'We Tried to Climb the World's Seventh-highest Peak, Without Oxygen or Sherpas' breaking news
This week at the Tel Aviv airport: Two mountain climbers on a mission to be the first Israelis on top of Dhaulagiri, and a group of young Israeli Jews who are learning to accept the opinions of their peers
Assaf Nave, 33; lives in Amsterdam, arriving from Kathmandu
Hi Assaf, where are you coming from?
I was in Nepal with my mountain-climbing partner, Omri. We tried to climb a summit called Dhaulagiri, which is the seventh-highest peak in the world. We attempted to become the first Israelis to get to the top, but we didn’t make it. We tried climbing without oxygen and without the help of Sherpas.
Members of the local Sherpa community, who are used to dealing with a lack of oxygen and to moving about in high mountain ranges. We tried, but it didn’t work very well. We almost got to Camp 3, but we came back after a month and a half. My climbing partner lives in Luxembourg and I’m in Amsterdam, but I left the “kids” here with a friend.
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You mean the dogs?
Yes. This is Gaya, she’s 9, and Shaul.
Tell me, why did you try ascending without oxygen and assistance?
We’ve been climbing together for many years, and that’s the ethic we espouse – it’s purer. We also don’t use the ropes that are on the mountain. We believe that climbers should be capable of reaching the top on their own; and if not, let them climb something else.
To climb almost like the first person who ever went up the mountain?
Yes… In practice, it’s hard. Because even if you don’t use ropes, the Sherpas have already cleared the way in the deep snow for other expeditions. You follow them, and that already makes it easier. We don’t manage to be totally independent, but we try to do that as much as we can. That was our first 8,000-meter summit. There are only 14 like it in the world. Above 8,000 meters, it’s called the “death zone,” because the body can’t spend much time there.
Makes a person want to try! What made you fail?
We didn’t move fast enough. The way to Camp 3 was supposed to take six to 10 hours, but at the rate we were climbing it would have taken between 14 and 20 hours. You can’t stay in Camp 3 too long; it’s 7,000 meters high, the body pretty much falls apart there. You get headaches, nausea and altitude sickness. We’ll try again and we’ll be stronger next time.
Did it leave you feeling bad?
Anyone who climbs knows that there are times when you have to turn back in order to live another day. But yes, it’s a bad feeling. There were months of preparations behind this, and in the end it doesn’t happen, and that’s disappointing. And there’s also the feeling that we disappointed others. A lot of people were following us, at home and in our families, and they really wanted us to succeed. But they also wanted us to come back safely.
Coming back safely is at least 70 to 80 percent of the deal.
Yes. But, mountains have a tendency to stay where they are, so you can always try again next year.
How did you meet your climbing partner?
We both did a lot of climbing and he contacted me via Facebook eight or nine years ago, and since then we have only climbed together. We’ve climbed more than 20 summits; we gave up two or three times. We’ve done a lot of climbing in the Alps and also in Peru. I’ve learned a great deal from him, he’s a very special person. He went to the United States to do an MBA. On our expedition to Peru he recommended that I should do the same, and I did a degree in France. We have a lot of common areas of interest, like business and entrepreneurship.
Are you also an entrepreneur?
Not yet, but one day maybe that will happen.
Will you sit together in an office? Aren’t you nature lovers?
Climbing is not our day job. Omri is a senior product manager at Amazon; I work in a biotechnology company. I can’t say that climbing is just a hobby, but we’re not professionals yet. One time I worked at a ski resort in France and I watched the snowboard instructors. I thought it was a bummer for them to take something they love and turn it into a burden, it takes the fun out of it. I want to preserve it as something I choose.
What was hardest for you on the mountain?
Being cut off. We were on a glacier for a month, without reception, without anything. That drove me crazy. I missed the kids like crazy. At a certain point I wanted to get out of there. It’s usually hard for people to leave their comfort zone, but with me it’s the opposite. Routine exasperates me, I always need change. Maybe that’s why it was so hard for me to be stuck for a month in a harsh routine.
What do you take away from climbing, in your daily life?
Climbing is the ultimate place to put long-term aspirations into practice. Every goal I have in life runs parallel to that. We planned this expedition down to minute details, because it’s enough for a tent peg to be missing – to lessen your chance of reaching the top. It’s like that with many things – getting a master’s, moving to France with two dogs, moving from there to Amsterdam. Those are missions that have to be broken down into the smallest details.
