Víctor Rímac from Huaraz on top of the world

Third time’s a charm! After two unsuccessful attempts to conquer Mount Everest, Victor Rimac Trejo finally managed to set foot on top of the world. Having previously summitted Dhaulagiri in 2014, Manaslu in 2015 and Cho-Oyu in 2016, Mount Everest became the fourth out of the 14 ultra-prominent peaks on Earth. In an earlier interview with Víctor, he told us that his passion for mountaineering started with a beautiful girl. Víctor´s brother was a keen climber and mountaineer, and although he always tried to get him to give it a try Víctor just wasn’t interested, until one day he saw a beautiful girl climbing, and that caught his attention and he wanted to join in. A young Victor started rock climbing and soon he discovered that the sport was expensive, so in order to earn money to practice he first worked as a porter and a cook on expeditions, this also gave him valuable knowledge and experience in understanding the mountains as well as the sport.

Later on, there came a time in his life when Victor noticed he had to focus on gaining an education, so the mountaineering took a backseat, and he started studying physiotherapy; this also kept his mother happy. When Victor turned 21, he enrolled on a beginner’s mountain guide course in Casa de Guias. The course gave him the opportunity to climb different routes and mountains, and learn more techniques and so on. The biggest benefit was that Víctor was able to gain experience in the off-season, and this experience has now led to the successful summit of four eight-thousanders. We met Víctor three weeks after his successful climb in Nepal and asked him about his experiences.

Third try and you finally made it this year, share with us your experience Víctor

Well, as you know, in 2014 I started my first expedition to Everest. This was also in April/May, just like this year´s expedition, however, when I was at the first base camp, on the radio we were informed that an avalanche had occurred. This avalanche took the lives of 16 Sherpas and caused a tough situation in Nepal. As your readers might know, to climb Everest, mountaineers have to pay US$ 10,000 entrance fee, not including the expedition costs etcetera. This money is used to pay the labour of the Sherpas and also their insurances in case of any accidents. However, when the deadly avalanche took place, the government didn’t want to pay more than U$ 400 per deceased person. This caused the other Sherpas to proceed to a national strike and they basically blocked the mountain, no one would be able to go up until the problem was solved. They felt insulted and did what they had to do. The Nepalese government on the other hand, got all mountaineers to reuse their entrance ticket, which is normally only valid for one year. My ticket was extended for another five years. I was about to head back to Peru but the day before I had to leave I was lucky enough to find two Chinese climbers who were about to do the Dhaulagiri Mountain. I followed them and managed to summit Dhaulagiri.

In 2015 I gave Everest another try together with my friend Holmes Pantoja and this is when Nepal was struck by an earthquake that killed nearly 9,000 people and injured nearly 22,000. Later that same year, I was able to conquer Manaslu at 8,163 metres above sea level. Now, in 2017, it was a bit different as I did much preparation during the preseason in the Huaraz area and knew that I would only have one day in Kathmandu. The next day I had another flight Gorakshep, which is 40 minutes hiking from Everest Base Camp. From here I started with other acclimatization climbs, which means going up and down every time between the base camp and camp two. Camp two is the same camp that is used by mountaineers that want to climb Nuptse (7,861 m) and Lhotse (8,516 m).

When I was preparing to head for camp three, we were informed that a mountaineer had accidently fallen, and together with a guy from Iran, two Englishmen and two Sherpas we went to search for the body. People that were descending had communicated via radio that they had seen the accident and that´s why we immediately picked up our stuff and went for a search. The six of us knew where to go and that´s when we found the body of Swiss legend and speed climber Ueli Steck. Steck appeared to have fallen while doing an acclimatising climb for an attempt of the Hornbein route on the West Ridge of Everest without supplemental oxygen. There was nothing we could do, he had already passed away. We carried his body a mere 300 metres to a platform nearby, where it was later collected by helicopter and taken to the capital.

Every mountaineer knew Ueli Steck, how did this affect your stay in Nepal?

Very though, he was my hero. I think he was one of the few people that have motivated me during these past five years. He inspired me a lot and made me ascend the Huandoy Norte in Peru on my own. Ueli Steck once told me that I could do climbs on my own too. Ueli motivated other climbers with his achievements all around the globe. It´s very hard to adore a person who has motivated and inspired you one day, and the next day you find his body. I believe my world stopped for a moment. It´s like a child that believes in the powers of Superman and goes for a walk through the city, and finds him lifeless lying on the streets. That´s how I felt. Maybe this is not right to say, but as he loved the mountains, it´s where he found his final resting place. It´s a risk we mountaineers all face. Something I have learned over the course of the years is that when you´re ascending mountains, you´re actually acting like a lion tamer. You´re hoping that nothing happens, but despite preparation and being careful, it might still happen. You´re trying to control all risks and trying to do everything as planned, but still.

