15th summit, check: ExWeb interview with Nives Meroi and Romano Benet

Posted: Apr 04, 2012 01:51 am EDT

(Angela Benavides/TS) When Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner stepped on top of K2 last year it marked the end of an era in womens' Himalaya .

Edurne got there first, Gerlinde got it pure. Nives meanwhile, was fighting her fifteenth summit.

It happened in 2009, in the heat of the race for the first female 14 eight thousanders. Pushing for Kangchenjunga summit, Romano suddenly fell mysteriously ill. Nives immediately sacrificed her summit chance and virtually carried her husband down the mountain.

The decision cost her the race. "Romano comes first, no matter what, Nives said.

The battle on the mountain was only the beginning of the couple's hardship. Back home, it turned out that Romano was suffering from a rare disease that would keep him near death for months. The two called the fight for Romano's life “their 15th 8000er climb.” It took several failed treatments and a medullar-spine transplant to get Romano back on his feet.

He was barely out of danger when there was a second strike. Their regular climbing mate, Nives' sister Leila's boyfriend Luca Vuerich was killed in a climbing accident. “Luca was our ‘little brother’ - we were a family,” Nives despaired.

Somehow, they made it through and there was dawn. A test climb last fall in Nepal showed all systems go and now the Italian Himalayan couple is back exactly where they left off: on Kangchenjunga SW face. As usual they are on a tight budget, without supplementary oxygen or Sherpas. ExWeb caught up with Nives and Romano to greet them back on the climbing scene.

ExplorersWeb: So you guys are back to the Himalayas! How is Romano doing, is he totally recovered?

Nives. We are fine and Romano is definitely in shape. Last fall he felt well enough to give mountaineering a try, so we went to Mera Peak…Romano reached the top one full hour ahead of me! When I finally joined him he said: “What’s wrong with you? You’ve had two years to train and have not taken any advantage of it!” How cool is that?

ExplorersWeb: Wow – It must have been a special moment…

Nives: It was for me. As for Romano, I asked him about his emotions and feelings at being back in the mountains, but he said that it felt like nothing new. “I am just back where to the place I was before, at the point I left it.” It is amazing, he’s just ‘erased’ his two years of illness and suffering!

Thus, on our comeback to high altitude mountaineering, Romano liked the idea of coming back right where we had left off: the south face of Kangchenjunga.

ExplorersWeb: Are you also back to your usual light style?

Nives: Yeah, were sticking to the basics as usual: no O2 or high altitude Sherpas.

ExplorersWeb: Are there any other teams in the mountain – anyone you may share works with?

Nives: According to our local outfitter Cho Oyu trekking, there’s four other climbers in our permit: Slovak Peter Hamor, Romanian Horia Colibasanu, and Spanish Jorge with his usual mate*. I do not know if there will be other expeditions on the mountain.

(*Ed. Note: Nives refers to Jorge Egocheaga and Martin Ramos. Martin has not yet confirmed to ExplorersWeb.)

ExplorersWeb: After all this time and all that has happened… does anyone still ask you about the 14x8000ers?

Nives: Ha! If someone asks me such a question it's usually due to one of 3 possible reasons:
1) He/she didn’t notice that the race is over and that it's finally time to start just climbing.
2) Does not have enough imagination (or climbing knowledge) to find better goals or better questions.
3) Has never heard/read what I’ve always said on the subject.

ExplorersWeb: Expeditions are reporting back more than ever, will you guys be blogging?

Nives: I'm afraid not. Actually, I do not know if we can write reports on the site - there is a crisis and we need to cut costs, so no Bgan this time. We’d like to post short reports with the most important news and then tell the whole story upon returning home.

I understand that media wants news right away, and that demand has somehow made us think that it is fair and normal to be under the eye of Big Brother, anywhere, anytime. I won’t accept this though. I’d rather assume the consequences of being a dark horse, and stick to my motto, "there is always a different way."

The first women in the world to summit all 14, 8000ers (Messner was the first male) all fought with their various means, skills and approaches.

Edurne Pasaban summited K2 with supplementary oxygen, as part of a large team. Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner summited K2 with three strong climbers, via a difficult route.

Nives Meroi summited K2 with her husband Romano and no one else around. That year only two other climbers reached the summit, heavily supported on a later date.

When Romano became seriously ill high up on Kangchenjunga, his wife gave up her top rank on the female 14x8000ers list to save his life. In her interview with ExplorersWeb, Nives said the chain of events helped her realize what is really important in life.

"I have summited all my 8000ers together with [Romano] and can’t think of reaching a summit without sharing it with him," she said. "[The events] opened my eyes, and put my feet back on the ground. I remembered why I climb, how I climb, what is really important in life, and what is without sense."

Nives and Romano have climbed 11, 8000er summits together, which is a world record for couples. They never use O2 or high altitude porters, instead they usually climb on a tight budget, with small camps and minimum gear. This spring the two are back where they left off in 2009: on Kangchenjunga SW face.

#Mountaineering #topstory #interview

Nives and Romano, the Himalaya super couple.
courtesy Nives Meroi, SOURCE
"I remembered why I climb, how I climb, what is really important in life, and what is without sense," Nives said after Romano fell ill.
Nives summited K2 with her husband Romano, without oxygen, Sherpas or other climbers.
Nive's sister Leila and her late Luca.
courtesy Luca Vuerich, SOURCE
Together or bust: following this rule Nives and Romano have already summited 11 big ones. Kangchenjunga could be next.