Tal Ben Shitrit, 23, Erez Koter, 23, Tamar Hajby, 22, Ruth Alfer, 25; live in Nokdim, Moshav Gilat, Yavneh and Jerusalem; flying to Morocco
Hi, where are you headed?
Erez: We are part of a young leadership program called Beit Sefer Lekosmim [literally, “school for magicians”]. Now we’re flying to Morocco to study the culture there, to discover things and to enjoy ourselves a little.
What do you do in the program?
Tamar: We’re there all week long. We live in Mikveh Yisrael and learn about Zionism, Judaism and also the Yemima method [a psychological-spiritual approach to personal development].
Ruth: We discuss Jewish literature, the Holocaust, Moroccan Jewry. It’s diverse. The program’s aim is to turn out people who will work on behalf of Israeli society. We are different sorts of people, so the dialogue between us is diverse. Where I grew up, the dialogue always came from a particular standpoint; we’ve come to hear additional ones.
What have you discovered, for example?
Ruth: What’s touched me most is identity issues. I come from a religiously observant home, right-wing, settlement style. We have this sort of esprit de corps, a belief that the best place to live is the territories, and we never asked why, or what price we pay for it. So the dialogue and questions that come up are really helping me develop.
We are in an era of a harsh, even violent public discourse.
Ruth: I think that comes mainly from fear and lack of confidence in your viewpoint. I don’t feel that way in this program; it seems everyone has come to learn and to listen.
Tamar: We aren’t eager to argue with each other, because we know and understand one another. I won’t dismiss someone else’s opinion, because I know who’s behind the words. If in the past I thought certain things about settlers, now I live next door to Ruth, who is from the territories, and I’m not going to hate her – the discourse won’t come from that place.
Ruth: I feel that I’m seen in the program as someone who represents religion, the one in the skirt. People do divisive things in the name of religion, and I want to show that it’s possible to do good things too.
Tal: Sometimes there is a very thin line between impulsive and opinionated, and an overblown dialogue. For me it is all related to today’s generation, which wants everything, here and now. They are not ashamed to speak out and express who they really are. The younger they are – so I’ve found – the smarter they seem to be, because they’re exposed to the internet from a very young age.
Excuse me, but what is “today’s generation”? You’re 23!
Tal: I see it in my younger sister and in my friends. It’s during adolescence that boundaries are drawn, even in this, and it may be that they need to be told: ‘Stop here,’ or ‘Change your approach.’ It has to do with your upbringing, the home you come from. I was a placement officer in the army, so I saw how generations change.
Did you see other differences – with people from the periphery, for example?
Tamar: I can answer that, as a person from the periphery who was drafted to a highly regarded post in the air force. During the placement tests for simulator instructors, I was the only person from the south. When I showed up to receive my assignment, everyone else there was from Tel Aviv and the Sharon [central Israel]. And then you meet pilots, and they are really amazed – “Wow, it’s great you got here!” That motivated me personally, and if I hadn’t had that drive, there probably wouldn’t have been anyone there from the south.
How do you explain that to yourself?
Tamar: It was important for me to do something that would get me out of my bubble. I thought about it already in 10th grade, and started making inquiries and send messages [to the army]. A different girl, who doesn’t have the same awareness, would not know she has to ask and would not even know how to ask. She doesn’t have anyone to see as a role model, so she won’t get there. The gap opens up even before the placement and admissions stage, when you think about what you want to do [in the army].
Tal: That’s one of the reasons they dropped the Quality Group Score as a classification datum. They want to see the soldier’s capability in terms of leadership, human relations, logistics. The army is trying to improve, in that respect. It’s not there yet, but the trend is toward improvement.
What about your program’s diversity?
Erez: We’re lacking Ethiopians, Russians, Arabs and others. It seems to me that there are Mizrahim and Ashkenazim in abundance.
Tamar: We felt we are diverse, and then were asked whether there’s anyone here who lives in a high-rise, and we understood that there was no one.
Erez: I just want to say in conclusion that I read the magazine [in the Hebrew edition of Haaretz]. Right – you had a column about the avocado pit?
Yes, the reporter Shir Reuven suggested trading objects with people week by week in order to upgrade to a point where she came into possession of an apartment.
Erez: So I’m doing the same thing. I started with a miniature magnifying glass and now I’ve traded up to a mountain bike.