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Wopeak 2017: interview with Alberto Iñurrategi and Juan Vallejo

On June 6th, Alberto Iñurrategi and Juan Vallejo, together with Mikel Zabalza, will head towards the Himalayas in an attempt to make a direct link between Gasherbrum's G-I and G-II summits over the mountain pass that connects them; all this without descending to the base camp or relying on the usual mountain routes, and using the alpine style for which they are known.

This challenge is the final step to complete the WOPeak initiative promoted by the Walk On Project Foundation, which is focused on the fight against neurodegenerative diseases and providing visibility for these pathologies. The challenge started on the Gorbea mountain in 2010, the first of eight stages that will most probably end with Gasherbrum in a few weeks' time.

On this trip, Ternua is equipping Iñurrategi and Vallejo with their clothes and a two-piece boiler suit that was made for them last year, as well as a handmade altitude boiler suit produced with high-tech materials and recycled damp-proof down filling. In addition, with them they will carry a product developed during "What's Next", the name given to Ternua's innovation project. Specifically, it's a mountain sleeping bag that has been custom-designed for the needs of mountaineers that we have developed together within the R&D department. Two needs were taken into account when designing it: breathability (to keep the condensation formed inside the bag from restricting the down's thermal function) and weight (the maximum was 1kg).

Before setting off on this challenge, we talked with them to hear about their impressions and goals for WoPeak 2017.

After the issues that arose last year, how will you face this new challenge?

Alberto Iñurrategi: With the excitement of tackling something new and unknown, while at the same time having the advantage of having measured it up last year from a very reasonable distance.

Juan Vallejo: With even more excitement if possible; last year the weather didn't give us a choice, and we returned with a bad taste in our mouth because we couldn't even attempt it. So this year we are returning with renewed strength and a desire to try it again.

What does ending the WoPeak project mean to you?

A.I: Normally, when you complete a project, another one starts. Ending the WoPeak project would mean bringing to a close an idea that was put in motion some years ago to fight against neurodegenerative diseases; but rare diseases will continue to exist, and we will have to keep working on research... And the mountain will also still be there.

J.V: It's good to have long-term projects, but it's also nice to finish them and start new ones. In this sense, WoPeak has been a project in which we have been stuck for four years, so we are really excited to finish it with this last expedition that will be an incredible way to end it.

How did the idea to make a route between Gasherbrum's two summits over the mountain pass arise?

A.I: Last year we took interest in these mountains with several ideas and an open plan to make a decision depending of the conditions in which we might find ourselves. The weather spoiled all the alternatives, but we had the opportunity to assess the mountain up close. This year we are returning with the same ideas, but with the focus placed on the crossing. We thought it was a very interesting goal with a high level of uncertainty. This made it exciting, and that's what we are always looking for.

J.V: For me personally, I had always been impressed by the Messner and Kamerlander ascent, and that was something that I really wanted to try but saw as difficult to do. Now I think that we are at the point in our careers that, because of our experience and our ability, we can attempt it. So here we are, with a great deal of respect because we know that it is not going to be easy at all, but we are excited to attempt it. 

What do you think will be the greatest difficulties that you will find?

A.I: Connecting the two mountains requires several days of activity at an altitude of more than 6,500m. We are going to need to be well adapted to the lack of oxygen with extraordinary acclimation, as well as good decisions and luck with the weather since it's not very common that perfect conditions last for more than four days.

J.V: Above all, we need to be able to ration the energy required for such a long stay at those altitudes, which will be many days at an altitude of between 6,500 and 8,000 meters. It will be difficult for the body to function well every day, so it will also be key for us to be able to reach optimal acclimation; that will give us a lot of assurance.

For this project, we have created the hand-crafted sleeping bag specifically for this expedition with the goal of reducing its weight and guaranteeing breathability. Another challenge for us.

A.I: Many years' experience and a long-standing collaborative relationship with Ternua has allowed for the development of a sleeping back that is adapted to the needs and requirements that we usually find on these ascents. The sleeping bag has to be light. The conditions in which we are going to use it involve a lot of frost and condensation. If the down gets wet, it loses its ability to insulate and becomes heavier. That is why we have used an outside material with a 20/20 column (Pertex Endurance) and a very light inside material (Pertex Quantum) combined with recycled water-repellent down. The result is a sleeping bag that weighs a bit over 1 kg, guaranteeing insulation in extreme conditions without increasing the weight.

J.V: On a crossing with these characteristics, weight is key. The more we are able to reduce the weight of the pack, the better possibilities for success we will have. We have a very light and measured-out equipment, plus we are incorporating new technology like the water-repellent down in the sleeping bag and the boiler suit. That also keeps its properties intact after many days of taking off and putting on wet clothes inside the tent. This also means that it doesn't take on weight, and that is extremely important for a crossing like this one where we have to drag our materials with us throughout the whole climb.

What clothes will you use?

A.I: I will wear long and short trekking pants, breathable shirts and windbreakers on the approach, with a Primaloft thermal t-shirt and jacket for when we stop. I'll also take a KANJUT t-shirt as a first layer, a STORM PRO jacket, an ASCENT jacket and down jacket.

J.V: Taking into account that we will go from 40 degrees in Islamabad to -30 degrees at the summit, we will have to have a pretty wide range of clothing. This goes from clothing to put up with the very intense heat, to down boiler suits to reach the summit.



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