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ExWeb interview: Juan Oiarzabal, "They are not climbers"

Posted: May 24, 2006 09:00 pm EDT

(MountEverest.net) Juan âJuanitoâ Oiarzabal knows what he's talking about when it comes to Himalayan climbing - after all nobody has summited as many 8000ers as he has (21 in total). Despite his widespread experience, Juan has, at times, gone too far for a summit - pushing, when he should have stopped. Last time it happened it nearly cost him his life.

If Oiarzabal has learned anything from the mountains, it's to always climb with friends. Juan has been rescued a number of times, and he never beat around the bush about it; on the contrary, he has been grateful in public to all those who put his life before their goals.

Juan knows the price you pay for mistakes on the mountain all too well: He's lost many friends, and he is reminded of his own lack of judgment everyday by an excruciating pain that simply won't go away. Two years ago Juan lost all his toes to frostbite after summiting K2. The injury cut deep not only into his feet but into his very soul. It's what's now forcing Juan away from what he loves most: High altitude mountaineering.

No suprise

Contrary to Hillary, the Basque 14 8000er summiteer is not shocked at the latest news from Everest. "That mountain turned into a circus years ago, and it's getting worse â I donât have the slightest interest in going back there, ever. Moreover, I actually try to avoid reading on whatâs going on there â I simply donât care anymore."

But in fact, he has heard of David Sharp, left unattended by dozens of climbers when he lay agonizing above 8000m.

"Itâs a classic - someone is in trouble, and people pass by, not even taking a quick look at him," Juan told ExplorersWeb.

They are not climbers

"In my opinion, solidarity doesnât exist on Everest. And the reason is, that most of the climbers attempting that mountain are not experienced Himalaya mountaineers," he said. "I wouldnât even consider many of them climbers."

"Too often people go to Everest without knowing what it is like above 8000m. They pay huge amounts of money â and they donât pay for a climb, but for a summit. Thus, reaching the summit becomes their first and only priority. In order to get the summit, they will use all the resources they can afford: Sherpas, bottled O2, camps and ropes previously fixed, etc Up there, everybody focus on their own progress only, selfishly pursuing their goal."

"They donât care for the rest."

Juanâs own nightmare

Oiarzabal is back home after retreating from Yalung Kang (Kangchenjungaâs West summit) a few weeks back. Juanâs feet, severely frostbitten on K2 back in 2004, hadnât recovered properly. Yalung Kang was supposed to be his return to the 8000+ meters peaks, but his feet failed him.

"I'm back to seeing countless doctors again. Some days I feel better, but often enough I feel really low. It's been two years now of this, and I donât know how long it will take to recover once and for all!"

"In my most frustrarted moments my mouth starts to run, and I end up saying things I donât really mean, such as that I will quit climbing 8000+ meters peaks. It's not what I want. I want to come back to the highest mountains."

Resemblances with K2-2004

Oddly enough, Juanito frostbites on K2 coincided with the 50th anniversary of the peakâs first climb. That year (2004), an extra-ordinary number of teams crowded an otherwise quiet K2.

The environment there, for once, resembled that of Everest.

Juan, snow blind, frostbitten and exhausted after reaching the summit, got lost above 8000 meters in the night and eventually just sat down on the slope to die. His team mate Ferran Latorre, at the moment preparing for his own summit bid in C4, noticed Juan was missing and went up to search for him. Latorre found Oiarzabal semi-unconscious and helped him down - thus sacrificing his own summit bid, but also saving Juanâs life.

K2 was Oiarzabalâs 21st 8000er summited, but he paid a high price for it: All his toes were amputated. Unable to rest for long, he tried climbing again before his wounds had healed properly.
He launched an expedition on Yalung Kang this spring, hoping to find himself on an 8000+ meter peak again. But eventually his feet gave out: Juan had to call off the attempt after reaching C1.

He returned to Kathmandu swearing he was done with 8000ers âonly to regret his words hours later.

Juan attempted Yalung Kang with his ârescuerâ Ferran Latorre, as well as other regular climbing mates Juan Vallejo, Mikel Zabalza, and Josu Bereciartua. When Oiarzabal left, the rest of the crew remained on the mountain, switching goals from Yalung to the main point of Kangchenjunga. They launched a summit bid last week, but had to retreat in bad weather conditions at 8500m.

Juan Oiarzabal was born in Alava (Basque Country, Spain), 49 years ago. In 2000, his Annapurna climb made him the sixth climber in the world to bag the 14 eight-thousanders on Earth. Two years later, he climbed Everest without oxygen. In the years that followed, he kept climbing 8000+ peaks, either as a mountain guide, or for Spanish TV documentaries.

Oiarzabal holds the world record for summiting 21, 8000+ peaks. His last summit on K2 (July, 2004) almost cost him his life, and Juan suffered severe frostbite to his toes. He is still recovering from the injuries.

#Mountaineering #Opinion #interview

Tonight Juanito Oiarzabal is following Inaki's footsteps.