Simone Moro, mountaineering, life, fears and doubts before GII this winter
Interview with Italian mountaineer Simone Moro, two months prior to his next expedition to attempt the first winter ascent of Gasherbrum II (Karakorum, Pakistan) together with Denis Urubko.
It isn't a secret, Simone Moro's next expedition will be Gasherbrum II. Together with Dens Urubko - the extremely strong alpinist from Kazakhistan and his long-term climbing partner- and American photographer and alpinist Cory Richards he will attempt to carry out the first winter ascent of one of the five 8000ers located in Pakistan, GII. The adventure will begin this December and in the meantime Moro - who as everyone knows is responsible for two other first 8000m winter ascents (Shisha Pangma in 2005 together with Piotr Morawski from Poland and Makalu in 2009 with Urubku) certainly isn't resting on his laurels. At the end of October he piloted a helicopter which attempted to locate the body of Sherpa Chhewang Nima on Baruntse. While finding the time to pass the Civil Aviation Academy exam which now officially enables his to pilot commercial flights in Nepal - he is the first pilot from the European community to do this, other than 4 Swiss pilots.
But in all this frenetic activity, how is Moro waiting for and preparing his latest expedition? After 43 expeditions (the number matches his age), eleven 8000m peaks, seven summits on mountains higher that 7000m... what are his thoughts, his fears, his projects? This is exactly what we attempted to find out in the following interview...
Simone, in December you'll set off for GII. What are your hopes?
Carrying out the first winter ascent of an 8000m giant located in Pakistan is certainly a hope, and this project has matured in the light of 10 winter expeditions (out of a total of 43) and some other exciting results. But I'm not chasing a record, also because there are plenty of other, far easier ways to achieve a "first". My winter climb stems from the desire to simply savour an authentic form of alpinism, devoid of all but the essential, remote, solitary, complicated, uncomfortable and explorative, typical of the cold season and the shortest days of the year. I know full-well that these are choices which don't suit those who want or need to return home with a success at all costs, but even though I'm "super-sponsored" I've always been able and privileged to not have others determine my results and the rules of game.
Your team for GII next winter...
The team is that of two friends, Denis and myself, to which I wanted to add a third person, Cory Richards, as photographer and third alpinist. Denis and I share more than 11 years of pure friendship, we're first and foremost like two brothers, then a climbing partnership. So with this as a basis, deciding to do GII together was something which came completely naturally. Cory won't find it hard to adapt. I've known him for a couple of years and I was with Denis the first time we met, with Ines Papert during the winter ascent of Kwangde at the end of 2008. Cory is now a The North Face sponsored athlete and an excellent photographer and alpinist, and all of this helped us meet up and invite him to Gasherbrum II. Cory even came to Everest Base Camp at the start of May, we met and talked and he even climbed Lhotse with Tamara Lunger despite the fact that the season was almost over and that he had hardly acclimatised.
All the worst things seem to be happening in the Himalaya... what are your fears?
My fears are as always for the usual precious and mistreated arms which often save the lives of others, and not only... Those who feel they're capable of everything and climb recklessly certainly end up breaking their necks in record time. Fatal accidents are always lurking behind the corner and they take no prisoners. When they happen, they happen to the climbers on that particular day, in that precise moment, in that particular place and many of those alpinists were talented, well trained, conscientious. If you go out of your way to increase the risk without checking what time you'll reach the summit, without verifying who is in charge of key tasks, without monitoring your speed of ascent, the seracs above your head, the copious snowfall or the bad weather to come, then it's clear that you begin to depend too much on Mother Fortune. Who, it's well-known, can't stand those who are late.
So what does fear mean to you?
It means being really free to renounce, to say stop, to state that there is a danger. Fear of dying when, after having waited a lot or after having given it all you have you then understand - you often understand or sense the danger - that in order to return home in one piece you need to turn back , because there's a strange smell in the air... No one likes losing, failing, but too many alpinists are slaves to the comments of others. Too many feel as if they are in some sort of a competition, even though I've never understood whom they're competing against and for what reason. With this I don't want offer the certain and absolute explanation for why so many tragedies have occured. The one who is writing these words could be the next... All I want to say is that I hope to shit myself with fear so that this enables me to turn back, and that everything else fucks up before I do.
Gasherbrum 2 was chosen to not create a competition. This year there are four winter expeditions to four different 8000ers in Pakistan. I wanted to go to Broad Peak to attempt finish the business, to reach the summit I failed to in 2008 when I turned back 200m from the top despite good weather and being on good form. But my watch told me it was too late and what lay in store was the summit and probable death or serious frostbite. Which meant I descended from 7840m. Last year some Polish climbers went there and I rightly left them the chance to get the summit so Denis and I went to Makalu, which resulted in the first winter ascent after 29 years of efforts. This year I thought about returning to Broad Peak but my Polish friends are heading back there once again and so as to avoid a group assault I chose Gasherbrum 2, which happens to have no winter history since no one has ever attempted it in this season. There will be an international expedition on Gasherbrum 1 comprised of 1 German, I Canadian, 1 Spaniard and a Polish cameraman. And on Nanga Parbat there will be another Polish team. The only other free mountain is K2 which I plan to attempt in 2012, even though I fear I won't be alone and so I don't really know what decision I'll take.
Your winter strategies... have you discovered a "secret" during the first winter ascents of Shisha and Makalu?
