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Carlos Carsolio - Interview for Mountain Portal

/ Climbing

When was the last time you were in Poland? How long ago? Was it some event or a social occasion?

It was in 1989, you had communism then. It was just a meeting with my friends. Then, after Wanda died I was in Austria giving some interviews about her death. There was a program called Landenberg (the land of the mountains).

Carlos Carsolio / fot. Tadeusz Piotrowski
Carlos Carsolio / fot. Tadeusz Piotrowski

Why haven’t you visited Poland since then?

I really don’t know. During these years I was travelling all over the world, climbing and then paragliding and it took me a lot of time and energy.

How do you remember the time of climbing together with Poles? What was the first expedition with Polish climbers like?

I have very fond memories, with some of Polish climbers I had strong friendships and most of them are dead now so it’s very hard. I’ve learned a lot from some of them, especially from Kukuczka. He took me and Artur Hajzer on an expedition with him although we were only two crazy, very young boys.  But of similar attitude towards mountains as Kukuczka. Me and Kukuczka had a great connection, sometimes we understood each other without words and our friendship was very deep. He taught me many tricks about the mountains, how to survive in very cold weather, how to cook or  how to climb in difficult conditions. In my opinion, Kukuczka was a master of moving in high altitudes.

How do you remember your first eight-thousander expedition? It was Nanga Parbat in 1986 with Kukuczka.

When I met Kukuczka I had read a lot about him before our meeting. He was like a hero for me,  I was 20 years old and I thought that Kukuczka was like 2 meters tall! For real - he was an ordinary man of an average height but in the mountains he was a master. When I met him I was a little bit shy because I wasn’t very well equipped as my equipment was mostly home-made or borrowed. With relief I noticed that Jurek’s equipment wasn’t at all better than mine! It was also home-made of different Polish materials. An interesting fact is that I started smoking when I was very young and then when I was 19 or 20 I gave it up but when I met Kukuczka…well…I started smoking again!

In 1992 you reached Kanchenjunga and during your descent you were the last person to see Wanda Rutkiewicz alive. Can you tell us something more about it?

I built a very nice relationship with Wanda. I met her in Mendoza in Argentina, she was climbing Aconcagua with Stéphane Schaffter – a Swiss climber while I was climbing the south face of Aconcagua with some of the Polish climbers. Then I saw Wanda few times more in my life, for example in 1985 in Nanga Parbat. Wanda was also going there with women’s expedition by the Diamir side. We stayed together for about two weeks working on some documents to get permits and Wanda and “Mrówka” - Dobrosława Miodowicz-Wolf got their permits in only one day! They went to the ministry wearing dresses and high heels with a make-up on and they got their permits immediately. It was very funny but we were really pissed off because they came later and got their permits quicker.

With Wanda we liked talking about life and making jokes and  from then on we met each other in different places of the world but never went together in one expedition. We climbed together in Shishapangma, it was a big expedition with different goals. I was supposed to climb with Kukuczka and Hajzer but then I decided to climb with my girlfriend (now ex-wife) because I wanted to help her to go to the summit. We made it and afterwards some more climbers also reached the top. One of them was Wanda. We stayed all together at the top, the weather was perfect so we spent almost an hour there. At the end, Jurek and Artur came to the top as well. It was a special time because Jurek at that moment finished completing all 14 eight-thousanders.

Carlos Carsolio with Aleksander Lwow and Ryszard Pawłowski
Carlos Carsolio with Aleksander Lwow and Ryszard Pawłowski

