- The Inexistence of Impossible: Interview With Winter Alpinist Simone Moro
- Interview with Simone Moro
- Simone Moro turns 50: “I’m still alive”
- Interview: Simone Moro on winter K2
- Interview: Simone Moro on Expedition-Ending Accident on Gasherbrum I with Tamara Lunger
- So just some quick background—what was your and Tamara Lunger’s goal on this expedition to Pakistan this winter?
- The expedition started off harder than expected, though
- What made the going so slow?
- So the accident: What happened?
- So now you’re 20 meters down in the crevasse, Tamara is stuck at the edge—what happened next?
- What’s the takeaway from this near-miss?
The Inexistence of Impossible: Interview With Winter Alpinist Simone Moro
“Impossible” does not exist for Simone Moro, because he’s constantly redefining the word. The Italian alpinist, widely considered one of the world’s most elite, has earned his reputation by climbing daunting 8,000-meter peaks.
Inspired by the Polish hard men of the 1980s, Moro conquers the highest mountains on Earth with his specialty – he climbs in winter.
In the Himalayas, the Karakoram, and the Andes, his feats and daring expeditions are unmatched: First winter ascents on Aconcagua, Makalu, Shisha Pangma, and Gasherbrum II, speed ascents on Fitz Roy and Lhotse, and a solo south to north traverse on Everest.
Beyond his impressive curriculum, Simone is a skilled Himalayan search and rescue pilot, a humanitarian who financed a school in a remote village of Nepal, and has famously abandoned summits to provide aid for stranded climbers.
With his trademark passion, humor, and Italian-accented English, Moro spoke with me about his reverence for the Polish climbers, the transcendence from his hometown of Bergamo at the foot of the Central Alps to the highest peaks on Earth, and narrowly escaping a terrifying avalanche with Cory Richards and Denis Urubko.
THE CLYMB: You grew up in the Central Alps, away from the Dolomites and Monte Bianco. How did you chase your climbing goals and how did you transition into alpinism?
Simone Moro: My city is Bergamo, and it’s located in the Central Alps.
It’s a wonderful place for rock climbing, ice climbing, and skydiving, but it’s not as famous as the Dolomites or Monte Bianco (the Italian name for Mont Blanc). But Walter Bonatti was born in Bergamo, and he is an example of how passion goes beyond anything, including geographical “limits”.
I started as a pure competition sport climber, but I felt the call of the mountains over the plastic (indoor) so I started alpinism.
THE CLYMB: What role did the Polish climbers have in developing winter mountaineering? What advantage did they have that allowed them to conquer the 8,000-meter peaks in this style?
Simone Moro: Polish climbers could be considered in a way as people of Bergamo. The height of the mountains in Poland is similar to those of the Bergamo Alps. Polish people were poor and strong. They were used to suffering and since winter climbing is a “suffering game”, they became the kings of that kind of alpinism.
THE CLYMB: What led you into pursuing winter climbing? What were the sensations of your first winter expedition?
Simone Moro: People of Bergamo are similar to those of Eastern European countries.
We are very hard workers, we have a long tradition of manual labor in the mountains, and we are used to living in hard conditions. I’m just the product of the kind of DNA and I feel very natural when I climb in winter or with Eastern European alpinists.
My second expedition of the 50 that I’ve participated in was in alpine style during winter. I immediately understood the sense of exploration and adventure in this way of climbing.
THE CLYMB: After the first seven successful winter expeditions by Polish climbers, there was a gap of 17 years without a single winter summit.
Why did this happen?
Simone Moro: It is difficult to find a single reason, but certainly, the deaths of Jerzy Kukuczka and Wanda Rutkievitz (the male and female leaders of the Polish climbing community) shocked the Polish system.
Then a generational turnover happened, and the new generation, who weren’t accustomed to traditional ways, was weaker than the old. So, the combination of multiple factors, including climate change, influenced the capacity to achieve winter climbs at high altitude.
Then, starting in 2005, our winter ascents on Shisha Pangma, Makalu, and Gasherbrum II, helped in the “rebirth” of winter alpinism on the highest mountains.
In 2011, Simone summitted Gasherbrum II with American, Cory Richards and Kazakh, Denis Urubko, marking the only 8,000-meter peak in winter conquered by an American.
