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Marolts make skiing history

Todd Hartley

Two Aspen locals made history by becoming the first North Americans ever to ski from the summit of an 8,000-meter peak.

Native Aspenites Mike and Steve Marolt, along with climbing partners Jim Gile and Cheri Silvera, were among five mountain climbers who recently reached the summit of 26,291-foot Shishpangma in Tibet, the world’s 14th highest peak.

The fifth member of the climbing team to reach the summit was Maux Hajjblin, a climber from Kazakhstan who the Marolts and Gile met on a climbing trip last year.

“Things couldn’t have gone better,” said Mike Marolt. “The logistics went perfect, the weather was perfect, although we had to summit in complete blizzard conditions.”

The party embarked for Tibet April 20 and, without hiring any Sherpas to aid them, set up an advanced base camp on May 4. The final push at 1 a.m. on May 21 totaled 4,000 vertical feet, since a last high camp was eliminated. Steve Marolt first reached the summit at 10:30 a.m., followed shortly by Mike Marolt, Gile, Hajjblin and Silvera.

“The biggest victory is that we were able to raise the money to bring the Kazakhs along,” said Mike Marolt.

Part of the Marolts’ plan was to raise enough money to bring some of their Kazakh climbing friends along on the trip. They were also successful on that mission, coming up with enough cash to pay the way for three Kazakhs, two of whom contracted flu-like symptoms and failed to reach the summit.

The 23-year-old Hajjblin, however, became the youngest climber from his country – the same country from which hailed famed mountaineer Anatoli Boukreev – to summit an 8,000-meter peak.

The Marolts, after trekking to the summit with skis on their backs, made a descent that Mike Marolt described as “survival skiing, with unbelievable avalanche conditions and whiteout conditions.” Their success made them two of just 20 people in history to ski from above 8,000 meters. Gile and Silvera didn’t haul their boards all the way to the summit, but did ski down from 23,500 feet.

Though not one of the best- known 8,000-meter peaks, Shishpangma has become well known to Aspenites. Last fall, the mountain claimed the lives of world-renowned American climber Alex Lowe and Dave Bridges, a video cameraman and experienced mountaineer from Aspen. Lowe and Bridges were killed in an avalanche while trying to summit and ski Shishpangma by a different route than the one taken by the Marolt team.


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