp; four people dead in Gasherbrum 1 and K2
We nearly reached the village of Askole (3000m) today, but our advancement has been temporarily stopped by really life threatening rock falling from mountain side and a mountain stream flooding the road and making any driving impossible for some dozen meters. We hopefully ship tomorrow to Askole all our 30 barrels of gear with the local villagers.
June 10th, 2008
Alex Gavan reached Skardu and is heading to Gasherbrum 2 base camp
A spanish climber fell about 20m and two helicopters collapsed.
May 5th, 2008
Camp Two at about 6700m established in mild snow storm.
Well, I just posted my update on May 1st and what I feared most happened: the weather turned bad. This did not affect our plan in the beginning. We just climbed up to Camp One to spent another night for acclimatization. In the very morning of May 3rd it mildly started snowing but initially we thought this will not give us much trouble :)
At about half way to Camp Two the snowing got much worse and we had to abseil down like fifty meters where we found an abandoned tent. It looked like abandoned at least, a lot of ice inside and the inside and outside covers were broken in many places. We spent a not so bad bivouac and in the next morning we reached Camp Two in a mild snowfall (although it snowed over night more than thirty new cm of snow). In the meantime we found out one fixed rope, supposedly Korean, broke with a Spanish climber abseiling down from Makalu La. It seems not the ice anchor but the rope itself broke. The guy felt about twenty meters luckily just with minor injures.
Today we were also happy to know that one Brit and one Sherpa from the British Army Team made the first summit of the season, both using oxygen masks. Unfortunately I do not know yet their names. As a funny thing here, it seems almost all teams rely on Sherpa support, as a kind of a prerequisite to success. For the moment we are resting in the ABC, the next step being establishing our Camp Three on Makalu La, at 7400m and spend two nights there for acclimatization.
May 1st, 2008
Camp One At 6200m established
In the very morning of April 29 Mihnea and I left our ABC to establish Camp One at 6200m and to spend one night there to help with our acclimatization. Our plan is to have established three high altitude camps at 6200m, 6800m and 7400m ( in Makalu La, the saddle between Makalu and its subsidiary peak Chomolonzo-7667m). In the summit push we intend to take our tent from Makalu and have one high bivouac at 7800m before our summit day.
We couriously made it unacclimatized to Camp One in just about 3,20 hours and to our surprise we found there just three more tents. One of our Mountain Hardwear Trango 2 tent poles just broke and we had the challenge to fix our camp with one pole less. We took the pole down to ABC and performed a hopefully strong enough repair to it :) In the evening just started to snow mildly and the night was quite calm and warm for that altitude. After the yesterday’s high winds we hope our damaged tent is still there with everything inside. As we could see from our site, the way to Camp Two is taking to climb a nice ice wall in its first part.
Last evening we had in our dining tent a very special guest, the Kazak climber Denis Urubko (summiter of 12 out of 14 summits over 8000m) speaking about his bold climbs and life generally with his famous modesty.
Untill now the weather has been more than perfect which worries me a little :) From my two previous high altitude experiences on eight-thousanders, one big ten days storm is coming ( it was the same on Cho Oyu as well as on Gasherbrum 1). I really hope I am wrong. In ABC, winds are generally strong in the afternoon, giving me big trouble with the solar panels on my tent as well as with nerve wrecking sand blew inside.
Tomorrow morning we leave to establish Camp Two.
April 28th, 2008
Makalu Advanced Base Camp, 5600m
YES, we're alive and rockin' hard!...now that we finally solved the communication system challenge we had with our Inmarast device since our arrival in Nepal.
Things got really crazy in the last two weeks…and we almost had (lived, experienced you named it ) them all.
You may not belive it but some days ago only we just entered year 2065 (Nepali calendar) and we have been even invited to a Trance Party.
The maoist won the elections in Nepal and the kingdom is about to become a communist country. People were filling the Katmandu's streets shouting pro communist slogans and Mao's name was on almost everybody's lips. As a matter of statistics (just google it), it seems Mao killed more people than Stalin, Hitler and any other dictator taken together). It's incredible how people can still vote in 2008 for "The Great Leader" , as they called him.
