Winter GI commentary: ExWeb interview with Louis Rousseau, "It’s a mixed challenge of survival and mountaineering"

Winter GI commentary: ExWeb interview with Louis Rousseau, "It’s a mixed challenge of survival and mountaineering"

Posted: Feb 03, 2012 05:48 am EST

The "C" (for Canadian) in the ABC team attempting G1 last winter, Louis Rousseau is commenting on the games for ExplorersWeb from home this time. "I don’t have any regrets: I’m a happy man," Louis said about his personal choice, but confesses his heart is divided.

ExplorersWeb: How does it feel to watch from home?

Louis: I’m very excited about what is happening in the Karakoram. I want to be part of it again, but the real challenge now is to learn how to balance my “mountain life” and my life at home.

Both are challenging and active. I don’t have any regrets: I’m a happy man, I work, I climb every week with wonderful friends and partners and, most of all, I have an amazing and beautiful wife.

I wish I was in the Karakoram every day, but more because I would love to help my friends on Gasherbrum I. Feels like I wished to be there for their success. Strange feeling actually!

ExplorersWeb: Why didn't you come?

Louis: Very simple: I spent 6 months in Pakistan last year (winter expedition January-March and summer expedition June-August). This year it was time to work and spend some quality time with my wife.

ExplorersWeb: Do you wish you were there now? Any such plans for later?

Louis: Of course! I wake up every morning wishing I was there with Alex, Gerfried, Carlos, Darek, Tamara and my Pakistani friend Nisar. I watch the news at Explorersweb and check the pictures; I know exactly where they are shot on the route!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no masochist. It's just that winter climbing in the Himalayas is one pure, unpredictable adventure, and a very unique way to climb.

I think that the Himalayan pioneers of the 1920’s probably felt a little bit the same: real isolation, bitter cold, hunger, broken equipment, problems to solve, low chances of success, unpredictable weather… It’s a mix of challenges, mountaineering and surviving.

To explain it in my lectures I sometimes compare it to a polar expedition but at 8000 meters, where instead of polar bears you have all the usual mountaineering hazards like avalanches, rock and ice fall, crevasses and altitude sickness.

ExplorersWeb: Who do you think stands best chance and why? Your thoughts on K2?

Everyone have good chance now. Really, I’m not trying to be politically correct!

G1 international team just crossed 6400m on the new route, they must climb the final ice wall and I know they brought enough good ice screws this year to make it. They will establish camp 2 and 3 on the plateau next – and then they will be ready for a summit attempt. Compared to last year attempt, they are 1 month faster.

Denis and Simone reached camp 3 on the Messner (incomplete) route. It’s really fast! Also, we all know the capability of this unstoppable, magical duo. They did the first winter climb of Makalu and also Gasherbrum II; they can climb Nanga Parbat the same way.

The Polish on G1 already crossed the long glacier, set up Camp 1. From that point, reaching Gasherbrum La can be done very fast (probably done by now). From the Col, they will climb the Japanese couloirs which is already fixed with good ropes. I know, because I did rig the couloir myself last summer with Jose Carlos Tamayo and Dr. Stefan Zechmann. They can climb very fast to C3 at 7100, try the summit and come back to Base Camp the same day - as we did last year.

The Russians have a real good chance to summit K2. They learnt so much from the expeditions on Jannu north face, Lhotse direct route, Mount Everest north wall, and K2 west face. And now they’re going for K2 winter! They are very tough, fully committed and they seem to climb for their nation, because they also want to bring the Sochi Olympic flag to the top and I don’t think it’s because they like the Olympic committee so much. In my opinion, there is patriotism in that expedition, and we saw in the past what patriotism can do when mixed with mountaineering… summit but… Maybe that’s what it takes to summit K2 in winter…

ExplorersWeb: The biggest difficulties awaiting the teams now in your opinion?

The extreme weather, February’s bitter cold. The days will start to be longer now though, it’s such a good feeling when you can climb after 4pm!

However, time will run fast and March will arrive soon, with probably more clouds and precipitation. I hope they can summit before the beginning of March. The more they wait for good weather, the more they will lose fat and muscles, even if they stay in Base Camp. They have to work even in less perfect weather to install camps and ropes, in order to be ready for “their” weather window.

Next: Louis's top favorite winter climbs, advice for winter ascents, personal plans, and more.

North Face field athlete Louis Rousseau (34) from Quebec, summited Broad Peak 8,051 m and climbed until 7,300 m on K2 in 2007. In 2009, he climbed a new route on Nanga Parbat 8,125 m (first Canadian summit) and made two attempts on K2 (7,800 m and 8,360 m) during the same season. In 2011, he tried Gasherbrum 1 8,080 m by a new route on the south face (first winter attempt of the mountain) and more recently, he climbed Gasherbrum II 8,035 m.

Rousseau's wife Candice teaches students with learning disabilities. Louis works with public health research in an infectious diseases unit. "As an epidemiologist, I’m a big fan of the 'Walking dead' series," he says, "I wish there will be a zombie outbreak real soon."


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Louis leading up at -25 degree Celsius below a narrow couloir that the ABC tea named the Rat tail.
courtesy Gerfried Goschl, SOURCE
Alex Txikon going up in harsh, icy wind.
courtesy Gerfried Goschl, SOURCE
Above C1, the final 400m of ice rising to 70º. "The ice was like marble, it was a hard task to place only one ice screws for protection," Loius stated. "In Karakoram winter climbing, you need new razor-sharp ice screws."
courtesy Gerfried Goschl, SOURCE
G1 in winter 2011. LtR: Louis Rousseau (Canada), Gerfried Goschl (Austria), and Alex Txikon (Spain).
courtesy Louis Rousseau, SOURCE
Night is falling rapidly but Louis is still leading a rotten rock band circa 6400m.
courtesy Gerfried Goschl, SOURCE
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