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with Stefan Nestler

Like the Little Prince to the top of Pumori

Zsolt Torok (r.) on Pumori

“The Little Prince climbed a high mountain”, wrote the French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in his world-famous story “The Little Prince”, published in 1943. “From a mountain as high as this one, he said to himself, I shall be able to see the whole planet at one glance, and all the people. But he saw nothing, save peaks of rock that were sharpened like needles.” Zsolt Torok, Teofil Vlad and Romeo (called “Romica”) Popa might have been less surprised when they stood on the 7,161-meter-high summit of Pumori last fall and saw nothing else but directly opposite the eight-thousanders Mount Everest and Lhotse as well as the seven-thousander Nuptse. The three climbers from Romania had just opened a new route through the Southeast Face in Alpine style – without the support of Sherpas, without bottled oxygen and without a chain of fixed high camps. They called it „Le Voyage du Petit Prince“ (The Little Prince‘s Journey). I asked Zsolt Torok why they chose this name.

Leaving the comfort zone

Torok, Popa and Vlad – and their route through the Pumori Southeast Face

“Because of the innocence and truthfulness of the heart of the Little Prince,” replies the 45-year old. “When he asked a question, he never gave up until receiving an answer. Was he stubborn? Or dedicated to truth? On his journey, he met many characters. Just like us on our journey. And also just like him, we needed to get out of the comfort zone in order to find out our essence. To find it on the Planet Pumori.”

Five bivouac nights in the wall

The mixed climbing between the foot of the Southeast Face at 5,600 metres and the exit to the summit ridge at 6,700 meters was comparable to the Eiger North Face, says Torok, “with similar elements like ‘The Ramp’, ‘The White Spider’ or ‘The Waterfall Chimney’”. The Romanian trio spent five nights in the extremely steep wall. There was a “lack of suitable places for bivouacs. That is why we were forced to fit in the most inappropriate places.” Zsolt had already tackled the route with his compatriot Vlad Capusan in spring 2017, but had then abandoned the attempt because of the danger of avalanches.

„No vertical arena, more of a sanctuary“

Hardly any space for a bivouac tent

This time the project was successful. Torok describes the first ascent of the route as „my biggest achievement now, because a world premiere is always more valuable than repeating a route”. Nevertheless, the 45-year-old doesn’t want to hang the coup of the Romanian trio too high: „I do not quite agree with the rush for the premieres, because mountains shouldn’t be regarded as a vertical arena. They are more of a sanctuary. Old routes are accomplished by great men and they are just like the evergreen music, always valuable.” The “romantic climbing” to which Zsolt, in his own words, feels drawn“slowly vanishes from people‘s souls, being replaced by the thirst for the extreme”.

On top of Nanga Parbat and Saldim Ri

In 2012, Torok scaled Nanga Parbat with his compatriots Teofil Vlad, Marius Gane and Aurel Salasan. It was his first summit success on an eight-thousander after failed attempts on Cho Oyu (in 2006) and K2 (in 2010). In 2016, he succeeded with Vlad Capusan the first ascent of the 6,374-meter-high Saldim Ri (also called Peak 5) near the eight-thousander Makalu in Nepal.

Actually, Zsolt also wanted to climb Mount Everest in spring 2015. But the season ended before it had really begun – after the devastating earthquake in Nepal and the resulting avalanche from Pumori, which destroyed Everest Base Camp and killed 19 people. Zsolt writes to me that he “completely banished” this experience during their ascent of Pumori: “It’ s like driving. Having the (steering) wheel in your hands gives you the trust and confidence of any journey…”

Everest remains a goal

Climbing with view of Everest

Mount Everest, which he could constantly see during the ascent on Pumori, remains a goal for Zsolt Torok, because “I, just like the Little Prince who never gave up, will not give up my dreams and my questions”. When the time comes, he wants to climb Everest via the normal route on the south side, the route of the first ascent, “because I am a romantic”, says Zsolt. He would then „to the disappointment of many“ use bottled oxygen, says Torok, “simply because my target is not to test the limits of my body, of my capability at an altitude of almost 9,000 meters. My target, in case of Everest, would be to reach an emblematic place, a place of meditation. I want to know how it feels to be there, the thoughts crossing one’s mind.”


13. December 2018 | 12:34