Hervé Barmasse, Shisha Pangma and the lure of unpredictable mountaineering

Interview with Hervé Barmasse, the Italian mountaineer and mountain guide of the Matterhorn who, with the German David Göttler, will attempt a new route on the south face of Shisha Pangma (8027m) in Tibet. If things go as planned, this would be Barmasse’s first 8000er.

Hervé, you are currently in Tibet with David Göttler. Your objective is to climb Shisha Pangma. Tell us what you want to do and how you want to go about it?
The goal is to climb the south face of Shishapangma (8027 meters) via a new route without supplemental oxygen – which I personally consider to be doping – without fixed ropes or previously established camps. My dream is to climb my first eight mile without climbing a normal route. To do so by establishing a new line would be amazing.

How did this idea come about and what are the greatest difficulties (and, if you will, the greatest dangers) that await you?
I first thought of this project last May when I was in Kathmandu. David had just returned from his first attempt on this side with Ueli Steck, while I had just attempted Nuptse with Daniele Bernasconi. We both knew we could team up because during the winter season we started training together. In June we booked the plane and started all the bureaucratic paperwork to get the permit.

Why did you team up with David in particular, and for those who don’t know him, can you introduce him briefly? Out of interest, how do you choose your climbing partners?
David is extremely motivated and focused on his goals, he trains systematically and is good at managing all the organization and logistics of a project, as well as deciding well in advance when an expedition should start. This, coupled with the fact that we get along very well, are the things I look for in my climbing partners that make two individuals combine as a team, sharing 50% of the duties, knowing that both are working equally hard towards a common objective. goal. And, truth be told, there aren’t many climbers who could attempt a route like this in this style. He is one of the few.

About this course… what are your chances of success?
Objectively speaking, the percentage is very low, around 10%, but I’m very confident and I’m positive. Unfortunately, as in all mountain projects, some factors cannot be controlled by our motivation, our physical preparation and our will. What most influences an expedition are the mountain conditions, the weather and the objective dangers. But if you can do it and you are well prepared, then the chances of success are higher and, in case of failure, you will have fewer regrets. That’s why I started training and thinking about high altitude mountaineering in a different way, so as not to leave anything to chance.

Over the past two years, you haven’t been particularly lucky physically. In 2015 you had cervical spine surgery, last year you had knee surgery. Let’s say you’re “used to” injuries, starting with the one that ended your promising ski racing career. In short, you have been physically “reborn” several times. What have you learned from the long periods of rehabilitation?
To concentrate above all on the important things of life, to choose with whom to live and with whom I wish to share it; reflecting on my mistakes, asking myself questions about the big things in life, prioritizing values ​​worth fighting for, and constantly questioning my future. And in my future, I have identified many different projects, including the mountain. In addition, during rehabilitation, I learned to know my body better and to recognize its limits thanks to my trainer, physiotherapist and nutritionist. This allowed me to significantly reduce recovery after my operations, and to train specifically for my mountaineering projects. The results have been amazing. We have created a specific training plan for mountaineering that can be applied to anyone who is not afraid to work hard.

Speaking of your body and your training… Last February, you traveled to Nepal for intense altitude training not only with David Göttler but also with Ueli Steck and Sherpa Tenjii. How did it go and can you give us an example of your training?
In all outdoor activities, training is necessary in order to improve and be in the best physical condition to achieve the objective of the season or the year. Although we had no basis for comparison, we nevertheless thought it might be useful for any future projects in the Himalayas, and so we decided to spend some time training at high altitude, which for a mountaineering means being above 4500m and training with the same volume and intensity over a period of ten days in the Alps. This should now allow us to acclimatize faster and climb better in altitude. Our “reference” training consisted of climbing the Island Peak at 6200m high from the village of Chukung. Technically speaking the ascent is easy and someone who has trained normally takes two to three days, whereas we did it less than seven hours. For me, this whole process was really interesting, not only as an experience in itself, but also to check how my training was going. Unlike Ueli and David, because of my accidents, I hadn’t been able to train regularly and I was at a disadvantage. Since May 2015, I had done absolutely nothing for 8 months, spent 6 months recovering from complicated neck surgery and knee surgery, and only trained specifically for 3 months. Absolutely nothing compared to their “years” of continuing education. I can assure you that before leaving for Nepal I was really worried! And yet, despite everything, I held on.

