Nepali Times
The gods have won


"I am in Thamel now and I couldn't be feeling better!" Iñaki Ochoa de Olza emailed on arriving in Kathmandu for his expedition this spring. The Basque climber had been coming to Nepal since 1990 and adored the country and its people.

He started out 18 years ago as a mountain guide for a Polish-Basque expedition on Kangchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world. The expedition was unsuccessful due to bad weather and friction between the Poles and the Basques. In spite of being very young and inexperienced, Iñaki reached the highest point in the doomed expedition but was forced back by bad weather at an altitude of 7,800m.

He went back to Kangchenjunga in 1997 but the expedition was once again unsuccessful. For Iñaki Kangchenjunga remained the magic mountain, which, had he lived, would have been the last of the 14 eight-thousanders he wanted to climb. "Kangch has fascinated me since I first set foot on it 18 years ago and that is why I want to keep it for the end," he once said.

By the time Annapurna took his life on 23 May (see adjoining piece) Iñaki had climbed 12 of the world's 8,000m peaks. However, the Pamplonan, who kept his 'Seventies look' with long hair and rows of earrings until the very end, was much more than a climber: he was a philosopher, a bull-runner and a poet. His website ( is not only a chronicle of his mountaineering feats, but a collection of poetry and messages from friends and family.

A message dedicated to Anatoli Boukreev, the strong Ukrainian climber who died in an avalanche on Annapurna on Christmas Day in 1997, is titled 'A song for Anatoli' and reads: 'Even though he trained like an animal he was a very modest and sensitive person, who was very entertaining and a good friend to his friends.' This could have been a description of himself.

Friendship meant much more to him than climbing. During an interview with the internet portal ExplorersWeb he said: "Friendship is much more meaningful than mountains, and each peak must be climbed in a worthy way, not as a mere part of a collection." During his 28 years of Himalayan climbing Iñaki had made many friends and was very much liked and respected.

When the news broke that he had succumbed to high altitude sickness, the mountaineering world was shocked. His friends couldn't believe Iñaki didn't make it, he just seemed so strong and invincible.

Hotel Thamel, the small, friendly lodge where the Spaniard used to stay, put up a huge poster of the climber in tribute. "It was always good to see Iñaki. He was always friendly and no matter how busy he was, he always had time for a chat," recalls Anis at the hotel.

Iñaki did not only love Nepal for its mountains, he was also fond of its people and he even spoke some Nepali. "Languages are important to me and I can connect to the Nepalis a lot better when I speak their language," he once said. He also had a lot of respect for the Sherpas, who to him were more like friends than expedition employees.

In his last dispatch on his website he showed his interest and respect for Buddhism. He mentions the Tibetan nomads, who cry at the wind each time they reach a summit or cross a mountain pass: "Lho Gyelo". It means: the Gods have won.

Billi Bierling is a mountaineering journalist based in Kathmandu and works with the Himalayan archivist, Elizabeth Hawley. She also leads mountaineering expeditions to smaller Himalayan peaks.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)