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  Mt Everest and K2 Summiter: Ivan Vallejo Kangchenjunga 2006: TO TOUCH BOTTOM AND COME BACK

The light warrior makes a false step without intention and goes deep down into the abyss.  

The ghosts scare him, solitude torments him.  Since he was looking for the good combat, he didnít think that this could ever happen to him; but it did.

Surrounded by darkness, he communicates with his master.

-          Master, I fell in the abyss Ė he says -.  The waters are deep and dark.

-          Remember this Ė replies the master -: that which drowns somebody is not immersion, but the fact of being under water.

-          And the warrior uses his strength to get out of the situation he is in.

Paulo Coelho

Descending in the middle of the blizzard, there is no room for laments or sorrow.  I go down covered by the goggles and the jacket to hide from the punishment of the wind and the snow.  When we get to C4 I look up searching the summit, but I donít find it, it is covered and the storm still roars with strength.  At least that, thatís a relief.   

When Fercho gets to the tent, he falls apart, he is tired and he stays a little more to eat and to hydrate before continuing back to C3.  Those of ďAl FiloĒ are already ahead, it is just me and him now. 

- Iím leaving to C3, Iíll wait for you down there. 

When I go down I realize what happened: Second attempt to the summit and second mistake.  And this was worse, we reached 8,300m for nothing, for absolutely nothing. 

I descend with my soul and spirit in pain.  I go down, I keep going down inside me. 

Around three thirty in the afternoon, in the middle of exhaustion I look up again to the summit and when I see what I see I feel a cold stab in my guts, in my heart, in my stomach and even worst, in my spirit, where it hurts more: The summit is completely clear.  The storm is over at three thirty in the afternoon. 

-Motherfucker, that hurts in the soul! 

I feel like crying because of the impotence, despair and anger.  I feel like Iím sinking in an absolute solitude, that thick and muddy desolation starts to swallow me through a king of black hole, that nor my body or my spirit can do something to support me.  I sink, I drown, I feel swallowed by this mud, I feel I go nowhere. 

The darkest thoughts come to my mind: 

-There goes that freaking Challenge 14.

-Iíll never come back to Kangchenjunga.

-Why so much effort if everything falls down because of a weather forecast mistake.

-Why so many months training, so much discipline, so much dedication.  For nothing!        

I descend by the glacier without walking, dragging my feet.

I descend by the glacier with no will, dragging my spirit, suffering because of the mistake and I am very harsh judging myself. 

But close to C3 I feel I have punished myself enough and that life doesnít go that way, without forgetting the pain I feel, I decide to call it quits.  I turn around once more to look at Kangchenjunga, because I want to talk to it looking at its eyes.  And there I find it, especially the summit, quiet and precious, with all its imposing  mass of yellowish marble shining against an impeccable blue sky.  Once reality is accepted I go ahead with this speech: 

-Letís see, the days that came up for the summit were the 19 and the 20, and we ourselves chose the 19 instead of waiting one more day to climb with Joao on the 20.  We even voted.  So cool it down, Vallejito, it was your choice!  First.

-Well, honestly, honestly, I wonít quit Challenge 14, and I am coming back to Kangchenjunga, but I will do it Norbert Joos style: four super strong Sherpas to carry, to open the trail, fix the ropes, etc.  Because this time I did it all, well almost all, I did not get the summit.  Second.

- Well.  I go back to Quito, I turn the page and I keep training for Dhaulagiri this fall. Third. 

So with this new speech it is still hard to accept what happened.  I turn back to my own dialog where I question myself and I answer, where I judge myself and I acquit myself: 

-But it is not fair, so much effort, we almost reached the summit and it all ended in nothing.

-Thatís the way it is, Vallejito, you more than anybody know the rules of this game.  No I imagine it hurts a lot, right?

-What a question.  Of course it hurts.  Canít you see it is just not the summit?  It is everything.  The illusion, the project; then, the training, discipline, to take care.  You see that I carry my sneakers everywhere, the shorts and the chronometer for training, and I donít carry that, then itís a bike.  Wherever, anytime in whatever conditions.  You see that the Doc gave me permission to party just for my birthday, the rest it was only training: the day of the dead, carnival.  No vacations.  Then the expedition itself: the trip, the logistics, to get to the bottom of the mountain and the suffering to acclimatize here .Remember the times I didnít sleep at 6,800, at 7,200 m, the times I threw up as part of that acclimatization.  You see, see why I tell you it is not just the summit.  It is all that, which is a lot to accept, as simple as that and to accept it.

-Well, Vallejito, I donít argue, it is like that, but I imagine Kangchenjunga wants to teach you something valuable through this experience.

-I suppose so, but right now I donít get it at all.  Maybe later.