While you were in Nepal, you wrote on facebook: “Thanks to my training partners, we managed to compare workouts and we came to conclusions that could be summed up in entire articles and even in books.” Can you share some of that?
Well the first is that training is an integral part of mountaineering, it is useful and leads to results that will affect future ascents and more importantly overall mountain safety. Being better trained means being better able to deal with difficulties and unforeseen events in the mountains. What should not be forgotten, however, is that training is useless if it is not based on mountain knowledge and culture; these fundamental aspects are much more important than the physical training specific to mountaineering.

You are undoubtedly an athlete or at least, as much as you define yourself in your book “La montagna dentro, the mountains inside”, you are an athlete, you have an athlete’s training and you train as such. But at the same time, you are the result of the teachings and the tradition in which you firmly believe: the mountain guides of the Matterhorn, your father, your grandfather, as well as the whole “classic” mountaineering school, led by Walter Bonatti and Reinhold Messner. Are these two different aspects that oppose each other?
No. Mountaineers have always trained hard to climb mountains. From nights spent in the cold preparing for harsh winter temperatures, to pull-ups performed on hay fork handles strapped to piles of hemp in barns, to training rides in the mountains before the biggest climbs. Training has been part of the background of mountaineering, even before the first ascent of Mont Blanc. There is plenty of evidence in the books of Edward Whymper, Hermann Buhl, Walter Bonatti and Reinhold. Messner to name just a few of how mountaineers have always meticulously trained for their ascents. The way we train evolves, but the training itself has always existed. Improving one’s qualities does not mean renouncing the presuppositions of mountaineering, namely the search for novelty and the confrontation of man with his limits and his nature, it rather means having more chances of turning to new Horizons. Mountain guides? The above mentioned example of training in a barn was a specific reference to one of the most knowledgeable and authentic mountain guides in the history of mountain guiding. Luigi Carrel, aka il Carellino.

In short… is there a competitive aspect to mountaineering?
Fortunately, yes. Unfortunately yes. Fortunately yes, because if you look at the results of those who are better than you, then you learn and improve faster. Unfortunately, yes, because these days the envy is much greater than the desire to recognize the achievements of others. A blind urge that often leads to achieving goals by any means and at any cost, simply to prove that one is better than others, hiding behind the excuse that there are no rules in mountaineering. But it is not true that there are no rules to follow. mountaineering rules have always reflected human rules, such as values ​​and ethics. Above all respect for nature and others.

So, what do you like most about mountaineering?
I had the chance to experience different things on different terrains: rock, ice and mixed, with a climbing partner, alone. Today, I could go so far as to say that my favorite mountaineering is when Mother Nature decides to let you continue or go home. It is a form of mountaineering that baffles even the most experienced climbers, where a simple ascent along a ridge can be more dangerous and therefore adventurous than a technically sharp ascent, where safety is greater. A form of mountaineering whose outcome is unpredictable.

This year, you were a regular guest on Italian national television, on the program “Sur les pentes de”. How was this experience and above all what are you trying to convey about mountaineering in general and your climbing in particular?
I felt comfortable on TV and the experience was very positive. The message I would like to convey is that people venture out and discover the mountains which, for many, perhaps too many, are only associated with danger.

Let’s go back quickly to your experience in Nepal: the other two of this quartet, Ueli Steck and Tenjii Sherpa, recently left for another great project: the Everest – Lhotse crossing. What do you think about this ? And, since everyone knows Steck, what can you tell us about his climbing partner on this adventure?
No matter how hard we train them, the inhabitants of the highest mountains in the world have inherited an ability to adapt to high altitudes that we can barely match. At best we can try to approach it. In February, Tenjii proved it several times. We only emerged into technical terrain on exposed sections. But when Tenjii, like the other Sherpa, becomes a technically competent mountaineer, he will certainly have a much better chance than us of expressing himself at high altitude. That said, he is already ready for the crossing and super motivated. It would be fantastic if they succeeded.

On Shisha Pangma you will attempt your first 8000er. What are you waiting for and what are you hoping for?
I hope for the same thing I always do: have fun!