Yoram Kraus has been climbing mountain tops all around the globe for over 20 years and shares with us the secret's magic of mountaineering, where to begin, where can you learn to climb, a bit about gear and safety, and what you need to do to breath fresh summit air and get back home safely.
The interview with the mountaineer, Yoram Kraus, began as a kind of guided imagery: "Try picturing yourself on the top of a snowy mountain above the clouds, the temperature is wat lower than zero, the wind strikes from every angle, your legs hurt, the air is diluted with oxygen, you are exhausted and gasping, but your face is showing a wide, sweet smile smeared all over it".
Welcome to the tough and exciting world of the mountaineers. Climbing mountain tops set the imagination of many people along history, the yarn for the unreachable, and the will to explore and reach places that no person stepped in before, all these and more are attraction centers to the mountaineering field which has always been the domain of a few. "Mountaineering is a though extreme sport, radical and dangerous which requires high physical and mental abilities, along with a strong will to conquer summits for almost any cost, and stand firm in varied challenges and extreme, dangerous conditions". Kraus adds.
As early as the 18th century, adventurers and explorers began trying to climb mountains summits in the Alpes of Europe and in 1786 the Mont Blanc was conquered for the first time, which marked the beginning for the modern-day mountaineering. Mountaineers began conquering the summits of the Alpes one by one, and when there were no more mountains left to conquer in Europe, they carried on the rest of the world's mountains, while everyone, with no exceptions, looked up to the summit of the Everest, the highest mountain in the world, which was first climbed at the beginning of the 20th century by the legendary mountaineer, George Mallory that led the first expedition of mountaineers to the glorious mountain. When Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb the dreadful mountain, he immediately responded, without any hesitation - "Because it's there". And this might be the very essence of the concept of mountaineering within three words. Mountaineers are explorers, target markers that outline the road for those who will follow, seeking challenges, people who are not afraid to risk death in order to feel alive. As a real-estate and high-tech companies' entrepreneur, Yoram Kraus uses the values and principles which he learned during the struggles on the way to the summit and applies them to his business life.
"Today, mountaineering enjoys the many benefits of technological advantages, both in the level of the equipment and in terms of mapping, tracking and rescue capabilities, yet the physical and mental challenge remains and even today, just like in the past, you need to combine a wide variety of abilities in the climbing process in order to reach the summit and get back safely", says Kraus who intends to conquer the summit of the Everest. Yoram Kraus (52), a real-estate and high-tech companies' developer, founder, and CEO of SMS Project Management Co., is also one of the well-known and experienced mountaineers in Israel and has been conquering summits around the world for over 20 years".
Photo: Yoram Kraus Climbing the Mont Blanc
How did you get into the field of mountaineering?
"Since I was a child in Kiryat Bialik, I was really intrigued by the world and the things I can discover, see, explore, I spent long hours reading, studying the Atlas, and I was very interested in discovering far worlds beyond the sea. I grew up in a family of an average socio-economic status and only through reading books or watching TV, could I study the big world. After serving as an officer in an elite unit, I started working as a project manager, and with the money I saved I flew abroad for the first time in my life and begun to travel the world, mostly hiking and jeep trips. Slowly, my mountain hikes turned into journeys, and from journeys - to mountaineering journeys. A bit past the age of 30 I realized that mountaineering is the tool which will help me discover the world, conquer unknown territories and challenge myself physically and mentally".
What's the difference between a trip and a journey?
"Hiking is purely for pleasure. You walk, look around and take pictures, but keep avoiding any real effort or difficulty. A "journey" is also a kind a fun trip, but the goal here is different in that the journey incorporates elements of coping, and self-reflections. A journey is a process where you travel and cope with physical and mental loads, you test the limits of your ability, you outline a path which is not always clear, and the journey educates those who take part in it on how far they can go, adjust and improvise, and you test yourself all through the journey. Mountaineering is an actual event. During mountaineering you are required to extremely challenge your physical and mental abilities and even face life threatening situations in a real and instant way".
