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Tunc Findik interview, final: Anna will have to wait

Posted: Mar 18, 2015 10:32 am EDT

(Tina Sjogren) There is a major change to this story since we began editing it last week. Tunc is not going for Annapurna this season after all. Soon after touch down in Ktm the mountaineer took off as planned with two buddies to climb Himlung Himal for acclimatization.


Echoing Simone Moro's reports, he found very deep snow. "The snow conditions were terrible even on the trek," Tunc told us yesterday, "with huge avalanches everywhere." Considering Annapurna is infamous for its bad statistics and objective avalanche danger, Tunc decided to tap out this time.


So here goes the final of the interview, albeit with a different ending than the original.


Yesterday we spoke to Tunc Findik about climbing style, Everest, and his outlook on life. Today we touch on burning issues: What's the real story with Sherpas; when is too old to climb; and a bit about tech and the future.


ExplorersWeb: Who are you climbing with in Nepal?


Tunc:  I exclusively use Seven Summit Treks in Nepal; Mingma, Chhang Dawa and Tashi Sherpas outfit.  I also use their infrastructure when I sometimes lead my clients for treks and climbs in Nepal. 


ExplorersWeb: Why this outfit?


Tunc: They are reliable and well-organised, friendly and almost like a family to me.


ExplorersWeb: What is the situation with the Sherpas these days? 


Tunc: Ever since I first visited the country in 2001 Nepal means Sherpas to me. The Sherpa are a big society and no matter who I get to know of them; they are all fine, honest and very friendly people. 


I think Nepal is not an easy country to live in, life is expensive, things are messy and can get unstable as in any country (including my own!) But whatever the circumstances the Sherpa and other Nepali ethnic people are always friendly, hardworking, and business-minded. 


ExplorersWeb: We hear that a couple of big Sherpa outfits are now dominating the outfitting business in Nepal - is that correct?


Tunc: This is only partially true in my view. There are more than 750 trekking agencies, big and small, in Nepal, and generally you get what you pay for.  Of course bigger outfitters  will provide better services,  depending your target, and that can be preferred for. 


ExplorersWeb: We are told that these outfits are cheaper but high risk in terms of mountain safety - what’s your take?


Tunc:  If you try and climb a difficult, high peak with too many people of dubious abilities that just joined randomly, tragedy is bound to strike. There is no safety in numbers.  I prefer to make small, very strong and fast teams, using the infrastructure of bigger, powerful companies.


ExplorersWeb: Mount McKinley regulations only allow local (American) outfits. Can we expect similar rules in Nepal favoring native businesses?


Tunc: I wouldn't think so but I'm not an expert in this matter. Mountaineering is a business and in that business, there is big money to be made from foreigners in Nepal. So I don't think similar rules to US would be applied, but who knows?


ExplorersWeb: What about Pakistan: HAPs there say Sherpa steal their business, on the other hand the locals know they (most of them) are not yet skilled enough. Should there be a tax on Sherpa profits in Pakistan going towards local mountaineering schools?


Tunc:  In my opinion, compared to before 2000 Nepali Sherpa teams have brought more summits and safer climbs. Either way, Sherpa climbers going to Pakistan pay as much as western climbers do, and applying excessive taxes on anything is not a good thing for Pakistan tourism, which is already on decline. There are skilled and good Pakistani climbers and guides as well, but they are rare. 


ExplorersWeb: What about the Sherpa vs Sherpa situation: Is there a union on Everest with ties to the Maoists? What happened to those Sherpa last year who were not organized and wanted to keep climbing on Everest? 


Tunc:  Again, this is very difficult for me to say as I am not interested even in my own country’s domestic politics, let alone the intriguing and complex Nepali affairs! Anyway, things in Nepal don't work as we think in the West, but I'm sure there was peer pressure on Sherpas who wanted to continue climbing at Everest last year. At least that was what everyone said and wrote.


ExplorersWeb: Who are the Sherpa attacking independent climbers on Everest south side and what’s their beef?


Tunc:  No idea - but one thing is for sure: I'm glad I wasn't there when it happened...


ExplorersWeb:  Is there a place anymore for independent climbers on Everest normal route? Can we expect the same development on K2 and other peaks?


Tunc: K2 and Everest are not comparable, K2 is not a peak that can be climbed in a standardized way like Everest is done each season.  As I wrote in my book, Everest is not an ordinary peak anymore, unfortunately it became a commerce with so many people on the routes and all the business worries of the concerned.  


I'm sure this won't happen in other places such as Pakistan, where the rules are set by the Pakistani authorities and no one else.  As for independent climbers,  the smart ones will never go to a mountain trying to climb the same route during the same season as 1000 other people.


