For Fabrizio Zangrilli, a lot can happen in a year. Spanning the globe, the veteran high alpine guide spends the changing seasons leading clients into the vast vertical wilderness, whether on snow, rock or ice. We were able to track him down before he left for yet another season in Nepal. The recently turned 40 mountain guide and high altitude athlete gave us some insight on how he’s going to embrace the next decade, what projects he’s thinking about, and how to enjoy the virtues of taking people to new heights.
You’ve been quite busy guiding the last year. What have been some of the highlights? In the past 12 months I have been very busy; Spring 2011, I was on Makalu, then summer was another season on K2, and the Fall I was on Kyazo Ri, Island Peak and Nuptse’s west face. It was a long year spent at high altitude with not much of a break. I spent 3 months in the winter of ’11/12 in Chamonix skiing, spiced up with a bunch of days ice climbing in Cogne. This spring  I was back in Nepal guiding on Lobuche East and Cholatse, then flew to the Alaska Range for a month.
I lived in Estes Park, Colorado this summer rock guiding during the day. It was a great change of pace to go home every night, to be able to go out for dinner with friends, and have a bit of time to reboot the system for this coming Fall in Nepal.
What is it about high altitude mountaineering that attracts you? High altitude mountaineering, especially in the 6-7000 meter range, is a testing ground for everything that you have learned over the years. It is a phenomenal way of testing your mettle. At these altitudes you can still acclimatize well and climb steep, interesting terrain. I am very much drawn to it by the concepts of isolation, wilderness and actively putting yourself in a place where we naturally have no place being, and piecing the whole thing together. Every time I am suffering a bit, I remind myself that I put myself in the situation, and finding a solution to the cause of the suffering is really part of the joy of being there. The austerity of high altitudes combined with modern approaches make it so much fun.
In addition to high altitude climbing, you also got to spend three months skiing in Chamonix last season, not a bad place to try out the new Maestrales? How’d that work out for you? The Maestrales are just plain awesome. Chamonix had a great season last winter. It started off a bit late, but made up for it with the amount of snowfall throughout the rest of the season. I had not been in Chamonix for a couple of years, so it was nice to reconnect with some people, and I skied almost every day for three months.
I trained a ton on the Ski Trab Free Rando Ski as well, and put in several multiple thousand-meter uphill touring days. They were hard, starting at 4:30 am, skinning past the cat drivers in Les Praz, and occasionally ending well past dark. I got as fit I have ever been last winter. All of that translated to A LOT of off-piste skiing in the Maestrales. I put them through the ringer; if they can survive last winter, they will survive any winter.
Turning 40 might be a milestone for some climbers. How do you see the next decade taking shape as far as your climbing and guiding? 40 is a milestone for anybody, especially a climber who has spent as much time at high altitude as I have. I feel very lucky! My climbing and guiding has evolved; I am very lucky to have the clients I do. I spend a lot of time one-on-one guiding in the Himalaya, with people that want to climb beautiful mountains away from the crowds. I am grateful for all of the time I put in on the crowded peaks, and learned a lot from them, but my climbing and guiding is now all about being in beautiful places. Spending time on peaks where the emphasis is on the quality of the experience rather than a big name peak only. This decade will be about chasing dreams, I only have another 15 years of doing this realistically, so I better get after it.
Has the value of your experience changed over the years? Is it as important to get a first ascent as it once was? Or, are you satisfied just climbing well with speed and efficiency over rock and snow regardless of the grade? On one side things have changed; I understand a client’s perspective much better now. I can read them better and have a clearer picture of what they are after when signing up for a trip with me. That is relevant in terms of what style best suits the trip.
My general perspective on guiding has changed too. I take a lot more pleasure in seeing clients truly understand skills and evolve their skill set as opposed to just getting up and down mountains safely. On the other side, while I am happy climbing in good form, I think I would lose a bit of the essence of what alpine climbing has been about for me if I was still not trying as hard as possible and attempting things that I am not sure are climbable. The beauty of climbing—and specifically in alpinism—is the totality of the unknown. Staring up a wall the night before starting [a route], not knowing where to go exactly, not knowing what gear to take exactly, not knowing if your planning is totally correct, and if what you’re hoping to climb is possible, is such an integral part of the experience; you have to show up with your bag of tricks full and honed. Learning new tricks to put in is totally necessary as well as making it very interesting.
What SCARPA product are you in most during the year? I honestly live in SCARPA shoes over 330 days a year. I love the Phantom series: Guide, 6000 and 8000! If I am not in them, I am in the Maestrale RS during the winter. For rock season I am switching between a Force and a Vapor V, and a Spark just about every other day. My dream is to have a bit of down time to wear a Manhattan too.
Sounds like you’ve got some new projects in Nepal? Can you let us in on a few? After guiding a private client on Cholatse this October, I am meeting David Falt—who has been crushing it in the Dolomites lately—in the Khumbu to try a couple of walls, one is fast and another is a new route. We have five weeks, so it’s enough time to get it done if we get lucky with conditions and the weather.
The mountains we are looking at are in the low 6000-meter range, but the walls are very big. We are hoping for good mixed climbing conditions, and praying that the ice will be fat and plastic (dare to dream!). This all happens around my 40th birthday. I was invited to “Banff as K2: Siren of Himalayas” (the film about a season of guiding on K2), which will premier at the festival, but I chose to freeze, struggle and suffer a bit. I guess in the end nothing changes with age!