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  Annapurna Dhaulagiri 2005: Part Two: WHERE IS THE SUMMIT OF THE KOREANS?


Above 7,000 meters, three hours later, I look for the lights of the Italians above me but I can't find them.  I decide to continue climbing 100 more meters and go down if I don't see them, because it would be very risky to climb solo in these conditions.  On the other hand, it is enough with what I've done so far to finish my acclimatization.

When I start descending I see bellow a couple of lights that disconcert me completely, because I don't have the slightest idea of who they could be: the Koreans?  Impossible. They said that one of them who could make it to the summit was enough, that they would end the expedition. Ochoa or Stengl?  Impossible. They are in base camp recovering from their summit attempt.  However, while I get closer I recognize the feather jacket of my Spanish friend.

-          I've been climbing for 8 hours so far, brother, since I left Base.

-          You are my hero, Ochoa

-          Well, I've been humming Perico ripiao and Niágara en bicicleta, and you see how I go.

When I climbed in this summit attempt I left Inaki my CD player and CDs, and in one of them, the one he likes the most, that he baptized "Tropical Bomba Mix".  I tell Iñaki that I go down because I didn't see the lights of the Italians on the summit.  He tells me that they are indeed climbing, but we don't see them from there.

-          Come on, brother, turn around and up you go, because the day is going to be good.  Cristian is also coming behind!, says Ochoa.

I check the altimeter and I see with shame that in 35 minutes I've descended 200 meters that took so much effort to climb.  Nothing more to do, up again!

Only two long hours later I get again to the same place. I clear my mind and I continue climbing.  It's nice to have Iñaki's company and to see the daybreak.

7,300 m.  Five twenty in the morning.

I arrive to Camp III of the Italians. I stop to rest with the hope to heat up the beverage I carry; despite the proper protection, it is almost frozen.  I find the stove, I try to turn in on but it is frozen too.  No way!  I swallow a frozen drink while I enjoy what I see and I am immensely happy.  To my right is Annapurna, 8,091 meters above all, precious, with its slope that looks so calm and that is why it is so dangerous; then the other Annapurnas, II, III and IV; and on the other side the rest of the Dhaulagiris.  Below, well below, millions of cubic meters of sleepy clouds, leaning and sheltering on each other.  The blue of the daybreak is precious because it is more color than light.

Iñaki continues climbing above me and Cristian comes below.  I save my bottle, I want to shoot some pictures and none of the cameras work in this cold.  There is nothing to do but to open up my eyes, like a full moon, and keep the memory of the forms and colors.

It is very hard to climb above 7,000 m!

Me, an insignificant and useless human being, coughing, breathing with more than 160 heartbeats per minute and fighting not to stop after just four steps.  No thoughts, or hardly any: where to step, how to breathe.  So little slope and I can't get to its end.

-          Patience, Vallejo, patience.  Do Zen in every step.

So I do, Zen in every step, almost in the total emptiness: only breathe, climb, stop and continue.

7,400 m.  Korean Camp III.

Out there is Jambu, chief of the Sherpas with whom Mr. Pian reached the summit with.  Inside the tents, two more Sherpas and Mr. Pian, of course.

Jambu greets me in Nepalese and I answer back in Nepalese, which proves my neurons are not dead yet.  I ask him to help me heat up my almost frozen beverage and he makes me see there are no available pots.

I say goodbye and I keep climbing between coughs and vomit, with cramps in my belly that leave me badly hit after each session.

7,500 m.  Somewhere on Dhaulagiri, but very high.

Cristian and I meet in a very comfortable flat, between two big rocks, to rest and to stop.  I drink and vomit, of course.

Poor Cristian, after looking and listening to me, jokes. 

-          Next time I will film you to make an special: The other side of Ivan Vallejo.

I nod, because nobody has filmed me in these conditions close to 8,000.

Finally we can see the Italians going on the same trail as the Sherpas and the Korean.  Immediately Cristian, after swearing to the wind, says this is the wrong trail. I, knowing that in the group of Sherpas was one that climbed for the fifth time, tell him that such thing is impossible. On the other hand, the Italians are still going up.

But unexplainably, Ochoa turns to the right of the trail, in such loose snow, like he was looking something he lost.  Not Cristian of me understand what is going on. We continue climbing.

7,700 m.  11 h 35

Oh God, it's so hot.  Sweating like in the western Ecuador in the winter, and the snow looks like soup!  The trail of the Italians is useless and so is Iñaki's, we sink anyway, or better said, we swim, Cristian and me.

7,785 m.  12 h 00

Romano comes down.  I am about to congratulate him for his summit, but he tells me the trail of the Koreans doesn't get to the highest point of Dhaulagiri.  So there, we confirm, that it is almost impossible to get through a very sharp ridge to the main summit.


Christian Stengl says: Scheisse!

Ivan Vallejo says: Shit!

Immediately behind comes down Ochoa.  He is tired and upset and he doesn't say a word.

Nieves and Luca say the same.

-          What do we do, Vallejo?, asks Cristian in Spanish with Teutonic accent.

I keep my head on the piolet, breathing and thinking.  Luckily this beautiful exercise of climbing mountains, first, and climbing for life later, although they are just any steps, have taught me that there is no better situation to lose power that to search for the guilty; on the other hand, there is no more liberating attitude than accepting one's responsibility.  Then I ask myself the following questions:

Did somebody make me follow the trail of the Sherpas and the Korean?  Did somebody made me think that they had reached the real summit of Dhaulagiri?  Wasn't it our own decision to "take advantage" of the trail of the Korean expedition.

Dear Stengl, the summit is just the highest point.  If the one they've reached is not the right one, why keep climbing?, we have to go back.  We shout to Ochoa but he doesn't answer, however I know that we will make a team with him to come back.

I drink my last sip of liquid which is warm in these heights, I turn around and I start climbing down, from almost 8,000 m of altitude.

Thank GOD, I do well climbing down.  At 2 I am in CIII, at 3 in CII, dying of thirst. I make a litter of water that I drink in a second, I come back to life and I keep climbing down.  At 5 in CI, another half litter of water and then Base.

At 8 in the evening we reach BC the Italians and me, Cristian in CII and Iñaki in CI.  It is understandable; for them it was a very long and hard day.

We will go back again for the main summit.

And the Koreans?

Very well, thank you.  On May 6, at 7 thirty in the morning, they took a helicopter towards Katmandu.  They are surely celebrating their summit... the one they didn't reach.

With my love, from Base Camp, while we wait for the wind to diminish to make the attempt to the summit, the real one, the only one there is.

Iván Vallejo Ricaurte.



Editorial Note: We will be more than happy to publish a reply from the Koreans. Sometimes things get confused up high. Stay Tuned.

Translated from Spanish by Jorge Rivera



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