We have covered hundreds of expeditions in 2006. It's difficult to choose the best, as they all contributed in their own way, sharing their story - their very soul in fact - with us and the world.
And yet, there are those who continue to linger in our minds long after their final debrief. We have chosen 8 expeditions who have contributed in an extraordinary way to the Spirit of Adventure in the year of 2006.
Today number 5: Nives Meroi & Romano Benet - K2
It has been said that climbing Everest makes you a climber to the world but climbing K2 makes you a climber to climbers. Truth is K2 doesn't have summits often. Before 2004, the peak had remained without summits for years and by 2006, the 'mountaineer's mountain' had again eluded every attempt to reach its top.
Throughout its history, the peak has proved especially hostile to women. Until 2004, only six female climbers had succeeded on the Savage Mountain, which seemed to hold a curse on them: French Liliane Barrard, and Brits Julie Tullis and Alison Hargreaves died on descent. Polish Wanda Rutkiewicz and French Chantal Mauduit made it safely back from K2's top but eventually died climbing other Himalayan giants.
In 2004, K2's spell on women was broken at last when Spanish Edurne Pasaban became the only K2 female summiteer alive - but only after a massive effort was made by a large number of climbers to fix the route and tame the mountain for its Golden Jubilee.
Nives' Magnificent Obsession
Climbing the peak had been a recurrent though for Italian Nives Meroi (45) ever since she first laid her eyes on it. K2 was in fact her 'Magnificent Obsession' in the words of close friend Manuel Lugli. In 1994, Nives became the first Italian woman to reach an altitude of 8450m on the peak as she, Romano and Filippo Sala opened a partial new route on the mountains North-Western face. Another failed attempt followed in 2004 on the north side.
Nives began climbing 17 years ago in mountains that separated Western Europe from communist Yugoslavia under the watchful eye of the mountain patrol assigned to shoot anyone trying to illegally cross the border that split the alpine range in two.
With husband Romano, she put up new routes in the Alps and went on to alpine style ascents in the Himalayas. Within ten months after becoming the first Italian woman to summit Nanga Parbat in 1998, Nives also summited Cho Oyu and made the Central summit of Shisha Pangma.
In 1996, during the most devastating year on Mount Everest, Nives attempted to scale the Mallory route on the North side, and in 2000, on her first trip to Gasherbrum II, Nives and Romano attempted a new route on the peaks North Face.
She made it into the 'climber's hall of fame' in 2003 by bagging the summits of GI, GII and Broad Peak in a mere 20 days.
The top is important, but it is not the only memory one brings back from an expedition, Nives commented her remarkable life of climbing.
A simple life
Nives and Romano lack big sponsors and lead a modest life. They typically travel light, climb alpine-style, without oxygen or high-altitude porters. Nives' summit certificates read: 'Occupation: Housewife' and Romano is mountain ranger and alpine guide. Their only and best training is simply to climb high, Nives says.
After managing to find a new sponsor this year, before their third attempt on K2 the couple decided on an acclimatization climb to Dhaulagiri - another 8000er. Except for Hungarian Zsolt Erõss and the bold Kazakhs Maxut and Vassiliy who forced their way to the summit in a 21 hour push in full storm, Nives and Romano were the only climbers this season to summit the peak.
To be sure to really have reached the summit after a near top experience there last year, this time the two traversed the entire summit ridge.
The couple went back home to Italy with just enough time to load their washing machine for the main course of their climbing season: Nives' 'Magnificent Obsession' - K2.
Summit chance hanging on a string of rope
The two departed Italy on June 15, and settled in BC some weeks later after fixing C1, C2, and a cache on C3. Their summit push would demand five days of stable weather, as they had not yet set up a C4.
Things looked alright until a vicious storm arrived, wrecking most other climbers' high camps on the mountain. With heavy hearts, on July 23 Nives and Romano set off from BC to check the state of their camp 2. Had their gear been blown off, it would have meant the end of the expedition. Romano was first to reach the camp and couldn't believe the view: On the edge of a devastated campsite, hanging in the void by a string of rope, was their tent - with gear and all!
So there is still a chance for a summit bid, reported Nives sister Leila from BC.
All or nothing bid
"We were extremely lucky," Nives told ExplorersWeb. "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."
On July 25, the two reached their cache at C3 with just enough time to rest for a few hours. By now, all other climbers had turned back. In an all or nothing bid, Nives and Romano decided to scrub C4 and set off on a summit push that very night, at 11:00 pm - setting no fixed ropes on the upper sections.
"I thought the Abruzzi spur would be easier, but it wasn't"
"We climbed up taking along our tent and sleeping bags. There were no fixed ropes on the Bottleneck, so we climbed without.
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," Nives said.
"After attempting the north side, I thought the Abruzzi spur would be easier, but it wasn't. We passed difficult sections on very high altitude, avalanches and rock falls were a constant hazard."
Down below, the entire mountain held its breath. Everyone knew that the Italian couple was the only ones up there still trying. Among the onlookers, four climbers who would die only days later - swept by an avalanche in the exact section Nives and Romano were now negotiating.
Nives fell on her knees - a twelve year old battle was over
Nives and Romano focused on each step, constantly scouting the route ahead. "The rule on K2 is to never, ever let your guard down," Nives later reflected. "Not even on the easier sections, not even in good weather and in good conditions."
Only 11 hours after they had left their cache on C3 in their bold attempt, the husband-and-wife team reached the top at 1:00 pm (local time) on July 26.
Nives fell to her knees. Her dream was fulfilled after more than a decade and her 'Magnificent Obsession' had become a sweet reality. A twelve year old battle was over.
Married - after all these years
Fixing 250 meter of rope for the other teams on descent, at 4:00 pm they were back in C3. In her final thoughts, Nives told ExWeb:
"Climbing K2 has been like a long, hard relationship: After 12 years of dating, we were married at last :-). In addition, since all other teams had descended, Romano and I climbed alone. It was so beautiful"
"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. The mountain gave a precious gift to Romano and me - that's all - but also something I am so intensely proud of."
K2 became Nive's summit number 8, placing her second only to Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner (9, 8000ers summited) on the list of the world's foremost female high altitude climbers. But like most star mountaineers (including Gerlinde), Nives says such numbers are not a priority to her, Climbing, like every human activity, is part psychological, part emotional and part cultural. It is obvious therefore that everyone goes to the mountain with their own attitude and purpose. But no rules can make me lose sight of the very essence of mountaineering: The dream.
Nive's and Romano's K2 climb stays in our memory for their courage, determination, persistence, self reliance and comradeship.
By their performance, the awarded expeditions have proved themselves outstanding in all or most of the following:
- Self reliance
- Respect towards competition
Previous in the countdown:
6. Kazakh young guns Maxut & Vassiliy, Dhaulagiri/Annapurna
7. Alex Bellini, Atlantic Ocean crossing
8. Iñaki Ochoa, Shisha Pangma climb
An additional 4 expeditions have received a special mention award:
Japanese K2 kids Yuka and Tatsuya
Serap Jangbu - 14 x 8000ers, the Sherpas' way
Colin Angus and Julie Wafaei: Human-powered circumnavigation
Borge Ousland, Mike Horn: North Pole unsupported through the Arctic night
More about Nives and Romano:
Nives Meroi was born in Bergamo on September 17, 1961. In 1989 she married Romano Benet - since then, the couple always climbs 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) and Everest in 1999. She typically travels light, without oxygen or high-altitude porters.
Nives Meroi is among the top altitude female climbers in the world today. K2 was 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 were women and both 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). Nives, Yuka and Spanish climber Edurne Pasaban are the only living K2 summiteers in the world today.
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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