«The most difficult thing is to return when a colleague has died on the mountain»
To speak of Òscar Cadiach (Barcelona, 1952) is to speak of the mountain. It is his life. He is part of that select group of just a dozen people who have crowned the 14 'eight thousand' of the planet, and he did it without using supplemental oxygen. Recounting his exploits would require an entire newspaper, as he has participated in numerous expeditions on different continents. In addition, as a high mountain guide he has led groups of climbers to peaks of 7,000 meters, which has opened up a new avenue of enjoyment for him. In this interview, carried out in his K2 mountain sports store, in the center of Tarragona, he talks about his passion.
How does it feel to be so close to heaven?
The truth is that those mountains are so imposing that, although you think you are the king of the mambo, you realize that there you are nothing, you feel very humble. When you are at the top, what you think about is that you have to go down and get down to the bottom to be able to tell about it and enjoy it with your loved ones.
Sure, they say that the descent is the most dangerous part of an ascent.
Yes, because you no longer have the adrenaline that comes from wanting to reach the summit and you have spent a lot of energy on the climb. You have to know how to get down and keep in mind that the important thing is to stay alive. It's like in life; If you have reached high, you also have to know how to go down. I have seen very big and very hard falls.
Why climb mountains as hard and dangerous as it is?
It is a question that is very easy to answer wrongly. Let's see, I go because the mountain is there, because it attracts me. French climbers say that we are the conquerors of the useless, we do not get anything material for so much effort. But the truth is that when you go down you appreciate the earthly sensations much more. Perhaps it is better explained by the English, who maintain that when you come down from the mountain the beer tastes better.
Does it pay off then?
Of course. The mountain is a school of life. It has helped me forge my character and has been useful in my business side. It has made me more methodical, disciplined... Knowing that life is not pure mathematics, but a game in which improvisation and strategy often have to be used.
How was your passion for mountaineering born?
It was my mother's thing. My father was a sea captain and he spent a lot of time at sea, and she was an artist, she played the piano. It was she who took me to the mountains when I was six years old, I suppose with the idea that she would not follow in my father's footsteps and spend so much time at sea. What he did not imagine was that he would spend it in the mountains. Actually she wanted me to be a musician.
He took him to the mountain and he never came down.
About. I met a group of boy scouts, who then were the ones who knew about orienteering and made camps, and from then on my passion began.
Do you remember what your first peak was?
Yes, the first big one was the Puigmal, 3,000 meters, when I was nine years old. I remember that when I went down, euphoric, I crossed the Núria lake swimming. It is that then he also practiced swimming in the Tàrraco. Since then I will not stop. I have participated in seventy expeditions all over the world.
I suppose that a life dedicated to the mountains has required many sacrifices and not a few renunciations.
Of course. You have to lead a healthy life and have method and discipline. When I was 16 and 17 years old, my friends called me to go to the disco, but I told them that first I would go to the mountains, and then if that was the case, I would meet them to go to a party. But he arrived so tired that he never left. Yes, there have been many resignations, and this is not visible from the outside.
No, because the mountain has given me everything I wanted. It has allowed me to make documentaries, mountain movies, discover other civilizations and ways of life, give conferences, do seminars, give talks... make a living, because I have a mountain sports store and I am a guide.
He will also have experienced great frustrations. It must be very hard to prepare an expedition, with all that that implies, and, when the time comes, not being able to ascend not because you can't, but because of bad weather, for example.
Yes, in 35 expeditions I have not been able to reach the top. That frustrates you, sure, but such is life. If you have done things well, you have to be satisfied. You have to count on nature, it is part of its charm.
In all these years and after so many ascents, what has been the most difficult moment?
The worst, the most difficult, is coming home when a colleague has died in the mountains and having to notify his family. It has happened to me twice. But I don't blame the mountain; what happened to them could have happened to them anywhere else.
And you, have you ever feared for your own life?
