Broad Peak was the hardest thing in my life. I studied this face so much, and I finally managed to climb this last overhanging section. I reached the top almost in the night.
I heard the chanting of the Balti people and the cook; I could feel their chanting in my brain. I cannot explain that because I am an engineer and I like to study hard physics. They were 3000 meters down, chanting for my safe return.
Broad Peak was my main piece of art. Everything came together, I was in good shape with a lot of experience, and I could put everything in the game.
I feel that the mountains are alive. I have this respect for them. Like the trees, they are alive. The trees have wisdom.
Each mountain has a different personality, a very different frequency. When I climb I chant inside my brain and body to try to attain the same frequency. … Sometimes I even think they talk back to me.
The storms of climbing are similar to the storms in life. … I use three words for [a mountain crisis]. Hurry up slowly. It means that you should act but be calm, in a Zen state, not stressed. … About half of my hard climbs in the Himalaya were solo climbing new routes and hard faces. You need to be as fast as you can and as calm as you can in order to save energy, so for me it’s like yoga in movement.
My parents were both mountaineers. When I was 14, 15, 16, and 17 I did most of my climbing near Mexico City.
I was lucky. I was invited to be on a Mexican expedition to the South Face of Aconcagua. [The others] left the mountain because the weather was very bad, and I stayed there alone … Suddenly, between the snow and the fog, two silhouettes appeared, and they were two Polish climbers … They too wanted to make the South Face … They put their tent near mine, sharing our food. They did not speak English or Spanish and I did not speak Polish. Anyhow we went and the three of us made an alpine-style ascent, and when we came back we met their friends. [Later] one said, I want to invite you to the Himalaya, and for me this was like winning the lottery.
I learned that it is very good to be stubborn! But as we say in Mexico, you should dream with your feet on the ground. Be very realistic.
The first [8000er] was Nanga Parbat, the South Face. I was 22. That’s when I met [the great alpinist] Jerzy Kukuczka. He took me like a disciple. He taught me so many things, all these small tricks of how to survive. The main lesson was saving energy and using everything in your favor. On Manaslu there was a very strong wind coming from the west and we were on the east face, there was a big whirlwind like a wave. I was fighting the wind but when the updraft came, he would climb up 30 meters, and then hang again. He used it. Many people could think that these winds are an obstacle but he converted it into an opportunity.
Wanda Rutkiewiez was a very close friend. She was a very nice woman with a sharp sense of humor. She was very clever.
Kanchenjunga [with her in 1992, when she disappeared on the mountain] was one of the hard times in my life. [After summitting] I came inside a small cave where Wanda was …and both of us were in a very, very difficult situation, an extremely cold night, one of the coldest nights in my life. Wanda was very stubborn. She wanted to go up, even though she was so slow. And I could not tell her not to go up. Not directly. I told her, Wanda, it’s too cold, it takes time, bad weather is coming, but I did not tell her, Wanda, stop, come down with me. I did not have the courage to stop her dream. I knew that even if she was risking her life, it was her decision.
I cry many times when I remember the next things that happened.
I respected her very much. … She told me, don’t worry, that she was going to be OK, but I knew that she was risking too much. I thought maybe this is the last time I will see her, but she had survived so many crazy things that there was a chance that she was going to make it.
I cry many times when I remember the next things that happened. I came down to a cave in the base of the headwall, and I made a thermos for Wanda for when she came. I stayed there waiting and waiting and waiting. … I was there for two days and she never came. I continued the last part, an 800-meter face. … I was coming down to one of these fixed ropes in a very loose state of mind, and I was distracted and when I changed ropes I did not fix the figure eight, and then I leaned back to rappel and suddenly I was falling. My left arm tangled in a loop of rope, and I was stuck by my arm. I did not die. … I took the rope and put the figure 8 on and suddenly inside my head was the clear voice of Wanda, perfectly clear, and she told me, Don’t worry, I will take care of you. For me it was a terrible moment. Because I did not take care of her.
His last words were to his family were that we should be happy
From the engineering side of things this can’t be but if you see it through the eyes of the lamas and mystics there was some truth. I feel that Wanda was already dead. There was a time when I was coming down when I felt that she died. My feeling was she died in the same place I left her, by extreme cold. … I think if you don’t keep moving in this night you could die.
The lesson is … that there is something after life. Because Wanda was already dead, and how is it possible that she was in my head?
I have five children but four years ago my middle one, Tom, died in the mountains.
He was one of the great mountain runners of France; he was French Mexican … in the flower of life and a philosopher even at his young age.
He looked to the mountains like a friend also.
When he died there was a snowfall and a small avalanche. It was easy ground and he made a mistake. …. His friend reached him, but my son had many broken things inside and could not move.
He thought about us, and he sent messages to his brothers and sister and mother and me and his friends. He was very calm when he was dying.
… His last words were to his family were that we should be happy, we should continue life, that he was very grateful for the life he had, and to all his friends he said to enjoy life.
For the parent there is no worse thing than to lose a child. I try to follow his advice.
The lesson is that we should always be careful even on easy ground. Never underestimate.