On 20 April 2017, Marco Confortola reached his tenth 8.000, the Dhaulagiri, also called the “White Lady”, the seventh highest summit of the planet located in Nepal.
Who is Confortola?
A man, a high-altitude suit, a pair of too big boots, full of footsteps, scars, conquests, unavoidable dreams.
Marco calls me and tells me he has lived a new adventure; striped tan, deep and enthusiastic voice. You would say that he is the next door boy, but he has just obtained a new exploit after saving the life of several people.
When did the project start?
I tried to climb the Dhaulagiri for the first time in 2012, but I had to stop at 7600 for cold feet, recurring issues due to my amputations. In 2015 I came back, but I had to stop because of the terrible earthquake of April 25th. We came out of the high base camps to give a little help to Nepalese people. In 2017 I wanted to try again and go back in order to close the counts with this magnificent summit.
How did this expedition take place?
On April 7, Mario Casanova and I left Italy and we came to Kathmandu where we recovered the necessary material in 2 or 3 days. We took 1 week to follow the trek that leads to the base camp. For the acclimatization we used the path leading to the French Pass at 5300 m. The path is not on the summit route, but leads to a trekking in another valley.
Usually you needs 4 camps to climb Dhaulagiri , but I preferred shortening the distance avoiding camp 1 at 5600 m and going straight to 6600 m altitude. Subsequently I stopped at camp 3 to 7500 m and ignored camp 4. So, I did: base camp at 4600 m, C2, C3 and summit peak, obviously without oxygen.
Tell us more in details, to understand the value of what happened next.
On May 8 we made a first attempt, but weather was always bad and snowing. Once reached the C2, it was no sense to attack. Austrian mountaineer Gerlinde Kaltenbrunde, the first oxygen-free woman ever to conquer all the 14 8.000, has risked here to die under an avalanche. Extraordinary mountaineers like Chantal Moudì lost life here: I preferred to be patient.
On May 18 I tried again and spend the night on camp 2. The 19 I was in camp 3 with the goal of directly attacking the summit at 6 p.m, but weather was not yet favorable. At 3 a.m., on May 20, as soon as the wind calmed down, we climbed to the summit and returned to the base, stopping at camp 3 because of the wind. The 21 I was back to the base camp.
You have an extremely precise and calculated climbing management: how did you learn? How did you train?
I have achieved a good physical condition thanks to winter workouts and thanks to the experience I have gained over time I can do quality sessions.
My experience comes mainly from the climbings with Gnaro Mondinelli. The Broad Peak, the Shisha Pagma for 2 times, both the central summit and the main one, the Cho Oyu in one day, in 24 hours, due to a theft (they steal us the material!)
Gnaro has taught me to maximum limit the time in the death area.
Together we have experienced significant adventures. Before to attack the K2, in 2008, we installed a survey system on the south col of Everest, at about 8.000 meters (the south col is 7950 m). It was the highest weather station in the world, for the CNR, in order to monitor the climate. The wind was so strong that after 3 months it pulled everything away … including the spit fix and the 12 strand kevlar ropes.
What a thrill I felt when they activated the system and in 30 seconds all the data went around the world. The point where we were was the one where the famous expedition with Krakauer was consumed …
Help me understand your evolution: explain the history of these expeditions.
In 2004, I started with Everest from the North. In 2005 the central Shisha Pagma. In 2006 I made the main summit and just after Annapurna. In 2007, Cho Oyu and then Broad Peak. In 2008 I set up the station at the south col and then I climbed the K2, where I lived the terrible – and already known – experience of part of my feet amputations.
Between 2010 and 2012 I had a series of attempts to recover and finally, I climbed the Manaslu, the first 8.000 after the amputation. I dedicated this climb to my friend Sic.
In 2013 I climbed up Lothse and between 2014 and 2015 I made two attempts, respectively at Kanjenjunga and Dahulagiri. In 2016 I climbed the Makalu and now the Dahaulagiri (8167 m), the seventh mountain of the world.
How did you train physically?
I live in the magnificent high Valtellina: I do mountain and trail-running, ski mountaineering, hight altitude mountaineering, cross-country skiing. Among these disciplines, my favorites are ski mountaineering and running, despite the amputations. I prefer ski mountaineering in any case, because it less stresses my poor feet passed from 43 to 35 of shoe …
How did you train mentally?
Mental training comes from years and years of martial arts. I’ve not a wrangler mentality; oriental disciplines help you control feelings and emotions. I also do my mental training in the outdoor with ski mountaineering. If you want to make 2.000 meters of difference in altitude you have to do 2.000 meters! With Gnaro I learned a lot to “keep it hard” … at high altitude, but also at my home.