"Mountaineering usually starts as any regular trip, you walk and hike up to the point where the trip becomes a journey, the climbing angle is sharper, the roads become crooked and the experience becomes more complex. At the next step, the trip becomes mountaineering and in that point at a highest of more than 3,500 meters, everything changes, the percentage of oxygen in blood decreases, the physical load increases, the mental load increases, the temperature falls down, the winds are strong, and danger lurks from every corner".
"At this point, mountaineering begins to build you mentally and teach you how to adapt and cope. As humans, we are built by our experiences, the challenges we face and even those we go through during our lives. It is a cluster of events that accumulate and shapes you as a person, and so your personality forms".
"Mountaineering shapes you. You learn to face struggles, fear and dangers of death, you learn to cope with dangerous situations, adapt and change plans quickly, these experiences provide you with tools to handle life in a better way. Mountaineering is the domain of explorers, researchers, curios people which are fascinated by the journey to the unknown. It is a very tough extreme sport, and even dangerous, statistics show that one in every five mountaineers in the world finds its death on the mountain, there are very few mountaineers in the world, and I'm happy to be one of them".
The Seven Summits Journey
Like many mountaineers around the world, Yoram Kraus intends on completing the Seven Summits route as well - "The Mountaineers' Puberty Ceremony", if you will, a journey which incorporates the seven highest mountain peaks in seven continents around the world.
"Once you completed the Seven Summits route, you can look straight to the mirror and say "I climbed the summits in every continent, but beyond your ego, the real importance here is that in each summit you are exposed to a different culture, different people, you experience all kinds of terrain conditions and spectacular and different nature which surprises you time and time again. It's a worldwide journey. As a mountaineer, I am at a really advanced stage of the Seven Summits journey; I climbed the Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Aconcagua, Kosciuszko in Australia, Puncak Jaya in Oceania, McKinley in Alaska, and now I have two final mountains in order to complete the route; Vinson Massif Mt. in Antarctica and the Everest. I intend to conquer these two mountains in the next couple of years, it is important to understand that the climbing journey to each of these mountains may last about two months sometimes, so the additional challenge is to successfully integrate these journeys in the courses of the family and professional lives".
Yoram Kraus (52), a real-estate and high-tech companies' developer, founder, and CEO of SMS Project Management Co., is one of the busiest real-estate developers in Israel, the SMS company under his management, built tens of projects in Israel and abroad, in the field of management and supervision of complex engineering projects and among others, constructed offices for companies such as Google, SAP, HOT, Mellanox and more. As mentioned, Kraus finds related values and many common principles between management and mountaineering, and he makes sure to apply them to the companies under his management. Values such as determination, persistence, and teamwork, which he learned climbing the mountain on his way to the top.
How developed is the mountaineering field in Israel?
"A number of excellent mountaineers came out of Israel, the most well-known is Doron Arel, which conquered the summit of the Everest in 1992, an incredible person. The field of mountaineering is not that well developed in Israel for the simple reason that the Israeli Mountaineering Union has no state budgets, and if this sport was developed in Israel, people would have realized that the mountaineering profession educates for excellency and could get people out of difficult enclosures, teach them about setting goals and reaching personal destinations and integrate them in the community.
In addition, we don't have actual mountains in our beautiful country, the highest mountain in Israel is the Hermon which rises to about 2,800 meters at the top, a height which does not pose a real challenge for professional mountaineers, to say the least. The best mountaineers in the world come from mountainous countries or countries that have a quick and easy access to mountains, a matter of geography. Most of the mountaineers in the world come from the UK, Poland, Japan, China, and Russia. During my climbing journeys I also met mountaineers from Afghanistan and even from Arab states. The most popular mountains among mountaineers are the Mont Blanc in the Alpes and the Kilimanjaro in Africa, these mountains offer relatively light climbing routes and are even suitable for families".
Conquering Unknown Territories (The Swiss Alpes, SwissFrench Border) Photo: Yoram Kraus
How do you start climbing?