This is maybe where experience comes in. Sometimes you just can’t control nature and have to face the effects. The effect of Ueli´s death was devastating because he was the best in the world, won two Piolet d’Or awards, in 2009 and 2014 and maintained incredible speed records in the Alps and the Himalaya, his achievements are endless. It´s really sad for his family. I have seen him climb and luckily had the opportunity to meet him in 2014 in Peru. I met him in Cebollapampa (start of the hike to Laguna 69, Mount Pisco etc.) and we chatted for a bit. Meeting Ueli Steck was like meeting Maradona or Messi. That´s how I could describe the moment.

Ueli at that time was actually upset because at the park entrance they had denied his access as he didn’t carry his mountaineering certification. We´re talking about the best climber in the world! I remember we talked about mountaineering in Peru and that Ueli was surprised not to have found many professional mountaineers. I said that there were many upcoming generations at the time but that this might take a while. Ueli was also surprised with the lack of interest in general of Peruvians in mountaineering. I think Ueli said this not because he didn’t get the attention he might have deserved, but more in a positive sense of trying to motivate locals to get interested in mountaineering, having such spectacular mountains in the Cordillera Blanca and Huayhuash.

Another interesting quote that I remember is that Ueli was worried about the deglaciation in the Cordillera Blanca. Ueli used to study the areas from books and documentaries and his findings did apparently not concur with the reality. One particularly dry year in Peru was 2013, meaning that there was not much new snow generated during the low season. I also received a couple of tips on mountaineering and training from him. Maybe the most important advice I received is when Ueli said that everything I do outside of mountaineering, is just supplemental. A true mountaineer needs to be found always in the mountains. Going to the gym to make your legs strong will help, but true mountain experience can only be obtained in the mountains itself.

After Ueli´s accident, did you have to flip a switch to continue with your mission?
Indeed, I was heading for camp three but after carrying a body at high altitude I felt tired. Maybe I also felt mentality tired and was ´off-line´ for a while. I lowered to the base camp again because didn’t want to stay much longer in camp two. In Everest Base Camp, I needed some time to gather myself because many things were going through my head. Later, I went up towards camp two again, skipping camp one and went straight to camp three, where I spent two nights acclimatising. This is when I went down to Gorakshep again to rest and gain energy. A couple of days later I went to base camp again but the weather was terrible. The weather forecast was also bad and this is when you have to be very patient.

There were many famous mountaineers at that time, such as Azim Gheychisaz from Iran and Yannick Graziani from France, who either had a goal to summit Everest or Lhotse. On the 17th of May I reached camp two again, on the 18th reached camp three and the next day I reached camp four. I had planned to head to the top the next night to reach the on the 20th. However, arriving at camp four on the 19th, there was such a terrible and strong wind that this would have been impossible. I was joined in the camp by Austrian Hans Wenzl who had the same goal. The next morning he asked me what I would do and I said to stay another night, whereas Hans and his Austrian partner said to go down. Here at this moment I was asking myself, what is happening? If more experience people than me are deciding to descend, shouldn’t I do the same? This guy had done over eight eight-thousanders but decided to go down. In the evening of the 20th I took the decision to go for it.

The ´balcony´ part was really tough because of the lack of oxygen. This is where I drank a soft drink to have a bit of sugar in my system. This gave energy and although my feet felt frozen I managed to overcome the balcony. Then I had to pass the ridge that is very difficult because it’s very narrow and generates a ´traffic jam´, but I knew I had made it. On the top there was a girl from Nepal and her Sherpa and a couple of climbers from Poland as well. On my pictures you can see a Polish flag in the background. In think I stayed maximum 10 minutes at the top, took seven pictures before heading back down again. I felt very, very tired because of the altitude and lack of oxygen. I descended a lot quicker than most of the other climbers and once lower I started to feel better. At camp four I didn’t have energy to carry on so decided to sleep. The next day I woke with more energy and was offered a bottle of warm water with sugar by a Sherpa, it was also suggested that I descend as quickly as possible because staying at high altitude could affect your health.

Despite feeling exhausted, were you able to enjoy that moment when you were on top of the world?

Honestly, no not really. I can´t remember I enjoyed getting to the summit, nor the final climb towards it. I guess because you´re tired and worried at the same time, there is not much time to enjoy the achievement itself. Understand that there are many things crossing your mind at that time. When I took the pictures, I only thought of going down and getting safe. Maybe the moment I enjoyed the most was descending from camp four towards camp three. In camp four, I took some rest and was just lying in my sleeping bag and enjoying the view and the fact that I had managed it. For four hours I think I just watched the top of Everest. I felt happy having accomplished my goal.

