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  Everest and K2 Summiter Ivan Vallejo : THIRTEEN YEARS AFTER


(Katmandú, March 21, 2008)

On autumn of 1995, thirteen years ago, it was the first time I took a plane from Europe to cross the Middle East to reach Nepal, the land of Sidharta Ghautama and Lumbini; the land of Everest, the highest mountain of the world, and Edmund Hillary its adoptive son; the land of the hippies of the seventies who made Katmandu one of the most visited airports of the world with all kind of flights, including the ones with hashish, grass and one or more grams of heroine; that land which of us, adventure lovers, the climbers and dreamers, is one of the paradises of the world.

Thirteen years ago, when I was thirty five, and I had visited the Andes in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, the Alps in France, but never the great Himalayas.

In that September I landed for the first time at Tribhuvan airport in Katmandu, I was there with the firm objective of illegally climbing to the summit of Pumori, a mountain of 7,125 m located in front of Everest in the Khumbu area.  I had no choice but to do it in secret because I didn't have the funds to pay the 2000 USD of the ascent permit.  Standing at the foot of the mountain I immediately realized it was a little less than impossible to go unnoticed and in a matter of days, if not hours, they would catch me in fraganti in the failed attempt and with that, I would have to pay the fine, go to prison, and even worst: have nobody to visit me in jail to offer me a bite.  Who was going to do it? Yes, if that was the case, they would have locked me 26,000 Km far away from my town.  While I was feeling resigned to give up the idea of the clandestine summit, I talked to a climber from Austria who was going to climb Pumori.  In one moment of the dialog, inside myself, I discretely asked what was the difference between him and me, so that he could climb the mountain and I couldn't.  I looked at him slowly and I found none, he was as human as me, with two legs, two arms, two lungs and a heart, just like me, well almost, because he was 1.8 m tall and I was 1.64 m.  But besides that, nothing in substance.  The only difference was that he had the money and I didn't.  Far from complaining I promised myself to go back to Ecuador and do the impossible to rise the money and go back to climb Pumori.  To exorcise my pain I climbed, clandestinely of course, a peak of six thousand meters and two other modest ones of  five thousand meters, close to Pumori, and with those summits in my backpack I turned back home, to the middle of the world. 

Back in Quito, talking to my friends and convincing them to climb Pumori, at the end the dream was cut short and we bet on one even higher:  climb Everest with no oxygen.

What came later is history and you know it very well.

Now, thirteen years later, it is the fourteenth time I step down the ladder from the plane to step on Nepalese soil, once I do it and kneel down, touch the soil with my right hand, I take it to my heart and mentally I say: blessings to Dhaulagiri.  These thirteen years have been wonderful because of all the way I have covered and the lessons I have learned, for the moments of scarceness and those of anguish, for those of happiness and tears, for those of loneliness and company, for the summits I have accomplished and the drawbacks I have taken, for the given kisses and the received hugs, for the omitted kisses and hugs in the time of absence, for the letters and the written chronicles, for the saved memories and the books I have read.  For the time I have dedicated to time and what I has given me back.  For the great friends I have gained and for those I have lost who have been left forever on the mountain. 

Beautiful time, beautiful years. 

When I get to the counter to pay the thirty dollars of the visa, the immigration policeman, just to fill out my paperwork, asks: how many times in Nepal?  Fourteen, I say, and I realize that the numbers match, I come precisely for my fourteen eight-thousand.

It's been thirteen years since I came to Katmandu with great illusions, with a frank smile, with wide open eyes to drink up everything with my view, discretely dissimulating the economic anguishes.  Today I see Katmandu again with the same eyes and I smile frankly as ever, like in the beginning, without having lost the illusion of the first time, because there is one more of the most important details of my life: the more kilometers I have covered, the more experiences I have lived, the more places I have visited, the more summits I have reached, the human being doesn't have to lose the capacity of amazement, because the art of amazement is associated with the lightness of being, with the flow, with simplicity, with the well named innocence, with curiosity; that is with the motors that have made humanity progress.

You have to be an adult and still keep being amazed like a child.

On the autumn of 1995 I took a taxi with the anguish of being taken, as a tourist, because taxi drivers in airports of the third world, in developing countries or whatever you want to call them, are the same everywhere in the planet.  They see your face and they charge you hard, they never understand that the naïve face is for personal use.  Now they come to pick us up, Sebastian (Alvaro) and me, to take us to Yak and Yeti.  On the way to the hotel I express my gratitude to life smiling with love and sharing the gesture and good vibe that is generated by the streets of Katmandu.  I look at the city through the windows of the van and I confirm that it is almost like it was thirteen years ago, if not for the more abundant rickshaws, cars and motorcycles, but the rest is the same: the chaos and noise on the streets; the sacred cows eating calmly by the edge of the asphalt; a Buddhist monk, rosary in hand, walking by a dark skinned Nepalese girl wearing low waist jeans and short blouse and, possibly, feels his vows of chastity are in doubt; the smile and happiness of the kids who after a picture while a red traffic light say the same as always: five rupees my friend, and I confirm that at least for the photographic topic inflation has not modified the prices.  The same Katmandu with the buses and cars making a line to get some gas because India has not sent it; with the same blackouts, every once in a while, which melt the icecreams that are sold at Fire and Ice pizzeria, where we always meet during these sojourns, one and the others, before and after each expedition.  The same prayer house, in almost immaculate white and crowned by the eyes of Buddha who is watching to the four cardinal points. 


Caption: The same prayer house, in almost immaculate white and crowned by the eyes of Buddha who is watching to the four cardinal points.   

Caption: After a picture while a red traffic light, they say the same as always: five rupees my friend

When we get to the hotel the guard at the door, standing as a marble pillar and dressed up in green says: Namaste Sir.

Room 3312 has a view to the small lagoon of the hotel, with ducks and a wooden bridge included.  I take a look, feast my eyes and I feel there is nothing more to do, we unanimously vote to lay down for a nap after the eleven hours of flight.  While sleep comes in the middle of the joy of stretching my whole body, I get a slow motion picture in my head with the images, names and numbers: Katmandu, Pumori, Ama Dablam, Manaslu, Everest, 8,848, Kangchenjunga, Annapurna, 14, Eight-Thousand, Ramiro…, then I remember the mantra I have been repeating for five months: Dhaulagiri 8,167, by the end of April, my last eight thousand.  I imagine myself reaching the summit of that mountain, I reach out my arms and I cry to celebrate, I sleep with gratitude of these thirteen years I have lived with intensity. 

Iván Vallejo Ricaurte


Translated from Spanish by Jorge Rivera




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