I was very young when I felt the “call” of the mountains, like 8-9 years old. When I was 11 I started taking climbing and mountaineering courses and soon started climbing on my own. I solo climbed Mont Blanc when I was 15 and in a way it felt like the first mile-stone of my climbing life. Even though I am now more experienced I think there is something about the feeling of climbing that has never changed since the first time I felt it when I was a kid. I use that energy for so many things - it really keeps me going.
What is it like to do a first ascent?
The feeling of being somewhere very remote and far from the rest of the world is exhilarating. One of the special things of first ascents is all the effort that is behind in terms of planning logistics and pondering the risks associated. When you finally get to climb what you have planned is a very rewarding experience. Deep down, while you are actually climbing I really value the power of the intensity of every moment, it makes you be “here and now” in a way that is hard to explain with words. In addition, typically first ascents have a very high degree of commitment because it´s completely unknown territory, often very technical and exposed terrain and far from any rescue chance. The bond that happens between you and your partner is something unique – trust and honesty are the essence of climbing on the edge of your limits.
What gear do you bring on your expeditions? Especially when you are headed out into uncharted territory.
It depends a lot to where are headed, but in a first stage it´s important to bring a wide variety of gear in order to have different options, such as bringing rock and ice climbing gear, avalanche gear, skis and different sizes of tents. That is for example the approach we used in 2016 for the Incognita Patagonia expedition where we were mostly based in sailboat. From there we could plan fast and light one-push and up-to-a-week unsupported trips carrying everything we needed in a backpack to cover icefield crossing terrain and mixed-ice climbing first ascents. We are extremely careful with weight, but it´s important to balance weight with a system that provides you with enough nutrition and relative comfort for multi-day alpine style activities.
In the Himalayas we applied the same techniques we use in the alps or in el Chalten in order to put up new ice climbing routes: carrying very light backpacks with minimum gear to be able to move very fast in technical terrain. This of course gives little room for errors and constant assessment of conditions and the human factor is very important.
Can you tell me about being the Safety Manager of the Juneau Icefield Research Program?
This has been one of the most fulfilling professional and personal experiences in my life. I love it because it merges both sides of my profile: mountain guiding and educating. I’m very grateful to be part of the program and family. For me, seeing how the students evolve and learn about glacier environments and get stoked about going on mountaineering adventures and exploration is the most rewarding part of it.
What are you doing day to day in Vitoria-Gasteiz? What's a typical day look like for you?
I do a combination of mountain guiding and teaching environmental sciences and geography at university. I’m very happy that I can combine these two activities and overall I have a very flexible life-style and schedule. I teach a couple days a week and I normally guide some weekends in the Pyrenees (ice climbing, avalanche courses, rock climbing courses) so that also gives me time to go climbing, skiing, surfing with friends. On a daily basis often go rock climbing to the local crags here in the Basque Country, the limestone is world-class and the landscapes are very scenic. Perfect fuel for any day!
I also deliver specific safety and fieldwork training courses for scientific expeditions to glacier /Arctic /Antarctic environments. Currently I’m collaborating with the science team of the Alex Txikon K2 2019 K2 expedition.
I like going on rock climbing trips to Morocco, Yosemite or skiing and ice-climbing in Norway or the alps. These trips are amazing because the logistics are a lot easier than on the “expeditions” and they allow me to fulfill medium-term goals and keep in shape and stoke levels very high.
On rainy days, I like staying home preparing for the real expeditions, working on outreach, preparing talks, writing articles and applying for funding - we are now very excited about heading back to Cordillera de Darwin to attempt first ascents and combine it with glacier research in very unknown territory. I also plan the safety and logistics for the upcoming Juneau Icefield Research Program season.
What has been the most terrifying climb you've done? What did you learn that you incorporate in your climbs now?
In early 2013 I did a combination of 3 ice-climbing routes in the Pyrenees (North and West face of Taillon Peak) and climbed over 1200 m of mixed and ice-climbing terrain up to WI5. I don’t know if the word is “terrifying” as I had been mentally training for that for a while and I kept it together but it was and experience that took me to a next level of thinking and taught me a lot about the power of the mind and combining both hemispheres to maximize your performance.
Perhaps another very intense experience were some of the last pitches of the climb I put up together with Evan Miles in an unnamed over-6000m-peak in the Langtang valley in Nepal. The ice and mixed climbing was very hard and exposed and it felt like we were both dancing very close to the thin line between life and death. I learnt how important is to have good judgement and trust your partner.
Also with Evan we got caught in an unexpected voracious wind and snow storm on the Cloue icefield in Patagonia. It lasted for 18 hours and we barely managed to keep on skiing / crawling across the icefield in over 150 km/h winds. It gave us a very clear perspective of how small we were.
Where are you headed in 2019? What are your goals?
The rest of the winter and spring I want to keep guiding and teaching and combine it with trips to Yosemite and Morocco. This gives me the opportunity to actually do good rock climbing training. Training is very important as keeps you in shape and you avoid injuries, critical for mountain guiding and going on demanding expeditions.
In the summer, I will go back to the Juneau Icefield, very stoked about that! Late summer most likely I will go climbing to the Alps and then we are getting ready for the late 2019 Darwin range expedition to put up new routes and ascents in these remote mountains of the still unknown Chilean Patagonia.
How do you keep yourself on track/hold yourself accountable?
I like looking for balance. I believe that is the key to make the most of your potential and enjoy life and the people around you. That is why I take time to train, rest and plan and go on logistically less complicated trips and by doing this then I can have peak mental and physical performance when going on remote and very demanding exploration expeditions. I also love sharing my experiences with other people with movies, talks, etc. Feeling the stoke levels of other people raise is just so great!