“So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon seem inevitable”. – Christopher Reeve
An interview with Araceli Segarra, by Vertical Magazine, on climbing the worlds highest peaks while continuing to take on new and exciting challenges.
Q: You were a caver before becoming a climber. How did exploring underground caverns lead to climbing in wide open spaces?
A: Caving and mountaineering are very similar. I fell in love with mountains and adventure through caving. Sometimes you have to hike all day in the Pyrenees to get to the cave you want to explore. Caving is a very tough sport, it builds different skills that climbing itself doesn’t have. It gives you a very good base for dealing with ropes and knots and other equipment. The period of time when I was interested in caving was very intense and rewarding. I have good memories of all the things I learned while doing it.
Q: When you were 21 years old you made an attempt on Broad Peak in the Karakoram. Why did you start climbing on 8000m peaks so early?
A: It was just a coincidence. I was not really interested in 8000m peaks. My main goal was climbing hard routes in the Alps or elsewhere. I was planning to go to Bolivia but instead I got the chance to join a group of people going to Broad Peak. It was not something that I had been planning for months.
Q: Climbing 8000m peaks is a tough game requiring a lot of physical endurance. This is not traditionally considered a feminine quality. Have you had to train a lot?
A: I don’t agree with your idea that endurance is not a feminine quality. If that were true there wouldn’t be any women competing in Olympic events like, for example, the marathon or the ten thousand meters. The same goes for the feminine Tour de France (Tour de Feminine) or Giro, triathlons or Ironman events. But besides this little disagreement, training is necessary for both men and women. I don’t know any single human being, male or female, who is able to stand up one day and climb an 8000m peak after having sat on a couch for a couple of years.
Q: As a woman, can you help change the dynamic of a group or influence certain decisions?
A: When I am climbing, I don’t think as a woman. I think as a climber. And whatever I decide is a consequence of my experience, my skills, or my desires. Whatever the circumstances, when my companions ask me for my opinion, they don’t expect me to give them a miracle answer simple because I’m a woman. I don’t have special powers! Any human being can change the dynamic of the group and influence a decision, independent of their gender.
Q: You must have some interesting stories of expedition climbing. Can you tell us one?
A: On K2 in 2002, while we were shooting the documentary “Women of K2”, we found the remains of Dudley Wolfe. He was a very wealthy climber who, in 1939, became the mountains first victim. He died in his tent at 7800m. We found his remains on the glacier at 5300m. Over 63 years the glacier had transported his body 2500 vertical meters down the mountain!
Q: What do you think about people trying to climb all the 8000m peaks? Is it not more worthwhile attempting unclimbed peaks?
A: I cannot tell people what is best, it’s a matter of respect. Everyone chooses their own way to do things, push their own limits. Different styles, different climbers. And you know what? I don’t really care about that stuff, and I care even less about telling anybody what I think is best.
Q: In 1995 you attempted a new route on Everest in alpine-style despite being young and having little experience. Why did you choose such an ambitious project?
A: My “lack of experience” at that time consisted of:
* Going to depth of 1070m in a cave when I was 17 years old
* Climbing Mount Kenya at 20
* Reaching 7100m on Broad Peak at 21
* Making the first repeat ascent of the Lorentan-Kurtyka on Shishapangma Central (8012m) in alpine style at 22
* Making a 3-day winter ascent on the Midi d’Ossau
* Climbing The Nose on El Capitan and doing Regular Route on Half Dome in a day.
*Climbing the Bonatti Pillar on the Dru and making day ascents of the Walker SPur and The Shroud on the Grandes Jorasses.
* Doing the Vinatzer-Messer on the Marmolada in a day.
*And also making attempts on the north face of the Eiger, the Triolet and Mount Maudit.
So although I don’t consider that I was the most skilled climber in the world, I had done enough to try something harder without being worried about my ability. And now to answer the most interesting part of your question: the reason we chose an ambitious route was the result of a natural evolution in our group. No oxygen, no porters, lightweight style and a beautiful line to the summit; those were the premises that we grew up with and that we always try to follow. They give our climbs meaning.
Q: You have often failed to summit an 8000m by a few hundred meters. How does failure-if we can call it that-effect you?
A: It depends on the reason for why I turned back. Most of the time it is because I cannot deal with the weather (which someone else maybe could), the snow conditions are dangerous or we run out of time. I don’t make my living from climbing, or having full time sponsors, so I don’t have pressure. I can keep my climbs as quiet as I choose.
