Carlos Soria on Climbing Dhaulagiri At 80

The first impression of Carlos Soria –- the soft-spoken, gentlemanly Spaniard who seizes every occasion to praise the joy of just being in the mountains, keeps a calm walking pace and stops to pat every single dog he comes across — might be deceiving. His public profile of endearing grandpa with a Zen-like approach to mountaineering might lead one to underestimate the iron-willed ambition behind his friendly smile. His actual story is that of a hard-core, highly competitive athlete, who has trained virtually every day of his life since he was a 14-year old boy in dark, post-war Spain and who pursues his goals with a great deal of patience and sacrifice.

Carlos Soria makes four-legged friends wherever he goes (here, trekking in Nepal). Photo: Carlos Soria


In times when such thing as a professional climber simply didn’t exist, the young Carlos climbed mainly at home: He couldn’t afford to spend months far from his family and his work as a carpenter. He was already in his 40s when he took part in the first Spanish expeditions to mountains abroad — in the 1970s — including the first national success on an 8,000’er (Manaslu).

It would take him another 20 years to summit another 8,000m peak. Meanwhile, Spain developed from the dark years of financial isolation and political restrictions to a sound democracy with a thriving economy. By the time Himalayan climbing became popular with Spanish sponsors in the happy years before the 2012 crisis, Soria was already old enough to have retired from work, but not from climbing.

Ironically, it was precisely his age which attracted sponsors. Eventually, he became the first climber to summit 10 peaks over 8000m at over 60 years old. He summited Manaslu, for example, at 71 — 37 years after his first expedition. The feat was celebrated as an example of tenacity and enduring motivation. Soria himself saw the events from a different perspective: “If I could have only got those funds when I was at my peak — at 50!”

Soria postholing through deep snow en route to Dhaulagiri’s Camp 2 earlier this week. Photo: YoSubo con Carlos Soria


Carlos Soria has played his cards cautiously in such a dangerous game as high-altitude mountaineering. On the one hand, his aborted climbs vastly outnumber the summits achieved. On the other hand, he has kept himself alive, healthy and active for more than six decades.

That’s why he is currently attempting Dhaulagiri at 80 years old, and why this is his 10th attempt on the mountain. By the way, Soria feels much better talking about his age than about the number of times he has returned to Dhaulagiri, as he made abundantly clear during a chat with ExplorersWeb.

“Why are you guys so interested in this, when no one asks how I climbed Makalu at 69, together with Dawa Sherpa, when we were totally alone on the mountain?” he said. “Yes, I have been to Dhaulagiri an obnoxious number of times already, but look: I have seen so many accidents, so many climbers pushing in spite of bad conditions or worsening weather and then returning with terrible frostbite, or not returning…I just do not climb that way.”

Soria surrounded by Luis Miguel López (left) and Sito Carcavillla. Photo: Carlos Soria Facebook


Clearly, Soria is ready to put Dhaulagiri behind him once and for all. He wanted to try last year, but his left knee had had enough of a sporting life, so he swapped it for a titanium implant. He took it easy for a while, rehabilitating, then resumed training harder than ever.

Before heading to Nepal this month, he put his body to a final test, which was at the same time his first acclimatization stage for Dhaula: He summited Peak Lenin (7,134m) in Kyrgyzstan. He then trekked up the Khumbu Valley to Kala Pattar, then beyond to Pumori’s Camp 1.

“That day, we met Kilian Jornet, Andrzej Bargiel and the Polish climbers heading for Lhotse –- possibly the strongest climbers around this year,” he said about his new trekking companions.

“The knee is ready, I’ve not had problems with cold as I’d feared, and I am feeling great,” he said. “I’m ready for a summit push on Dhaula, if conditions permit, although the weather is not looking good yet.”

Soria explained that while trekking, they had made the most out of the sunny mornings in time to find shelter from the afternoon showers. “All I can ask for is to be as weather-lucky on the mountain as we’ve been during the acclimatization trek,” he said.

The team reached Dhaulagiri earlier this week and encountered large amounts of snow. However, Soria quickly moved up to Camp 1 for a first night high on the mountain, and then climbed further up to Camp 2, which he reached in just four hours. Right now, Soria and his team are back in Base Camp, preparing for their summit push.

Teams on Dhaulagiri have encountered rough weather and loads of snow on their partial acclimatization climbs. Photo: Yo Subo con Carlos Soria


Finally, Soria addressed his use of Sherpas and ropes. “Of course, we are climbing with a team of six Sherpas, and we carry enough rope to fix the necessary sections,” he said. “I want to be completely sure that we are self-sufficient and setting our own pace. I cannot afford to depend on someone else fixing ropes or breaking trail.”

Reminded that some climbers on Dhaulagiri have stated that they will not use fixed ropes, Soria retorted, “Oh, really? Well, ask me about that again when we return.”

Soria will use O2 on summit day. “That’s what I have done in my latest climbs, and it is a question of safety,” he said. “Sure, I would love to avoid it, but that will be very unlikely. After all, 80 years old is … a lot!”

Carlos Soria in the Khumbu Valley. Photo: Carlos Soria