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«A lot of people like to pretend to be a hero for climbing mountains»

The day before this interview, Carlos Soria got up at seven in the morning and trained for two and a half hours, including a drop of 1,000 meters. He then went to a meal with friends, which made him miss his usual nap, because as soon as he finished he had to go to sign books at a publisher. So the next morning he could only exercise on the bike, on a roller. Something that he regrets for what he supposes to break the routine of preparing him. A routine that has allowed this 83-year-old mountaineer to continue climbing the highest and most difficult mountains on the planet, setting himself challenges that would seem impossible for much younger athletes. His achievements are extraordinary even regardless of his age. But if you look at the DNI they become almost implausible. Three pieces of information are enough: he is the oldest person to have climbed twelve ‘eight-thousanders’, the only one in the world who has climbed ten of those mountains with 60 or more years of age and also the only one who has completed the challenge of climbing to the highest summit. high from each of the seven continents ending with 70 years. He now has before him the challenge of treading the peaks of the two ‘eight thousand’ that are missing from his file: the Shisha Pangma and the Dhaulagiri. And the latter resists him.

– This spring he tried again, for the thirteenth time, to climb Dhaulagiri. It seems that he is resisting. Did it affect you a lot if you didn’t get it?

– It’s over, but I came back touched. I do not believe in jinxes but in the circumstances of each case. This year’s attempt has been very hard, we had a terrible night, but I always leave happy with what I’ve done. I want to get there, I have been very close to achieving it, just over 100 meters.

– Doesn’t it demoralize you not having succeeded in so many attempts?

– I’ve been to complicated mountains and I’ve climbed the first one when I was quite old… The Dhaulagiri has two very special things: the day of the summit is quite long and it is done with a diagonal crossing that is dangerous. I have gone in groups in which people have died going up or down. And it is a mountain where it usually snows a lot.

– What is the mountain for you?

– Almost a way of life, although I have never strictly been a professional, since I had my job. I climbed a mountain for the first time when I was 14 years old and since then open spaces have attracted my attention. I had a very difficult childhood and youth because my family was very poor. From the ages of 11 to 14, I worked in a company in Madrid and traveled a very long distance at lunchtime to get to the Manzanares and enjoy that space. Then I have done a lot of sports, not only climbing. I’ve also practiced skiing, and until I got a knee prosthesis I used to frequently do a wall of La Pedriza.

Risk

– The mountain has a high risk, you only have to see the number of accidents that occur. If there is no risk, there is no adventure?

– The mountain is adventure and has risk, but not as much as it is said. If so, I would not have gone climbing with my daughters. It is not something dangerous, but you have to know where you are going and be prepared. The risk is in the avalanches. The problem is that there are people who only think about reaching the top, and you also have to think about coming back.

– You used to talk about your job. You were a bookbinder and upholsterer. How did he find time to go to the mountains?

– Actually I started seriously with the mountain when I was already an upholsterer, and at the beginning I dedicated my vacations to it every year. I set up a workshop with my father and discovered that you can always find free time if you want to. I’m strict when it comes to working hours, I get up early… As an upholsterer I had prestige and I did work outside of Spain. If he had dedicated more time to him he would surely have started a more important business.

– Most of his career as a mountaineer has been after his retirement. Did he ever imagine it would be like this?

– I have adapted to what I could do at any given time. I have already made long trips from the age of 60. It is wonderful to have met almost the whole world and so many interesting people thanks to the mountain.

– «I can’t be still», he has said many times. Is that the reason why, at his age, with a knee prosthesis and problems using his hands, he is still on the mountain?

– Sure, and I try to improve my conditions. That’s why I train every day.

– And your body is under study. Do you feel like a guinea pig?

– No, I’m a lucky person. On the last expedition, the doctor who operated on my knee came with me. He saw me move between the rocks and he told me that nobody did that with a prosthesis. I have been overcoming my limitations. I know that the ideal to go to mountains with snow is not to have a prosthesis, but I defend myself.

A WAY OF LIVING

«I have never been a professional in the mountains»

THE DRAMAS

“There are people who only think about reaching the summit, and you also have to think about coming back”

– Film director Billy Wilder shot his last film at the age of 75 because after that age, although he was doing very well, the producers feared that he might die on set and lose their investment. Do you have the impression that the same thing happens to you? That he doesn’t find sponsors because they look at his ID and not at his form?

– Everyone who talks about my life finds it great… but before I had companies that sponsored me and now there is only one person who supports me and I have to finance my trips. It is what it is, and I don’t know why. It won’t be because I don’t have visibility all over the world. I’ve had good sponsors in other times, true, and now I don’t understand why I don’t have them, with the money that moves in other sports.

– Has made many climbs with very small teams or alone. How is the loneliness at the top of the mountain? Does it allow one to find oneself or does it generate fear?

– I do not recommend any climber to go alone. But it is true that I have done many expeditions with a single Sherpa, or sharing permission with other colleagues but at my own pace. It’s not ideal. The only place I’ve been was on Everest. I had a sherpa who was a heavy drunk drop me off at camp 3 and from there I went alone. I reached the top, I passed people going down, but I also went down alone. I never thought anything would happen to me. I was just thinking I had to do it right.

Caution

– Have you ever feared for your life?

– I was a bit scared on the Annapurna, because you have to go through a place where there are avalanches. And that is always noticeable in the environment because it generates a certain nervousness. The night before that stage I had Meunier syndrome and I had a little dizziness in bed. They gave me some medication and I forgot about it. I have never been scared in the mountains, but I have always been very careful. In the last expedition I lived in camp 3 the most difficult situation I have ever faced.

– That moment when decisions need to be made…

– When I thought there were problems, I always turned back. I have never had to come down from a mountain nor have I had frostbite. In moments of difficulty I put all my interest in how to get out of there. Many people like to pretend to be a hero for climbing mountains. I don’t see it that way, I’m not, although now, due to my age, what I do has more value.

– You set yourself great challenges: seven mountains on seven continents, the fourteen eight-thousanders… And when do you achieve them?

– The one of the seven continents was not something just sporting. It was an opportunity to get to know Indonesia or Antarctica, and I also considered finishing it when I was 70 years old. There were several things in that project and that is why I tell you that it was something more than pure sport.

– There is postpartum syndrome and those who take a tough exam or finish a doctoral thesis know that later comes the downturn, the feeling that there is no goal in life. What happens to him when he climbs a mountain and returns home?

– I feel great joy and right away I’m thinking about the next one I’ll go on and if I can have sponsors for the expedition. For example, after returning from Dhaulagiri I began to think about the idea of ​​going to Shisha Pangma in the fall. I have already been to the central peak, but not to the main one, and it is the other ‘eight thousand’ that I am missing. But I think the Chinese have closed it because of the pandemic and I don’t know if it will be open in the fall.

– How will you know to stop climbing? Or won’t you know?

– I’ll know, no doubt. At the moment it doesn’t happen. This week I have made a tour of the area of ​​my house and I have reduced the time I needed a year ago. Of course, I will try not to make a fool of myself. I have a strange walk because of the prosthesis, but my physical form is above the average of those who go to those summits. How will it happen? Well, I guess I’ll be aware that I should stop when I notice too much fatigue or the feeling of not wanting invades me. The body knows these things. And the mind too.

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