Tag: Basque mountaineering

Basque climber to embark on most extreme challenge of career

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Basque mountaineer Alex Txikon. Photo by Amaia Larruzea (Mendialdiak) at Alex Txikon’s website.

If you’re a regular reader of the blog you will know by now just how important mountains are to Basques; and how Basques, so relatively few in number, truly punch above their weight when it comes to forming part of the world’s mountaineering elite. For example, here on the blog we’ve looked at the careers and impact of Edurne Pasaban, Juanito Oiarzabal, and Alberto Iñurrategi. In the same vein, one of the rising stars of Basque mountaineering, Alex Txikon from Lemoa, Bizkaia, recently announced his intention to embark on the most extreme challenge of his career to date, “even,” he himself suggests via his website, “the most ambitious challenge in the world of mountaineering”: an ascent of Everest, in winter, and without oxygen. To put this challenge into some perspective, bear in mind that nobody has attempted to climb Everest in winter in more than two decades, and that it was first scaled in winter only in 1980, with oxygen, by the great Polish mountaineer Krzysztof Wielicki and his companion Leszek Cichy.

Txikon (in green) and fellow expedition members get a real Basque send-off from a txistulari at Loiu Airport, Bilbao. Photo at Alex Txikon’s website.

Txikon came to the attention of the mountaineering world, together with companions Simone Moro and Ali Sadpara, after they climbed Nanga Parbat in Pakistan–the ninth highest mountain in the world at 8,126 meters (26,660 ft) above sea level–in the winter of 2015; the first ever winter ascent of the so-called killer mountain (check out the story of that adventure and some great images here). On the expedition to climb Everest in 2017 he will be accompanied by Carlos Rubio as well as cameramen Aitor Bárez and Pablo Magister.

If you want to follow this adventure, check out Alex Txikon’s website here, where you’ll be able to follow the whole expedition in real time! (By the way, at the same website Alex recounts an amazing nighttime climb in Oñati, Gipuzkoa, as part of his training for the Everest ascent, with some incredible pictures. Check out that story here).

The 2016 Bilbao Mendi Film Festival

This year’s Bilbao Mendi Film Festival kicked off on December 9 and runs through December 18. This is an annual festival that celebrates cinematic representations of mountains, mountaineering, hiking, climbing, skiing, adventure, exploration, extreme sports, and the great outdoors in general. Check out the trailer on the main website to get a flavor of what it’s all about.

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Basque-themed work appearing at the festival this year includes Akabuko Martxea, a documentary directed by Aitor Gisasola and Fredi Paia about efforts to recreate the tradition of sheep transhumance in herding sheep from the Urbia Mountains to the Uribe Kosta coastal district.

In the fall of 2015 two Gipuzkoan shepherds, Mikel Etxezarreta and Eli Arrillaga, spent five days herding 250 sheep from Zegama in Gipuzkoa to Getxo in Bizkaia. Their aim was to recreate the tradition of transhumance, a way of life that came to an end in the early 1980s. Indeed, Etxezarreta himself last carried out such a trek in 1982.

The Basque-made documentary, Kurssuaq. La exploración del Río Grande, will also be shown. We covered this amazing kayak expedition in a previous post here. Similarly, Humla, produced and directed by Mikel Sarasola, charts the adventures of four kayakers as they attempt to negotiate the mighty Humla Karnali, the longest river in Nepal.

The documentary Common Ground, meanwhile, charts the expedition of a group of climbers, including the brothers Iker and Eneko Pou from Vitoria-Gasteiz, to the remote Chukotka region of Siberia. In a similar vein, Eñaut Izagirre’s Incognita Patagonia, produced for National Geographic, covers a climbing expedition to the Cloue Icefield on Hoste Island, at the southern tip of Latin America.

Elsewhere, Jon Herranz directs Mar Alvarez No Logo, a documentary about woman firefighter and part-time climber, Mar Alvarez.

In somewhat of a different direction, Iker Elorrieta’s film I Forgot Myself Somewhere examines the challenges faced by women in northern Pakistan to get an education.

And Xabier Zabala’s Imaginador is a biography of photographer Santi Yaniz, famed for his work in the Basque Country and the Pyrenees.

See a full list of the films on show here.

November 3, 1968: Mountaineer Alberto Iñurrategi born

One of the world’s great mountaineers, Alberto Iñurrategi Iriarte, was born on November 3, 1968 in Aretxabaleta, Gipuzkoa. He became the tenth person–and the youngest to that date at thirty-three years of age–to complete all fourteen eight-thousander summits, the highest mountains on earth, in 2002 (see an earlier post we did on Juanito Oiarzabal climbing these peaks here).

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Alberto Iñurrategi Iriarte

He climbed twelve of those peaks with his brother, Felix, who tragically died on the descent of one of them, Gasherbrum II, in 2000. What’s more,  Iñurrategi climbed the peaks in an Alpine style using few lines or sherpas and no bottled oxygen, making him the fourth person to have climbed all fourteen peaks without bottled oxygen.