This expedition was documented in the critically acclaimed film “Cold”. On their descent from the summit, an avalanche broke away from a neighboring peak and nearly buried the three climbers.
Simone describes the tense moments during and following the slide.
THE CLYMB: Describe the events of the avalanche on Gasherbrum II. What did you see and what was the aftermath?
Simone Moro: We were on our 6th day of climbing and were descending towards base camp. We were tired and we were in fresh deep snow.
A big avalanche broke just above us, from Gasherbrum V, and since we were moving slowly in that fresh snow, we were not able to escape. We were lucky to survive because I remained on the surface of the avalanche. I was able to dig Cory and Denis simply using my hands.
They were 80% buried in the snow, with only their heads just above the surface.
THE CLYMB: Beyond climbing, you are a successful SAR helicopter pilot in the Himalayas.
What inspired you to take this up?
Simone Moro: Thinking about my future and my parallel life (I will always remain a climber and a dreamer) I decided to do something for me and for the people who love and live in the mountains, especially in the remote valleys of the Himalayas and the Karakorum.
Becoming a pilot with specialization in mountain rescue was my way to find a new life and a new mission. I just established a helicopter school in San Diego, California, where my aim is to train future helicopter pilots in SAR and mountain rescue missions.
THE CLYMB: You have a particular definition of the word “impossible” and what it means to you.
Could you elaborate on your thoughts?
Simone Moro: Impossible is just the word we use to find an excuse why we had not been able to do something. Impossible doesn’t exist exactly as a limit.
Something that was impossible some years ago represents the limits of that time. Now it is not impossible and the limit gets higher. So don’t believe in that concept and dream high.
Simone is currently preparing for another winter climbing season in the mountains, climbing Mansalu. Read about his incredible expeditions and climbing philosophy in his latest book “The Call Of The Ice”.
Interview with Simone Moro
Alpinismonline Magazine interviewed Simone Moro, the mountaineer from Bergamo, and talked about a variety of topics, including the current state of the world of mountaineering and the man himself.
(Translation of original article on Alpinismonline Magazine)
Moro is an icon of the modern mountaineering world. A specialist in high-altitude winter expeditions, Bergamo’s great mountaineer is the only person to have made the first winter ascent of four of the eight-thousanders.
Our fascinating conversation covered current topics regarding both the activity of climbing itself and his own accomplishments in the field.
Moro has recently returned from an extremely difficult and complex attempt to traverse the Kangchenjunga skyline with Tamara Lunger, which can only be called futuristic. This gave us the opportunity to talk to him without the usual rush that accompanies interviews when he is in the mountains.
In this context, we were able to cover several topics and discovered some interesting revelations that raise our expectations for his activities to come.
As usual with Simone, just as much as the other times we have reached him, he stands out. Dwarfing the enormity of his exploits is his humility and his predisposition to be present with us for the interview, something that is remarkable for someone as busy as Simone.
We now leave you with Simone Moro, Bergamo’s great mountaineer.
You spent time with Txikon on Nanga including its summit. As a winter specialist, what did Alex lack in making it to the top of Everest last winter?
You need to have the right equipment and a lot of luck to succeed in winter climbing on an eight-thousander. I think he had the right men on Everest, but the weather and the wind conditions were not favorable. In the Himalayan winter, you can die if you make the mistake of overestimating yourself. Alex tried but nature has been very hostile to his willingness to climb.
You have been a helicopter SAR pilot since 2012. What do you think of the lengthening list of accidents happening in the mountains right now?
The increasing number of people and mountaineers going to the mountains is normal, but also statistically increases the number of accidents. Mountains are not the sea.
There’s no beach to lie on and make sand castles. In the mountains there are rules and the dynamics are different. These must be known and learned before going.
Climbing a mountain is not bathing in the sea, and this is what a lot of people don’t understand.
This year you will be 50 years old. What projects do you have hanging in the mountain world? Do you see yourself as a Carlos Soria? Who is currently making an attempt on Dhaulagiri.
On October 27 I’ll be 50 years old, it’s true. It’s incredible how time has gone so quickly, how many experiences I’ve had, and how many people I’ve met. I’ve always been training—controlling what I eat, what I drink, my body weight and my health in general.
