We have covered close to a thousand expeditions in 2007. 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 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 2007.
Today number 5: Gnaro - All 14, 8000ers without oxygen
The quest for the 14, 8000ers takes a lifetime, if not life itself. Out of the 32 aspiring climbers currently on the 10-13 summits list, 8 have died - all on an 8000er peak.
Out of the 32 climbers on the list - 17 went without oxygen. Out of the 8 fatalities - 5 were among those. This is a summit to fatality risk of 25% for the quest overall, and close to 30% if you go without O2.
A great adventure holds equal parts of challenge, danger and heart. While great spirit and difficulty can be found elsewhere, nothing beats the 8000ers when it comes to risk.
You can get away with it once, or twice - if weather and conditions are great. But to survive the death zone over and over again is only for the strongest and the boldest - and the lucky ones.
Up to 2005, only twelve men had stood on the summit of them all. The question was, who would break the haunted 13?
14 years of sacrifice
"Dismantling BC, I can't help looking back at Broad Peak," Silvio 'Gnaro' Mondinelli wrote shortly after his ascent. "I was so consumed with summiting the 14 8,000ers. Now, after 14 draining years of sacrifice, and so many moments lost with my family forever - finally, I am done."
Broad Peak became Silvio's final 8000er. He survived number thirteen on the list; and became only the sixth mountaineer in the world to have scaled them all without supplementary oxygen.
Leaving behind many more failures overcome than triumphs finally gained; and silent echoes of friends lost - Gnaro's 14 years spanned a lifetime.
Raised by high Himalaya
At 20 years old, Gnaro was found climbing all walls and slopes available in the Monte Rosa Massif (Italian Alps). Back then, Silvio was an easy going rock-climber. "Il Laseru!" mates would call him, or 'lazy-bones' in the Brescia Valley dialect.
But after his first 8,000m+ summit (Manaslu in 1993) Silvio grew into a disciplined high altitude mountaineer, the one taking lead and breaking trail more often than others.
High Himalaya fostered Silvio to patience, dedication and persistence. Everest took three consecutive attempts in 1999, 2000 and 2001. He always went without gas, on an Everest that was a different story back then, especially on the north side.
The one thing Silvio would not leave behind was his humanity. His first two attempts on the north side were thwarted when Gnaro chose to get involved in rescues of people he had never met before. One a Russian climber with serious frostbites; the other a young Basque climber named Edurne Pasaban.
Edurne, as well as close friend Mario Merelli both were by Gnaro's side in 2001, when he finally made the summit - climbing from Nepal this time. The Italian picked up speed from there - summiting three other 8,000ers in the following five months. Before the year ended, Gnaro had topped out Everest, both Gasherbrums and Dhaulagiri.
The quest started to claim its toll. On Dhaulagiri Gnaro's Spanish team mate Pepe Garces never made it back.
"When we assumed he was dead, none of us (Carlos Pauner, Edurne, Merelli) dared to enter his tent to retrieve his things," Silvio recounted in his 2006 book 'Laseru'. "We hid in our tents and cried... maybe we felt guilty. Only Abele Blanc had seen him fall. Finally we gathered to smoke and drink until we dropped out by the memorial we had built in BC..."
Pepe was the first but not the last. In 2003, Carlos Pauner disappeared after the team summited Kangchenjunga in bad weather. Miraculously, Carlos showed up two days later, albeit hallucinating and with frostbite. Also Silvio suffered bad frostbite to his fingers on the climb.
The came Annapurna. After a 2002 attempt on the south side, in 2005 Silvio joined Christian Kuntner, Abele Blanc, Marco Confortola and some others for an attempt on the north side.
For Blanc and Kuntner, Annapurna marked the last mountain on their 14, 8000ers quest.
Annapurna's hardest blow
Silvio and his mates had fixed all the ropes on the mountain. This allowed Ed Viesturs, who helicoptered to the peak after Cho Oyu, to top out Annapurna in a fast ascent. Gnaro and his mates, wasted after all the ground work were forced back from the summit attempt, but when Ed came down - Gnaro lifted him "off the ground with a gigantic bear hug," Ed said.
Gnaro was on his second summit push when somewhere between camp 2 and camp 3, a big serac broke off. On their ultimate mountain, the falling ice went straight for Christian Kuntner and Abele Blanc. Abele was injured; Christian died of inner hemorrhages in Silvio's arms.