Here are the figures for his successful ascents of all fourteen eight-thousander summits with the years he did so in parentheses.

  1. Makalu (1991)
  2. Everest (1992)
  3. K2 (1994)
  4. Cho Oyu (1995)
  5. Lhotse (1995)
  6. Kangchenjunga (1996)
  7. Shishapangma (1996)
  8. Broad Peak (1997)
  9. Dhaulagiri I (1998)
  10. Nanga Parbat (1999)
  11. Manaslu (2000)
  12. Gasherbrum II (2000)
  13. Gasherbrum I (aka Hidden Peak) (2001)
  14. Annapurna I (2002)

Iñurrategi thus joins a long line of distinguished Basque mountaineers and today stands, alongside Juanito Oiarzabal and Edurne Pasaban (the latter of whom we have also posted about here), as the most famous member of this intrepid group of Basques.

April 29, 1999: Juanito Oiarzabal reaches last eight-thousander summit

Born in 1956 in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Araba, Juanito Oiarzabal is still one of the most renowned mountaineers in the world today.

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Juanito Oiarzabal (2007). Photo by Javier Mediavilla Ezquibela (crop and editing by Lucas, same licence). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On April 29, 1999, on reaching the summit of Annapurna in Nepal, he completed an odyssey that had begun way back in 1985: to reach all fourteen eight-thousander summits, that is, the fourteen mountains on earth that are more than 8,000 meters (26,247 ft) high above sea level. He was the sixth verified person ever to do so, behind Reinhold Messner (Italy, b. 1944), Jerzy Kukuczka (Poland, 1948-1989), Erhard Loretan (Switzerland, 1959-2011), Carlos Carsolio Larrea (Mexico, b. 1962), and Krzysztof Wielicki (Poland, b. 1950), and the third to reach all the summits without supplementary oxygen.

Additionally,  he went on to be the first person to conquer the top three summits  (Everest, K2, and Kangchenjunga) twice and, with  a record of twenty-seven successful eight-thousander ascents in total, is second only in ranking to the Nepalese mountaineer Phurba Tashi (on thirty).

Here are the figures for his successful ascents of all fourteen eight-thousander summits with the years he did so in parentheses.

  1. Everest (1993, 2001)
  2. K2 (1994, 2004)
  3. Kangchenjunga (1996, 2009)
  4. Lhotse (1995, 2011)
  5. Makalu (1995, 2008)
  6. Cho Oyu (1985, 2002, and 2003, the latter on two separate occasions)
  7. Dhaulagiri I (1998)
  8. Manaslu (1997, 2011)
  9. Nanga Parbat (1992)
  10. Annapurna I (1999, 2010)
  11. Gasherbrum I (aka Hidden Peak) (1997, 2003)
  12. Broad Peak (1995)
  13. Gasherbrum II (1987, 2003)
  14. Shishapangma (1998)

As if all this were not enough, Oiarzabal is now seeking to be the first person to complete all eight-thousander summits twice! As you can see from the list above, he is four ascents shy of reaching this amazing goal, and this year he’s planning ascents on Dhaulagiri I in May and, if successful there, on Broad Peak thereafter.

Just out of interest, Basques are pretty well represented in the order of mountaineers who have reached the summits of all eight-thousanders, with Alberto Iñurrategi (b. 1968) from Aretxabaleta, Gipuzkoa, coming in at tenth (being the youngest person, at thirty-three years of age, to accomplish the feat), and Edurne Pasaban (b. 1973), from Tolosa, Gipuzkoa, at twenty-first (and the first woman to do so).

Pyrenayca, 90 years old

This months marks the 90th anniversary of the journal Anales de la Federación Vasco-Navarra de Alpinismo or, more easily, Pyrenaica. It’s the journal of the Basque Mountaineering Federation (originally the Basque-Navarrese Mountaineering Federation), an organization founded in Elgeta. Gipuzkoa, in 1924. Given the tremendous interest in all forms of hiking, climbing, mountaineering, and other outdoor pursuits in the Basque Country, this is still an important organization today.

First number of <em>Pyrenaica</em>.

First edition of Pyrenaica.

At the time of the journal’s inception, the Basque Country was experiencing a cultural renaissance: Eusko Ikaskuntza, the Society of Basque Studies, had been founded in 1918, followed by the creation of Euskaltzaindia, the Royal Academy of the Basque Language, a year later in 1919. Despite the fact that the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera was ruling Spain at the time (1923-1930), this was an era of fervent Basque cultural activity, and Pyrenaica was part of this flourishing movement, demonstrating the key symbolic importance of mountains and mountaineering in Basque culture and to Basque identity as a whole.

During its long history, the journal has changed with the social transformations going on around it. To see these changes as reflected in the pages of the journal, check out the different editions of this valuable sociocultural historical resource over time here.