Interview: Carlos Soria, Annapurna Summit at Age 77

We caught up with the man behind the recent mountaineering age record

Notorious for deadly avalanches, this season some 30 climbers made Annapurna summit, with no casualties. Last year’s quake may have contributed; Himalaya climbing overall was made safer with excess snow shaken off the mountains, Ryan Waters told us.

One mountaineer stood out in the season’s summit crowd: Carlos Soria, topping out his 12th 8000er at age 77. In 2004 Carlos also became the oldest K2 summiteer. A climber all his life, Himalaya summit success came late to the Spaniard but when it arrived he topped out one peak after the other.

Carlos told us previously he does it for the love of mountains, but that he hoped to complete the 14x8000ers by age 75. At 77 he’s close with only two left. We caught up with Soria on Dhaulagiri last week, to try and hack the mind behind the recent mountaineering age record.

Exweb/Pythom: Annapurna just had some 30 summits. Why are you bringing all those kids, isn’t it tough to babysit while climbing yourself 🙂

Carlos Soria: We worked really hard with the other expeditions during our ascent of Annapurna: working together actively and providing each other with equipment helped us get so many people to the summit.

Exweb/Pythom: This is your 3d attempt on the peak, what was it like to summit at last?

Carlos Soria: We tried in 2012 and again last year. This was the first year the mountain let us reach the summit. It was a great achievement, but also a great lesson: you have to know how to listen to the mountain and wait for the right time.

Exweb/Pythom: You were there a few years ago when a big avalanche hit (we got some epic pictures of that). Did you think of it on climbing the same sections again and how did you handle the fear?

Carlos Soria: Avalanches are the biggest risk on Annapurna, particularly between Camps 2 and 3. Fortunately, this year the mountain was in good condition and there wasn’t much snow. My earlier experiences taught me that I was only going to go from Camp 2 to 3 if there was a real possibility of reaching the summit.

Exweb/Pythom: Single most memorable moment from the recent climb?

Carlos Soria: The best moment is when you – and all your team – get back to Base Camp. The real summit is in the Base Camp. That is when what you have achieved really hits you.

Exweb/Pythom: Your most memorable moment yet from all your climbs?

Carlos Soria: All of the peaks are special, but I have especially fond memories of the day before reaching the summit of K2.

Exweb/Pythom: You have Dhaula and Shisha left for your goal, what’s the plan onward?

Carlos Soria: We are on Dhaulagiri at the moment. Conditions aren’t great, so we are going to wait until they improve and we have a better opportunity. If we reach the summit, we will try Shisha Pangma next spring.

Exweb/Pythom: Balancing the line so many times in your life, and now nearing the upper altitudes in terms of age, what’s your view of dying?

Carlos Soria: Getting older is inevitable. I am happy that I am still achieving what I love at this time in my life.

Exweb/Pythom: I know Dhaula and Shisha are still a tough challenge ahead, but any new plans after the 14, 8000ers?

Carlos Soria: That will depend on how I feel. I will try to complete the challenge of the 8000ers: if I manage it, fantastic; if I don’t, that will be fantastic too. When I think I am no longer in shape to climb 8000ers, well, I will climb smaller mountains, or walk in the countryside.

Exweb/Pythom: You’ve been married for 50 years. Many mountaineers feel they have to choose, the mountains out there in the world or the family back home. What is you advice to a successful mountaineering relationship?

Carlos Soria: I met Cristina in the mountains. We climbed together many times when we were younger. And when my daughters were born, we took them to the mountains too. Cristina got to know me there. She knows that when I stop going on expeditions, it will be because I am not well. She understands me, and supports me in everything I do.

Exweb/Pythom: You told us before that if we really wanted true summits we should delete most of our stats and start over from scratch… Inaki Ochoa and others said the same thing and last year Annapurna summits were questioned again. How can we make sure people aren’t lying about accomplishments, and why is that important?

Carlos Soria: For me, the mountain is everything. It makes me, my wife and my family very happy. We feel like it is ours. So I can’t abide people mistreating it, or lying about it or not telling the truth. I believe that anyone who really loves the mountain would not let anyone lie about it.

Exweb/Pythom: You arrived Himalaya in 1973, at age 34. It took 25 years and 8 attempts before you got your first 8000er summit, on Nanga Parbat, at age 59. Society today, at least here in US, talk a lot about motivating the young, but little about how to motivate folks in other age groups. You’ve proven that people of “respectable age” can do new and difficult things. How was your upbringing in terms of support and how would you motivate someone your age?

Carlos Soria: BBVA has been a fantastic sponsor for me since 2011. BBVA’s support has given me greater resources to take more people on my expeditions. We have a lot of followers on social media, and that is marvelous. We tell the truth about the mountain, the day-to- day reality.

We give the Sherpas the credit they are due… People only know about mountains from the tragedies and the ‘Everest’ movie: but it is not all drama out there. All sorts of people of all ages are following what we are doing.

It is wonderful to be told you are an example for young people, and an inspiration for older people. I am not trying to be an example for anyone: but it is very nice when some people think of you like that.

Life-long upholsterer by trade, Carlos Soria, 77, has four daughters with his wife Cristina. He likes reading, listening to music and spending time with his family. Favorite food is rice, in whatever form: dhal bat, paella. Last word: “The biggest 8000er in life is being happy.”