Deep into this internal dialog I reach C3, and I promise Kangchen that I will be back next year fully loaded, with a good weatherman included, of course, and I will get to the summit. 

When I am at C3 I find out that Juan and Josu have continued directly to C2 and that only FerrŠn and Mikel stayed.  My spirit, which was starting to improve, falls a little because of the sorrow of FerrŠn, when looking at a completely clear Kangchen he says: This looks like a joke!

-Yeah, I also think so, but I donít know if a joke from Kangchen or the weatherman.  I reply. 

NEXT CHRONICLE: To dream again about the summit. 

IvŠn Vallejo Ricaurte


Translated from Spanish by Jorge Rivera


Human character is like a balance: carefulness in on one side and audacity is on the other. The shy careful one and the indiscrete audacious are balances with just one arm, useless junk.

Angel Ganivet

  The alarm clock rings at eleven thirty and I start to melt snow to fill the canteens, despite being at 7,800m I feel good with my acclimatization, because I feel nauseous but not much, and that is good.

 At two in the morning I am the first one out, despite the cold it is not difficult to put on my crampons and to tie on the harness, then Juan, Mikel, FerrŠn, Josu and finally Fernando come out.

 Because of my debt of the previous day, I go ahead to start opening the trail.  At two ten in the morning we leave C4 towards the summit.  I get into the snow with enthusiasm, with vigor, with strength, I donít have the pain of the heavy backpack on me to make me useless.  I climb up opening the trail dying of happiness!  The agreement is that each one will do this job for half an hour; Juan is climbing behind me, he takes his turn and I go to the end of the line.  This firefly of twelve feet goes climbing over the steep slope of Kangchenjunga. 

When my turn comes again, my thirty minutes of meditation come, my entire body making zen, living this unique moment of the exercise of breathing and climbing.  My mantra is the sound, the action of breaking the snow, stepping deep, to impulse and make exactly the same with the other foot, while I breath deeply hoping that the poor oxygen we have gets into my lungs and from there it spreads to my blood.  Those thirty minutes are precious, not thinking blankly, just waiting the chatzzz! of the boot when it goes down deep to make it be in rhythm while I inhale and exhale.  The time doesnít matter, I just climb and while I do it my teammates and me get the benefit of it.  I never know when my turn ends, Juan always pats me with the sky cane and gets me out of it, and he goes ahead and opens the trail.

In one of the following turns, I lose the concentration halfway, the toes of my left foot ache a lot because of the cold, I try to move them so that they wonít get colder and I momentarily feel afraid of what may happen to me, but I feel comfort thinking that everybody is going through the same.  You know, when everybody hurtsÖ  On the next turn I rest, take out the canteen, hydrate and read that the thermometer is 28 degrees C below zero.  Thatís why, mother!  We advance, we climb, we breath, we feel sleepy, we complain of the cold, but we continue climbing. 

Finally the sun shows up but far away from us, since we are on the South wall we wonít get it!  With the light I can manage to see where our BC is and I think about my tent, I miss it because it should be lit by the sun and warm.  I think about the song we all parents sing sometime or another to our kids: sun, little sun, warm me up, today and tomorrowÖ 

At 10 in the morning we finish the Handrail and we turn right to the corridor that leads us to the summit, at 8,586m.  We stop again and Mikel decides to go back, he is very worried about one of his feet, he doesnít feel it at all and says: I donít want to go through Zaragoza, thinking about the very famous MAS Clinic, with Dr. Kiko Arregui as head of staff, specialized in frostbite and amputations. 

               On the corridor the snow is lose but between Juan and I we take care of it.  An hour later, at eleven, that milky sky gets it together and it starts to snow.  We donít pay attention and we continue climbing.  I face a long piece of line, over a horrendous lose and dangerous snow.  Sometimes I go deep down to my waist and when the crust breaks  all the snow falls on my teammates in pieces and dust.  That part is not long but it is exhausting in those conditions.  I reach an old line and I ask for relief.  It is now noon and the snow has turned into a blizzard that hits us hard on our bodies and faces; I check the altimeter and it reads almost 8,300: two hundred meters away from the summit, I think.  I also check the barometer and it says the storm is getting worst.   

In the middle of all this we have a meeting.  How much is left?  Should we go on or not?  Should we wait or not?  Can we continue in these conditions?  The blizzard shakes us hard and leaves no room to think. 

Should we go down?  Yes.  What a shame, we go down! 

Shitty weather forecast.  Wasnít the 19th the day for the summit?  Why, why us?  I zip up my feather jacket and I continue following the steps of Juan, FerrŠn, Josu and Fernando. 

I cant believe it: two hundred meters from the summit after almost twelve hours of work.

NEXT CHRONICLE: Burying the defeat

IvŠn Vallejo Ricaurte


Translated from Spanish by Jorge Rivera

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