Coming back to my acquaintance with Wanda, I met her every now and then and then I made a project in Kanchenjunga, I created a small expedition of only 4 people (me, my brother, my friend Andres and my ex-wife). We had a plan to make a second ascend of Scott route. At the last moment Wanda called me and asked me if she could join. I said “yes” but she had to bring a partner with her so she came with a very young climber Arek Gąsienica-Józkowy. We were climbing and acclimatizing and we made one summit push but the weather was really cold and my brother and my ex-wife got nasty frost-bites while Arek and Andres got edema. Wanda also had some problems so we all came down. Coming down I had an accident and I twisted my ankle. I came to the base camp with my friend and a doctor told me not to climb any more during this expedition. Of course, I stayed and climbed. It appeared that only me and Wanda were still able to climb, all other members of the expedition were sick or injured. My ex-wife and my brother were transported by a helicopter down and my friend and Arek stayed at the base camp because of the edema. So it was only the two of us – Wanda and me – who could do something more on that mountain. Everything went well although I had problems with my leg but during the last push Wanda was very slow, she was like almost a day late. When she reached our ice cave  at 7900m in the evening she was vomiting and had a stomachache. We drank tea together, talked and started climbing in the morning. Nevertheless, Wanda was still very slow, I don’t know why, maybe because of her age (she was then 49) or maybe because of her bad condition. After some time I stopped being able to see her as I was moving faster and in the afternoon there was a small snow storm after which the weather was good but very cold. I reached the top quite late, at about 5 p.m. but it was a perfect summit day – the views, the clouds! As I was worried about my leg I quickly decided to come down. It was getting darker and colder. I was coming in the snow field and suddenly I saw a single rope. I went up and found a wind cave in which I found Wanda resting. It was worrying because on such an extremely cold night you should keep moving and not lying. I stayed with Wanda, we were talking, but I couldn’t directly tell her to come down, I had no right to do so. She wanted to continue her climbing and I respected her decision although I thought it was very dangerous.  I still don’t know if I made a mistake by not telling her “You must come down!”. After that night we said goodbye and for me it was a very hard goodbye because I knew it was too dangerous for Wanda both to stay in that cave or to continue climbing. I knew that if I wanted to survive myself in such hard conditions I must come down. Hallucinating and dreaming I reached the cave at 7900m late at night.  I waited for Wanda the rest of the night and most of the day cooking, preparing hot tea. But Wanda never came.. In the afternoon I went down to a col where we had a big tent put up. I waited there for two days but Wanda didn’t come. Next day Andres and Arek came to help me and we returned down together. I will tell you more about it all during my speech.

Four years later, in 1996 you finished your adventure with eight-thousadners. Tell us what emotions did you have, how do remember the last summit?

The last summit was very enjoyable, it was Manaslu. Ten years before, in 1986 we climbed the east peak, it was very hard, Alpine style with Kukuczka and Hajzer. On the approach I had an accident. The night before we drank some vodka and I had an empty bottle with me thinking it was perfect for water. As it was very hot I went to the river to fetch some water. While picking water I fell down and cut my hand. I went back with the Yugoslavian expedition and the doctor put some stitches on my hand.  So I was in a very bad shape, I also got a frost bite during the last part of my climb. The conditions were also bad, strong wind and very cold weather. I decided not to go to the summit although the distance wasn’t so big. It’s important to mention that for me, during my whole career the most important part of the adventure was climbing itself and not necessarily always reaching the summit.

So, ten years later I came back  on Manaslu with my brother. It was a very easy expedition, ordinary route, only with a small variation, Alpine style. We made one attempt in bad weather and then came down. There was a storm which at the same time killed many people on Everest, for example Rob Hall with whom I had a very good relationship. I even talked to his wife on the phone during this situation. Then the weather got better, only in the last part there was some wind and it was cloudy but standing on the summit was a great and symbolic experience for me. I was with my brother and we had a radio connection with the Mexican media, so all this was really enjoyable.

Carlos Carsolio with wife Monica
Carlos Carsolio with wife Monica

Did your brother climb any other eight-thousander?

No, he was with me on Manaslu, Kanchenjunga and Everest but there he didn’t make the summit. He was very strong but not very technical.

Two years after Manaslu, in 1998 you finished your adventure with climbing. But was it a final goodbye?

I kept climbing some hard routes with my Slovanian friends in the Alps and other places. In 1997 with Tomaž Humar and Janez Jeglič we had a project of 3 hard climbs. First, there was the north-east face of Lobuche, then the south side of Pumori, and a very hard climb on Nuptse face. When we were in the middle of climbing the face of Pumori there was a massive accident of some Czech climbers. When we came to our base camp and started preparing for the Nuptse face I had a very bad feeling and that’s why I decided not to climb. But Janez and  Tomaž made a very nice climb and Janez was the first one to reach the top. After that, he just disappeared..We had a radio connection and then it broke. My idea is that maybe Janez got distracted with something and the wind was really strong that day. Humar came to the summit as the second one and he only found the radio on the ground. Tomaž survived but it was a very hard descent for him. I received the news about Janez’s death when I arrived in Katmandu. It was very, very sad for me.