A brief moment in time had come to an end - the great Himalayan saga of the shy ace climbing brothers Abele Blanc and Christian Kuntner was over. Abele broke down and Gnaro's motivation for an Annapurna summit vanished.
Silvio changed course for Nanga Parbat, which became his tenth 8,000er. But later that year, Mondinelli was powerless against yet another 8,000er: Shisha Pangma. Bad weather stopped him just short of the main summit, for the second time.
Problems to find sponsors shut down also Broad Peak for Gnaro.
Back home, Mondinelli wrote: "At one time, I thought that climbing mountains was the most difficult thing in this world, the greatest obstacle to overcome. But I was wrong. With every adventure, with every expedition, I came to think that maybe it didn't made sense to continue. You are at the top and you are already thinking of the next climb, the next trip... But a trip to what?"
"I've always seen the world my way, a bit childlike, a bit stubborn. But right now my joy is turning into gloom."
No retreat, no surrender
The battle between Silvio's fears and dreams was over in 2006. He decided to climb three 8,000ers, the ones exactly which had brought him the most pain.
Sivio and Marco Confortola were among the very few to summit Shisha that spring. On Lhotse, Confortola was turned back, but Mondinelli made it to the top. Now Annapurna loomed; number 13 on Gnaro's list.
October 12 2006, at 11:30 a.m. local time, Silvio topped-out Anna together with Lhakpa Sherpa. "I went to all the summit points, just to make sure I'd reached the main summit," he told wife Idel. Marco Confortola followed his footprints two hours later.
Friends on the final summit
This year, only Broad Peak was left. For warm-up this spring, Confortola and Silvio summited Cho Oyu. Weeks later, they landed in Pakistan.
July 12, leading a massive summit push Mondinelli reached the peak's main summit on his first attempt. He described the 13 hours spent in deep snow and high wind as the toughest climb of his life.
With him were many of the friends he had made through nearly 30 expeditions: His mate Marco, the resurrected Pauner, the powerful husband and wife team Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner and Ralf Dujmovits, Ivan Vallejo (who gave him salsa lessons in Nanga Parbat's BC), Edurne, etc.
"I still have a dream"
"Now what?" asked the journalists. "The truth is I do have another dream," Silvio dispatched from BC, "to learn play saxophone like Sonny Rollins!"
"I think it's going to take a long time before I find a good enough reason to leave my family for Himalaya again," he said, but then added: "However, a wolf might lose his hair, but not his call."
"... I don't like to think this is a goodbye, so let me greet you all with 'till next time'."
Silvio stays in our memory for his courage, determination, persistence, self reliance, idealism, comradeship and compassion.
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. Dodo Kopold - 3, 8000ers in 4 months
7. Borge Ousland and Thomas Ulrich - North Pole retrace
8. The fastest trek - Hannah McKeand, South Pole crossing
Jannu West Ridge First Ascent: Valery Babanov and Sergey Kofanov
Torres del Paine Base Jump: Valery Rozov
In the hoofsteps of Genghis Khan: Tim Cope
NW Passage in ice catamaran: Sebastien Roubinet
Lhotse Shar, G2 NF & Jasemba, Lhotse south near-winter ascent
More about Gnaro:
Silvio was born in June 24, 1958, in Gardone (Italy). A devoted climber since the age of 18, at 20 years old he enrolled in the GdF and was transferred to Alagna Valesia, right at the foot of Monte Rosa, one of the biggest peaks in the Italian Alps. After some expeditions in North and South America, Silvio bagged his first 8,000er, Manaslu, in 1993. In 1997, he topped out Cho Oyu.
In 2001 he surprised the Himalayan climbing community by achieving four 8,000ers in only five months: Everest, both Gasherbrums, and Dhaulagiri. Then in 2002, Makalu; in 2003, Kangchenjunga; in 2004, K2; in 2005, Nanga Parbat; in 2006, Shisha Pangma, Lhotse and Annapurna.
On July 12, 2007, he summited Broad Peak, thus becoming the 13th climber to complete the 14x8,000ers quest. He is also the sixth person to summit all the Great 14 without supplementary O2. Also on BP summit was Austrian Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, summiting her tenth 8,000er. Spanish Edurne Pasaban followed close behind, bagging her ninth 8,000m+ summit.
Regular mate Marco Confortola has summited Cho Oyu, Broad Peak, Everest, Shisha Pangma and Annapurna.
Silvio 'Gnaro' Mondinelli works as mountain guide and mountain rescue ranger. He also collaborates with charity projects in Nepal through his NGO "Amici del Monte Rosa."
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