I’m still a fanatic in preparing ambitious, difficult and visionary projects. I think I will continue climbing mountains because I still feel motivated, strong and skilled enough to continue being the proponent of my dreams. I have many projects, not just related to mountains.
Carlos Soria is a friend and an example of longevity in sports. He is also very careful with his health and fitness.
Do you think that the climbing style you demonstrated in summiting Cho Oyu in just 11 hours in 2002 has opened the door to today’s express eight-thousander climbing?
I think I’m still very fast when the conditions allow it. I am a person who works flat out during the week, and therefore my intention to be really fast and be persistent remains.
Of course, maintaining speed on an eight-thousander during the winter is difficult due to the long waits and the cold, but it is also important to know how to properly use the advantages of a window of good weather.
How do you combine your professional activities and expeditions with your family life? What role do your wife Barbara and your daughter Martina play in planning an objective and organizing an expedition?
My family has always been supportive, and they continue to support my business. They understand and support the long waits. My 7-year-old son Jonas often comes with me to train and on helicopter flights. I know I have a huge responsibility to teach him so much, but I try not to put him in risky situations.
What vision do you have for women in today’s mountaineering and in eight-thousanders in particular?
They’re men. There are fewer women in the Himalayas and in the climbing world because of cultural and historical issues, but they’ve made achievements of similar levels to those by the men. I’ve always been very open-minded and have never underestimated women’s progress and their performance in all activities that were typically for men.
According to your experience, are there any significant differences in having a female partner or a male partner? In this respect, what can you tell us about Tamara?
The partnership I have with Tamara is a good example. It’s the same thing I had with Boukreev or Urubko in terms of strength and task-sharing. So I can truly say that I didn’t notice any difference.
After so many adventures and expeditions you have had, would you say that you know your limits?
Let’s say I do know my limits, but I also know that I can go further and improve my skills. What I know very well is how I react in different situations and I’ve developed a sixth sense that often allows me to perceive danger before is too late.
What would you say was the most difficult situation you have experienced in the mountains and what has it taught you?
The tragedy of December 25, 1997, when Anatoly Boukreev died. It was certainly the hardest experience of my life. It was a miracle that I survived and I used strength I didn’t know I had to do something superhuman going downhill and dragging myself for many miles to base camp, despite being hurt and bleeding after an 800-m fall.
Do you think people learn from their mistakes? According to your own experiences, do you think that painful or negative situations teach us to be better?
Yes, certainly. Anyone who doesn’t learn from their mistakes or painful and difficult experiences is an idiot! Mistakes are only a learning process, not just in the mountains, but in life!
What would you say is the biggest challenge mountaineering faces today? At the present time is there real climbing left in mountaineering?
The desire to explore is ceaseless, and today mountaineering is moving towards the limits of immobile peaks and walls on smaller mountains (6000-7000 m) but with a growing difficulty factor. Many new climbers are also strong climbers. When in 1994 I climbed an 8b and an 8000-m in the same year I think I was a pioneer of what is now more usual in mountaineering.
Do you believe in premonitory dreams? What about luck or chance?
I believe in God and the sixth sense humans have. So everyone has their own ways of perceiving these things. Fortune exists, but it is also necessary to cultivate it.
Would you be open to the possibility of going to the Everest in winter with Alex Txikon?
Yes, why not? Without Sherpas though.
This year has been marked by tragedies without a doubt. What memories do you have of Ueli Steck?
He was a friend, a person I assisted and admired. It was really painful to lose a person him and it was a serious loss for the entire mountaineering community. He was strong and humble, a visionary and sincere.
What are your projects for next season? Will you return to Kangchenjunga?
I think I’ll return to Kangchenjunga but not immediately, that design and that crossroads appeals a lot to me. I have another winter project in mind but I don’t want to announce it yet.
How can we handle the issue of overcrowding in the big mountains? Do you think there could be a short-term solution?
I am one who loves freedom and that doesn’t want to limit that for others. There is, however, a problem of overcrowding and poor preparation today in many expeditions in base camps. For the eight-thousanders, it would be enough to set minimum climbs to obtain permits.
