Edurne Pasabán: “I faced death in the Himalayas, but I couldn’t be happy”

Edurne Pasabán: “I faced death in the Himalayas, but I couldn’t be happy”

There have been higher peaks in the life of Edurne Pasabán (Tolosa, Gipuzkoa; 48 years old) than the 14 eight-thousanders she became the first woman to scale. After overcoming a depression that led her to attempt suicide, the rock climber now enjoys her five-year-old son Max and shares her experiences of elite sport and mental health.

Questions. Who is Edurne Pasabán today?

Answer. A girl who fought for her passion, scaled mountains and made her passion her purpose in life. Today I don’t climb eight-thousanders, but the mountain is still in me. What I have learned I teach to others.

P How has motherhood changed you?

R I’m much more afraid. I have lived many things and very to the extreme. I used to not think anything could happen to me and now it does. I would like to go to the Himalayas two months a year, but I’m at a different stage in my life.

P Do you want your son to become a mountaineer?

R Selfish, no. I know the risk of what I’ve done and I don’t want to suffer knowing my son is there. My parents didn’t know how much we were doing and they let us go. But I know and I don’t want to suffer. Although if he wants I will support him.

P What are you most proud of in your career?

R to be able to live with it. It was a minority sport. We gave more visibility to four linnets going to the mountain.

P Was being the first woman at 14 a desire, a challenge, a business…?

R There were stages. First I was a 24 year old girl who has a dream, the Himalayas. It was an adventure story, a love story. Then Al filo de lo imposible starts on TVE and we go professional. Until then I was looking for a living to find money and travel unaided, selling t-shirts and Christmas cards, something that the city government gave me as a present for climbing Everest… Then came the point where I said that this was not a game. Either he went forward or backward. I grew up In 2007 the project of the 14 eight-thousanders was created. I had to sell that I would be the first woman to upload them or I couldn’t find sponsors. There was more pressure. The responsibility in the backpack was the store. He started a competition with an Italian, an Austrian and a Korean who had great resources. My expedition spent 130,000 euros and his to Annapurna cost 5 million, with satellite, live TV… I had the same illusion as at the beginning. The vacuum packed ham my mom used for me was the same.

Edurne Pasabán, on K2 in 2004.Edurne Pasabán, on K2 in 2004.

P Did you pay toll?

R I start earning a living at 35 when an athlete in another discipline has quit by that age. When I go to work it’s a difficult time for a woman because at 31 or 32 society makes us feel like we need to find a partner and start a family. I, on the other hand, spent seven months in the Himalayas, risking my life. And not only that, my male colleagues could do it too. They had the photo of their children at base camp. That weighed on me.

P Is that where your depression comes from?

R Yes, that was in 2006. Everything explodes because a partner leaves me. And it has to do with combining one thing that’s close to my heart with another that I wanted. I fall into a hole and blame the mountain. They said to me: “How long are you going to the mountains, how do you want someone to put up with you…”. It wasn’t like I was overwhelmed by the mountain or the pressure of turning 14. This year is the only one in which I didn’t get an eight-thousander, my battery is dead, I separate. I had a lot of help in the family and in my people of the eight-thousanders. They knew they had to convince me to come back.

P You have achieved what would be a dream for many…

R Yes, but when a person falls into depression, even if they tell you that you have everything, you don’t see anything in that hole. In 2007 they organized an expedition to Broad Peak for me, we reached the top and it was very beautiful. My references were my classmates from my whole life, with whom I talked about their husbands, their children… I went to a dinner and they just talked about it. Some of them accompanied me to this base camp. It was brutal. I’m still crying. They said to me: “Stop that nonsense, go up there.” And I changed the chip.

P How do you get to the point of wanting to kill yourself twice?

R It was a very tough moment. I’ll be 49 on Monday. It seems brutal to me. Time flies super fast and I don’t want to have a birthday. I have so many things I want to do that I don’t have time. I’m getting older, I can’t do things the way I used to and it pisses me off. I literally suck at getting older. Thinking about this a few days ago, I went back to 2006 and I said to myself how did I try to take my life saying that sucks, that life isn’t worth living? Thanks that didn’t happen. I’m one of the lucky ones where trying to kill me didn’t work or I wasn’t brave enough. Happy.

P Did he want to end her death or the pain?

R end the pain It’s so big you’ll want to take it off and it’s the only way. If your leg hurts, take an ibuprofen. That soul ache inside you is very difficult to get rid of and the ball just keeps getting bigger.

P Came to search the internet how to do it. Doesn’t that scare you now?

R People scare me, the situation that many people are going through today who are going through the same thing as me. I am not afraid now. People who have experienced mental illness can have the same thing again, but I know myself a lot better and I know that when the traffic light turns from green to amber I know more about myself and am calmer. And that’s happened to me too. I won’t say I haven’t had to resort to antidepressants in the past 10 years. When I have that fear or that pain, I control it more. Trying to kill myself now doesn’t scare me, but everything I see outside scares me.

P His low point?

R Enter a mental hospital. Depression is still taboo. If they discover a tumor, I go to the treatment myself today. But when you have a mental illness and you have to take that step, it’s super difficult. Your family, your environment, you, society, don’t accept that. As they let me in, my brother gets my father to stop the car and say how they could leave me in there. And my mother stopped going to coffee with her friends in the morning to avoid making explanations. If I had had cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy, I wouldn’t have done it.

P Could you face an eight-thousander but not real life?

R That’s it. Everyone told me. In the Himalayas I faced death every day, I had lost many friends, five of us went on an expedition and four returned, but I couldn’t structure my life and be happy. I could see a friend die in the mountains, but I couldn’t get over the fact that an uncle had left me, that my grandmother told me that I would miss the rice…

P Does the athlete have to be invincible?

R It is and it is not. We are not invincible, we are real.

P What message do you want to convey?

R Ask for help. This is the great problem of our youth who do not ask for help. Not for fear of rejection.

P What’s your fifteenth eight-thousander?

R The hardest and most important of all, my son Max. I can forget the others, but this one is present every day. What makes Edurne Pasabán happy today is not the 14 eight-thousanders she climbed, but Max.

Pasabán, on one of his expeditions to the Himalayas.Pasabán, on one of his expeditions to the Himalayas.

From the hotel spa to Everest by helicopter

The queues at Everest and K2 scare Edurne Pasabán, a symbol of a time when solitude was found in the mountains. “Today it is a business. When I see these traffic jams, I think how lucky I am to have lived in a different time. There was nobody there, just a wall to which we attached 5,000 meters of rope. Today the 145 people who climb K2 in one day are all crazy.”
Pasabán reflects on this mountaineering of records and overcrowding: “It’s not the quantity, it’s the quality, the ethics. We’ve seen the 14 eight-thousanders climbed in six months, but what you don’t see in this film is that the chaining of Lhotse, Everest and Makalu isn’t doable unless you use a helicopter, oxygen and a rope to the summit. It took me 10 days to walk to the base camp. Now you are in camp 2 of Everest, at 6,500 meters, a helicopter takes you to the best five-star hotel in Kathmandu, you are in the spa in the afternoon and when you have rested for four days, he takes you back to camp 2. I remember spending four days on a table with a girl with a broken hip waiting for help”.

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