Peruvian mountaineer Richard Hidalgo near the summit on Mt. Everest: “I was close to death”

One of the few mountaineers to ever attempt to reach the peak of Mt. Everest without using oxygen, Peruvian climber Richard Hidalgo is back down in Katmandu this week, waiting for a flight to return to Peru.  The following interview was published in daily Peru 21.

By Carlos Bernuy Flores

This Peruvian climbed Mount Everest without an oxygen tank and now shares his adrenaline-filled experience.

Amidst the pouring rain, Richard hidalgo hurried across the street. He found a public phone, and dialed the number. He had to hurry: thirty minutes later all lights would be shut off and everything would close up. This is the political instability in some countries.

Lima, 11:30 AM. I answer my cell phone and hear my friend’s voice. “Hi Carlos, this is Richard Hidalgo speaking…” What follows is a conversation with a Peruvian that defied Mount Everest, the world’s highest summit, and lived to tell his tale. And, although he didn’t make it to the top (he was 300 meters away from the mountain’s peak), he has held Peru proud.

In Lima, many of us began to worry when communication with you was lost. How have you been?

Yes, of course, it was also difficult for me to be “incommunicado.” When I crossed the 6,000 meter mark, my computer got damaged and my satellite phone stopped working. But, I had to keep climbing.

In your last message, you said you were very close to the summit, near Everest Camp 2.

Yes, I was able to send that information out when I got back to the camp. After that, I was unable to write again, partly because of the weather, which wasn’t easy on us. Those first days of June were the most difficult part of the climb.

How many times did you try to reach the Everest’s peak?

I tried twice. The first at the very beginning of June, and the second on June 5, at 11:00 PM. I was faced with a strong wing and tried to follow the footsteps we had left behind the first time. I also tried to position and support myself after every move I made. I went 36 hours without oxygen at an altitude of more than 8,300 meters. That’s when I realized that maybe I wouldn’t make it. It was 11:30 AM on June 6 and I was without oxygen at 8,350 meters, facing a 50-degree incline of rock and trying to take slow steps. My fingers were frozen and my body very tired. So, I decided to turn back because those are signs of frostbite, and I could have died there, without ever reaching the summit. I did almost die.

Do many of the expeditions make it to the summit?

Many do, but, the only person who has ever tried it without oxygen has been me. Approximately 99 percent do it with oxygen and with a guide. This time around, two Canadians and I made it that far, but they still had their oxygen tanks. Maybe that’s why they were so astonished and, when we got back down, I received so many congratulations.

No oxygen at such a high altitude. What is your secret?

You have to develop your thoracic cage at its maximum capacity. You also have to measure and dose your breathing, work out, and maintain a high degree of concentration. Up high, it’s you against the weather and the mountain.

What was the most impressive or shocking thing you saw during your climb up the Everest?

I saw a young man from the Czech Republic die of a heart attack. It happened in Everest Camp 2, which is located well over 6,000 meters. With freezing temperatures of -25 degrees Celsius, when your body begins to fatigue and you start to feel the symptoms of frostbite, then you feel very close to death.

What does it feel like to witness someone’s death?

It’s very hard to see those last minutes of life, to help wrap him and then, later, throw him into a crevice because that’s what his family wanted. They wanted him to be part of the mountain, the mountain that took a 30-year old man’s life. The other death I witnessed was that of a Canadian, who died during our descent. That is what climbing is all about: sometimes you come down, sometimes you don’t.

When you are so close, but don’t attain your objective, is that failure?

No, absolutely not. I know that I was very close to the summit, and I feel very happy and proud. When I made it back down, I received cards and emails from many people congratulating me. They were astonished that I had made it so far up.

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