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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Ultimate High

Air Date: Week of

Goran (YUR-an) Kropp bicycled from his native Sweden to Mt. Everest in Nepal, climbed to the summit and now has chronicled his adventures in a new book, Ultimate High. He speaks with host Steve Curwood about the successes and tragedies of his journey.


CURWOOD: Scaling Mount Everest is a quest few people attempt. For those who have, it can mean triumph, and for some, great tragedy. In May 1996, nine climbers lost their lives in a ferocious storm that made a descent near-impossible. Goran Kropp was on Everest that fateful day. In his new book Ultimate High, he writes about that experience and the trip which brought him to Everest, a journey that began in his native Sweden on a bicycle, which carried all the gear he would need to reach the top of the world.

KROPP: Everything which I put on my bike was really considered in detail. So I had totally 129 kilograms with me. That's around 280 pounds. And everything I thought about twice. For example, my underwear. When I started from Sweden I thought, two pairs of underwear? No way, Goran. Should you be away for two years? Or, no you should just be away for one year. So, you know, it's an easy way of counting. One year, one pair of underwear. Two years, two pairs of underwear.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) And you put all this on what? A trailer behind your bike?

KROPP: Yeah. I had a trailer behind. A one-wheeled trailer. Then I also had some load on actually the bike.

CURWOOD: Now, once you got to Nepal, when did you stop biking?

KROPP: I stopped biking in a small village called Gidi. So, that's about two weeks walking to the base camp. So I carried everything by myself, and that was 170 pounds.

CURWOOD: I've never been to Everest. Can you describe for me what it looks like? Take me there with your description.

KROPP: (Laughs) You stay in a glacier, or at the glacier. The base camp is situated at 16,000 feet, in very hostile surroundings. It's jagged stones, ice all over, and in the nighttime it's maybe around minus 25, 30 degrees Celsius. And in the daytime in the base camp it can be around 20 degrees plus. And every hour you hear an avalanche, avalanches going off the neighboring mountains. So, it's always sounds and movement in the base camp. And then you have these all other expeditions, which have arrived there from all over the world, with other cultures and other different way of thinking. It's a nice feeling, you know. Small village out in nowhere.

CURWOOD: Tell me how you went up Everest, starting at the base camp. What was the route that you picked?

KROPP: I picked another route compared with the normal route. Through the icefall, which is the first part of your Everest climb, you have to pass around 150 aluminum ladders which the Sherpa people, the porters which work on Everest, have put up. And also, around almost 10,000 feet of fixed rope they have put up in the icefall.

CURWOOD: No help at all for this. You would do it all yourself.

KROPP: Yeah, I tried to, but, you know, I couldn't do it all the time. Actually, I went down through the icefall all the times, by the normal route.

CURWOOD: Now, you tried to climb how many times before you actually did it?

KROPP: Two times before. The first time, I went back only 270 feet short from the main summit, because the time was going too fast. I reached the South Summit at 1:30. And the latest time you should be on top of Everest, that's 2 o'clock. If you reach the summit after 2 o'clock, then you have to do the descent in complete darkness. You'll not find the way down, and you're out on real thin ice then.

CURWOOD: What was it like to be there when the tragedy happened on May 10?

KROPP: It was so hard, of course. You got it in your face that a climb actually can end like that. This was not my first experience of tragical events on the high peaks. But I thought it over, and half the expeditions back in the base camp, they decided to go back to their home countries. But the rest just stayed there. And I did the same because I felt that I hadn't had a serious go on Everest. So I wanted to do a third attempt. I know that I could do it if everything was perfect. So I decided to stay, and that was a hard decision to make, because a lot of my friends were still up there.

CURWOOD: Can you see them as you go by?

KROPP: Yeah. They're up there. So, that's also a bad feeling when you pass them. I mean, you get a warning when you pass them, and that, you know, says to you take care up there. Don't push it too much.

CURWOOD: So tell me what happened that last time that you attempted. You set out earlier, you were at 8,000 meters instead of 7,800 meters. And tell me what happens from there.

KROPP: When you start, you do it in complete darkness. It's a special feeling. You don't see so much, but you see a lot of people move up towards the summit, you know. It's like a long queue, and you see all the head torches flickering in the snow. When I reached The Balcony, that is at an altitude of 8,600 meter, the sunrise started, and it was magnificent, you know. All the Himalayan peaks, they were bobbing in different kinds of colors: pink, yellow, orange, red, you know. I almost started crying. So, when I finally reached the summit, I spent four minutes up there. I felt I reached a border between life and death; you know, I was so spended up there. I was so tired. So just four minutes up there. I took photos in all directions. Took the video camera, did a 360-degrees round turn. And then I'm yelling into the camera, "I did it! I made it!" Now I'm exactly halfway, you know, because I had to bike home to Sweden also.

CURWOOD: Now, you did recently go back to Everest to participate in a clean-up effort, didn't you? Can you tell me about that?

KROPP: During my '96 expedition, I saw how it looked like up on Everest, and I felt very sad. How it looked like up in the last camps of Everest. It was looking like a garbage dump. So I soon had, or decided that I had to go down again and do something about that. Though it was a small expedition, we just had six Sherpas which helped us to carry down 25 empty oxygen bottles. But it's something, you know. Now, perhaps, a huge Swedish expedition, a clean-up expedition, will go down and do a huge clean-up in the South Col, because it's looking awful up there. But I want to be in harmony with nature and leave it as it was before I was there.

CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this time, for joining us.

KROPP: Yeah. Thank you very much.

CURWOOD: Goran Kropp's new book is titled Ultimate High.



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