This interview with David Liano is one of an ongoing series I do each season with Everest climbers. Not the famous, sale sponsored ones who get plenty of publicity but the regular people, who often have full time jobs, full time families and climb for the love of the climb. I welcome suggestions for anyone climbing in 2013 I should interview. Now here’s David:
For most Everest climbers who are suffering severe headaches, and an unsteady heartbeat it is enough to rethink their climbing goals. But for David Liano, it was motivation to hone his condition, find peace with his goals and double down, literally.
This mountain climber loves adventure whether it is solo ocean racing, triathlons, paragliding off mountain tops, the 7 Summits or, the casual Everest climb.
This was his wrap-up for 2012:
The 2012 was a wonderful year for me. Sailed nearly 5,000 miles offshore, took courses and returned to the world of mountaineering after both the cardiologist and the neurologist told me I could climb again. I prepared for the New York marathon for the first time since its inception in 1979 was canceled by the wake of Hurricane Sandy, I participated in three triathlons, I lost 16 kilos in weight and glider flew about 40 hours on two continents. In aircraft covered more than 160,000 kilometers, enough to go around the world almost four times.
He will be attempting in 2013 something no climber has ever done on Everest – climb both sides separately in one season. David is no stranger to Everest with three summits on five different climbs, so he knows what he is getting into. David lives in Mexico City thus giving him an advantage when it comes to acclimatization.
Please meet David:
Q: You are quite famous in Mexico and their leading high altitude climber. How popular is alpine mountaineering in Mexico?
Thank you for the kind comments. In Mexico, and especially around Mexico City, we are fortunate to have amazing volcanoes with very easy access. Pico de Orizaba (5,636m) is the third highest mountain in North America. Also, living in Mexico City has a significant advantage for climbers: I live at 2,800 meters, the same altitude as Lukla in the Khumbu and that’s one of the reasons I usually acclimatize well. I’m very proud of the mountaineering tradition we have, starting with Ricardo Torres Nava, the first Mexican and Latin-American to summit Everest and then with Carlos Carsolio, only the fourth person to successfully climb all fourteen 8,000 meter peaks
Q: You have an interesting relationship with Everest. 2013 will be your 5th climb with three summits yet you want to return. Before we get into the double, what is the attraction of Everest to you as a veteran climber?
Every year I’ve summited I have tried a different thing. I first dreamt of climbing Everest in 2003 after reading coverage of the 50th anniversary of the first ascent. Two years later I finally reached the summit for the first time. In the 2008 season I was not being able to get a traverse permit, or even a permit to climb on the Tibet side, so I changed my goal and summited Lhotse and Everest on the South side within four days of each other. After two more years of trying to get a traverse permit, in 2010 I once again adapted my goal and planned for a double ascent of Everest with Bill Burke. Since traversing was the problem we decided to climb up and down on both the North and South side on the same season, which has yet to be done. I was successful in summiting only on the South side that year.
Q: In 2010, you became very ill on the north side, was evacuated to Kathmandu for treatment then returned to summit from the south. Most people would have stopped when they returned to Kathmandu, what kept you going?
During my summit push I spent a night alone at the North Col and I started having chest pains. I could feel my heart skipping a beat now and then to be followed by an unusually strong beat. Since I knew that things would only get worse with altitude I decided to head back to Kathmandu and see a cardiologist. Fortunately I was only diagnosed with a benign type of heart arrhythmia and I was able to take a helicopter flight to Everest Base camp on the South side and I summited for the third time just four days later. Leaving the mountain in the middle of the expedition was definitely hard and I was ready to head home. But after my check-up in Kathmandu it was as if the sky cleared and I could see the summit again. There was nowhere for me to go but back up
Q: You are as passionate about sailing as you are about climbing even sailing solo last year from San Francisco to Hawaii. Can you tell us about sailing and the connection to climbing?
