on the way to the summit (4)
Courage so docile, braveness so
Intrepidness so slow, it is
not useful for me
I can’t use such cold
It is and isn’t useful for me
LOOKING FOR A WEAK SIDE
Andrew and Sergey move first
again to the bottom of the serac with the hope of finding a passage where it
wasn’t found yesterday. Many times in this job, taking on the impossible,
mixing with the fair measure and the right proportion, audacity and prudence,
it can be the needed “ace” to win the match. Sergey enters an ice wall whose
upper part leans scarily, I see him climb slowly, meter by meter, while Andrew
makes sure he is safe from below. From time to time I listen to the ice
splinters that fly in the air when Sergey hits the wall. I can imagine that
the thing is more complicated than what we see from where Fercho and I stand,
for now, as simple spectators. This thing of teamwork when you don’t have to
explain anything, where words are obviated, is precious. As a recognition to
most of the work Fernando and I have done so far, Andrew and Sergey have taken
as their own the job of solving this complicated passage.
Now, the Australian climbs
and secures the Russian, that one steps on another block of ice which is very
inclined and looks for a weak side where to pass, but nothing. He tries once
again, twice, three times and he gives up. Sergey takes the lead again, he
makes a lot of effort to climb just one meter above the leaning ice and he
makes it, he installs a screw and he comes down, those battles above 6,400
exhaust anyone immediately. Fernando takes his turn with the same dynamic:
struggle a lot to overpass the leaning ice, climb a little more, fix another
screw and come down. By now it is almost eleven in the
Mother! Almost four hours
and just sixty meters!
Iñaki Ochoa and his partner
Horia (Romania) have come from C2. I ask Iñaki to help us on the serac thing,
he rest and then he goes to the bottom of the wall. Those of us who watch
from down below verify that solving this passage is a hard war. Iñaki takes a
lo of time to get to the last screw and then it is his turn to climb slowly,
little by little, it would be pretentious to say meter by meter. No, forget
it, the right thing to say is centimeter by centimeter. He passes another
piece of the slate of ice, which scares anyone with the idea of falling down,
he installs a new screw and he comes back down.
When he is back with us, he
says that for him the conditions of the wall are not the best, because there
is just a fine layer of snow and there is ice under it, so climbing there
would be serious and hard. I only listen to him because my turn has not come
yet and I can’t say my opinion of what I don’t see or what I don’t feel. By
now it is almost noon, Edurne is loosing her patience, certainly, it has been
a lot of hours and we haven’t climbed one hundred meters.
Sergey is back on the attack
again, now that the lines have fixed he goes up slowly. With the possibility
that there is no solution we come up with the idea to search for another
passage with Horia; we tether up and go all the way to the left of the serac,
in fact, we find a passage, although very vertical, but that can lead us above
the blocks. Bingo! Initial excitement, of course, but when we analyze with
more detail the possible exit, we note that this trail goes to the same wide
and huge crevasse that cut our access yesterday, so… back to square one. When
we go back to the tents, I see Sergey at the bottom of the wall, struggling
every centimeter of that so vertical ice, trying to win the match against
From below it looks like the
worst has passed, that the slope is being subjugated, he disappears from our
eyes because he goes between two big mounds of snow. His
absence worries us. – What will happen? Is there an exit? What do we do if
there isn’t? Where do we try? Suddenly we see him again, coming down
by the ropes, we anxiously wait to see what happens. When he comes to the
bottom of the wall we congratulate him and he immediately addresses Fernando
and me and in his precarious English says that he believe that the worst is
solved and that now we’ll have to see if we can exit the blocks and climb the
I immediately know that it is
our turn and that is what we have been waiting for. I feel glad to climb with
Fercho and I tell him. When I review all the way to this point which took
more than six hours to solve, I verify how demanding and hard each centimeter
we has been, what we have won to the emptiness of this ice castle. I have a
hard time to pass the leaning ice, despite the help of the lines.
Caption: I verify how demanding and hard each centimeter we has been, what we
have won to the emptiness of this ice castle.
I climb above the leaning ice; below, one of
our tents in Camp 3.
Fernando and I reach the end
of the trail that which Sergey reached; above us, some gigantic mounds of snow
and ice. There is a very clear exit on the side. Fercho and I go there,
carefully, advancing. I climb with anxiety thinking of the hope that we won’t
find anything blocking our way.
We have struggled enough, my
little Annapurna, give us a hand. We passed the part with the snow mounds
and… voilá… finally a clear way to Camp 4.
