Marek Holecek pampers your satellite phone, keeps it warm in a pocket close to your chest, takes care of the life of your battery on the verge of draining. In the evenings, he turns it on and sends a message coldly describing the situation he’s in. Your team immediately bounces the text on your social media. No one can help you, although you haven’t asked for it either. His immense experience tells him something that, at this point, he prefers not to hide: “We are expecting a miracle that, hopefully, comes Saturday.” Holecek has been trapped and without moving for three days, together with his friend Radoslav Groh, at 7,000 meters in the Baruntse, a 7,129-meter mountain in Nepal whose peak they reached on Tuesday in the middle of a brutal storm, the tail of cyclone Yaas that sweeps India . This will be the eighth night the couple spends on the wall, the third nailed in the same place. Without visibility, the descent down the southern ridge, that is to say the normal route of the mountain, is unfeasible or a pure suicide. That is why they wait, far from the world, in another galaxy, but connected to life through a satellite phone that at least helps their families not lose hope.
Marek Holecek, a 46-year-old high mountain guide, is one of the best mountaineers of the decade, winner of two Gold Ice Axes for his ascents in the company of Zdenek Hák al Chamlang (2019) and Gasherbrum I (2017), a type who gladly accepts the prizes but warns: “I will never practice mountaineering with the aim of being rewarded.” In 2019, together with Radoslav Groh, he was close to deserving a third award for his ascent of Huandoy Norte, in Peru, but now the only award that both await is to stay alive. Terribly honest in his account of his life as a mountaineer, Holecek clearly explains the mixed feelings when he goes out on an expedition: the internal struggle before leaving his family, the need to climb, the desire to return. These are the same questions that are repeated like a tormented echo from generation to generation, as Holecek recalled when he picked up his Golden Ice Ax in 2019: “Doug Scott said that he completely disconnected when he wanted to face his limits, but that he did not give up to the life. He said that if he wanted to fully concentrate on ascension, he had to forget that he had a pregnant woman waiting at home and bills to pay. He said that when he returned he would be able to resume his life, with his obligations ”.
On May 20, Holecek and Groh began their challenge: to open a new road in alpine style on the northwest face of Baruntse, a wall of 2,000 meters. They immediately saw that the company was going to be more severe than expected: “In general, in recent years, in the Himalayas there is not much snow on the north and west faces. The snow and ice have obviously diminished ”, he pointed out after climbing 12 hours in technical and exposed mixed terrain and“ finding a corner where to carve a ledge in the ice where to place our asses. A crazy bivouac but we keep going ”. The verticality of the terrain prevented them from planting their tiny tent. Last Sunday, they sent a long text message: “Around 11 in the morning we found the remains of a tent emerging from the ice on a 60-degree slope. This has made me remember the sad story of my friends Peter and Kuba (Petr Machold and Jakub Vanek, who disappeared on this mountain in 2013). Today we have a good bivouac, but we are ripe like blueberries, although we still have strength. We are 200 meters below the top and if the almighty is home tomorrow and gives us his permission, we will complete the north-west face of the Baruntse. “
It was not so. The couple found a hideous playing field the next day, with vertical ice, inconsistent snow and stretches of rotten rock. They spent the entire day of last Monday climbing to advance just 150 meters and bivouac 50 meters from the edge: “avalanches flow on both sides of our tent, which is our hotel. We are tired as kittens, frozen, hungry and thirsty. God help us to go up tomorrow and go down ”. According to Holecek, they would only need three hours of visibility to be able to undertake the descent and return to base camp, 240 minutes of light to be able to follow the ridge avoiding its traps, its cornices. They are even willing to try it at night, but the storm of “white darkness” has to subside … or give them a truce. If the weather forecasts are met, this Saturday the storm should lose intensity and clear the mountain of clouds. Holecek affirmed after picking up his second Golden Ice ax that he pays for the expeditions out of his pocket, without receiving any help: “Seen like this, it might not be so bad not to have help. The fact of having to look for life encourages us to give the best of ourselves and allows us to be competent ”. With visibility, few doubt that both climbers manage to return.