First, a six-thousander and a seven-thousander climb in different seasons. They tried to do it, but the commercial expeditions established a previous seven-thousander climb for the climber and quickly scheduled the eight-thousander thereafter.
On the other hand, it is necessary for there to be an interval of one or two years between the climbs of the smaller mountains and the higher ones.
In summary, it’s necessary to assert wisdom and to make people understand that they shouldn’t treat a journey to an eight-thousander as a Sunday tour.
Thank you very much for the interview, Simone.
Link to Source
Link to Simone Moro’s website
Simone Moro turns 50: “I’m still alive”
It does not hurt more than usual. I can say that from my own experience. It is rather a mental challenge to realize that the first 50 years are over and the second half of life has definitely begun. Time to take stock.
This Friday, Simone Moro celebrates his 50th birthday. The Italian can already be more than satisfied with his career as a high-altitude climber.
No one else besides Simone has four winter first ascents of eight-thousanders on his account.
In 2005, Moro summited along with the Polish climber Piotr Morawski the 8027-meter-high Shishapangma for the first time in the cold season.
Three other first winter ascents followed: In 2009 with the native Kazakh Denis Urubko on Makalu (8,485 m), in 2011 with Urubko and the American Cory Richards on Gasherbrum II (8,034 m) and in 2016 with the Spaniard Alex Txikon and the Pakistani Muhammad Ali “Sadpara” on Nanga Parbat (8,125 m).
Simone did all these eight-thousander climbs without bottled oxygen. Last spring, Moro and the South Tyrolean Tamara Lunger had planned to traverse the four summits of the Kangchenjunga massif, but had to turn back without having reached a single summit.
Two attempts ended at 7,200 meters, because Simone suffered from stomach ache. Moro is married to the South Tyrolean climber Barbara Zwerger and has a 19-year-old daughter and a seven-year-old son. Simone has also earned his merits as a rescue helicopter pilot in the Himalayas.
Simone, half a century in your legs, how does that feel?
Well I’m still alive, with all toes and fingers and with motivation. My body weight is the same as when I was 25, same volume of training. So I feel happy and lucky.
Simone with Muhammad Ali (l.) on top of Nanga Parbat
You succeeded first winter ascents on the eight-thousanders Shishapangma, Makalu, Gasherbrum II and Nanga Parbat. Is there any of these climbs which is particularly important to you and why?
With Shisha Pangma I reopened the winter games on the 8000ers after 17 years of “silence”. Makalu came after 39 years of winter attempts and we were just two members in super light style.
Gasherbrum II was the first ever winter ascent of an eight-thousander in the entire Karakoram. And on Nanga Parbat I became the first man who succeeded first winter ascents on four different 8000ers.
So how can I choose?
What is for you the fascination of climbing the highest mountains on earth in winter?
Solitude, wilderness, adventure and exploration feeling, very low possibility to succeed, no discount on difficulties, wind, rare good weather windows. A winter expedition is NOT just the cold version of a summer expedition!
Last spring on Kangchenjunga, you suffered from health problems. Do we need to worry?
Not at all. I made just very stupid mistakes. I drank simply coke, sprite and other shit in BC, and on the mountains I drank not enough. Don’t worry, I feel and I’m strong and healthy before at the moment.
Strong team: Moro with Tamara Lunger (l.)
Recently you have been regularly en route with the South Tyrolean Tamara Lunger. Do you see yourself as her mentor?
Yes, I was and I had been. Now Tamara is 31 and she learned a lot and is absolutely independent. But we work so well together and it is a rare condition to find, so (it’s) better to keep our team spirit as our extra power.
Where will your next expedition take you?
Unfortunately I can’t declare yet where I will go. I can tell you that it will be this coming winter and will be probably the coldest climb I ever attempted.
If you had three wishes for the second half of life, which would it be?
Health, health and health. All the rest I will provide myself. I had and I have everything and only GOD can give me health even though I work a lot in protect to as much as I can with a healthy life…
Interview: Simone Moro on winter K2
December 21 marks the official start of winter. This season, all eyes will be on the Polish expedition to attempt the first winter ascent of K2, led by Krzysztof Wielicki. ExWeb caught up with Simone Moro to talk about challenges the team will face and get some background on the expedition.
