On February 2, the team of American climber and photographer Cory Richards, Italian climber Simone Moro, and Kazahk alpinist Denis Urubko completed the first winter ascent of an 8000-meter peak in the Karakorum, on Gasherbrum II, the world’s 13th-highest mountain. While recovering in Thailand, Cory had some time to talk to SCARPA and reflect on the achievement.
Q – When did you get the idea for climbing 8000 meter peaks? And when did you see them as something feasible to attempt in winter?
CR – Feeling that unique isolation that the mountains offer is something that my folks were instrumental in fostering in my brother and I growing up. Over the evolution of my own climbing career, I’ve tried very hard to stay true to that ideal…to look for honest ‘adventure’ in things. Some people find that by climbing super fast, others by soloing…I just like being completely out there…alone with your partners. In the Himamlaya, that isolation seems to be able to be most thoroughly achieved through doing new lines, or climbing in the winter…or both. As for 8000 meters…it just happens to be that number that encapsulates our highest points…and because of that, those peaks in particular draw a lot of attention. In a lot of cases, it seems that the higher the altitude, the higher the stakes…or perhpas more eloquently…the less margin for error we are allowed. But in all honesty, it’s not so much about climbing 8000 meter peaks as it is about having fun and hanging it out there in the big mountains…that can happen on a 6000 m peak just as easily…and often times even more so. CLimbing in winter just seemed like a natural progression, though a bit abrupt .
Q – What are some differences in climbing these peaks in winter that aren’t obvious, like snow and ice, and much colder temps?
CR – I think the nuance of calculation. It’s because of the obvious differences that you have to be much more concise and certain in an approach to something. It comes down to the minutia…and it’s something that I am still very much in the process of learning. I am not a tremendously good climber, but I can observe, learn, and suffer…observing the nuances when you are miserable is the difficult piece of that equation.
Q – Working with SCARPA, did you customize specific boots for this kind of trip? What did you use and how did they perform in such extreme conditions?
CR – SCARPA gives me an incredible platform to experiment with the boots…but the best boot is the one from the box.
Q – You pulled out the camera often, capturing some gripping moments for “Cold”, and the footage is stunning. Was there any internal conflict of “it’s good that I’m getting this” versus “why in the hell do I have the camera out”? Can you describe it?
CR – There is always a conflict…but it seems to flow in a single direction. IF I could film it all, I would, but the fact is that I can’t. I watch COLD now and kick myself for not pulling it out more
The conflict is between your responsibility as a climber and climbing partner…and preserving your energy for that…and your creative side that knows that something monumental is taking place before your eyes….just getting your camera out is winning the battle. It’s like that old saying, ‘The hardest part of going running is putting your shoes on…’
Q – Where does professionalism and self preservation strike a balance for you?
CR – What a great question. To be honest…I don’t have an answer. I mean, I guess I don’t really calculate these things as dangerous per se. I know that they are, but I never leave for an expedition expecting to die or get hurt. I think the greater balance to be achieved is in your interpersonal relationships. KNowing when to say no for the right reasons. But once you are in, you are in….and then it’s a matter of maintaining your headspace and drive.
Q – Are winter ascents something you’d like to continue? Did you learn enough about the conditions and yourself to make another go at a second 8000-meter winter ascent?
CR – Broad Peak 2011…stay tuned. I love climbing in the winter. Of the notable things of done in the Himalaya, they were all in the winter. I would like to continue on that path…though I do have some fair weather objectives as well
The learning curve is a steep one and I can’t ever say enough about Simone and Denis…how kind and patient they were and are with me. They know that my experience is less than theirs, but they allow some room for that. For me, just climbing with them is an honor. I just open up my eyes and try to take it in…