I'm certainly aware and happy that my latest two winter climbs on Shisha Pangma and Makalu have rekindled the desire for winter ascents in the Himalaya. In that season you really come across and ancient and different way of climbing mountains and you re-savour something which no longer exist in other seasons in the Himalaya and Karakorum. If I analyse the two climbs they've certainly been the fastest and lightest in the entire history of winter 8000ers. Extremely small teams exposed to the mountains for a really short space of time. To climb this way you not only need to be prepared, you also need to be free from accepted rules, from the traditional manner in which expeditions have been carried out in the past. Two or three people work better than 6,7,10,15. Another secret is patience, knowing how to wait. More often than not, espeditions nowadays are 4,5, 6 weeks long, even for those who don't really have time constraints. But for a winter expedition you need to set off knowing that you may have to wait for 3 months. The windows of good weather are short and rare and perhaps you need to wait for a long time before they appear. In 2008 I set out on 25 December and returned on 17 March, and only because winter had already come to an end... And I was alone with one Pakistani! I would have managed to wait for long time further, also because sooner or later good weather is bound to show up... I learnt this from the alpinists from the former Eastern Block.
Once again you're setting off with Denis Urubko... have you learnt from Reinhold Messner, who always knew how to choose the right partner for every one of his (great) climbs?
I've learnt that in life the partnerships (not only the climbing ones) are formed and chosen not on the basis of convenience but due to a particular feeling and understanding. When this understanding is special then successes are similar. I don't like hearing that Messner chose Kammerlander simply because he needed a pack mule or things of this sort. It's offensive both for Hans and Reinhold because certainly neither of them needed the other to prove how well they could climb. They were simply intelligent enough to combine different personalities and abilities and not by chance they have both become Great. The same can be said for Loretan and Troillet, Boardman and Tasker, Kukuczka and Wielicki, the Inurrateghi brother and many others, too. Denis Urubko any I are simply the confirmation of a partnership which works, because it is based on powerful individuals and abilities, and not on a mule which drags the cart with a passenger on board. It was no chance that with Lafaille I established a nice new route on Nanga Parbat, and together with Hervè Barmasse we climed Beka Brakai Chhock in 2008, in alpine style on a virgin nigh 7000m peak. But with Denis the understanding is something truly special because we've been climbing together for 11 years already. All you need to do is listen to one of Denis' or my talks to understand that we search for and choose something which works well for both of us. We both know that we're independent and that we know how to help the other if in he's in trouble. This is called trust, not convenience!!
A question stolen from the supermarket: why drives alpinists to accept such risks?
A true, single, rational answer doesn't exist, other that reposing the question which gives a sense of how man doesn't always travel along a road which is convenient, planned, based on reason. Why, for example, did we fall in love with our man or woman? For exactly for the same irrational reason, at times even unprofitable, which implies that one cannot and should not resist thrusts, attractions, joys, a desire to discover and open oneself to love, to a passion, to enthusiasm or any other thing, including climbing a face or mountain which is cold and high. Let's not wrack our souls in order to explain why, so as to always have to justify ourselves. Did our mothers explain why they created us? Do you think it was really because it was the most convenient thing for her to do? She did it simply to realise herself, to feel alive, completely happy. If for some peolpe we're simply out there putting our necks on the line, why do I have to waste precious moments to attempt to convince them that this is not the case. having said that, what is certain though is that we alpinists must isolate those who really are searching for it, those false heroes who instead of admitting that they got away from one or more big mistakes, those who choose to go headlong, blindly versus trouble to then emerge, to be talked about, that paint themselves with the image of a hero. These must be isolated, as well as the media who depict them as such, who in doing so give credit and support the inevitable thoughts that "you're searching for danger."
Do you write a diary? And if so, what is the last thing, the last thought, you've written?
No, I don't write a diary and perhaps this isn't a good think for someone who has carried out more that 40 expeditions and has written only 2 books. I've realised that I've forgotten many experiences, even though the countless images I've always brought home with me help me to relive some sensations and memories. I have to add though that for the last 10 years I've always had a computer at Base Camp and the daily reports integrate my memory which refuses to remember too much... So no, there's no particular phrase. Usually when I have some free time in Base Camp I study.
And your family...
My family is the prime reason for which it is worth descending without the summit. It's obvious, I know, but I like to say this often it and even to repeat it to myself ... I'm married and have two children. Jonas, my youngest, is almost 10 months old and truly a great bundle of joy and energy while Martina, my 11-year-old daughter, is a responsibility which is often more demanding than any summit I've ever climbed and as unpredictable as the winds at altitude. A family can be a secret to success if it fully supports you and understands you, like mine does. My wife is a strong climber and excels in many different aspects of this sport and this has helped me considerably because she is an extremely independent woman, self-sufficient, who understands fully what I do and how I do it. She knows I love life too much to voluntarily put myself in dangerous situations or climb kamikaze routes. I'd be long dead were I to be motivated by blind and deaf ambitions, I'd never have carried out and survived 43 expeditions - 43, as many as my years. Having said that, I understand that it isn't easy being with and loving someone like me who, when not on an expedition, is always travelling to do lectures, working for sponsors, attending events and fairs or, as is now the case, piloting helicopters and doing specific training.
How free do you feel as an alpinist and man?
I feel so free that I have taken up many other activities, such as skydiving and flying helicopters. I decide freely who I want to go with, when to give up, what to plan. Those who say that sponsors force you to do something, to take risks, to not recount the truth or emphasise things, tell colossal lies. Those who state this show a personal character limit which stems from an incapacity to make their own personality prevail, above some pretentious and irresponsible marketing manager (though I've never met someone like this before). So yes, I feel completely free to climb, to write, think, work on ideas or give up. This is the great life joy and fortune which I've managed to savour up until the present day and if I think about the future and the projects swirling through my mind, then the joy and excitement is even greater still. I hope that this is a contagious medicine which I can hand down to my children to prepare them for and independent and exciting future, whatever this may be.