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ExWeb Series on Kangchenjunga: The Most Difficult 8000er for Carlos Pauner
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Jan 26, 2005 21: 00 EST
For Spaniard Carlos Pauner, the memories of Kangchenjunga will never fade.
“I lived for months at its foot,” he said. Each time he looks down at his scarred, cut fingers, he is further reminded of the two brutal days he was lost on the icy slopes of the mountain. Everyone thought his life was over. But Pauner endured those 48 hours…and survived.

His opinion on the peak is clear: “It is the most difficult of the 14 8000ers. Much more difficult than Everest, harder than K2 too. Not even Annapurna is so hard.”

Pauner has attempted Annapurna twice and summited K2 through the Abruzzi Spur route in 2001. He is now preparing to attempt Everest without supplementary oxygen. In 2000, attempted the North side.

“There are two reasons that makes Kangchenjunga a harder target than any other of the great Himalayan giants”, Carlos explains.

Growing Pains

According to Pauner, the climb of Kangchenjunga increases in difficulty with each step. “Kangchen will give no brake,” he said. “Mostly, on the upper slopes, the other mountains I’ve climbed are usually snow slopes on the upper sections. It can be hard depending on snow conditions, but basically you just have to walk up and focus in breathing. On Kangchen, you start on difficult terrain, growing to very difficult, to almost impossible. The most difficult sections will be the highest of all, where altitude takes its toll as well.”

The Mountain of Wind

The fierceness of the wind on Kangchenjunga has been known to add to its difficulty. “Kangchenjunga is the mountain of wind,” Pauner said “Being at the easternmost point of the Himalayas, there are no other high mountains to protect it from the eastern winds. It blows and blows for weeks without stopping. It’s not easy to keep the spirits up, let me tell you.”

The Spanish mountaineer has summited five 8000ers and twice attempted Kangchenjunga. Both times were very special for him.

Kangchenjunga his first 8000er

Pauner first attempted Kangchenjunga through the British route on the North side in 1997. This was his first Himalayan experience and his first 8000er. He was on a small team of inexperienced climbers from Navarra.

But for what they lacked in experience, they made up for with boldness. Since then, team members have added much to their resume. For example, Mikel Zabalza did K2 last summer, and Iñaki Ochoa has summitted nine 8000ers.

The second attempt

Pauner’s second attempt left even deeper traces in his memory… and his fingers. In autumn 2003, Pauner joined an all-star team to climb Kangchenjunga through the original route on the NW side.

Along with Christian Kuntner, Mario Merelli, Silvio Mondinelli, Pauner would launch a summit bid in the last minute, after being rejected from a previous attempt. The weather was uncertain. The summit message was radioed on May 20, at 4:30 pm. The wind was already high and growing stronger, so the team hurried down. When they looked back, Pauner was not there.

A frantic search through the night

The climbers shouted for Pauner, but there was no answer. For the entire night, they searched frantically, but there was no sign of him. The climbers feared that they may have to accept what taking risks like climbing Kangchenjunga involve: death. If he was blinded by the storm or blown away by the wind, Pauner would have fallen to his death into the void.

"I was going to die there frozen, like a dog"

Pauner did fall. But only after being lost and forcing a bivouac at 8000m. He fell about 200 meters and stopped against a rock. “Then I got really scared,” he said. “I thought I had broken my legs, and was going to die there frozen, like a dog. Then I discovered I could move. So I kept on moving.”

He appeared after two days missing in Camp 2. His climbing mates were overwhelmed by the miracle they saw walking towards them. The event caught media attention. Headlines announced: HE IS ALIVE!!! It was the happy ending story of the season.

“Motivated as I have never been” - Everest next

However, Pauner did pay a price. He suffered serious frostbites in his fingers and toes, resulting in amputations. It took a year to recover. But last summer, Pauner was back on the mountains, “motivated as I have never been,” he said. He first summited GI. A few weeks later, he climbed Cho Oyu. He’s now planning for Everest. But in his soul, and his fingers, there will always be Kangchenjunga, “the mountain of the wind”.

Carlos Pauner was born in Jaca (Huesca, Spain) in 1964. Cho Oyu, summited in autumm 2004 was his fifth 8000+ peak on the 14’s list. Carlos has summited K2, Makalu, Kangchenjunga and GI. He has reached the summit ridge of Broad Peak and attempted Everest and Annapurna (south side).

Image of Carlos courtesy of Carlospauner.com

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