The most important thing is going back home convinced that I did all I could, all that was humanly possible. John Hunt, the leader of the 1953 Everest expedition said something like “If you cannot go back home from an expedition saying that the human experience was enriching, none of it makes any sense.” I really enjoy this life – my friends, skiing, biking or climbing in Siurana or the Pyrenees – so I always make sure I’ll be back. I don’t have anything to prove.
Q: Are there any “girl things” that you really can’t do without on a long trip?
A: Yes. Tampax.
Q: Are you interested in technical climbing on some of the world’s big walls, like Trango or in Patagonia and Yosemite?
A: I like the challenge of a beautiful line, the idea of pushing my skills to their limits. And I’m not necessarily talking about very difficult routes. I’m talking about MY limits, whatever my level is. That kind of route also forces you to work the line yourself, so it is very rewarding, even if you don’t summit. You know that you reached that point by yourself, without the help of others.
Q: What does the search for difficulty in climbing mean for you?
A: It’s pushing climbing to levels that exceed our expectations.
Q: What is your relationship with fear and danger?
A: One of respect. They know me, I know them. They don’t hurt me, I don’t hurt them.
Q: The area you live in is world renowned for it’s sport climbing. What does this rock represent to for you?
A: It’s a relationship of love. We live together but we don’t see each very often, so ever time we meet it is passionate.
Q: Do you think that your looks or your modeling work have helped you develop your relationship with the media?
A: I believe that I have interesting things to say, whatever my face looks like. I’m not an ugly person, but believe me, a real model looks very different. But it’s a fact that looks are important for the media. For good or for bad, that’s the way it works.
Q: What do you think alpinism in Spain? Are there any alpinists that are pushing the limits?
A: Oh yes, there are a few, but they are not in the magazines.
Q: Why do you travel so much? Is it a need to escape from everyday life, or do you enjoy life in Spain?
A: I climb a lot at home and in the Alps, which is nearby. Most of the time when I go away it is because I have a friend somewhere to climb with. I recently went to Canada to climb with Barry Blanchard, just to spend a nice time together.
Q: In you motivational lectures, how do you manage to explain mountain climbing to ordinary people?
A: I don’t talk about the meaning of climbing. I talk about people. And people are the same everywhere, on the mountains, in a boat, at the office or in a family.
Q: How would you define alpinism in three words?
A: Source of meaning. Life makes sense after climbing.
Q: Do you think that media pressure can influence climbers decisions in the mountains?
A: Speaking of my personal experience, I would say that I don’t feel any influence. As I said before, climbing is not my main source of income, so I can quit trips when I want and don’t have to get involved with the media. I guess there are people that will feel pressure and feel they have to perform at a certain level, or do more and more spectacular ascents every time, but I don’t really have enough knowledge about that to make a point.
Q: Is media exposure a psychological advantage, or a disadvantage?
A: It is a label.
Q: You have worked a lot for television and have participated in many films. What image of climbing and mountaineering do you try to communicate to the public?
A: I have been in front of the camera on a few documentaries; The IMAX “Everest” film, The National Geographic “Women of K2” and recently “The Great Climb” for the BBC. I wouldn’t call that a lot of movies.
I always try to be very honest, to make a distinction between different climbing styles. I don’t like ambiguity or exaggeration. When we came back from Everest in 96′, I almost lost my voice trying to explain in each interview that the way I summited Everest didn’t contribute to mountaineering in any way. I used oxygen from the last camp and I used fixed lines. The amazing thing on that expedition was filming the IMAX documentary, that’s the part I was proud of.
As a climber I value a hundred times more our attempt on the Hornbein Coulour in 95 with just a little pack, even if we didn’t summit. But I guess the media didn’t like to hear that and they preferred to sell the story of me being the first Spanish woman to summit Everest.
Photo by Araceli Segarra: Araceli Segarra and Michael Brown
Q: Are climbing and mountaineering the same thing?
A: They are complimentary. I need them both to keep a balance.
Q: You have visited many different places. Is there any one that you feel particularly attached to?
A: Many. Patagonia, the Kanchenjunga valley, a bunch of places that I have seen in friends photos but I haven’t had a chance to visit yet. But I love my own region a lot. There are some lovely places and I feel lucky to have them so close.