I started having strong headaches at Advanced Base Camp during my 2011 attempt of a Double Ascent of Everest. The headaches wouldn’t go away even after driving all the way back to the China-Nepal border. At the time I was afraid it could be cerebral edema or even a brain tumor since I only had the headaches on the left side of my head. The headaches continued for several months after the expedition and I was diagnosed with an occipital neuralgia, a damaged nerve on the back of my neck. It made sense to take some time off high-altitude mountaineering and let my body heal but I needed to set myself some challenging goals. That’s when I decided to sail around the world solo and non-stop. I will begin that circumnavigation on September of 2013. As part of the planning and preparation I raced on the 2012 Singlehanded Transpac from San Francisco to Hawaii. Mountaineering is extremely hard on the human body. I don’t know many sports where a person can lose 20 pounds of body weight and that it’d be considered “normal”. But climbing can also be a particularly stressful activity and for me long distance sailing has a relaxing effect. Like climbing, it has the challenge of working with and sometimes against nature but not the harsh effects of altitude.
Q: A part of your training/recovery process you took your dad to Nepal and climbed a few trekking peaks. What was that like?
I started climbing with him 20 years ago when I was only 13. With him I climbed the last of the Seven Summits (which technically was the 8th for me) and during November of 2010 we planned to climb Ama Dablam together. Unfortunately, the climb was more technically challenging than he expected and I went on to summit with Tshering Dorjee Sherpa. Last year we returned together to the Khumbu with two goals in mind. First, to see if the headaches came back with high altitude and, second, to finally climb a peak in the Himalayas with my dad. It was an amazing expedition in which I stayed perfectly healthy climbing Lobuche East (6,119 meters) and then we went on to summit Island Peak together. I’m not sure what I expected from Island Peak but it turned out to be an incredible adventure. The mountain has huge glaciers, spectacular crevasses, a challenging headwall and a knife-edge ridge to the summit. We couldn’t have picked a better mountain to climb together. After that expedition, I was sure that going back to Everest was the logical step for me.
Q: Now you are looking at a double summit of Everest meaning you hope to summit from Nepal, climbing from the South, then move to Tibet to climb from the North. This has never been done in one season. What is your motivation?
My goals on Everest have evolved mostly due to permit, political and health issues. But my motivation has stayed the same through the years: to live unique and challenging adventures and never to settle for the ordinary.
Q: Did you consider doing a traverse instead of a double?
This year I briefly considered a double traverse rather than summiting from both sides on the same season. At the moment the permit situation makes that impossible and instead of fighting against the current policies I’m doing the best with what we have available.
Q: This will be extremely physically demanding. How are you training?
Everyone has a different approach to training for climbing 8,000-meter peaks. What has worked the best for me in the past is training for Everest by training for triathlons. I believe swimming helps me develop my lung efficiency to absorb oxygen, biking gets my body used to keep going for hours and hours and moderate beats-per-minute and running gets me ready for those moments on the mountain of high intensity and physical demand. On March 17 I’ll be racing on the Los Cabos Ironman and I couldn’t wish for a better test before the expedition. I’m also climbing the volcanoes around Mexico City and paragliding off the summit. It’s a very safe and efficient way to get back to the trailhead.
Q: A popular subject around Everest are the crowds and skills of the climbers. You will need to move fast on both climbs to conserve energy. Do you have any strategies with respect to the crowds?
Crowded fixed lines, especially on the South side, are definitely a concern. I’ve been stuck behind big groups that move at an extremely (and I would consider dangerously) slow pace, and they get aggressive when people pass them even when they unclip and climb around them. This year I plan to be ready for a South side summit push very early in the season and hopefully climb right behind the rope-fixing team. I may not be climbing in ideal conditions but at this point I consider crowds to be more dangerous than weather.
Q: Last question, do you have a favorite piece of gear you use on all your climbs?
I never go climbing without my Patagonia Nano Puff jacket. I wear it on the 36-hour airplane trip to Asia and it keeps me warm at 7,000 meters when I use it with other layers.
Q: Any other thoughts for us followers this year David?
2013 is the 60th anniversary of the first ascent of Everest. I feel fortunate to be able to go back and try the double summit challenge during this special year.
David is off on a rare adventure with the double summit. He will be climbing with Asian Trekking on both sides of Everest. We wish him the best and will be following. Please visit David’s website for more information.
Memories are Everything