Yes of course. In at least 15 expeditions I have had moments in which I have felt that I have been reborn. But I've been lucky. I am one of the few climbers who keeps all the fingers. To the mountain you have to go with a lot of respect.
And in the face of such tragic situations, haven't you considered quitting and looking for a calmer and less risky activity?
It is true that at some point I have come to say to myself "I don't know what I am doing here", but those thoughts have lasted very little and my motivation has been more powerful. Also, in the city there are other ways to be in danger, like driving a car, smoking, drinking and not taking care of yourself... I try to do things safely. It is true that my passion for the mountains has generated family conflicts, but I have never thought of giving it up. I am not there suffering, we are going to the mountain in search of life.
How has climate change affected these mountains?
It is affecting a lot. On the one hand, because the risk increases, because the snow melts and there is less stability and more danger of avalanches. And, on the other, because it forces you to look for other destinations. I was planning to go to the Dolomites last summer, but they are sinking and I couldn't go to the area I wanted. The Montblanc was also closed. 37 degrees were recorded.
Lately there are many people who go to the mountains in search of extreme experiences. What is your opinion of these images of overcrowding and long queues of people climbing Everest as if it were a pilgrimage?
We are sorry. It should be regulated, but the governments of those countries are poor and need the money that those currencies bring in, that's why they don't do it. But I don't blame those people either, because we are the first to give lectures and somehow we call people to come. Of course, it is necessary to do it ethically. There are those who go up for ego and spend a lot of money for it. I do not criticize them, because, if I have gone, why can't the others go?
In fact, you are a guide and you take people up the mountain.
Yes, now I enjoy accompanying people to places that I know and that have caught me. I have already taken a group to summits of 7,000 meters.
But he takes on a huge responsibility.
Yes, it is important to manage the risk, provide them with security so that they can enjoy themselves. And teach them that you have to have respect and mental strength. Bravery pays dearly on the mountain. But is pretty. As a guide I make many people feel alive. And I am passionate about that, I like to help people meet challenges and be happy.
In this sense, he is on the way to making Paralympic athlete Gerard Descarrega happy.
Yes, it is a very beautiful and demanding challenge. Gerard is blind. One day he came to the store for material because he was going alone to New Zealand to hitchhike around that country. We have a good relationship. He is a psychologist and he was very supportive of my last attempt at an 8,000, the Broad Peak. In a fall I hit my arm, it hurt a lot and I wasn't sure I could climb. He sent me a message because he had just become world champion in athletics. That gave me strength. I thought he was a motivation and so I did. Now I am his guide. We started with peaks of 3,000 meters to go up little by little to 4,000, 5,000... We have already climbed Aneto, Montblanc, Mount Kenya, and now we are going for a 6,000, Huascarán, in the Andes, where there is snow , ice, cracks...
And how do you go back to the routine after having lived such intense experiences?
Well, it costs quite a bit. I need a month of adaptation. In the end you have no choice but to accept it, although sometimes your mind is a little gone, somewhere else. In any case, this kind of life is harder, running the store, being autonomous, than climbing mountains, which is a passion that I control.
Does Tarragona remain small every time you return?
Small, no, I have family here and Tarragona will always be my home. The sea makes you come back.
Yes, those of us who have grown up near the sea cannot spend much time away from it. I have done voyages by sea, like when I went around Menorca in a kayak.
So, on vacation, sea or mountains?
Because of my profession, I am attracted to the mountains, but I also like the sea. I usually combine both passions trekking along the coast.
Some amulet or ritual?
The most important thing is to maintain inner peace and not go there with tension or stress. I don't know if it's ritual, but I always carry a turquoise stone and a pendant that the Dalai Lama gave me to give me protection. It's curious; on an expedition to Tibet we asked him for spiritual permission and he sent us five of these pendants. I don't know how he knew we were five people, we never told him.
Any advice to beginners in mountaineering?
Modesty. Both on the mountain and in life.