Q: What’s your next challenge?
A: Raising my rock climbing standard. Finishing the seven children’s picture books I’m working on. The first two will be published in Spanish and Catalan on March 28th, and the rest will be published at 6 month intervals after that. And finishing the second part of the IMAX documentary on Everest that we started filming last spring and which includes 3D images of the ice fall. It will probably be ready October 2009.
And I’m still preparing a few climbing projects.
**This interview with Araceli Segarra was conducted by Maurizio Oviglia from Vertical Magazine: featured on pages 62 – 71
A series of wonderful children’s books by Araceli Segarra: Click the above banner to read about Tina and her adventures around the world climbing the 7 Summits!
More About Araceli Segarra:
Photo courtesy of Peter Donovan
**I was born in Lleida, a city near by the Pyrenees (Spain). I am the youngest of 4 siblings. My oldest brother took me kayaking when I was only 9 years old. This same brother was the one who a little later introduced me to spelunking when he took me to the local alpine club. Here I met people that were doing all kinds of outdoor sports. I tried all of them.
**When I was 17 I did a 1076 m deep descent in a cave in the Pyrenees.
**When I was 19 I went to Morocco to climb Tub Kal. I afforded this trip art painting a car. First I had to peel off with sand paper all of the old paint; it was hard work. After drawing the picture I painted it: a circular landscape around the car, from the forest to the desert to the mountains. It took me three weeks.
**When I was 20, I went for two months to Ireland to teach climbing at a YMCA. I didn’t speak any English at the time but I learned some there. After that I went to Kenya to climb mount Kenya 5180m high. To afford this trip I worked as a baby sitter.
**When I was 21, I worked at an outdoor store in the mornings and as a secretary in the afternoons. I went to school at night. After I finished school I worked for some time drawing territorial limits in aerial maps. This is how I paid for my first expedition to the Himalayas. My objective was Broad Peak 8047 in Pakistan, one of the world’s 14 mountains that surpass 8000m. We didn’t reach the summit but I got to a personal high of 7100 m.
**In 1992, when I was 22 years old, I moved to Barcelona to go to the university to study physiotherapist. In Barcelona I got in contact with a group of very good climbers. With them I went Shisha Pangma 8008 in Tibet. We climbed to the summit by the steep and difficult south face. We did the second ascent of the Swiss-polish route alpine stile; no oxygen, no sherpas, no fixed ropes, no pre established camps.
**After this climb, we felt very good together so we began planning an expedition with the very same team to Everest for spring 95.
In 1993 I spent the summer climbing in the USA. I visited Yosemite, where I climbed the Nose on el cap, and the regular on Half dome. I also went to Devils Tower, Joshua Tree, Owens River Gorge and a few more sport climbing areas.
**In 1994 preparing for next year’s Everest expedition, I got myself a personal trainer. I trained every morning from 10am to 1pm. I went to school from 3pm to 9pm, and on weekends, I climbed, biked, ski or hike to round my preparation. I was missing university parties on Thursday nights, so I wouldn’t compromise my Friday morning training session. This year I did my first advertising for TV with NIKE.
**In the fall of 1995 as part of the Catalonian expedition I had climb Sisha Pangma with, I went to Tibet to attempt the North Face of Everest. The weather was not good that year and I turned around with very cold toes at 7,800 m.
**It was during this expedition that I met American climber and filmmaker David Breashers. He invited me to take part of next year’s Everest IMAX Expedition.
**In winter of 1995 I went to a competition in Patagonia (Argentina) the RAID GAULOISES. 11 days of non-stop hiking, running, climbing, kayaking in lakes, rivers and wild water, horse riding. We were the first woman only team in the history of the event not to finish in last place. We finished 21st out of 42 teams.
**When I came back home I got the news that the IMAX producer company “Macgylavry” wanted me as the fourth member in the team.
In March of 1996, I left home 25 years old and with a bunch of illusions in my pocket. I came back 26 years old in June and with Everest’s summit. I became the first Spanish woman to climb Everest.
**Just a few months after my Everest climb I went to Tibet to work as assistant camera for the Hollywood film Seven Years in Tibet.
**In 1997 I went back to work as a physiotherapist, this time with handicapped children.
**In the fall of I went back to the Himalayas, with my friends from Barcelona.
**We went to India to try to climb a virgin mountain 6796m high.
In February of 1998 the Everest IMAX film was released.