ExplorersWeb: You are 43 years old, traditionally mountaineers retired some time around there but now a number of 50+ climbers head for all the biggest tops in Himalaya. At 75 years, Carlos Soria - on Annapurna right now - has been speeding up instead of slowing, and the oldest Everest climbers are in their 80s. What do you think has prompted the expanded age range?


Tunc: The world is changing and so is mountain culture. Older people try harder things overall, unthinkable before, as a consequence of new and improved training, equipment, logistics, mentality. Age doesn't matter much if you are mentally and physically fit and determined to do something.


Again, Everest is different: the logistics involved make things a little easier for older ages, but still, Everest is not a picnic! 


ExplorersWeb: There is a lot of talk right now about health and longevity: What can be learned from mountaineering, how do you stay in shape? 


Tunc:  Alpine climbing keeps you in shape and you have to be in shape for alpine climbing. So you train non-stop. 


I never workout (run, go to the gym etc) for the 8000m peaks, I do alpine climbing and rock climbing to climb better grades and harder routes on rock and ice. That's enough to stay in shape. Looking after your body, eating and drinking well, getting rest and organizing your life keeps you healthy of course.


All the focus is also good for your mind. Keeping young mentally is important. If your brain gets old, you are old.


ExplorersWeb: I reside in Silicon Valley and self quantification is big here. Do you use any health tracking technology? 


Tunc: Nothing at all.


ExplorersWeb: There is an adventure gene and an high altitude gene; would you consider gene testing yourself?


Tunc: That would be interesting,  I would try it! But I know myself; I like adventure, the unknown and  I feel extremely well on altitude.


ExplorersWeb: Do you consider yourself a better or worse mountaineer today compared to when you were younger? What do you do differently today than when you started? 


Tunc:  Actually,  I'm much stronger and know I can climb better and bolder today than in the past. My skills and experience are wider, I know my limits and what I can achieve. I also do only what I really enjoy and have more fun! I'm a better rock climber today, I'm mentally stronger, and I love what I do!


ExplorersWeb: When do you think is a proper age of retirement?


Tunc:  There is no age of retirement in my mind. If one gets bored one day, one can leave climbing, but that's not me. Mountains are my life. They are an important  part of me.


ExplorersWeb: I work towards going to Mars. Would you go to Space if you could?


Tunc: Probably not! The world is good enough for me :) Although I'm interested in aviation, Space is not my thing.


ExplorersWeb: Surviving in the extremes often takes an innovative spirit. Any gear or modifications you’d like to share with us? 


Tunc: Oh, I generally modify everything. My pack, my ice tools, my boots etc. Generally, I modify ice tools for better dry-tooling and ice climbing, adding handles to the shafts and adding sticky tapes to holds. Or lighten the packs by cutting off or adding things to them. 


ExplorersWeb: General tricks to stay alive? 


Tunc: A general trick is to look around and understand what happens—ie, situational awareness. You won't survive long in high mountains if you look but don't see.


And climbing requires use of your sixth sense at all times. Remember, your life is what you do. There may not be a second chance for a mistake.


And not to be to bold every time. Being lucky and creating your own luck matters in staying alive. Likewise, seeing the danger and retreating is valuable.


ExplorersWeb: What will you do if/after you make all 14. Any other adventurers that you would like to try?


Tunc: No, I would not try other adventures for sure. With or without 8000m peaks, my life will always be around mountains and climbing. I don't even have to finish all the 8000 meter peaks. For me, what I did until now is valuable enough.




Tunc on his website

Facebook Tunç Fındık Athlete page  

Spot tracking page



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Tunc in Pakistan where he recently summited K2. He may be back in the region again this summer.
Taking a break with HAPs in Pakistan. "There are skilled and good Pakistani climbers and guides, but they are rare."
Tunc Findik and the Nepalese Female K2 Team, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, Dawa Yangsum Sherpa and Maya Sherpa. "Sherpas are like family to me," Tunc says.
courtesy Tunc Findik, SOURCE
Gasherbrum veiled in high winds. "I'm sure this [Everest] won't happen in other places such as Pakistan."
Tunc on Makalu. "Smart independent climbers will never go to a mountain trying to climb the same route during the same season as 1000 other people."
"I will always keep climbing, long beyond the 8000ers," Tunc says. But if he ever did retire, "it would be among olive trees," he told us.
Tunc on ice. Earlier this year Findik helped organize an ice-climb festival in his native Turkey.
courtesy Tunc Findik, SOURCE
In 2012 Tunc shot this footage on Annapurna (click to expand, that small dot below the cloud is a climber). Incredibly all survived that one. Altitude is about situational awareness, Tunc says, "you won't survive long in high mountains if you look but don't see." And about Anna in particular: "It is for sure an ultimately dangerous climb and not really fun, because this mountain is full of tension. You can feel it in your bones once you are there."
courtesy Tunc Findik, SOURCE