"First, you need to practice developing your fitness, put on a backpack weighing 10-20 Kg and start climbing local mountains such as the Gilboa, Mt. Tavor, and the Hermon, travel the country and experience long hikes with heavy weights on your back. Secondly, you need to register at the Israeli Mountaineering Union, and start practicing rock climbing. Then, I would recommend taking the first actual experience in mountaineering to the Mont Blanc in the French Alpes, with the help of one of the mountaineering schools at the town Chamonix, which is considered as the global mountaineering capital, the "Mecca" of the mountaineers. During the course which usually lasts between one and two weeks, you learn about the climbing gear, various techniques, about height and safety, snow and ice conditions, weather, teamwork and how to plan the route. The mountaineering schools usually supply two guides for every six mountaineers and got out together to experience and learn in the field, the area is surrounded by a wide variety of climbing routes in various difficulty degrees and you can get a lot of knowledge and experience. The course costs about 1,500-2,000 dollars and when you add the costs of flight, accommodation, and the renting of the gear it usually sums up to a total of around 5,000 USD. At the end of the course, I recommend resting for about a week and then climb another summit in the Alpes, and that is how you slowly build yourself as a mountaineer and advance in terms of height and difficulty level".
"When you get back to Israel, you need to keep training in rock climbing and continuously build your fitness along the year until the next climb. The progress route of the beginner mountaineer usually starts at the Mont Blanc or the Kilimanjaro, then you move on to other summits in Europe, and then the Elbrus, which is the highest mountain in Europe, next you climb the Matterhorn where you experience technical climbing and apply almost any existing climbing capabilities. The learning process is long and fascinating, you need to gradually build yourself, it's a process that takes about five years, during which you gain knowledge and experience and learn how to deal with various terrain conditions and challenging altitudes".
Mountaineering Equipment List
"For the first climb or during the mountaineering course it is recommended to rent the gear, but later down the road you should purchase high quality equipment, the cost is between 2,000-5,000 dollars, depends on the climbing destination, the heights and the terrain conditions. Do not compromise over the quality of the gear, in many cases the quality of the gear is the thing that may save your life in the field. I will divide the equipment list into four parts: clothing, mountaineering gear, camping, and travelling equipment, food, medications and emergency".
When it comes to clothing, the idea is simple, the clothing should be as light as possible, as thin as possible, easy to store, get you as warm as possible when needed and that it will dry off quickly when necessary.
Boots - the need is usually two pairs of mountaineering boots, in accordance with each altitude and in addition, walking shoes for the beginning and ending parts of the journey, socks, socks for low temperature, thermal undershirts, hiking pants and thermal pants, Gore-Tex pants, Gore-Tex coat, tights and underwear, down jacket, down pants, face cover, hat, snow gloves and brass gloves, sunglasses.
The rules of the game are simple here: as light as possible, as strong as possible, and it is important to buy well-known brands. Snow axe, walking sticks, spikes for the boots, ski glasses, helmet, rings rope, leggings (GaitersFull Gaiters), anchoring components, shackles, oxygen devices which rented only for altitudes of 7,000 meters and above.
Camping and Traveling Equipment:
A large backpack, preferably over 80 liters, comfortable backpack up to 50 liters, and a backpack for the summit day of about 20 liters, high quality sleeping bag adjusted to the temperature at the mountain you climb, portable burner and fuel, water purifiers, wind resistant tent, dishes when necessary, garbage bags, switchblade, toilet paper, heating bags, pen and notebook, fast dry towel, chargers and batteries, solar panel for charging electric devices, power splitter and adapter for the local electric grid.
Food, Medications and Emergency:
Dry, high-carb food (detailed below), anti-fever and pain medications, altitude sickness medications, anti-nausea or diarrhea medications, dressing and first aid, sunscreen, protective Chapstick, toothbrush and toothpaste, anti-intertrigo cream, wet wipes, escape blanket, matches for any weather, escape mirror, whistle and stick-lights, energy pills, antibiotic ointments according to doctor's prescription, mainly for ears, eyes and anti-infections. It is important to remember that there are no medical services available on the mountain, and the descending for medical treatment means stopping the climb.
