(MountEverest.net/K2Climb.net) When Italian Nives Meroi stood on the top of K2 a few months back, she looked down from her 8th 8000 meter summit, only one peak shy from the current female Himalayan record held by Austrian Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner. Much as Gerlinde's, Nives climbs are often outstanding. She summited K2 with her partner after everyone else had turned back. They were two of only 4 summiteers of the peak this season, and the only ones without oxygen.
In yesterday's entry of the interview, Nives Meroi vented that money is the main obstacle to the couple's climbing; in spite of Nive's proven world class excellence - sponsors are not exactly flocking at her door. The couple wanted to do Everest next, the north side for financial reasons. But with the recent threat of increased fees and limited climbing permits - that plan is now uncertain.
The reality for most top mountaineer athletes is that they are forced to expect little money and fame, climbing for their satisfaction only, and K2 gave Nive's exactly that following 12 years of pursuit. It was a precious gift the mountain gave Romano and me - something I am absolutely proud of, Nives says.
In this second part of an interview with ExplorersWeb crew, Nives recalls the climb, and analyzes why so many tough climbers fail on Pakistans savage mountain.
ExWeb: How do you feel now, having climbed K2 at last?
Nives: Oh - climbing K2 has been like a long, hard relationship: After 12 years of dating, we were married at last :-). In addition, Romano and I climbed alone, since all other teams had descended. It was so beautiful
ExWeb: The other teams had their camps wrecked by a storm - how was your stuff?
Nives:We were extremely lucky. After the storm we went up to C2 in order to check what was left of it. By miracle we found our tent flattened and virtually hanging from a cliff, but all the gear we had left inside was still in its place. That's why we were able to proceed up on a summit bid.
ExWeb: Did you have other camps set up?
Nives: No, just a cache. It was enough though; we climbed up taking along our tent and sleeping bags. There were no fixed ropes on the Bottleneck, so we climbed without. On descent though, we fixed 250 meters for the other expeditions.
We saw some old rope from 2004, but looking for the best possible conditions we actually climbed to the right of the line they followed. Weather was good, but there was much snow on the upper sections I must confess Romano broke trail most of the time. He is a strong guy!
ExWeb: Despite a number of big teams there, only four people summited K2 this year and only Romano and you made it without supplementary O2. Moreover, days after you summited four climbers died in an avalanche. Why do you think there are so many deaths and failures on K2?
Nives:Well, it is a tough mountain - any route you climb. After attempting the north side, I thought the Abruzzi spur would be easier, but it is not. It includes difficult sections, it's very high, and the mountain is dangerous in itself: Avalanches and rock falls are a constant hazard. It took us 12 years and three attempts to reach the summit!
In addition, Ive seen climbers there who were perhaps not skilled or experienced enough.
ExWeb: Really? K2 is supposedly for rather experienced climbers?
Nives:The problem is, K2 is currently offered by commercial expeditions; but no guide can make things easier for their clients at the technically difficult sections with perhaps the exception of 2004, when crowds of Sherpas and porters fixed the entire route.
Also, danger always lay ahead on K2. We sadly had that confirmed to us, when four climbers died soon after we summited. It was hard to believe these people we had shared BC with were gone, swept by an avalanche in a place we had climbed days ago. A tragedy.
ExWeb: What is your advice to future K2 climbers?
Nives: First of all I would ask the climbers to never, ever let their guard down when on K2. Not even on the easier sections, not even in good weather and in good conditions.
Secondly, they must be completely sure about their skills, they need to have clear in their minds what are they doing and where they are going. Focusing on each step is not enough, they need to look up to the route above them. And of course, they must know when to turn around.
Summit is not the most important goal on any mountain, but least of all on K2. Never forget the mountain will be there next year, but you may not - if you push too far beyond your limits.
ExWeb: On such a difficult peak does supplementary O2 really make a difference?
Nives: Absolutely! It is like climbing a different mountain. Even if a climber sleeps on O2, and then climbs without it - it will be different. Even if someone doesnt use O2, but keeps a bottle in his backpack it will be different.
I mean, the moment you know you have O2 at hand, you will push your limits because, if it comes to a situation where you realize youve gone too far, you will have the extra help to get you safely back down.
ExWeb: Will you attempt Everest without O2?
Nives: Of course. We dont even consider to attempt Everest on O2. Thats why we are in a bit of a hurry as Romano says, we need to go there before were too old!
ExWeb: Compared to the average Himalayan climbers, you guys are not that old, though
Nives: Really? Well, ask the Sherpas in Nepal or the BC crew we had in Pakistan. They would always ask me how old I was. When I answered 45 they would look at me wide-eyed and exclaim: Wow! You could be my mother!
Nives Meroi was born in Bergamo on September 17, 1961. In 1989 she married Romano Benet - since then, the couple always climb together. Nives has previously summited Nanga Parbat, Cho Oyu, GII, GI, Broad Peak, Lhotse, Dhaulagiri, and K2. She also reached Shisha Pangmas Central Summit. Before summiting, Nives had attempted K2 twice (1994 and 2004, the latter from its north side) and Everest in 1999. She typically travels light, without oxygen or high-altitude porters.
Nives Meroi is among the best known high altitude female climbers in the world today. K2 is her 8th main 8000er, only one peak shy from the current Himalayan Queen Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner (9 8000ers summited). She made it into the 'climber's fame hall' in 2003 by bagging the summits of GI, GII and Broad Peak in a mere 20 days.
Out of four K2 summiteers this year, two are women and both have achieved the first national K2 ascents for their respective countries. Italian Nives Meroi reached the top of K2 on July 26 from the Abruzzi Spur route. Japanese Yuka Komatsu summited on August 1, after climbing the SSE Spur (also known as Cesen route).
Before them, only six other women climbers had succeeded on the Savage Mountain. Spanish climber Edurne Pasaban bagged the previous female K2 summit - exactly two years before Nives. Edurne managed to escape the curse K2 seemed to hold on all women who dare to set foot on its summit: French Liniane Barrard, and British Julie Tullis and Alison Hargreaves died on the way down. Polish Wanda Rutkiewicz and French Chantal Mauduit made it safely back from K2's top but eventually died climbing other Himalayan giants.
Romano Benet was born in Tarvisio in April 1962. He is an Alpine Guide and mountain ranger, and has summited eight 8,000ers, plus Shishas Central summit. Before his recent summit he had attempted K2 three times. He has opened many difficult routes in the Alps and a new line on Bhagirathi II (6,450 m), Garhwal Himalaya.
On August 13, 2006 an avalanche hit K2 upper slopes, killing four Russian climbers.
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