You know, I love the mountains very much but I thought I couldn’t reach any higher level. I came to a conclusion that you are able to do harder things only before you are 40. The moment of such impression was very difficult for me, I was conscious that I hadn’t ordered my head so far, I also had problems in my marriage and I wasn’t balanced enough. I knew I couldn’t reach any higher. When you become an expert of something you stop learning and I didn’t want to stop doing that because the moment when you stop learning is the moment when you start dying. That’s how I switched to professional paragliding. Before, it had always been my hobby but since 1998 I started to learn very hard and make hard flights. For example, I was a participant in the first edition of Red Bull X Alps in 2003. This is one of the most demanding competitions in which you must fly or hike the distance of about 1000 km across the Alps covering some turning points on your way and reaching the finish line in Monaco. It usually takes about 12 days to cover the whole race. My wife – Monica – was also a very good paraglider and she was the best in Mexico.  Which is interesting, my partner on Red Bull X Alps was Jozko Božić a son of Stipe Božić – a famous Croatian climber and a good friend of mine.

Paragliding gave me the same experience, the same emotions as climbing but at some time I realized that it was too big risk. I have 5 children (with Monica I have 2), a family so I stopped doing that professionally. From time to time I still fly but only for pleasure.

Although you stopped doing risky activities you found an alternative in your life.

Yes, I do some climbing with my children every now and then but nowadays sculpting is my biggest passion. Through my sculptures I try to teach people, especially children how to explore, how to be prepared for a surprise, how to wonder. It’s also a matter of learning about acoustics, physics, optics. It’s not easy to explain my sculptures. For example one of my sculptures is a 14 meters high deer with a kind of cave in her belly. The deer looks pregnant. You can enter the belly, it’s dark inside and you can hear some sounds – a baby’s heartbeat, drums.  This all can put you in some kind of trance, the state of going back to the mother’s womb. There is also a slide from the inside to the outside of a deer and at the end you can experience being born again. 

My sculptures are different kinds of experiences than climbing or paragliding but they reflect what I have learned while climbing or paragliding – these precious, mystical moments that are the treasures of my life. And that’s why I call my sculptures “flow” sculptures.

There is a Hungarian-American psychologist and scientist - Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. He is the main psychologist who developed “the theory of the state of flow”. It’s a state when you feel “full”, when you are so concentrated on doing some pleasant activity (like climbing, making music, yoga and so on)that you feel as if you were lifted up by water, by waves. And my sculptures are supposed to put you in that state.

Artistic activity of Carlos
Artistic activity of Carlos

In Poland climbers are like super stars and most people know them. Is it the same in Mexico? Do you consider yourself as a star?

It’s different. Mexico hasn’t got any climbing traditions. As a tropical country we haven’t got snow but we have few really good rock climbers. Most people in my country know what Everest is so when money is needed they are given to people who want to climb Everest. I am well-known, I am even a hero  but only because I climbed Everest, no matter that I have also climbed other mountains. So, yes I am a hero but not for proper reasons. In Europe people have much more knowledge about mountains, so here I am recognized and admired.

I wonder,  which eight-thousander was the most difficult for you?

All of them! I was very lucky to climb Nanga Parbat south face as the first eight-thousander, to climb difficult routes, to learn from people like Kukuczka or Piotrowski. On Nanga my mind was open and during my whole career, in every expedition I always wanted to make a new route. Sometimes one attempt was much harder for me than anything else. For example Lhotse face was harder than my speed ascend to Lhotse by a normal route. I think that when it comes to choosing a style of climbing I failed as many times as I succeed.

Can you explain why you started climbing in the first place? How did it happen that you were interested in climbing?

My parents were climbers. Since I remember I was close to the mountains and I preferred to climb alone, in the forest. I also wanted to learn and slowly, with years I started to climb more difficult places. When climbing I love this special connection with the nature, the birds, the clouds, the plants.

My parents were not so much about rock climbing as I was. I was crazy about it! With my father I did some very nice mountain climbing and when I was 16 we went down the crater of a volcano which was not active. It was like walking on the Moon, the views and the smell were amazing. Thanks to my father I learned classical mountaineering and I got some skills like cooking, putting up the tent etc. and  from my crazy climbing I learned how to survive in the rocks.

And my last question. Do you think that Polish expedition has a chance to stand on K2 this winter?

They have such possibility because of good traditions and stories about Polish winter and Krzysztof Wielicki is still alive, I think he is a good advisor so it is possible for Polish people to reach the top. Although, it’s going to be very hard.

Thank you very much.  

interview made by Bartosz Andrzejewski
editing and translation: Karolina Andrzejewska






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