Read an interview with Aurel Salasan, atop of the extremely dangerous massif
Big rock falls, sleep on vertical walls, deep dehydration, breaking ice and avalanche threats could make < the perfect pink story> on Fitz Roy, one of the world’s most dangerous and difficult mountains.
By Larisa Ghițulescu
Pink is not by far the favorite color for Aurel Sălășan, the 30-year curly climber born in Romania who has just climbed Fitz Roy, the tallest mountain in Patagonia’s Los Glaciares National Park (Argentina). <Think pink > is Sălășan’s way of dealing with danger in critical times. In 2013 for instance, despite the news that 11 people had just been shot to death by terrorists on the other side of the mountain he was just ascending in Pakistan, Sălășan and his Romanian team continued to climb the 8,000-meter mountain Nanga Parbat.
On January 22, Aurel Sălășan and Alin Stană, his rope companion, reached the Fitz Roy summit, on the Southeast face, against all odds. What was the worst of those: avalanche threats, dehydration, bivouacking without sleeping bags, big rock falls or the breaking ice?
Read an interview about struggle, desires and inspiration.
How many people climbed Fitz Roy in this season, on the French-Argentinean route?
We were two teams in that window of good weather. Many teams gave up because of the big amount of snow on the wall.
What was your expectation before departure?
Our goal was to reach the summit on the Supercanaleta route (West face). It proved to be extremely risky due to the thick layer of snow. We eventually chose a more difficult, but safer route — the French-Argentinean one. Our climb turned into a real success.
What was the toughest moment during the climb?
It was the thirst, when we got dehydrated while we were hanging on the wall and the sun was burning. It was also tough for us to carry the heavy backpacks; to climb the slippery rock and ascend on the breaking ice, near the summit; the two bivouac nights in the open air, with no sleeping bags… But the thirst was so hard to bear.
You wrote you had only one ice screw. What if you hadn’t had it at all?
We would have climbed further, we were driven enough to continue. We know our capabilities in such situations.
Which sensation up there was the most unpleasant of all? Something you don’t want to live again?
It was a big rock which passed nearby my head. It was as big as a TV set. I looked at the situation as being normal in such circumstances… The attitude in these moments is: “Think pink!”
Which was the biggest joy?
It happened when I saw the big ice blocks beyond Cerro Torre… I started hearing Vangelis’ music in my head and I imagined myself in the middle of that huge whiteness. It was magnificent.
“We will cover 10,000 km along the Andes Mountains”
When did you start planning this expedition?
I have been working on this expedition since last summer. I and Alin Stană, my partner, were restoring a church — I recall we were hanging in ropes — when we made that decision. We bought our tickets in just a few days, and then we started training in the Carpathians Mountains. We worked also hard to raise the necessary money.
What were those things to stop you from leaving? And what pushed you to go in the end?
My soul belongs here, to my childhood places. It is a privilege to live near the Retezat Mountains, it is a fairytale spot. But my curiosity pushes me all the time to see what lies beyond the high mountains I meet and climb…
What’s higher? What’s steeper?
Who sponsored you in this expedition?
We raised ourselves most of our money, through work. We were also sponsored by friends who own small companies… people who understand our passion or who practice various mountains sports.
The latter part of the expedition schedule is in progress: to cover 10,000 km along the Andes Mountains from the very South point of South America to Ecuador. We will spend four more months here. We’ll get to know the local traditions better and to climb mountains from Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador.
Are you happy so far?
I am extremely satisfied with the result. Even if one doesn’t achieve his or her goal, each experience is useful for further projects.
“Nanga Parbat pushed me to my physical and psychological limits spanning two months. But Fitz Roy burned me out in just four days.”
Aurel Sălășan joined a Romanian expedition on Nanga Parbat (8,126 meters), located in Pakistan, in 2013. [The team chose the Rupal Face, Schell route — which was climbed just a few times, spanning decades]. While the climbers were equipping the route, on the opposite side of the mountain (Diamir, base camp), one of the worst massacres in mountaineering history was taking place. A group of terrorists rubbed and shot to death 11 people, of which 9 international climbers. Despite the dreadful news, the Romanian expedition went on. Alan Arnette, a climber, a mountaineering journalist and a member of the Explorers Club and the American Alpine Club wrote in July 2013: “The Pakistani military evacuated more than 40 climbers from Nanga Parbat but a small 5 person Romanian team climbing from the opposite side on the Rupal Face remained. Four of the five (Bruno Adamcsek, Marius Gane, Aurel Sălășan, Zsolt Torok and Teo Vlad) summited on July 19th. This team is to be congratulated for their extraordinary commitment to their climb
After the success on Nanga Parbat, in 2013, why you did not continue to climb other 8,000-meter mountains?
I don’t necessarily look at the height of a mountain, but rather at its steepness. I wanted something different, challenging enough.
Which of the two projects — Fitz Roy and Nanga Parbat — exhausted you the most?
Situations were different. Nanga Parbat pushed me to my physical and psychological limits spanning two months, it was a slow process. But Fitz Roy burned me out in just four days — of which two I spent on the wall. But here is the secret: to control for how long you are willing to dose your energy. Bad weather can waste your resources pretty fast.
Which were your most three successful projects?
The first was in the Alps, the North Face of Grossglockner summit, on Mayerlrampe and Bergfuhrer routes. Then it was Caucasus — Elbrus and the Eastern Pillar of Donguz Orun Peak. Last but not least, it was Thian Shan, Khan Tengri Peak (7,010m).
What are the chances for a climber coming from a small-sized economy to become a world-class climber? What does he/she need to get there?
The chances are small, because of the financial shortage. To counteract, he or she needs a lot of determination, passion and work even since childhood… and supportive parents, too.
Which is te biggest barrier when you plan your projects?
It’s money, usually.
Who are the climbers that inspire you?
I could say that I started climbing through reading mountaineering literature, i.e. Cuxi (Alexandru-Bradut Serban) and his diary, “The Solitude of Verticals”. There are several high altitude mountaineers that I admire, such as Denis Urubko (Russia), Steve House (USA) and Horia Colibășanu (Romania). Also, Colin Haley (USA), David Lama (Austria), Dean Potter (USA) and Markus Pucher (Austria) are among the technical climbers that have inspired me throughout life.
ABOUT: Fitz Roy or “El Chalten” is also known as the smoking mountain (because of the clouds on the summit). It is the tallest mountain in Patagonia’s Los Glaciares National Park.
GEOLOGICAL TYPE: Granite
HEIGHT: 3,375 meters / 11,073 feet
DANGER: All its rock faces are steep and require difficult, technical climbing to ascend. “Because of this, it was considered one of the most difficult mountains in the world for decades. Even today, the region’s unpredictable weather and relative isolation makes it extremely dangerous. As a result, Fitz Roy may see only a single ascent in a year: truly the mark of a dangerous, difficult mountain (source: Matadornetwork.com)”
FRENCH-ARGENTINEAN ROUTE: Coordinates: 650m 55° 6a+6c. It is situated on the Southeast face of the mountain (see picture on the left, source: PataClimb.com)
FIRST: It was first climbed in 1952 by French alpinists Lionel Terray and Guido Magnone, via Southeast Ridge.