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World's first solo winter climber: "Lafaille is great - but a winter it was not"
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Dec 30, 2004 11: 19 EST
Previously published Dec 15, 2004

If you want to know anything about cold, cold mountains, Spanish climber Fernando Garrido is a great source of information. He holds the record of permanency on the summit of Aconcagua (62 consecutive days from Dec 13, 1985 to Feb 15, 1986). Afterwards, he lost all his finger and toe nails, as well as 17 kilograms.

A great achievement but not his best though, and not the reason for this ExWeb interview with him. Instead, we chatted with Fernando with regards to the current winter climb situation on Shisha Pagma.

Why Fernando? Because he did the first 8000+ solo winter climb in the world.

Back in 1988, Garrido completed the first solo winter climb on an eighthousander - Cho Oyu was the target and, considering the circumstances, it was a real though one. It impressed even to the Polish ‘kings of winter’, who had summited Cho Oyu already in the winter of 1985, but not soloing the mountain.

Cho Oyu: “The coldest night of my life.”

Back when Fernando Garrido attempted Cho Oyu, Chinese authorities would give no permits for winter climbs, so Fernando had to reach the mountain sneaking in from Nepal, crossing the Nangpa La (saddle).

Garrido traveled with a Sherpa, who helped him to set up BC and remained there. From BC the Spaniard undertook the climb completely alone. He set CI at 6400 - the regular place for current ABC on Cho Oyu climbs - and a second camp at 7000m.

He fixed no ropes on his way up. He didn’t even think of using O2 - "It was Cho Oyu, for God’s sake!" On summit day it was incredibly cold and he left his tent rather late, at 7:00 am. “I figured I would be late, so I brought a sleeping bag and left it behind a rock at 7600m, just in case.”

That proved to be a wise decision, as Fernando reached the summit at sunset and started the descent in darkness. He found the bag and forced a bivouac there with no tent in what would be “The coldest night of my life.”

Five years later Fernando attempted Everest, also in mid-winter, but couldn’t reach the summit. Currently an expedition outfitter and running a climbing school in Spain, “I don’t climb for myself anymore,” he sadly commented – Fernando has kept a close watch on new winter climbs since the eighties.

The current situation

We asked Fernando for his point of view on the current winter climb controversy, raised after Jean Christophe Lafaille soloed Shisha Pangma last week, claiming a winter climb, as “winter in the Himalayas officially begins on the first of December.”

This is what Garrido has to say:

“I don’t want to steal merits from Lafaille, who has proved to be a first-class Himalayan climber. But, there is no doubt that what he did is not a winter climb, and I don’t think Miss Hawley or any other Himalayan chronicler will approve it as such.”

“Winter begins on December 21 all over the world.”

Winter summit vs. winter ascents

“The dubious cases in winter climbs during the eighties were those summits reached on the first days of Winter, but after having climbed the mountain during Autumm season. There was some controversy among, most of all, Japanese and Korean climbers, who spent weeks working on Everest since November, and when everything was ready they would wait for December 21 or 22 to launch their summit bids. Even in those cases, the ‘purists’ would not considered those summits as real winter climbs.”

“In Jean Christophe’s case, there is no place even for this kind of doubt, as he summited before Dec 21. In my opinion, it shouldn’t be that important, as he accomplished a very remarkable solo climb on Shisha Pangma. But it was a ‘late autumn’ one.”

What about Fernando’s own Cho Oyu winter summit? Well, there would be on shadow of doubt about the dates, as he reached the top on February 6, 1988.

Months after Fernando Garrido, on Dec 31, 1988, Krzysztof Wielicki would succeed in the only other solo winter 8000er (main) summit, standing alone on the top of Lhotse.

In December 27, 1982, Japanese climber Jasuo Kato summited Everest. This would have been the first solo 8000er summit and it would have caused a stir in the climbing community, as it was a very early winter summit. Sadly, there was no controversy to be raised as Kato died on descent.

Previous to Fernando Garrido, Adventure Stats registers a single-climber winter summit of Kangchenjunga: Korean Jeong-Chel Lee summited on January 2 that same year (1988). Lee was however not a solo climber;as he was past of a group led by Jung Sang-Moo and there is also no information about the use of supplementary oxygen on the climb.

Fernando Garrido was born in Madrid in 1958, but lives in Aragon, by the Pyrenee Mountains. He summited Cho Oyu in Winter 1988 - he would summit it again in 2002, guiding clients. He has also summited Shisha’s central summit and has attempted Everest Twice; in 1987 through the Hornbein Couloir, and in winter 1993. Garrido has soloed Annapurna III and Momhil Sar (7342m) as well.

Extreme skier and UIAGM Mountain Guide, Fernando runs a climbing school/expedition outfit company. Currently he is involved in organizing the first full-service commercial Spanish expedition to Everest, climbing from Nepal next spring.

Image of Fernando courtesy of Aragon Aventura, compiled on an ExplorersWeb files image
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