Iñaki Ochoa de Olza
It was in Namche Bazar in the year 2000 when I first met Iñaki. He strolled into the lodge and greeted us all with a huge smile. We were off to climb Ama Dablam and I have to say that it was definitely one of the most enjoyable expeditions of my life. From this time onwards, I kept in touch and saw him when I next came to Kathmandu in 2004. He was a man of extreme modesty and in Rum Doodles he always insisted on paying for his food even though, having climbed Everest, he was entitled to free food. I remember eating there with Ben and Joby and chatting away about life, filming, photography, climbing and, of course, the next expedition – we had had to turn around on Everest that year before the summit and Iñaki always said that if you want to climb it you will… there is no rush! He was always hugely encouraging and passionate and had dedicated his life 100% to the mountains and friends. His home in Pamplona was full of climbing books, prayer flags and photos. One particular photograph that stuck in my mind was him on top of K2. He even had an exercise chart that he filled out every day which showed how long, the type of exercise, how much altitude had been gained etc. He was undoubtedly the strongest and most ambitious climber I had ever met. He was very clever and spoke fluent English, French, Italian and Nepali. He had stories of meeting with the Maoists on the way back from climbing Makalu – he and Joby thought they were going to get robbed or hurt but they ended up sharing their food with them before they helped carry their gear and heavy ruck sacks off their land! He thought the Maoists were friendly as he was able to communicate with them. He always said that Kathmandu was like his second home!
My brother Ben had climbed Cho Oyu in 2001 with him also topping out with him and Bob Jen.
In 2005, Diana and I went to visit him in Pamplona and he asked me if I wanted to run with the bulls with him. The following morning I met with him at the beginning of the run where we bought newspapers to roll up and then sang…
“A San Fermín pedimos, por ser nuestro patrón, nos guíe en el encierro dándonos su bendición…”
I was terrified, but Iñaki was a true local and ran every year for each day of the fiesta, so it felt strangely safe to be doing it with him! As we waited, he told me that his leg had been trampled on the day before by a bull. After the bull run we went and had a drink in the square before he drove with us in his car down to the seaside with him to relax on the beach and swim in the sea. When we got back to Pamplona, Diana and I went and had a drink outside in the scorching heat while Iñaki went and rode 100kms on his bicycle. Another example of his complete and total dedication. This day will remain with me always.
He only occasionally drank the odd half glass of wine and coffee was usually an expresso – he couldn’t understand why people had to drink buckets of it. He was passionate about Bob Dylan being fascinated by his lyrics. Dylan wrote a song called ‘Not dark yet’, where the lyrics sing, ‘behind every beautiful thing, there is some kind of pain’. Iñaki found the Himalayas both beautiful and painful to climb! He was a romantic and always had time for his friends who were more meaningful to him than mountains. He loved children and when our son Sebastian was born he said that this was better news than climbing any mountain. The other thing he enjoyed was Monty Python and the Life of Brian. At Camp 3 on Ama Dablam he starting quoting from it laughing and singing, “every sperm is sacred!”
He then said in his wonderful Spanish accent, “You remember that one? I went to a very special English Academy!” In 2006, Ben and I once again found ourselves in Kathmandu. We checked into hotel Thamel. Iñaki was also staying here and it was always lovely to catch up before an expedition and then to meet up afterwards again. He was a world class mountaineer – we were just amateurs but this never mattered to him – he had time for everyone.
On 23rd May, 2008, Iñaki passed away suddenly whilst trying to climb Annapurna (8.091m) with friends. He had turned around very close to the summit. It is a devastating loss to us all who had the good fortune to know him.
Happy Birthday Iñaki (29th May). My heart goes out to all your family and friends. You are now in a better place at rest high above the mountains and clouds.
No te olvidaremos…