Three times a week, every week, I do over 2.000 meters of difference in altitude. E before leaving I make different summits of the Ortles-Cevedale Group.
Do you ever miss your home? Do you lose energy in altitude?
Missing home? Yes … That’s tough, but I’m lucky to have the right love and the sentimental tranquility that lets me doing this. As for the lost fo energy: the less you stay there, the better it is. If you’ve been trained and sacrificed during the year … you can skip the camps, keep it hard up to the summit and return to the “life area”.
CONFORTOLA: Dhaulagiri and a great rescue
Let’s talk about the incredible rescue you did.
Seven people were blocked on Dahulagiri between May 20th and 21st. 5 of them were military in the Indian Army. The armed forces launched the alarm and demanded rescue.
On May 22 there was a first attempt by the agency through two very good Italian drivers of the Trentino helicopter rescue team: Piergiorgio Rosati and Michele Calovi.
An alpinist was blocked at about 7400 meters, two at 6600 and four at 5600 meters. They were unable to get down for the exhaustion. Being fast is very important, otherwise you dies.
The two pilots rushed: they stay a month and a half in Hymalaya helping with the helicopter of Nepalese companies. This is a B3 Ecureuil, a French high performance vehicle, perfect for hight altitude and classic for hook jobs.
The 23rd thanks to my staff in Italy was made a radio bridge: the advise was to leave as soon as possible because of weather in change. The helicopter came to the base camp, where there were refueling tanks, the same morning.
I was dismounting the camp and recovering from my ascension. They asked me if I could help them, doing an attempt with the long line.
In fact on the helicopter there is the pilot and, hanged in the vacuum, the operator. I was just came back from the summit, I knew I was risking life by going so high, but I decided to accepted it and the attempt went well. We bring everyone down and everyone came to the hospital. Someone with a principle of cerebral edema and others with the pulmonary edema, others with frozen hands or feet. But everyone was alive, at the base camp, ready for helicopter transport.
Are there any precedents?
In the past, another Italian pilot, Maurizio Folini, went up alone with the rope, saving a person to Everest, but this one was the first of this kind of operation at a very high altitude with a rescuer. They trusted me and asked me for help because It’s my job: I’ve been working for 20 years as helicopter technician at 118 base of Caiolo Sondrio.
There is no communication with the pilot, you have to know what to do. The extraordinary Rosati and Calovi alternated: a bit ‘one, a bit’ the other. Italian riders made the difference there and in 2 hours and a half everything was finished.
How did the rescue work?
The helicopter fluttered flat, with no rude change of directions, with maximum attention to flying without winch, only with the center of gravity.
I had to unhooking myself, hooking in my seat the patient, seeing the helicopter fly away and waiting for the return. I stayed at 7.000 meters, then I went down and left again for another patient.
What is the difference between the center of gravity and the winch?
The center of gravity is a hook on the helicopter’s belly where a rope is positioned which can range from 10m up to 50m and where a load is attached or in this case “Marco” … While the winch is practically a windlass placed externally of the helicopter, where you can do landing and recovery operations.
At that altitudes the blades do not work very well, the air is rare and you just came back from the summit. Did you was afraid to see the helicopter leave without return?
At those altitudes the pilots make the difference together with the vehicle, I accepted because I knew the technical skills of Piergiorgio and Michele and if they had no came back, I would go down with my own legs, because in the mountains, you have to be able to solve any unknown.
What do you remember in particular?
A great emotion, which made me feel good, really good. The colonel was crying once everything was over. He didn’t knew how to thanks us. At Kathmandu I took a taxi and went to visit the school built in cooperation with Finale for Nepal, the Bosch staff where I work as a trainer in the Tec Bosch school with the Train x Future and Association 17. These are things that make you feel good.
In Kathmandu there is a hotel where they put the tiles with all the famous characters, as in the Walk of Fame of Hollywood: and they have also put one with my name on it!
As I asked you in the past, I ask you now: what message do you want to give to young people?
First of all, I consider young people the future of the world, I have a lot of messages for the young generation. I mean rules like studying, doing sports, obeying people who love you, listening to them (parents and teachers), dreaming, having goals and never give up because unfortunately in our society we must be determined and attacking just like a Himalayan Alpinist ….
What would you tell to a mountaineer that is dreaming the hight altitude?
To understand well what direction is taking and if he is sure to train a lot, do not venture and remember that the greatest value we all have is only one and will remain only one: Life.
There is no mountain that has more value.
Writer, academic and mountaineer testimonial of GISM, author of 30 books, 400 articles, 250 conferences.
FACEBOOK: @Christian Roccati Scrittore
FOTO: Marco Confortola – Dhaulagiri