Scarpa North America Blog

Everest in Alpine Style: Training Day

Apr. 21st 2015

Editor’s Note: This spring, SCARPA Athlete Raphael Slawinski, winner of the 2014 Piolet d’Or for his K6 West expedition, has set his sight on a lofty goal—8,000 meters. And not just any 8,000-meter peak, Slawinski and his partners David Gottler and Daniel Bartsh are eyeing a new route on Mt. Everest. The team will acclimatize and climb this route in pure alpine style, without the assistance of oxygen, fixed ropes, or porters, over the next two months. And thanks to the technological marvels of the modern era like satellite internet and social media, you’ll be able to follow along on this expedition through semi-regular blog posts (like this one) and social media updates posted here and on our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts.

Gunther Göberl Everest notheast face and north ridge 1
Training Day

A heavy pack dragged at my shoulders. Well, there was no helping it. I headed upward, toward the distant white line of the summit ridge. Mud squelched as I stepped into a puddle. “I like your boots”, a little girl piped up as she and her father passed me on their way down. And no wonder: big, orange, with a stripe of leopard spots, the Phantom 8000s stood out like flames again the browns and greens of the forest floor. What was I doing anyway, wearing high-altitude boots on a hiking trail in the foothills west of Calgary on a balmy afternoon? Would you laugh if I said I was training for Everest?

IMG_4746

If you’d asked me a few months ago if I harboured any aspirations to climb the highest mountain on the planet, my answer would’ve been a definite no. After all, I climbed for difficulty, adventure and beauty – not numbers. And yet…

In 2013, on K6 West in Pakistan, Ian Welsted and I climbed higher than either of us ever had before. Over four days, we frontpointed up endless icefields interrupted by overhanging steps. On the fifth morning, under a cloudless, dark blue sky, we stepped onto a virgin 7040-metre summit. K2, Broad Peak, Nanga Parbat – 8000-metre giants of the Karakoram – floated in the hazy distance. In fact, before we settled on K6 West, we’d briefly toyed with the idea of going to an eight-thousander. In the end, though, we decided we didn’t have enough high-altitude experience for doing anything but a normal route – and we weren’t interested in that.

Gunther Göberl Everest notheast face and north ridge 2

Now, having tasted the thin air seven kilometres up, I couldn’t help wondering how I’d do a kilometre or more higher. When a friend mentioned his idea for a new route up Everest’s northeast face, my ears pricked up. Maybe here was a way to experience the world above 8000 metres, but to experience it in solitude, on untouched ground, with the light touch of alpine style.

There’d be three of us: Daniel Bartsch and David Gottler, two German alpinists vastly experienced at high altitude – and me, with a quarter century of alpinism behind me, but only one foray a ropelength above 7000 metres. I couldn’t do anything about my lack of altitude experience, but I could at least make sure I was in the best shape of my life. Thus began a winter of not much climbing but a lot of hiking.

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Straight from work I drive west, into the sun setting over the Rockies. At the trailhead for Prairie Mountain, more of a forested bump than a mountain, I fill my pack with rocks. Zipping up the gaiters on the high-altitude boots, incongruous far below treeline, I set off up the trail. An hour later, on the bald crown of the hill, I pull my hood on against the wind, and briefly imagine myself in another and much higher wind-blasted place. Only a few days now before I board a plane bound for it.

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