**Right from the beginning the film was a big success everywhere it was shown. I never expected it to be seen by so many people.
**With all the exposure I was given I started receiving offers for lectures, presentations, endorsements of products………
**During all of that year I was very active doing IMAX film premieres around Europe and the USA. I also did a couple TV commercials (one for Danone and another one for EVAX), a promotional video for Polartec, a slide show tour for Mountain Hardware. It was a very busy year.
**In 1999 a started doing lectures and conferences for corporations, talking about teamwork and related subjects. This same year I hosted a one hour radio program about traveling.
**By year’s end I needed to do some climbing and I managed to find the time to go rock climbing in Mali.
**Next year began very promising with an offer to work on TV conducting a half an hour documentary about Mountains and nature.
**I also started writing articles about traveling for a web site and in February I went to Lebanon to do a 2 week cross country sky traverse in the main range of the country.
**When I came back I received an award from Elle magazine for “styles of the year”.
**I spent the summer in China trying to climb K2 by the very impressive north ridge. I reached a highpoint of 7 500 m. You can still read about this 3 month long expedition on: http://www.terra.es/deportes
**In 2001 I headed to Nepal for Kangchenjunga, the 3rd highest mountain in the world. I was trying to become the second woman to climb it, but I had to turn down 500m bellow the summit because the bad weather and cold toes.
**2002 was my third season with the TV show. This year I did various advertising jobs on TV and Magazines, and I spent the winter ice climbing in the canadian rockies, training for an upcoming expedition, again to K2. I was the leader and organizer of this expedition. A National Geographic film crew joined my team to shoot the climb as part of documentary about “woman and K2”. I expend the end of the year in Patagonia, trying to climb Fits Roy, but as usual the very strong wind and the snow didn’t aloud as to go very far.
**In 2003 I will be combining my job as a speaker on business companies with a new expedition on G1 (8.063 m), and trying latter on K2 again. Finally, some incidents let as at 60 m (180 feet) from the summit of G1 and with not motivation to go to K2. The autumn season bring me back motivation and energy, after climbing the summit of Ama Dablam (6.812 m), in Nepal, one of the most beautiful mountains in earth, in just 5 h from camp II. Mexico is always a got start for a new year (2004), and then on March, and the end of the ice climbing season, I just climb one of the most well know ice falls in Canada, “La Pomme d’Or”.
**I would spend spring of 2004 climbing in Pakistan, on the Nameless Tower. I lead the most difficult and exposed pitch of the Slovenian route, a 5.11a slab at 5.500 m of altitude. WE couldn’t reach the summit though, because of bad weather.
**During the post monsoon climbing season of 2005 I tried 8.585 m high Kanchenjunga with a small team for the second time. Again, due to bad weather and the fact that we where the only expedition on the mountain, we had to desist after 2 months of trying. That year we lost all of our climbing equipment, because we were not able to reach camp II again after so much snow hade fallen. During the whole 2 moths that the expedition lasted we only had 5 days of clear weather. I would spend the summer climbing long rock routes in the Thagia gorge in Morocco.
**2006 became a successful year. Starting with difficult ice climbing routes in Canada. Then she return to rock climb hard (7b+) and long (600 m) routes in the unknown Taghia. Also visited Bolivia where she climbed 3 pick and finished the year at the 4.420 m of summit Malinche in México.
**In the Spring of 2007 I return to Everest with Jamling Norgay to start filming the second part on the IMAX documentary. Went to Alaska on summer to see kayak and work as an assistant camera and photographer for a Discovery Channel documentary about climate change.
I end the summer climbing in Scotland for a BBC TV show “the great climb”. www.bbc.co.uk/scotland/greatclimb/sec1_pg8_2.shtml. The rest of the year I was dedicated to finishing one of my most ambitious projects, a series of 7 illustrated children’s book, that will launch on Spring 2008.
**In Spring 2008 “Tina en el Everest “ & “Tina en la Antarctica” . In autumn “Tina en el Aconcagua” was published too. I spend time in summer climbing in USA and helping also in this amassing project. http://www.craigandkelly.com/photogalleryhalfdome-aerial.htm . Now we are getting ready to go back to Everest and finish the Imax documentary in 3D, “Everest the Return”.
@Araceli Segarra 2009