Remote and constantly battered by strong winds, K2, “The Savage Mountain”, is the last 8000m peak to remain unclimbed in winter. However, a 10-man expedition of elite climbers financed by the Polish government is about to try and change that.
The expedition are aiming to arrive at base camp shortly after Christmas, with some 600kg of gear, to tackle the either the Česen or Abruzzi Route. Simone Moro is widely recognized to be the leading authority on high-altitude winter alpinism and is the only person to have summited four of the 8000ers completely in the winter.
He also knows many of the team intimately, having climbed with them in the past. Simone was kind enough to spare some of his time and chat to us about what they will face adnd their preparations.
ExWeb: Can you describe why extreme cold is such a challenge at high altitude in winter?
Simone: Too many people talk about winter climbing without having even tried it and are therefore completely ignorant of what is involved in a winter expedition. I have undertaken 15 winter expeditions in my life and can honestly say that it is a completely different thing to attempting the same climb in spring, summer or autumn.
The cold is frequently combined with strong wind and those elements make everything complicated and hard. It is an effort even to establish base camp or wait there for good weather.
ExWeb: You said in a previous ExWeb interview, “A new route in summer is about technical climbing but in winter, it is more about psychological and physical endurance and pain; it’s being at the edge of an inhumane situation for several weeks.” What kind of mental and physical training prepares you for this?
Simone: It is more the mental attitude than actual training. What is demanded is to be able to wait. And wait. And wait. Sometimes you wait for weeks or even years before the right day or good weather window or the right winter presents itself.
ExWeb: How do you feel the experience changes you as a person?
Simone: Well I have been lucky and brave enough to realize my dreams.
To be able to achieve an historical first winter climb on an 8000-meter peak is something that could represent a life or career goal.
To realize first winter ascents on four different 8000ers is something unbelievable for me, and the good thing is that I never got frostbite and am still motivated to have future winter experiences.
ExWeb: What route are they doing; is it a route you would have chosen yourself?
Simone: Wielicki has been a huge inspiration for me, as well as Kukuczka. So, I would never discuss or argue about a route they chose in the past or will do in the future. Wielicki is a very experienced guy so I trust in his strategy. What I to do–and I have always done–is very light, small-team alpinism. The Polish expedition is a big heavy approach, but I fully respect this.
I understand that it is a national expedition, paid for by the Polish government and they have to follow some rules and avoid failure as much possible. As Wielicki said, K2 is still unclimbed in winter by any style, so anyone attempting to do so is free to choose his own style, and I respect Wielicki’s decision in this respect.
He is also a very good friend of mine and I still admire him.
ExWeb: I heard that BC will be in the shadow the whole time. Sounds the team will be in a cold hell for those months but are there actually some advantages in climbing the mountain in winter, such as fewer avalanches and rock falls?
Simone: Rockfall will be the same due to the strong winds and often the mountain is very dry with little snow. The BC is NOT in perpetual shadow, but will get sun during some hours. I have been there twice in the winters of 2007 and 2008. I was at Broad Peak BC and I made some excursions to K2 BC. But for sure, it will be super cold and windy.
ExWeb: Your relationship with Denis Urubko goes back a long way, including winter ascents of Makalu, Gasherbrum II, can you describe him as an alpinist?
Simone: Our relationship has unfortunately deteriorated. I think he has lost his direction. I of course remember the wonderful moments we spent together and the nice climbs we did from 1999 to 2012. He has a Russian military mentality. It was very important that I act taking this into account, and it worked always well.
He is very strong and he has no fear. These are excellent qualities, but he has to be managed properly to prevent him taking stupid or fatal risks. We always worked well together, but the leadership was always clear.
So, Denis could be the right person for success on K2, but Wielicki will have to demonstrate strong leadership and be a general with the whole team, especially Denis.
What I can’t accept is the last declaration of Denis saying that the Broad Peak and G1 winter ascents achieved by the Polish are not winter climbs because the summit was realized in the first days of March.
This is so disrespectful to those who gave him Polish nationality, those who invited him and paid for his participation in the K2 winter expedition, and to Berbeka and Heizer, who died during those two successful frozen climbs.
