Imagine riding your bike 7,000 miles to Nepal, carrying a year’s supply of gear and food. Next, think about carrying 143 pounds, unassisted, up to Everest Base Camp. Now picture yourself climbing the world’s tallest mountain alone, completely self-contained, without the help of Sherpas and without bottled oxygen. Sound impossible? It isn’t. In May of 1996, a Swedish mountaineer named Göran Kropp accomplished just that. Then he packed his gear and biked back home.
Years later, his cell phone rings. “Yes, this is Göran,” he answers, “…This is the man of your dreams.” Not at all a brash statement, at least not from this guy. In his journey across Europe and Asia, he was almost run over (intentionally), hassled by locals, laughed at, stoned, chased by dogs, and assaulted with a baseball bat. He was even held at gunpoint and miraculously saved himself only by flinging his arms in the air shouting “No problem!”
And that was only on his approach to Mount Everest. He had yet to scale the 29, 028-foot mountain that local Sherpas revere as a god. Göran’s point behind climbing Everest without oxygen is explained in his new book Ultimate High. “The mountain shrinks if bottled oxygen is used, the adventure itself is diminished.”
Even with the success of his bold ambitions, Göran insists he isn’t a hero. He simply has a strong desire to do things that no one has ever achieved. “To do the same thing that someone else has done before,” he says, “You already know from the start that it’s possible to do. But when people tell me that it’s impossible, then I feel the strength to do it even more.”
Göran’s love for mountains began as a small boy, watching his father climb the mountains of Italy. “He was the real hero,” Göran says. “He was like Clint Eastwood. But instead of a gun, he had a rope and axe.” Sometimes, his father would even carry young Göran in his backpack as he climbed. “Yah, yah, I wasn’t scared. My father had so much control. I could feel it,” he laughs, “No problem.”
Now on lecture tours and speaking engagements, Göran feels rewarded with people’s stories of their own goals reached and dreams accomplished. “I get a lot of response,” he says. People talk about their own dreams. They tell me that I make them feel like nothing is impossible.”
Since his Everest expedition, Göran returned to the peak last year, this time collecting empty oxygen bottles and loads of waste. In 2004, he will set off on his next harrowing quest, to sail alone from Sweden to Antarctica, cross-country ski to the South Pole, ski back to his boat, then sail back home. Never before has this been accomplished, and Göran has yet to learn how to sail!
Is he afraid? “Yes, a little,” he admits. “It’s important to be a little bit afraid. If you’re not, you will die very soon. It’s a calculated risk. You have to have the right sense so you can turn back at the right moment and don’t continue when it’s too dangerous. That’s very important. Some people really push the limit, and then they are out on the adventure forever.”
Preparation is everything, Göran believes. In preparation for Everest, Göran went on nine climbs. Each one higher and more technically advanced than the last. “The best way to learn how to act or react is to get the skill yourself,” he says. “You don’t become a world champion in one year, it could take decades.”
To prepare for his South Polar adventure, Göran will practice skiing in the North Pole later this month. But even the preparation requires preparation. He recently trained with polar bears, an animal he may encounter in the North. “They saw us like candy,” he laughs, “they tried to eat us.”
He also cross-country skis while towing old car tires behind him. And he force feeds himself at McDonald’s to put on some weight. “I have to gain 25 kilograms for the North Pole,” he explains. “Skiing for twelve hours a day, you burn a lot of fat, and if I only have 1.1 kilo of food every day, it’s impossible to get enough fat out of that.” To remedy the situation, he’ll have to mix 0.2 liters of oil with his freeze-dried food. “It tastes awful, but I have to do it.
“Hey, if you know anyone who has too much weight, you tell him to join us. Join Kropp to the top,” he laughs. “No problem!”
We will be following Göran as he prepares for his South Polar journey. Keep reading about Göran’s exciting adventures right here on theArgonauts.com.