- Good, good, we
made it, we made it, that’s it. Woooow!
I immediately take the radio
and talk to BC, where Ferran has been giving us support all morning, and with
Edurne and Iñaki in C3, just one hundred fifty meters below. I tell them
excitedly that the access to Camp 4 is open. Iñaki immediately asks about the
conditions of the snow and the slope, with all honesty I tell him that the
inclination of the place where we are has the perfect angle for an avalanche
and that, regarding the snow, knowing that it is almost three in the
afternoon, I sink up to my knees.
When I return I get the hard
news that Edurne has decided to go down with Iñaki because they believe that
the conditions are dangerous. I freeze with the news, I don’t know what to
answer, I didn’t see that coming. Putting the ideas in order, he said that
although the snow is loose, since it is too late, it will be good tomorrow,
that we should try. But I lose the match, everybody decides to go down:
Edurne, Asier, Iñaki, Horia and the two Sherpas.
So, we were ten for the
summit and now we are four: Sergey, Andrew, Fercho and I.
Back in the tents to spend
one more night in C3, I have mixed feelings, on one hand the happiness of
having solved such difficult passage, so complicated, nowhere else than on
Annapurna, and on the other hand…
I am happy because I feel the
reward for being patient, of not losing my calm; for knowing that it is
wonderful when the scales lean on the side of audacity and prudence. Very
happy because it has been a team work, supporting us meter by meter. We had
anguish for a moment, certainly, but we knew how to withstand and now we found
the passage. But on the other side I feel very bad for Edurne, Asier and the
two Sherpas, they are my teammates, I pictured myself with them on the summit.
Translated from Spanish by
On the way to the summit (3)
Dear friends of Ecuador and the
I send you warm greetings
from Karakorum, on the way to Broad Peak.
I share one more chronicle of
my ascent to the summit of Annapurna.
Have a good week
Ivan Vallejo Ricaurte
AT THE BOTTOM OF A KIND OF
On the afternoon of May 22 we
reached 6,400m and we installed Camp 3 just below a fearsome and huge set of
blocks of ice; beforehand we knew that this place was a key passage to
continue our ascent to Camp 4. Just below them we installed four tents for us
eight, in fact the idea of thinking what could happen in any moment took our
breath away, thinking that one of those ice things could fell down and with
that we could be buried, in the better of cases or to be swept to the void, in
the worst of cases. But the thing is… that there was no other site to place
From the place where the
tents are, this wave of ice looks threatening and there is no evident pass
that would allow us to climb the one hundred fifty meters of these ice towers
and reach the path that leads us to Camp 4. The information we have from last
year’s expedition, from S. Mondinelli, doesn’t match with reality, it is a
fact that there are the remains of the lines he had installed but…
Once the tents were
installed, Sergey and Andrew immediately put on their feather suit, took one
hundred lines of rope and left looking for the famous pass between the
seracs. Fernando and I melted snow while they were struggling in the maze.
One hour later they returned
with not so good news: they found the ropes of S. Mondinelli’s expedition from
last year but they get to a crevasse that is fifteen meters wide. With that
unsettling panorama, it is the end of the day, on Monday, May 21. Tomorrow
will be another day.
Inside the tent each one has
soup, they cook rice and mix it with sardines with olive oil, then we make
water and drink, drink a lot. While we have dinner I feel there is a lot of
cold inside the tent… so outside you can imagine.
I have to pee.
- Fercho, would you lend me
your bottle please?
After the business and the
contortions one has to do inside the littlest tent, I get into the sleeping
bag. Improvised pillow, regular comfort, a little MP3 music, pray and see you
tomorrow. By the way, about praying, Fernando insist that one of the prayers
has to be done asking for that that Perito Moreno we have over our heads would
not crumble tonight. How I laugh about the definition of Perito Moreno.
Caption: Worried about this kind of Perito Moreno above our heads…
because there was no other site
to place the tents. Sergey goes towards the foot of the enormous serac.
WHY GO OUT?
The alarm goes off at five in
the morning. Five more minutes, please! As usual. In that time I think, I
put my ideas in order and I plan what I am going to do when the five minutes
end, I hope they would be long: starting with the nose I get out of the
sleeping bag very slowly, so that the frost doesn’t fall on our faces. I sit,
I finally wake up with the first blow of cold on the cheeks, I move Fernando
so that he gets up and so that I can move to the door of the tent to reach the
kitchenette, light it up, put pieces of ice on the pot and make water for
How is the serac?
Would there be a pass or not?
