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 Ivan Vallejo Ricaurte climbing and writing again "AS A BLANK SHEET"

Madrid, Monday September 10, 2007 

Dear friends of Ecuador and the world. 

I send you warm greetings from Marques de Urquijo in Madrid, from this so loved house that shelters me and takes care of me.  Now I am on my way to Shisha Pangma, a mountain of 8,046m located on the Tibetan plateau.  I learned that I had to prepare a backpack and get on the airplane again just a week ago when I was coming from vacations.  You see, here I am on the middle of the road between Ecuador and Tibet.

The purpose of this expedition is to go along with my dear friend Edurne Pasaban who is going to get, God willing, her tenth eight-thousand, to level up with the same number of eight-thousand that Nives Meroi (Italy) and Gerlinde Kalterbruner (Austria) have on the same project. 

I was in Shisha Pangma during the fall of 2004, reaching the summit of that mountain by the difficult south wall with Santiago Sagaste, who sadly died last May 13, buried by an avalanche, along with my other great friend Ricardo Valencia, on the northeast side of Dhaulagiri.  Now we go to Shisha by the north side and we will film the ascent for Al Filo de lo Imposible, for Televisión Española.  The members of the expedition, besides Edurne, are: Juanito Oiarzábal, Asier Izaguirre, Manolo Benito, as cameraman for Al Filo, and yours truly. 

On the flight I took from Quito to Madrid between Saturday and Sunday, I wrote this first chronicle I have titled AS A BLANK SHEET.  I share it with you and I hope you enjoy it. 

I will continue with the development of this new adventure through words.  I hope you have a cool week.

With my great affection. 

Ivan Vallejo Ricaurte



It’s been a hundred and twenty thousand kilometers of flight, five books read, thousands of precious words by Benedetti, dozens of blocks walked in the airports and sixteen thousand a hundred and thirty seven meters ascended without oxygen between Nepal (Annapurna, 8,091m) and Pakistan (Broad Peak, 8,047m).  Now I go again on a plane to add another twenty five thousand kilometers of flight holding hands with the fair woman (I mean, the Fair Woman (Mujer Justa), by Sandor Marai).  I am trying to remember which backpack I used to go around the block on the night of last December 31, because you should know that I do that ceremenoy all the time: the 12 grapes for the wishes and health, the red underwear for the arts of love, to jump over the fire of the dummy we use to burn in Ecuador to leave there, into the fire, the bad vibes of the year that is about to end, and then go around the block with luggage, in my case with a backpack, because of the trips and my summits.  Anyway, no matter the backpack I used for wishing, there is no doubt that it was one of the most generous with trips and mountains.  The voyage has been intense and entertaining: from Quito to Madrid and from there to Katmandu to climb a mountain.  From Nepal to Spain and then to Ecuador to see Pirates of the Caribbean 3 with my angel.  From the Middle of the world back again to Madrid, via Doha and then to Islamabad.  Climb another mountain.  From Pakistan to the Emirates, go by Madid and go back to Ecuador.  Short vacations, with my angel of course, and today from Ecuador to Tibet via Amsterdam, Madrid and the Emirates on the way to Shisha Pangma (8,046m). 

As I usually do, I have slept very little before the trip, just two hours.  The alarm goes off and zas to the shower, zas to the airport and zas to the plane.  To cheer up in the middle of this hangover with no alcohol I think about the night before the summit of Broad Peak, the early morning of last July 12, in camp 3 at around seven thousand meters of altitude.  We don’t sleep a minute (because we can’t due to the lack of oxygen).  At ten in the evening we start to prep up.  At twelve we leave towards the summit.  All the predawn morning (24 degrees below zero) and all morning climbing.  At noon we are finally on the summit.  Once there, one hour of happiness, hugs, pictures, to feel ourselves a part of the summit of the world and then descend.  At five in the afternoon, exhausted and dry, back again around seven thousand meters in camp 3.  That is seventeen little hours of competition without having slept the previous hour.

With this memory I cheer up thinking that the present hangover is nothing, or it is, is pretty: Two hours slept in my bed, holding Kamila who was warm, then the shower, the airport, the plane and now sitting down, very comfortable, doing nothing, at an altitude which is above any of the thirteen eight-thousands I have climbed and much better, with a lot of oxygen. 

Isn’t this a nice hangover? 

The couple of fresh lattés and croissants offered by the flight attendant leave me lighten up, I turn on the computer and I find in My Pictures the folder called Broad Peak 2007, I watch the pictures again and I notice that in them I am always happy, always smiling. 

Now when I remember this last expedition of just seven weeks ago I feel happy because I was there happy, I feel joyful because I was there joyful.                        

What is the meaning for me to climb the same mountain by the same route for the second time, knowing that it is always demanding while you feel useless above seven thousand meters?

When I see myself in each of the pictures I find the answer.  It has meant identical illusion, the same enthusiasm and with the same will as if it was my first mountain, my first eight-thousand.  That is the key to enjoy that which we could catalog as routine, which we use to lay a cold and pale tombstone, over the most appreciated gifts of any human alive: the capacity to amaze, that same capacity that we sometimes wrongly think belongs only to children.  To have the possibility to be surprised each day is an act of humbleness, to believe everything is already know is an act of pride which keeps us from growing, to improve and, in its most important and deep form, to enjoy and be happy.  It is an act of humbleness to give ourselves each day as a blank sheet which is going to be written by the lessons of the universe and life, by everything in the list, by the most prosaic and the greatest. 

It is true that I have climbed Broad Peak in 1998 and that the Baltoro Glacier, which leads to this mountain and others of the three highest in the world, was going to be covered for the fourth time.  But when I accepted the proposal of going with my dear teammate Edurne Pasaban I was aware that I had to go back as a blank sheet.   

It is good I did it and then the light, the wind, the colors of dawns and dusks, the silver of the moon, the faces of baltis, their songs and their dances, the wind and cold of the summit day, and finally the happiness, the hugs and happiness of the summit of Broad Peak wrote new words for me, new paragraphs, new verses. 

To push away the fetid odor of routine there is the fresh breath of the things that have to be made with love, the capacity of being able to reinvent each time it is necessary, the intelligence of not losing grace to be amazed just like kids, and above all the humbleness of wanting to learn always. 

At noon on last July 12 I was on the summit of Broad Peak with the same illusion and the same smile as always.  Now I am on my way to Shisha Pangma for the second time, again with Edurne, with an added value: we will climb by the north face (in 2004 I did is by the demanding south face), so the advantage is even greater. 

Let’s hope that the colors, the images, the light, the sun and the wind of Shisha Pangma will write more verses on my blank sheet.

Ivan Vallejo Ricaurte


Translated form Spanish by Jorge Rivera


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