Seeing children in the streets among their seniors wearing the communist symbols only took us to think these people are either ignorant either not well informed about what communism is. In Romania people voted for the communists just one time, and it was for the next fifty years to come (even although those elections were faked). On the other hand, the south side of Everest is still closed to the climbers due to China pressure on Nepal ( and to the sudden influx of capital from the North to the South side of the Himalayas) fearing an Olympic boycott. Just go to the www.explorersweb.com and find the latest updates on what is happening in Tibet right now and also about other news that didn't got yet into the mainstream media. Why do I bother to write this instead of just climbing the mountain and seeking to keep you informed about our climb? I know I might piss off some of you but I think here it is not just about the mountains. Is is also about the people. And we owe it big time to the people of the Himalayas. Because they give us so much. Much more than we give them back. And we climbers that strive into the thin air, each of us for a thousand different reasons, a thousand personal different reasons, we can be a voice in the western world for these people. I think climbing mountains is incompatible with being a complice and with closing the eyes at your peers' tragedies. Even if this tragedies will not affect you directly. And even if speaking up your mind will expose you at least to potentially very unpleasant consequences.
Getting over the communist euphoria in Kathmandu we took the plane to Lukla, at 2400m high, the second busiest airport in Nepal, and the gate of the expeditions to Solu-Khumbu. Instead of flying to the Makalu Base Camp the very next day as promised we had to wait no less that 10 ( T E N) days till finally we had a lift. Almost each of these days we were given a different delay reason and a different taking off time. Just one of the "minor examples": first we were told we can have a 1500kg load on the heli, second, 1200, third, 1000kg, fourth time, 750kg, fifth time, just the evening before the flight, 350kg+ 3 persons and finally in the morning of April 23rd we took of with Mihnea, Kumar, our cook, myself and two of our expedition bags :)))))
But this was still nothing! On 19th the flight before ours crushed in Makalu BC but fortunately nobody was injured. And few days after our arrival in the BC the same heli we took we heard it crushed on the way to Annapurna BC. Phewwwwww!!!!!!
Meantime we had made an acclimatization trek to Namche Baazar, the famous Sherpa village, at 3400m from where we have had a tremendous sight of Everest and of the South face of Lhotse.
As seen from Base Camp at 4700m, Makalu was magnificent and HUGE but I had a very positive feeling upon my first visual contact with the mountain. We just stayed for two days for acclimatization in the BC and on April 25th we made the 7 hours trek up the Barun Glacier and established Advanced Base Camp at approx. 5700m. All our expedition staff weighted about 1200kg and only due to the excellent negotiation skills of our cook Kumar we could find 13 porters in the first day to send an initial cargo to the ABC. Of course the porters we were promised were not there and it's a kind of miracle we managed to get almost all the loads up in ABC in only three days (other teams having a similar problem). We still miss about 180kg of different gear but this will arrive tomorrow. Each porter carries thirty kg as established by the government of Nepal but we had few carrying over the glacier up to sixty kg in their wish to earn more money. As a curious remark, at lower altitude (e.g. 3000m) there are Sherpas (wich we have encountered in our trek) carrying up to 150 kg at a time!!!!
Our team here is very small but versatile and is completed by two really really great men that fast also became our friends: Kumar Rai as cook and Lakpa Dorje Sherpa as cook and base camp helper. Although we have had great challenges to get to the ABC so far, our support team in Kathmandu did their best. They are the stuff from Sherpa Adventure, especially Pasang Sherpa and Sonam Sherpa (the owners).
Today we also held the "Puja" ceremony and we even had invited a lama from a Buddhist monastery three days down the valley to perform it. The moment was quite impressive and we do hope the spirit of the mountain will allow us to safely climb to the top and back.
Tomorrow, April 29th , Mihnea and I plan to climb to 6200m and establish our Camp One. We intend to spend there one night for acclimatization and come down to ABC the next day.
We are keeping our fingers crossed for our friend Horia Colibasanu who is these days preparing for the summit push on Annapurna! Climb to the top and be safe, Horia!
Till the next time, I wish you the Sherpa (and Tibetan) , Tashi Delek!!!! (Happiness and Peace!)
April 8th, 2008
Alex Gavan and Mihnea Radulescu ready to leave for Kathmandu
On Thursday, April 10th, Alex and Mihnea will fly to Nepal. The guys will meet directly in Kathmandu, Alex flying from Bucharest and Mihnea from London.