On the summit of Mount Everest, Göran Kropp finally allowed himself a moment of joy. Turning his ice-encrusted face to the sky, he shut his eyes and shouted to the rushing clouds, “I made it! Yes!”
Moments later, when he opened his eyes, Kropp remembered he wasn’t yet halfway home. Like all climbers standing on top of the world, he still had to get down to base camp alive. Unlike other climbers, however, Kropp planned to keep going from there. Specifically, he intended to hop on his bicycle and ride home. To Sweden. He had, after all, already cycled from Sweden to reach Everest in the first place.
Göran Kropp, now 33, is a very determined young man. In 1996, a year that became the most crowded and deadly in the history of Everest expeditions, he set a new standard for mountaineering self-reliance. Setting out from Stockholm on Oct. 16, 1995, towing 240 pounds of food and gear behind his bicycle, Kropp first pedaled nearly 7,000 miles to the foot of the mountain in Nepal. Rejecting bottled oxygen—a necessity for most climbers—he spent six weeks acclimatizing and finally climbing the 29,028-ft. peak, then bicycling back to Scandinavia.
“I wanted to climb it a new way,” says Kropp, whose book Ultimate High: My Everest Odyssey (Discovery/Random House) details his adventure. According to David Breashears, who observed Kropp while shooting an IMAX movie on Everest, the man other climbers called the Crazy Swede succeeded. “The guy is a powerhouse,” he says. “And also very stubborn.”
A seasoned mountaineer, Kropp felt determined to take a stand against the expedition-for-hire mentality that had brought flocks of rich, inexperienced climbers to Everest. Cycling through Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India and Nepal, he confronted rough roads and weather, along with trigger-happy Turkish soldiers and rock-throwing kids. “I started to throw rocks back,” says Kropp. “When you meet up with primitive behavior, you become uncivilized too.”
Life wasn’t much more refined on Everest, he found, especially during the ill-fated ’96 climbing season. Put off by the crowds—including teams led by Scott Fischer and Rob Hall, whose deaths would be chronicled in Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air—Kropp kept his distance and even refused neighborly cups of tea.
As he climbed further into the oxygen-deprived ether climbers call the death zone, Kropp did accept a few meals after his first summit attempt failed, and he used communal ropes on his successful attempt a few days later. Still, as Kropp descended, some wondered if he had pushed himself too far. “He’d walk 100 feet and collapse, then walk another 100 feet and collapse,” says Breashears. “He was way beyond his reserves.”
The only son of Gerard, a retired lawyer, and Sigrun, a nurse, Kropp first felt the call of the mountains as a 6-year-old watching his father climb in Italy’s Apennines. “He was like John Wayne, but with climbing gear instead of guns,” Kropp says. After finishing high school, he served a hitch as a paratrooper in Sweden’s elite special forces unit. Self-disciplined enough to run to the point of collapse, Kropp enjoyed the rugged demands of the military. But by 1988 Second Lieutenant Kropp was dreaming of mountains again.
Eager to take on big peaks, he joined a group of Swedes who tackled Russia’s 23,406-ft. Pik Lenin. Five years later he mounted a successful expedition to Pakistan’s 28,251-ft. K2, which made him the first Scandinavian to climb the world’s second-highest mountain. Returning to Sweden as a celebrity, Kropp leveraged his fame into a career, starting a company to market his lectures, outdoors classes and an array of sporting gear.
Now enjoying some comparative leisure in his spartan home in Jönköping, Sweden, with girlfriend Renata Chlumska—who joined him climbing Everest last year, thereby becoming the first Swedish woman to summit the mountain—Kropp is preparing for a 2,000-mile round-trip cross-country ski trek from the Russian island of Severnaya Zemlya to the North Pole, to begin on Feb. 20. And that’s just a warm-up for a planned one-man expedition from Stockholm to the South Pole, for which the inexperienced sailor (he’s taking lessons) will sail the 6,000 miles to Antarctica, ski 1,440 miles to and from the pole, then sail home.
Steep challenges, to be sure. And that’s fine with Kropp. “I want to put my abilities to the test,” he says. “There are no shortcuts.”
Peter Ames Carlin
Lee Wohlfert in Jönköping