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Mountaineering Students Ace Exam with First Ascent

Base camp in the Kyasar valley, Nepal. [Photo] courtesy Mikel Zabalza

A Spanish team finished a three-year mountaineering course with the first ascent of a 6000er in the Kyasar valley, Nepal, last month. Mikel Zabalza, Mikel Ajuria, Juan Jose Cano, Roger Cararach, Alberto Fernandez and Faust Punsola summited Sakaton (6325m) by way of Pura Vida (MD+, 1300m).

Zabalza lead the group on their Kyasar trip already a seasoned alpinist. At 22 years old, Zabalza climbed his first 7000m peak in alpine style, establishing a new route on Lempo Gam (7083m) in the Langtang Valley of Nepal. In 1995, he authored a new route on the Northeast Face of the Trango Tower with Spanish teammates Antonio Aquerreta and Fermin Izco. The trio named their route Insumisioa (VI 5.11 A3+, 915m), a Basque term referring to the act of dodging the Spanish military draft, which they were all doing at the time. This July, Zabalza, Alberto Inurrategi and Juan Vallejo climbed the south pillar of Payu Peak in the Karakoram. On that ascent, Zabalza wrote afterward, “We climbed to the very limit, the limit of our strength.”

Zabalza and his students set up base camp in the Kyasar valley, a two-day march from Lukla on unmarked paths. “It is a very nice place where you have guaranteed solitude,” Zabalza told After talking with locals and finding no name had been assigned to the peak they intended to climb, they began calling the mountain “Sakaton.”

Zabalza and his students began their ascent on September 25 after climbing various small peaks to acclimatize. They were met with steep, committing terrain with difficulties up to M5 and 80-degree ice. Their progression was slow because of poor snow conditions in the late-monsoon season, made worse by the tail end of Tropical Cyclone Hudhud. “I witnessed the unstable snow. You take one step up and two back down,” Cano told Cano cited Zabalza’s experience as key to their ascent.

Fernandez on the lower slopes of Sakaton. [Photo] courtesy Mikel Zabalza

The group named their new route Pura Vida, Spanish for “pure life,” in honor of Inaki Ochoa de Olza, who died in 2008 on an attempt to climb an unidentified route up Annapurna (8091m) in Nepal. He is remembered as a purist, and once asserted, “If you use oxygen, you are not an alpinist, you are more of an astronaut or a scuba diver.”

For Zabalza and his team, Sakaton “remains an inexhaustible source of motivation, the perfect place to feel alive, to share, to love and keep dreaming,” Zabalza wrote on his website. “These places have set the stage for one of the most beautiful things in life: the unconditional friendship of many friends to whom I am eternally grateful for sharing those moments with me.”

Sources: 1996, 2011 and 2012 American Alpine Journals,,,,,

(Top) The Spaniards depart from a bivy high above the Kyasar valley. | (Bottom) Pura Vida (MD+, 1300m), on the southwest side of Sakaton. [Photos] courtesy Mikel Zabalza (both)