Naughty Mountaineers
An Interview with Göran Kropp

Those who have read Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air know Göran Kropp as the wacky Swede who showed up at the foot of Mount Everest in April '96 after dragging 240 pounds of gear 8,000 miles from Stockholm, via bicycle, just in time for the infamous summer of death.

See also...
... by Chris Koentges
... in the Scope section
... from December 2, 1999

Without Sherpa support or so much as a single breath of bottled oxygen, Kropp knocked off the greatest self-contained approach and climb in Everest history. I tracked down the candid mountaineer in a tiny Rocky Mountain village as he prepared to peddle his new book, Ultimate High: My Everest Odyssey, across North America. Among other topics, he was eager to discuss the karmic consequences of getting laid on Everest, and some of the false claims made by mountaineers over the past few years.

GETTINGIT: You've recently blown the whistle on a number of fraudulent ascents that the climbing community has tried to keep under wraps. Who's the most notorious?

GÖRAN KROPP [slow Swedish brogue]: Oh, yes. The Slovenian team. We have a big argument because they say that they can prove that they have been on the summit. OK, let me see that. And they don't send me anything -- because I know what happened, and I hate that because I think that the climber, you rely on him... If you cannot trust him who is holding your life in your hands then everything for me is missed.

GI: Have climbers praised you for this?

GK: Yes, some of them. And some have not done it because they think that this put climbers into bad, you know.

GI: How about base camp in '96? Were there people who lied about skills they didn't have?

GK: You feel who are really climbers, you know. Ed Viesturs, he would never do anything like that. Scott Fischer -- never. Rob Hall, David Breashears, you know, they are real climbers, and you feel it immediately.

GI: And the South Africans?

GK [Cringes]: I was amazed to see them there... One girl, she come to us and she wondered what crampons was for. She had never seen them! "What is this with all this spikes? What do you do with that?"

I said, "Crampons. You put them under your shoes."

And then when they were trying to climb on the small ice hills, one of them didn't know that you should have an inner shoe, so he has climbed with a plastic boot ... and he went up four meters and he hadn't knotted himself in. And up there he started shaking and then he fall down four meters and got knocked unconscious ... and they were screaming at each other and everything. It was too much. I think after '96, I felt like this is not what I want to do, you know, being around in this kind of circus ring.

GI: Do they have less right to be up there?

GK: Oh, it's up to them. I mean, they don't value their life so much. I think in the end that's what it's about -- your life. If you're prepared then you take a low risk. If you're not prepared you take a very high risk. And if your life isn't so valuable: "OK, let's go to Everest without any preparations, no problem." Maybe you die, maybe you cut off your arm or whatever.

GI: Is that how high altitude karma works?

GK: Yeah. I think so. I felt that the mountain was angry almost. So many things happen and people did not respect it and they had party down in the base camp before. They already celebrated a victory before they should do the summit attempt!

GI: What really upset the Sherpas that year?

GK: It was so many people who had an "interesting" relationship all over. And you can't count who was doing what with whom. It was so complicated.

GI: Like who?

GK: I think... ummm... maybe 20 percent of the base camp were playing around with each other.

GI: Like all at once?

GK: Yeah, there was so much happening. The girls who were there, they were really, you know, hownted.

GI: Really what?

GK: Hownted.

GI: Oh, hunted.

GK: Yeah, hownted.

GI: Who was doing the... hownting?

GK: I can't tell you about that... There was a lot of people who had a nice feeling.

GI: How did you get along with Sandy Pittman?

GK: Actually, I did not know her at all before Everest. I met her down in Namche Bazaar the first time. And first time, you know, she acted a little bit like she owned the place, she was like, "What are you?"

"Swedish expedition."

"Oh, psh."

And then I had met her on the way down from the accident and she was very strange. I think she was shocked [in shock] ... I had my own thing to think about. I tried to stay out of the other expeditions.

GI: How did those expeditions get along?

GK [Laughing]: It was a funny place. You put up a small village out in nowhere with a lot of people from all over the world in the same place and then you should act together. It's very interesting. War criminals and all of the South Africans and the Russian guy and belly cord man and God knows who all turn up there.

GI: Belly cord man?

GK: Thierry Renard was his name. He was there fourth time with glass bottle with [his son's umbilical cord preserved in formaldehyde] inside and tried to put it up on top. It was crazy, you know.

GI: Did you see it up there?

GK [Mischievous grin]: No. I searched for it very hard, but I didn't find it.

GI: Did you leave anything?

GK: No. Nothing. I think it's enough stuff up there.

GI: What were the stupider items?

GK [Long exhale]: I just saw photos, pitons... some hair. Somebody placed their hair up there! Name tags...

GI: ... $200,000 necklace ...[Pittman is rumored to have left a $200,000 piece of jewelry made by Barry Kieselstein-Cord on the summit]

GK [The mischievous grin broadens]: Yah! I tried to find that.

GI: No luck?

GK: No.

GI: Too bad.

Chris Koentges is about to launch an expedition up a pretty big knoll behind his house. For five bucks he'll leave your umbilical cord on the summit.