If there isn’t, what would we
Don’t worry, there would be
In fact, from down here the
issue looks screwed up.
So, talking alone but in
silence, my five minutes are due and like a little executioner the alarm
sounds with its usual inclemency. Then I feel a huge and heavy anchor that
ties me to my sleeping bag. Outside my pigpen it is cold, the interior walls
of the tent are frozen, full of frost and ice.
Why go out?
Let’s go, let’s go, we have
to go out to climb to Camp 4 and tomorrow to the summit.
Good, so let’s get out.
At seven thirty in the
morning we all have had breakfast, out of our tents and with our feather suits
because it is cold. We have to solve the serac passage.
Translated from Spanish by
On the way to the summit (2)
HOMAGE TO RAMIRO NAVARRETE
Ramiro Navarrete was one of
the best mountain climbers there has been in the history of Ecuador.
His return to Ecuador after a
long season climbing the Alps, while he was finishing his doctorate in
philosophy (and in that order of importance) between Navarra and England,
meant a great injection of vitality for our sport, but above all it showed us
a different way to view and to face the challenges on the Andes.
His contribution served to
open new ways in Ecuador, to make us see that organizing an expedition to the
Andes in Colombia, Peru or Bolivia was not so complicated as we thought; I
myself took a bus to Alpamayo and Artesonraju, supported unconditionally by
Ramiro. He made exceptional climbs in Alpamayo, in Santa Cruz, Huascarán in
Peru and Illampu, in Bolivia. Then he turned his gaze to the highest
mountains of the world in the Himalayas. His was the idea of being the first
Ecuadorian to climb Everest. With his always methodic ways, he prepared a
plan to let him make sure to reach the summit of the highest mountain of the
In 1986 he climbed Communist
peak with more than seven thousand meters of altitude; then he chose Shisha
Pangma as his first eight thousand and reached its summit with no one else
than one of the most brilliant stars we have had in Himalayan mountain
climbing: Jerzy Kucukza. To finish his preparation he chose Annapurna as the
last step before facing Everest. On October 17, 1988, he reached the summit
of the Goddess of Abundance by a long and complicated way through the south
wall; on the next day, October 18, while he was climbing down from the last
camp to BC, the weather was not good and visibility was almost null. This
prevented him from seeing a cornice that was treachery under his feet; his
climbing teammate Francisco Espinosa only heard the crack and the following
thunder of the enormous piece of ice breaking. Ramiro Navarrete slipped over
that infinite and abrupt slope of the south face of Annapurna. He remained in
that mountain forever.
I had the enormous luck of
being one of his close friends, or better, I had the luck of having him as one
of my teachers: he taught me photography, he pushed me into the first
expeditions out of the country, but above all he taught me to see a wide and
gigantic horizon that was beyond Ecuador.
It hurt a lot when Ramiro
left, with his absence I lost my great friend and my great teacher. Now that
I was going to Annapurna, the mountain where he is, it was my special occasion
to greet him, to talk to him; to ask him that, if possible he would go with me
on this ascent.
At the bottom of Annapurna in
its west face, a modest memorial has been built to remember the countless
mountain climbers that have lost their lives in that mountain, a memory for
Ramiro was missing in that place.
From Ecuador I took a modest
homage to Annapurna, a plate to deposit there the gratitude and love of
several friends who shared with him part of our march over the mountains. On
May 20, on the way to the summit of Annapurna I raised this memorial, with
Fernando; we had a prayer, I talked with Ramiro and we place his plate. When
I took my backpack again I knew he would go to the summit with me.
Caption: At the memorial, at the bottom of Annapurna with the plate I left as
a memory of love from his friends.
Translated from Spanish by
Earlier: ON THE
ROAD AGAIN, ON THE WAY TO KARAKORUM
June 18, 2007
friends of Ecuador and the world.
greetings from Islamabad, now on the way to Broad Peak, the twelfth highest
mountain in the world with 8,047m on the Karakorum mountain system. I
am here as a member of the Al Filo de lo Imposible expedition for Televisión
Española. For me it has been glad to get an invitation
again from this team, famous because of their adventures and the quality film
work which they have done for more than twenty years. As members of the
expedition we are, except for Fercho, the same as in the Annapurna expedition:
Edurne Pasaban, Asier Izaguirre, Ferran Latorre and yours truly. We will meet
with four more members at Broad Peak’s BC to sum eight in total in the group.
I will let you know the names of the new teammates later.
as promised, I start sending you the chronicles I have written regarding our
ascent to the summit of Annapurna last May 24. There will be several
chronicles thought and written for you my friends and ascent partners. One of
the ways I can thank for your support and company is precisely sharing with
you these expedition chronicles.
