In Part 1 and 2 of this multipart interview series with Spanish alpinist Araceli Segarra, we covered a lot of ground – her participation in the 1998 blockbuster “Everest” IMAX film, her views about death and fear, how she manages risk and more. Here, in Part 3, Segarra discusses media sensationalism, the concept of heroes and overnight success and who she most wants to meet. Following are edited excerpts from a longer Zoom conversation.
Jim Clash: In America, it seems overnight success is what the public envisions when someone “makes it.” But often, it’s hard work behind the scenes that builds up over time. A friend once told me, “Success sneaks up on you.”
Araceli Segarra: The first day, you do a little bit, the next a bit more, and, after years you know what you’re doing. Yes, we always see things from the outside. People tell me, “Wow, what you’re doing I could never do.” Don’t create heroes. There are none. There are just average people with a lot of determination, energy and passion who put time in. You get better and better and better and better.
If you want to pilot a helicopter, you can, if you put in the effort and money. One of the nicest things someone told me after the IMAX film came out was, “I thought you were huge” – I’m relatively tiny, 164 centimeters [5’4’’] – “but you’re normal.” And I say, “Thank you.” Yes, normal people can achieve extraordinary things.
Clash: Let’s talk about the media. The recent submersible implosion en route to visit the Titanic wreck at the bottom of the Atlantic killed a crew of five. The event, while tragic, received sustained international coverage from all the big media, while significant news elsewhere was sidelined. The aspects of death, a billionaire onboard, a storied shipwreck, a long, drawn-out search-and-rescue operation, get the ratings I guess. The only thing that didn’t check the sensationalist box was that sex was missing. Your thoughts?
Segarra: The media loves to sell those kinds of things, and people like to buy them. Take our 1996 Everest expedition where we watched all of those people die in a storm, and all of the media attention that went along with it. We honestly thought that things would change after that, that the tragedy would teach us all something. But it didn’t. It’s getting worse and worse and worse up there.
Media is not helping – they are playing the game. People like you who are professionals understand. But many journalists know nothing. Being a journalist is much more than writing and asking questions. My mom knows how to make a question, and write, too, but she’s not a journalist.
There are a lot of unknown climbers who do amazing stuff, not necessarily on high-altitude Himalayan mountains like Everest, but on smaller ones: 7,000, 6,000, 5,000 meters. They are not looking for sensationalism or for “the photo.”
But to be fair it’s not just the media. Some of the great alpinists can’t explain what they’re doing, even like to hide it. So journalists ignore them. They will cover the highest and best-known peaks, where climbers are just doing more of the same. Nowdays the cover of a magazine will feature someone on the top of Cho Oyu or Everest – c’mon, it’s not new.
Real news is when someone has opened a new route on Cerro Torre [Patagonia], Gasherbrum IV [Karakoram] or maybe climbs an unknown mountain in Kyrgyzstan. If the journalists focused more on this kind of thing rather than on the known peaks that have already been climbed, probably fewer people would go to Everest, helping with the current overcrowding situation.
Clash: I’m guessing you’ve met some interesting people during your lifetime. Any wish-listers left on your bucket list?
Segarra: I didn’t expect that question. Hmmm, I’ve already met Lynn Hill, the famous American climber. There’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez who wrote “Love In The Time Of Cholera,” an amazing book. I’d like to chat with the painter, [Salvador] Dali, because of his crazy creative ways of breaking rules.
Clash: Those last two are deceased, and you’ve already met Lynn. Who do you want to meet that you haven’t yet met who is still alive?
Segarra: Okay, okay. It has to be Liam Neeson. He narrated our “Everest” IMAX movie beautifully, but we never met. I just love it that he said my name, “Araceli Segarra,’’ as part of his narration! That’s one of the high points of the movie for me, actually [laughs].