From camp two I headed directly to base camp and I found out that I had become the first person that season that had reached the top of Everest going the Nepal route, without the use of supplemental oxygen. Hans, the Austrian I mentioned earlier, and I met on my way down and I told him I had done it. Hans would finally also make it to the top and would become the second person without the use of supplemental oxygen. I believe it was just the two of use that did that, the Polish expedition team also made it to the top, but they did use supplemental oxygen.

The next day I flew by helicopter to Dughla and the day after to Kathmandu. The helicopter flight was the only one available and there was a deceased person on the flight too. If I am not mistaken, 10 people have died this climbing season in Nepal.

How did you manage to communicate your summit to the outside world and how did people react in Peru?

This I did while ascending to Everest Base Camp, I think this was on the 23rd of May. There are a couple of antennae that are provided by the agencies. Here you can connect and get data to use the Internet on your phone. I still felt very tired but communicated to my followers that I had made it and went straight to bed again. Back in Kathmandu, I had to wait for my equipment, which would be delivered back by the agency.

I am still surprised with the exposure I generated in newspapers, television programmes and social networks. I cannot believe that mountaineering in Peru could generate so much coverage, especially in Lima. Like I always stated in previous interviews, a lack of interest, a lack of support, mountaineering isn´t interesting, etc., etc., that´s how they see our sport in the capital of Peru. However, this is about to change, I hope. On one occasion during an interview I said that to relax, no psychologist is needed, just go to the mountains. When I arrived in Lima, my head sponsor Latam Airlines had organised a press conference at Jorge Chávez International Airport.

The next days I was giving interviews and even magazines published on my achievement. I could never have imagined having Magazine Somos (a family magazine launched by Peruvian newspaper El Comercio) run an article about me. Hopefully this will motivate Peruvian youngsters and generate more support for mountaineers as a whole in Peru. All these publications help our sport a lot. I believe I am very happy with all the publications that were released in Peru. It was particularly good news for Huaraz and the department of Ancash. Taking in account the natural disasters that happened earlier this year in the north, corruption scandals by politicians and so on, this might change the tide. Especially now Sport Climbing is one of the eight sports shortlisted for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games additional events (the climbing event will include three disciplines: sport, bouldering and speed). This means Huaraz should take advantage of this because Huaraz should be the Mecca of climbing and mountaineering in South America.

I noticed that you paid a visit to the Peruvian Congress a couple of weeks ago. Where you invited?

I had been there before, but you get contacted by a congressman or woman and they invite you. This time I was invited by Yonhy Lescano Ancieta from Puno of the Popular Action party and Yesenia Ponce who is congresswoman for the Ancash department. The complete congress awarded me a meritorious acknowledgment and I was accompanied by Rafael Figueroa (president of Casa de Guias in Huaraz) and Julio César Maguiña. I received a certificate of honour and had the opportunity to talk to a couple of congressmen who said that they were proud of my achievement.

Do you think you have changed as a person now you´re nationally known?

Well, I don’t believe much in being famous. Maybe football players are famous because they make millions of dollars during their career. I am just a simple mountaineer from Huaraz. I don´t think that I am famous to be honest. Fame and ego are very dangerous because they abduct you from the things that really matter such as people you love like family and friends. At the moment I haven’t visited all people that I wanted to visit because I am still too busy with the aftermath of my summit. Sometimes you need to work hard and sacrifice things that you like in order to reach higher goals. I remember that I was advised once that people who really try to accomplish something have to make many sacrifices and this is sometimes 99% effort and 1% motivation. I too had to leave things behind that I can´t do anymore because of a different lifestyle I am trying to live. However, I am sure that the future generations of Casa de Guias will be a lot stronger and better than I am at the moment.

I can´t deny that it´s nice to hear from a taxi driver in Huaraz that he heard about my summit or just random people in the street who approach me wanting to have a small chat. It´s important to dream and follow your path and not let people tell you that something can´t be done. I am very conscious and know that there might be a day that I leave for a spectacular peak but will not return. That´s the risk of mountaineering but Victor is still Victor, I believe.

Finally, what can you tell our readers about your next mission?

I am not sure yet. I will probably go to Asia again next year but most probably to the Karakoram. This is a large mountain range covering the borders of India, Pakistan and China, and it´s home to the four most closely located peaks over 8,000 m such as K2, (8,611 m), Gasherbrum I, Broad Peak and Gasherbrum II. It will probably be one of those four, but normally I don’t like to anticipate my expeditions, so you´ll have to wait until next year, haha.

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