The Inexistence of Impossible: Interview With Winter Alpinist Simone Moro


“Impos­si­ble” does not exist for Simone Moro, because he’s con­stant­ly redefin­ing the word. The Ital­ian alpin­ist, wide­ly con­sid­ered one of the world’s most elite, has earned his rep­u­ta­tion by climb­ing daunt­ing 8,000-meter peaks. Inspired by the Pol­ish hard men of the 1980s, Moro con­quers the high­est moun­tains on Earth with his spe­cial­ty – he climbs in win­ter. In the Himalayas, the Karako­ram, and the Andes, his feats and dar­ing expe­di­tions are unmatched: First win­ter ascents on Aconcagua, Makalu, Shisha Pang­ma, and Gasher­brum II, speed ascents on Fitz Roy and Lhotse, and a solo south to north tra­verse on Ever­est. Beyond his impres­sive cur­ricu­lum, Simone is a skilled Himalayan search and res­cue pilot, a human­i­tar­i­an who financed a school in a remote vil­lage of Nepal, and has famous­ly aban­doned sum­mits to pro­vide aid for strand­ed climbers. With his trade­mark pas­sion, humor, and Ital­ian-accent­ed Eng­lish, Moro spoke with me about his rev­er­ence for the Pol­ish climbers, the tran­scen­dence from his home­town of Berg­amo at the foot of the Cen­tral Alps to the high­est peaks on Earth, and nar­row­ly escap­ing a ter­ri­fy­ing avalanche with Cory Richards and Denis Urubko.

THE CLYMB: You grew up in the Cen­tral Alps, away from the Dolomites and Monte Bian­co. How did you chase your climb­ing goals and how did you tran­si­tion into alpin­ism?
Simone Moro:
My city is Berg­amo, and it’s locat­ed in the Cen­tral Alps. It’s a won­der­ful place for rock climb­ing, ice climb­ing, and sky­div­ing, but it’s not as famous as the Dolomites or Monte Bian­co (the Ital­ian name for Mont Blanc). But Wal­ter Bon­at­ti was born in Berg­amo, and he is an exam­ple of how pas­sion goes beyond any­thing, includ­ing geo­graph­i­cal “lim­its”. I start­ed as a pure com­pe­ti­tion sport climber, but I felt the call of the moun­tains over the plas­tic (indoor) so I start­ed alpinism.


THE CLYMB: What role did the Pol­ish climbers have in devel­op­ing win­ter moun­taineer­ing? What advan­tage did they have that allowed them to con­quer the 8,000-meter peaks in this style?
Simone Moro: Pol­ish climbers could be con­sid­ered in a way as peo­ple of Berg­amo. The height of the moun­tains in Poland is sim­i­lar to those of the Berg­amo Alps. Pol­ish peo­ple were poor and strong. They were used to suf­fer­ing and since win­ter climb­ing is a “suf­fer­ing game”, they became the kings of that kind of alpinism.

THE CLYMB: What led you into pur­su­ing win­ter climb­ing? What were the sen­sa­tions of your first win­ter expe­di­tion?
Simone Moro: Peo­ple of Berg­amo are sim­i­lar to those of East­ern Euro­pean coun­tries. We are very hard work­ers, we have a long tra­di­tion of man­u­al labor in the moun­tains, and we are used to liv­ing in hard con­di­tions. I’m just the prod­uct of the kind of DNA and I feel very nat­ur­al when I climb in win­ter or with East­ern Euro­pean alpin­ists. My sec­ond expe­di­tion of the 50 that I’ve par­tic­i­pat­ed in was in alpine style dur­ing win­ter. I imme­di­ate­ly under­stood the sense of explo­ration and adven­ture in this way of climbing.

THE CLYMB: After the first sev­en suc­cess­ful win­ter expe­di­tions by Pol­ish climbers, there was a gap of 17 years with­out a sin­gle win­ter sum­mit. Why did this hap­pen?
Simone Moro: It is dif­fi­cult to find a sin­gle rea­son, but cer­tain­ly, the deaths of Jerzy Kukucz­ka and Wan­da Rutkievitz (the male and female lead­ers of the Pol­ish climb­ing com­mu­ni­ty) shocked the Pol­ish sys­tem. Then a gen­er­a­tional turnover hap­pened, and the new gen­er­a­tion, who weren’t accus­tomed to tra­di­tion­al ways, was weak­er than the old. So, the com­bi­na­tion of mul­ti­ple fac­tors, includ­ing cli­mate change, influ­enced the capac­i­ty to achieve win­ter climbs at high alti­tude. Then, start­ing in 2005, our win­ter ascents on Shisha Pang­ma, Makalu, and Gasher­brum II, helped in the “rebirth” of win­ter alpin­ism on the high­est mountains.

In 2011, Simone sum­mit­ted Gasher­brum II with Amer­i­can, Cory Richards and Kaza­kh, Denis Urubko, mark­ing the only 8,000-meter peak in win­ter con­quered by an Amer­i­can. This expe­di­tion was doc­u­ment­ed in the crit­i­cal­ly acclaimed film “Cold”. On their descent from the sum­mit, an avalanche broke away from a neigh­bor­ing peak and near­ly buried the three climbers. Simone describes the tense moments dur­ing and fol­low­ing the slide.


THE CLYMB: Describe the events of the avalanche on Gasher­brum II. What did you see and what was the after­math?
Simone Moro:  We were on our 6th day of climb­ing and were descend­ing towards base camp. We were tired and we were in fresh deep snow. A big avalanche broke just above us, from Gasher­brum V, and since we were mov­ing slow­ly in that fresh snow, we were not able to escape. We were lucky to sur­vive because I remained on the sur­face of the avalanche. I was able to dig Cory and Denis sim­ply using my hands. They were 80% buried in the snow, with only their heads just above the surface.

THE CLYMB: Beyond climb­ing, you are a suc­cess­ful SAR heli­copter pilot in the Himalayas. What inspired you to take this up?
Simone Moro:  Think­ing about my future and my par­al­lel life (I will always remain a climber and a dream­er) I decid­ed to do some­thing for me and for the peo­ple who love and live in the moun­tains, espe­cial­ly in the remote val­leys of the Himalayas and the Karako­rum. Becom­ing a pilot with spe­cial­iza­tion in moun­tain res­cue was my way to find a new life and a new mis­sion. I just estab­lished a heli­copter school in San Diego, Cal­i­for­nia, where my aim is to train future heli­copter pilots in SAR and moun­tain res­cue missions.

THE CLYMB: You have a par­tic­u­lar def­i­n­i­tion of the word “impos­si­ble” and what it means to you. Could you elab­o­rate on your thoughts?
Simone Moro:  Impos­si­ble is just the word we use to find an excuse why we had not been able to do some­thing. Impos­si­ble doesn’t exist exact­ly as a lim­it. Some­thing that was impos­si­ble some years ago rep­re­sents the lim­its of that time. Now it is not impos­si­ble and the lim­it gets high­er. So don’t believe in that con­cept and dream high.

Simone is cur­rent­ly prepar­ing for anoth­er win­ter climb­ing sea­son in the moun­tains, climb­ing Mansalu. Read about his incred­i­ble expe­di­tions and climb­ing phi­los­o­phy in his lat­est book “The Call Of The Ice”.