On the way
to the summit (1)
WE HAD DONE
May 11, Andrew, Fernando and I had reached 6,400m, the location of Camp 3,
fixing almost a thousand meters of rope through a precious trail through ice
walls, snow blankets and long and steep slopes, always having behind us a
falling yard which seemed to want to swallow us at the least error. The charm
of this trail was that from time to time, for very short moments, we had the
pleasure of defying gravity.
Back at BC
we only had to wait for a window of good weather. We had to have at least
four days in a row of good weather, where especially the last two had to be
perfect because they were going to be used to reach the summit and come back
I read the
book Letters to Albert Einstein at BC. This book, besides giving a brief
biography of one of the greatest geniuses humanity has had, makes reference to
numerous letters from children from all over the world who with their simple
ways and innocence make the most divers questions to Dr. Einstein, and
certifies the stature of such a human being reflected in the extraordinary
simple way with which he talks to children. Reading it was useful for me to
make a brief and flat review of the theory of relativity, which was good while
brings anguish and normally comes with a time that is always relative because
it can be enormous or small, infinite or precise. Everything depends…
expecting mother that waits for the ninth month.
that grows in the mother’s womb and although it waits, it doesn’t know
anything about the wait.
that waits for the kiss and love of a quarter of an hour.
that waits for the sentence.
the eyes waiting for the first kiss.
for your turn to visit the dentist because the judgment tooth has no room.
Forty five thousand fans
waiting for the match to end.
Someone waiting for the
grades of the final exam.
Ten mountain climbers waiting
for four days of good weather.
wait standing up, sitting down, calm, with despair, with euphoria, crying,
talking or in silence. That’s how the wait is like. It is like death, we all
get squished by it.
wait has a godfather or executioner:
mother, the passing of time
baby, just its mother
lover, his lover
inmate, the sentence
kiss, the lips
patient, the anesthesia
fans, the referee
student, the teacher
us… the weather forecast from Vitor Baia.
is from Portugal, he lives in La Guarda, on the north of Lisbon.
Kangchenjunga, with the company of Joao Garcia, I went to meet him and to
thank him for the immense help he gave us with sending the weather forecast
which was key to reach the summit of Kangchenjunga, the third highest mountain
of the world. Vitor has deadly passion for parapente, he started to fly with
it and now he is the instructor of his own school, that has taken him to
understand the readings of winds, of those winds which let him fly and let me
sits in from of his computer to calculate the meteo, he lives his special
everyday ceremony, a kind of reading of the oracle which makes him know if it
is feasible or not, if there is a flight or not; in sum, it means if you live
In from of
the screen of his computer Vitor is different, he transforms, because for him
getting the meteo is not just interpreting the graphics and the colors; is a
whole thing, a whole that makes him live and vibrate, which makes him feel
like a kind of Merlin of the winds, the sun, the clouds and the humidity.
he asked me for a place and I said Kangchenjunga, just like that. He found
the latitude and longitude and came up with a bunch of maps, curves, colors
and bars. In that moment he entered a trance, possessed by the spirits of the
wind, the water and the mountains. That, which for me was and unexplainable
thing, for him was snow, wind, sun, clouds, humidity. With the index he made
curves on the computer screen, as if commanding the path of the wind. The
Vitor Baia of that moment, possessed by the gods of the meteo was full of
light, covered by that glitter of the power to predict.
night, after his wife and his two daughters go to sleep he slips out to read
the oracle and the deck of magic cards with which he plays with the designs of
the sun, the clouds and the wind.
Baia, dear friend, has all our trust and confidence in such delicate topic of
the weather predictions.
THE LAST FORECAST
Literally: days 22, 23 and
24. Good weather. Day 24 sun, wind west 40 – 50 km on the
summit. Days 25, 26 and 27 still with good weather but with stronger winds.
very clear, the week from the 22 to the 26 of May was the window of good time
we were waiting, we would have clear skies although we were worried of the
wind speed, because normally the bearable limit for any human being is between
30 and 40 kilometers per hour. The fifty worried me a lot, and I suppose
On May 20
we left from BC, Edurne, Asier, Fernando, the two Sherpas and I from our
group, Al Filo de lo Imposible; Andrew and Sergev from the other expedition.
A day later Iñaki Ochoa and Horia would leave and they would reach us at Camp
Editor: Doris Arroba
Iván Vallejo Ricaurte
from Spanish by Jorge Rivera
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