As a young woman you are a big minority in the mountains
His father was the inspiration for Wilco van Rooijen to go to the mountains. Hailing from the Netherlands, Wilco's insatiable thirst for adventure led him to scale towering peaks, traverse treacherous terrains, and undertake daring feats that have left an indelible mark on the world of exploration. Eventually, this lead him to be on the absolute elite list of just a dozen people to have completed the Full Explorers Grand Slam - climbing all 7 highest summits on each continent and reaching the North and South Pole from the shore.
But mountaineering and exploration come at high prices; for some of Wilco's friends left their life on the mountain. And losing a friend is extremely hard, but sometimes being the one still alive sometimes is even harder.
Into the Himalayas
Wilco's love affair with the mountains began at a young age when he first set his sights on the Himalayas. Drawn to the allure of towering peaks and pristine landscapes, he embarked on a journey that would shape his destiny. Armed with determination and an unquenchable sense of wanderlust, he embraced the challenges of high-altitude climbing, learning the art of survival in one of the world's most unforgiving environments.
His first expedition lead him to K2 - a mountain that a decade later will be the scene of Wilco's biggest tragedy.
Unexpected path to the North Pole
In a pivotal moment in his career, Wilco was extended a historic invitation to join a Dutch expedition, a journey that would catapult him into the history books as the first Dutchman to ski to the North Pole. This invitation marked a turning point, guiding him from the majestic heights of towering Himalayan peaks to the icy expanses of the Arctic. Embracing the challenge with characteristic determination, van Rooijen embarked on a daring adventure that would define his legacy as a versatile explorer.
Unexpected path to the North Pole
In a pivotal moment in his career, after receiving a prestigious invitation, Wilco embarked on a remarkable journey as a member of a Dutch expedition. For 70 challenging days, he and his determined team braved the harsh Arctic environment, skiing tirelessly across the vast expanse of ice from Canada towards the elusive North Pole. Their unwavering perseverance, teamwork, and unbreakable spirit propelled them forward through the freezing winds and unforgiving terrain. And finally, amidst a backdrop of pristine whiteness, they achieved their audacious goal, etching their names in history as the first to ski from Canada to the North Pole.
South Pole and off to the highest mountains
After successfully skiing to the North Pole from Canada and reaching the South Pole, Wilco's adventurous spirit was still driving him forward. With a series of oxygen-free climbs to some of the world's tallest mountains under his belt, he began to realize that he was on the verge of completing the full Explorers Grand Slam. This unique achievement involves not only scaling the highest peak on each continent, but also journeying to both the North and South Poles from their respective shores. Wilco's journey exemplified a deep passion for exploration and a remarkable dedication to pushing the boundaries of human exploration in various challenging terrains.
The unusual aspect of Wilco's achievement is that while people aiming for the Explorers Grand Slam usually climb the mountains first, Wilco reached the Poles first. Especially having to ski thousands of kilometers across Antarctica, being one of the most daring adventures.
The disaster on K2
In 2008 Wilco joined yet another expedition to scale K2. While he and his team made it to the summit, it was on the way down where the tragedy hit.
People think you reach the summit, and then that's it. But then you are completely exhausted and still have to go down thousands of meters for hours and hours.
On the way down they couldnt find their fixed roped, they had installed before. Spending hours to find them, they had to admit defeat and accept that they had to find a way down, without ropes. They only later became aware that an avalanche had ripped all the ropes off.
Struggling to go down, the group started to split.
Exhausted and facing snow blindness, he made the tough decision to descend alone but found himself trapped on the treacherous slope. In a desperate moment, he made a heartfelt call to his wife, connecting with his family's love.
I called my wife saying this it it. She told me to hold on. This can not be the end.
After losing consciousness, he miraculously woke up after half an hour, continuing his descent, taking a different route that skipped camp four. Reuniting tearfully with his mate at camp three, he discovered the tragedy that had befallen others, including his teammate. While he lost his toes to frostbite, his survival took on profound meaning in the face of the greater loss.
Especially his dear friend Gerard McDonald lost his live, while he was trying to saves others. Their efforts to rescue fellow climbers proved futile as Mark descended and Gerard persisted, even freeing a climber, only to be tragically struck and killed by subsequent avalanches. Their selflessness in the face of danger stands as a poignant reminder of the complexities of life and the profound impact of trying to make a positive difference.
Rowing the Pacific: The next big mental challenge
In 2024 Wilco will take on a new, but incredibly dedicated a huge challenge. Together with a Dutch rowing team he will row the Pacific, to reach Hawaii. Not being a rower at all, for him it is the mental challenge
In the end, just seeing water, or just seeing ice is the same
But, of course, he won't let go of the mountains just like that. Upon reaching Hawaii he will climb Maunakea, tallest mountain on Hawaii - and also to some extent the tallest on earth. As measured form the bottom of the ocean, this mountain has a 'dry prominence' of over 9000m and taller than Everest.
Wilco van Rooijen has been guests on our Podcast "Art of Adventuring"
Wilco van Rooijen is a Dutch explorer and one of just a few people who completed the Full Explorers Grand Slam. He is a strong mountaineer and climbs without supplemental oxygen.
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