Astronomical winter starts on the 21st of December and ends on the 20th of March. He can see this by Googling it!
All the world respects this definition, and he did too while he climbed with me. But now he decides to invalidate the winter climbs of his polish partners and remove Broad Peak and G1 from the list of Polish victories. It is very stupid!
ExWeb: Krzysztof Wielicki prefers to stay the media spotlight. What can you tell us about him as a person and an expedition leader?
Simone: He is a wonderful, gentle and very friendly guy. He is extremely charismatic, and this could be helpful during the K2 expedition. I him so much; I spent days with him and his wonderful family in his home. He has always been generous in his compliments and appreciation of my winter attempts and climbs. He is a gentleman and has been a visionary alpinist.
ExWeb: What factors will determine their success? What do you think of their chances, if you had to say?
Simone: On K2 in winter, you have a maximum of a 25% chance of success, even with a big group. So, you need to be very lucky with the weather and the team. Any kind of internal discord in the team can destroy the expedition. Wielicki has to be friendly, but also very clear and even forceful in saying what has to be done to make all members respect the rules.
ExWeb: Have you spoken to the team? What are their feelings in the lead-up to departure?
Simone: I met Wielicki quite recently and I spoke about the K2 winter climb to my sponsor The North Face, which will provide some tents and equipment for the K2 team. I know some of the members and I’m positive. I hope they will close the competition for the first winter climbs on 8000ers.
For me, there is no doubts that Broad peak and G1 have been climbed in full winter by the Polish. I reached the summit of all four of my 8000ers in January and February, but I have no doubt that K2 can be climbed until the 20th of March and it still would be winter.
If anyone believes that March is warm and less windy, they just have to go there and see if they can survive.
ExWeb: Can you give an outline of a “normal” day spent over 7000 m in the winter?
Simone: The daylight is short, the wind is a constant 30 km to 120 km /h, so erecting the tent and jumping inside is something that has to be done extremely quickly.
Melting snow and cooking something represents quite a challenge, because you always want to stay inside your sleeping bag looking for warmth. Despite the days being so short, it is nearly impossible to start the summit climb in the night.
It is simply too cold, too windy and dangerous. So, you have to start at the sunrise, knowing that you have less time to get to the top and back down in time.
ExWeb: You are a Himalayan Winter Climbing All-star. What would be your three most important pieces of advice for their success and to safely make it home?
Simone: First of all, leave at home any summit fever or competitive attitude. In winter you have to survive, NOT compete and challenge nature or others.
Second is to be very patient, extremely patient in waiting the right good weather window. You must not climb in winter as you climb in summer.
Third, believe in your forecast bulletin. I always worked with Austrian “weather guru” Karl Gabl and he is the number 1 for me.
I want to conclude the interview by wishing all the best for all the winter climbs that are going to happen, included my other friend, Alex Txicon, on Everest!
Thank you very much for the interview, Simone.
The concluding comment by Simone is interesting to say the least. Simone has yet to summit Everest in the Winter and has remained silent about his plans for this year. At the same time, there has been much speculation that he may be joining Alex Txicon on Everest.
Explorersweb will be following the K2 winter expedition closely, and reporting back as it progresses, we would to wish the entire team good fortune for their attempt.
Links / Previous
Simone Moro’s Website
Simone Moro: North Face Athlete
Interview: Denis Urubko on Winter Ascent of K2
Progress on Nanga Parbat, Simone Moro’s New Project
Interview: Simone Moro “I’m going again this winter…”
Interview: Simone Moro on Expedition-Ending Accident on Gasherbrum I with Tamara Lunger
Tamara Lunger and Simone Moro of Italy are safe and sound in Skardu after a close call during their expedition to the Gasherbrum massif in the Karakoram, Pakistan.
The pair was trying to complete the first winter enchainment of Gasherbrum I (8,080 meters) and Gasherbrum II (8,035 meters). They had nearly made it through the icefall, after which they planned to establish camp 1, when Moro plunged through a snow bridge and fell 20 meters into a dark crevasse that he estimates was over 100 meters deep.