On Top of One of the Summits at the SwissFrench Alpes Photo: Yoram Kraus
Mountaineering Safety Principles
"As mentioned, it is important that the equipment is at the highest level of quality that is possible, additionally, you need to study the terrain well before climbing and conduct a thorough research about it, know the climbing rules in each mountain, the risky areas, the wanted route and the different alternatives, and always hire a local guide that lives there and knows every stone, you should never climb alone. The disaster-prone areas are during rock climbing and while crossing crevices, at these spots, the security means should be done well, and it is important to keep maximum focus and calculate every step. The problem begins at high altitudes, at above 3,500 meters above sea level the oxygen in the air dilutes and it directly affects the thinking and concentration abilities, which may harm the decision-making ability and bring about fatal mistakes, and that is why you should carefully study the climbing axis and be trained to handle stressful situations, because up there the body and mind are under a real stress roller. In terms of handling altitude sickness, the headaches usually start at 3,500 meters and above. People who travel the world after they are released from the IDF know the phenomena, you sometimes also feel nausea, dizziness and these are just the pre-symptoms of the sickness. In that case, it is recommended to descend a little bit, wait one or two nights and try climbing again".
What do you eat and drink during the climb?
"During climbs in the Alpes (Alpine Climb) there are mountaineers' cabins along the route that serve food. It is important to get as much carbs as possible, pasta, wheat flakes, and some dry meat and stay highly hydrated and isotonic drinks when it is possible. In mountaineering journeys at the rest of the world there are no mountaineers' cabins, and you carry the food on your back. When you climb for two weeks the body sometimes loses 5-7 Kg, the pulse is really high at the altitudes and your body burns a lot of calories. In advanced stages of the climb, when you sleep in the field, you carry the food on your back and cook it using a portable burner. In terms of hydration, you melt the snow at high altitudes and purify it using chlorine pills and boiling and you drink".
On which of the mountains did you leave your heart?
"Mt. McKinley in Alaska is magical, you only see white, nothing in your view is other than white and it's amazing. The process of the climb is fascinating, and I had the chance to climb with a great team, it takes me back to the importance in choosing the team you are with, you climb the mountain together, you reach the top together. Mountaineering is teamwork, you have to know how to trust you team because without it you will never reach the summit. You have to know where to push, where to let go, and work as a one unit on the way to the destination. It is a principle that I carry with me in my business life, and of course my personal life. Summits are conquered together".
"You Only See White" - McKinleyAlaska Photo: Yoram Kraus
"The mountain educates you"
"Mountaineering teaches you to deal with the unexpected. You learn to adapt to any new situation and challenge that the mountain and life offers. On one hand, you learn to plan well, and on the other hand you learn how to improvise fast solutions and alternatives. You learn when to give up on the point, and face the rest of the route differently, or wait until the storm passes, the experiences on the mountain shapes you, the mountain educates you. When you climb the mountain, death threatens from every corner, whether it's down the chasm or behind a rock or a glacier that might roll down your way at any moment. The physical and mental difficulty and lack of oxygen constantly threatens to harm your decision-making capacity and your survival ability is measured at any given second, and all these experiences force you to face your character and skills you gained along the years".
"Once you descend from the mountain, these values and capabilities that I have learned and which educated my up there at 6,000 meters serves me in the complex struggles of the business world, and in all the challenges life offers to me. mountaineering symbolizes for me the yarning for the exploration of the unknown, the strive to outline a way for those who will follow after me, the will to change and create value for life, I am one of the people whose purpose is to discover and create values for the generations to come, people that make true value of change and constant improvement of the human and men existence, in its attitude himself and its attitude for nature. People who do all they can in order to produce the most of the resources and technology at our disposal and produce the non-obvious, and that strengthens my passion for life, and as I mentioned at the beginning of the article, mountaineering is the ability to fuse physical and mental strength into one unit and as a result it educates you for perseverance and determination, patience, adaptability, and a strong will to achieve the thing that seems impossible - because it's there".