Marco Confortola, “My challenge is of little importance in comparison with so many other human struggles”
The Gran Zebrù Mountain and the town of Santa Caterina di Valfurva give a warm ‘welcome back’ to this extreme mountaineer as he brings bread to the shelter.
“Watching the excitement of my clients here in my mountains and sharing the valley that I am so attached to with my friends are the things that make me the happiest”
Valfurva is still asleep as the headlights of the jeep light up the road leading to Forni. Marco spots a couple of deer – two tiny black shapes on the ridge – as dawn approaches.
Marco, those two deer seem to be saying “Welcome back” to you. How does it feel to come home?
These mountains live inside of me and I live inside of them. They’re my workplace as a mountain guide, the gym for my workouts and – above all – the cradle of my soul. It’s where I am happy and where I feel I belong. The jeep crunches through the stones on the road after the thaw. Now at the Pizzini Shelter, the engine stops. It sounds like it’s heaving a sigh of satisfaction -as if to say “I’ve done my part. Now it’s up to the man here”.
What inspires you to take off? To leave your valley and climb all the way to the top?
When I look up and see a mountain, it’s like watching a movie. I can already picture my body on that wall. As I look up higher and higher, it’s as if my thoughts were soaring. The bigger the wall, the longer I stretch my neck to observe it and then a shiver runs through me. I would define this as passion.
The Gran Zebrù, the “K2 of Valfurva” fades in through the foggy dawn: moraines, glacier, rock walls and ice. Mountains are all alike but perhaps his eyes perceive a spirit in everything they see.
Why Marco? Why do you deliberately set out to climb the 8000 metre monsters?
You should read my book “Il cacciatore di 8000” (The Eight-Thousander hunter), if you want to try and understand what 8000 metres really feels like. Those of us who climb the eight-thousanders without oxygen are one in a million because it’s really brutal. In any case, I started out on a path, which is also a dream. I don’t know if I’ll ever make it to the top of my 14th eight-thousander (which is also the only one left). I have no idea how I’d feel. But this is my path and each step is a new one that takes me along an inward journey. Following this path has become my life.
Once you get past the bottleneck, there’s the shoulder to climb. Sun-baked snow is slippery and dangerous. It’s safer to climb on the left among the rocks.
You are an extreme mountaineer. We could say that taking risks is your profession. Tell me, is it really worth all the trouble?
My grandfather used to say that cemeteries are full of heroes. Running the risk of losing your life, the most precious thing you’ve got, is never worth it. And this is from a guy who not only takes those risks; he’s also witnessed the countless adventures of others. At times, I came in like an angel hanging from a helicopter to change somebody’s fate. Other times there was nothing I could do except stand by and watch a tragedy unfold in front of my eyes. The most important thing in the mountains is safety. The peak, a cross. And the exhausting climb has come to an end. The horizon is finally in full view. Joy, satisfaction and a sense of peace.
Marco, what emotions are revealed by your breathing?
I’m a mountain guide. I live on the emotions of the people I bring up here. They are what gratify me. On the other hand, when I reach my peaks, the sweat of my training sessions and a handful of molecules of oxygen in my lungs are all condensed in a heartbeat. I think of all the extra effort that goes into having to climb without any toes. Every single conquest of mine is a battle but I’m sure that it’s nothing in comparison with so many other human struggles. Take someone who is fighting cancer for example. Gravity helps the descent. An abseil here and there and you’re back on the ground – in the horizontal world.
Marco, what would you have done if you hadn’t been intrigued by the “vertical world”?
I like speed and engines. I think I might have become a racing driver. Maybe my true essence as a mountaineer is having the mind of a racing driver. And the engine is in my legs!
Marco is a mainstay at the Forni Shelter. He came with a bag of fresh bread this morning and leaves it at the door before taking off for the mountains. The people at the shelter welcome him back the way they would a son who has returned after months of adventure out in the world. Marco smiles. He feels loved here. He’s curious and wants to find out what he missed while he was away on the expedition to the “Kangche”. Life goes on at home and Marco knows it well. As he revelled in the frost of the expedition and the joy of conquering a mountain peak, he now relishes the warmth of his Valfura and the affection of his friends.
Welcome home Marco!