The alpinists have pulled the plug on the expedition after both suffering injuries during the ordeal. “Thank god we have nothing broken,” Moro told Rock and Ice. They both have has some deep bruises, and Lunger can’t use her left hand—it became caught in a loop of rope during the ordeal and she has temporarily lost feeling in three of her fingers.
“Our injuries are minor, but they prevent us from climbing,” Moro said. “I will recover fast, but I think Tamara will need a couple months before she can climb.”
Rock and Ice caught up with Moro to get all the nitty-gritty details of the accident: what happened, how he and Lunger got him out, and what he learned.
Tamara Lunger and Simone Moro during the expedition before their accident. Photo: Tamara Lunger.
So just some quick background—what was your and Tamara Lunger’s goal on this expedition to Pakistan this winter?
We wanted to climb GI and GII [Gasherbrum I and Gasherbrum II]. The idea was to climb both in sequence, in a traverse. The first summit we were going to climb was Gasherbrum I and then on the way back, when we reached what would have been our camp 2, at 6,400 meters, if we had enough power, the idea was to continue and climb G2.
I climbed GII in winter in 2011 already, but now we wanted to try the traverse mainly. So the project would have had two stages: first GI, and then hopefully GII.
The expedition started off harder than expected, though
Already in 2011, when I was with Denis Urubko and Cory Richards [making the first winter ascent of Gasherbrum II], it was complicated to cross the ice fall and get to the upper plateau. But what Tamara and I found this year—it was a completely different glacier. Compared to this year, 2011 was peanuts.
I heard there were some major earthquakes that broke the glacier up more. Many more crevasses and more complicated. I don’t think earthquakes are the only reason—I think global warming is interfering quite a lot, and fast, in the nature of the icefall between base camp and camp 1—but they are one piece.
We spent 18 days, from January 1 to January 18, including rest days, trying to find a way through the all the seracs and the crevasses in the icefall. We were actively climbing on nine of those days. And in nine days we only climbed 500 vertical meters—quite unusual, no?
The maze of crevasses and seracs in the icefall. Photo: Matteo Zanga.
What made the going so slow?
Tamara and I were just two, we never fixed ropes, no high altitude porters. So we had to find the way in the classical style.
With so many big crevasses, you can imagine how slow we were, trying to find the way. Going left, going right, rappelling down, climbing back up, searching for the way, trying to find a path through. There was no fast way to find a safe way.
We only progressed 150 meters some days, and then when we would retreat, it would take just 10 minutes, since it was clear where to go.
The last day before the accident, we finally arrived close to the upper part of the icefall.
So the accident: What happened?
The accident was on January 18. It was the day that finally we found the way to cross the last big crevasses. I had borrowed a three-meter ladder from the Pakistani Army, which has a military outpost in base camp. They regularly use the ladder to span crevasses when they travel to another military outpost at 6,400 meters.
So I carried the ladder on my shoulders for 5.2 kilometers (I recorded it on the GPS) to the top of the glacier. I put the ladder between the final crevasse and we crossed it. This was about 3:00 p.m.
After crossing that crevasse, we were very happy but also still very careful. We knew the most difficult part was probably over, but that there could still be crevasses under us. So we stayed roped up, and we each carried our own gear and wore our harnesses with all our self-rescue gear on it—jumars, tibloc, prussiks. This was important: we were always very careful.
Moro with the ladder they used for one of the final crevasses in the icefall. Photo: Matteo Zanga.
Around 3:30 p.m., we arrived close to the end of the most dangerous part. So from that time on we were thinking we would go one more hour and establish camp 1. We had enough food and equipment to proceed for a least two days. Our aim was to establish camp 1 and then the next day go to establish camp 2 at 6,400 meters. We were in good shape from the first weeks and we were moving faster now.
Immediately, though, we saw there was still another crevasse to cross. Tamara went first. We were wearing snow shoes—not crampons—because there was deep snow. Also snowshoes can sometimes help crossing snow bridges, because your weight is distributed.
Tamara delicately crossed a snow bridge over the crevasse, and continued to a safe position, exactly 20 meters away from me, the full length of our 7-millimeter rope.
For the first time on the expedition, I didn’t walk in exactly her footprints. I did this intentionally. I saw a crack between the footprints that she had left.
I told Tamara I would stay a bit further left, and she said she would belay me.
