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  Ivan Vallejo Ricaurte: Autumn Dhaulagiri 2006


Base Camp at Cho Oyu

Dear friends of Ecuador and the world.

Warm greetings from the bottom of Cho Oyu at 5,680 m, from the place which has been my Base Camp so far.  I arrived here a couple of hours ago after spending two more night at 6,400 m and after having reached 7,000 m for the second time.  With this I have concluded my acclimatization process.

When I was coming back carrying a backpack the size of a closet, tens of colleagues climbers were going up to Camp 1, some of them for their acclimatization plan, and others, who have already done it, toward their summit attempt.

All of them, I suppose, found it strange that when the party was about to start, I was already finishing it.  A couple of colleagues, dying of curiosity, dared to ask me if I was coming down from the summit, and I had to explain then that my dance was somewhere else, in Nepal, with another mountain, Dhaulagiri. 

While I slide down this immense slope, a mix of mud, wet snow, big rocks and millions of pebbles, I have an ambiguous sensation.  On one hand, the happiness to know that the worry of the summit of Cho Oyu is not mine anymore, it doesn’t belong to me anymore, it is their absolute property, of my colleagues, those I know or I don’t, who stay on this mountain, the sixth higher in the world.  I have already climbed it, on October 6, 2002 at eleven in the morning, I got to the highest point very cold and very sleepy, the first thing I thought of was to lay down to sleep right there on that very wide flat summit, and I did.  I woke up half an hour later renewed and happy, I shot pictures of Chomolungma (Everest), I shoot some video, did two pictures of myself to have proof of my summit and I took off back to Base Camp.  I got back to meet Prem, the cook of our expedition, at six in the afternoon, asking for a plate of rice with two fried eggs.

With this memory still clear I feel relief to know that the worry of getting to the top of that mountain is not on my list.

But on the other hand, I also feel envy of their anxiety; even more, I wish that this knot I have in my stomach would be because of Cho Oyu instead of Dhaulagiri . While I continue down the slope, while from time to time I make some stones roll down, I think I have done half of my homework: I have finished my acclimatization phase.  Now the second half is still to come, the most difficult without a doubt, to face the challenge of reaching the summit of Dhaulagiri .

Climbers go up, Sherpas climb, Tibetans climb, I greet everybody, some answer back and some don’t, I don’t care, that’s not my thing, my mother told me it is good to say hello wherever you go.  I go down, pebbles go down besides me, some go with me, others have to suicide and jump to the emptiness, but then I realize it is fake, because in their trip they meet they peers and decide not to die and stay for a chat; seeing how hundreds of travelers go up and down to the highest point of the largest rock in this place, Cho Oyu.  Meanwhile, I turn around in my head the experience I had last year in Dhaulagiri: I felt so alone in the middle of so many people, without an expedition teammate, everybody followed their own plan, it looked like a competition to see who gets to the summit first; then, the wrong turn I took on the way to the summit just a hundred and fifty meters from it because I followed the steps of the Koreans; then, the gigantic avalanches between BC, C1 and C2 with the consequent loss of our Camp 2.  And for dessert the epical descent of Christian and I, in the middle of the storm, blindly looking for the tents at Camp 1 to think we were safe.

That was Dhaula last year.

With this bitter memory, still fresh, I feel envy of the travelers that today go to Cho Oyu . 

Back in Base Camp, inside my tent, I get into my sleeping bag, laying on the isolated comfy mat and I slowly look at the picture of the post card with the image of Dhaula which I hanged with a clothes pin.  There it is with its long, long ridge which goes almost to the summit, I remember well the place of each camp: the large flat of Camp 1, the minuscule and dangerous place for Camp 2, the narrow and exposed shelf for Camp 3 and then the final part that took us… almost to the summit.  I look at the post card once and again and I ask myself why I feel this knot in my stomach.  Let’s be more concrete, why am I scared of Dhaula.  I look for answers, dig for answers, I think, I stay silent, I think again, I make comparisons and I see that the arguments are more on my side than it’s side.  Then I get to the conclusion that this knot is because I have no teammate, I go solo to Dhaulagiri . Certainly Sete Tamang will be with me, a Nepalese Sherpa boy who I met in Everest in 2001, he will be my ascent companion, but meanwhile I will be missing my converstions with Fercho, and with my sister Edurne, with Joao, with Santiago, with Riky, with Nacho, with Alex, well, with all my friends and partners who in these last years have been with me on the summits of the highest mountains of the world.

But the project continues, life continues, Dhaula has to be climbed and that is why I have come here.  I glance at the post card again and then I imagine that Sete, who I will have the chance to know this time, and I, will get to the summit of Dhaula, we will shoot pictures and we will film from there any day between the tenth and twentieth of October.  I turn off my frontal, put on my headphones and I go to sleep listening to Wild Child, by Enya, while I remember how I cried when I war reaching the summit of Kangchen.

Iván Vallejo Ricaurte


Translated from Spanish by Jorge Rivera

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