In the moment that she was putting the rope through the carabiner on her harness, at that moment I simultaneously took my first step—and immediately everything under my feet broke. And I started to fall.
I was expecting the rope to come tight and for Tamara to catch me. But that didn’t happen. I started to fall fast, hit the wall very hard with my ass, and I rolled. Now I was falling head first. It was very tight, the crevasse.
The reason I kept falling is because Tamara was pulled off her feet and was flying to the lip of the crevasse—her hand was caught in a loop of the rope. a guy who is being pulled by a dog on a leash! My weight and how I was falling was so abrupt that Tamara was not able to hold it.
Remember, too, that she was in snow shoes, which acted skis. So she was flying, literally, and she landed just a half-meter before the crevasse edge. So I fell 20 meters head first, hitting all over the walls. I hit really hard on my back. I was wearing a 20-kilogram rucksack which saved me, I think.
I think I would have broken my back.
Then my speed started to slow. Tamara was slipping toward the edge of the crevasse. I always have an ice screw hanging on my harness. I tried to take it off, but the space was so tight that I couldn’t get the carabiner off so I just took the screw off the carabiner instead. I started putting it in the wall, about at my hip.
In a few seconds it was at my shoulder because I was still slipping down. I did just two or three turns, the screw was maybe 3 % in the wall, 97% out, and then I pulled up on the ice screw with one hand. I was able to turn it in a little more. Once it was in some more, I got a carabiner off my harness and clipped myself to it.
This was the moment that things finally stopped.
So now you’re 20 meters down in the crevasse, Tamara is stuck at the edge—what happened next?
It was dark, and I heard Tamara screaming—from the pain. Her hand was caught in the rope. She said, ‘Simone cut the rope, cut the rope…’ But I said to myself, , ‘Fuck, no, if I cut the rope I die!’ It turns out I couldn’t heard the second part of Tamara’s sentence: …. ‘if you are at the bottom.’
I made a foot loop to stand in with a small piece of cord, so I could put my weight on the ice screw and unweight the rope. This was the moment when Tamara was able to finally breathe and start organizing a belay to get me out.
Lunger grimacing from the pain as her hand is evaluated back in base camp after the accident. Photo: Matteo Zanga.
So she fixed the rope and did everything properly. With only one hand! She couldn’t set up a a normal rescue system with one hand, so I had to figure out how to get out myself. We decided she would belay me with one hand while I tried to climb out.
Now I had some more problems. I was in very a tight place, a shoebox. It was very dark. I had all my gear, but it was all inside my rucksack. I tried to take it off, but I couldn’t, the space was too tight. Thank god I had a knife with me. I cut one of the shoulder straps off, and then I was able to roll my backpack over my head and to my front. I got my two ice axes out.
But I still had the snowshoes on my feet! Here it was helpful that I had a sport climbing background—I am flexible. I was able to take my snowshoes off and hang them on the ice screw. Then I got my crampons on. I had just one technical ice axe—the other one was anchoring the ladder on the previous crevasse—so Tamara lowered me another ice axe with another rope we had.
I took out a headlamp and walkie talkie from my rucksack, and then tied the rucksack to the screw and finally I started to climb out—but it was overhanging. And very hard ice. It was so narrow that I didn’t even have the possibility to really swing the ice axes. So I took a big breath and focused. Somehow I finally got out.
It was 3:30 p.m. when I fell, I think it was nearly 5:30 p.m. when I came out.
I got to the top and Tamara was crying from the pain in her hand—but also happy. My first sentence, I told her, ‘Ok, you passed the exam of self rescue!’ She did everything very well, very properly.
Moro happy to have made it the icefall alive. Photo: Matteo Zanga.
We decided we had to go down to base camp immediately because we were both still in pain, and we didn’t know if we might be paralyzed from the pain in the morning if we stayed there for the night.
So ultimately nothing heroic. But Tamara and I had to invent so many things to stop my fall, to get out.
What’s the takeaway from this near-miss?
There were many small mistakes—for example, I didn’t walk on her exact footprints (though the same thing might have happened anyway).
But I think the big lesson I learned—it’s very important to have all the gear with you, and to be ready for something this at all times. It is good that we had our gear on us and ready.