Maybe you know that Goran Kropp departed his hometown of Jonkoping, Sweden, one October day in 1995 on a bicycle. That on that bicycle he carried 285 pounds of gear and he was bound for a place on earth 6,000 miles away: Mount Everest. Maybe you also know that he got there the following May, and happened to be at Everest base camp the day the mountain saw tragedy unfold in a way it never had in the history of alpine climbing.
If you know that much then you likely also know that Goran Kropp, a 6’3″, 240-pound man who earned the nickname “Crazy Swede” that May at Everest, almost summited twice that year. He soloed to within a hundred yards of the top of the world on May 3, then turned around in the waist-deep snow (he refused the use of the fixed ropes) because it was too late in the day and he feared getting stranded in the dark. He was resting in base camp during the disaster made famous in Into Thin Air. And in the wake of all of that death, spooked as hell but not daunted, Goran Kropp climbed to the top of the world alone on May 23, 1996.
After that he rode home. By bike. With all his gear in tow.
You could probably just stop there. That’s plenty badass.
You wouldn’t need to bother mentioning that beyond going solo, Kropp provisioned himself from Kathmandu, using no outfitters or Sherpas, chugging all that extra weight to the mountain, and didn’t use bottled air to summit. Or that Kropp went back to Everest in 1999 and summited with Renata Chlumska, his girlfriend who trailed him on the 1995-’96 trip (but didn’t ever once help; he even refused food hand-ups from her on his ride). For the 1999 expedition the couple climbed without oxygen. Naturally.
But that gloss misses so much of the richness of who Kropp was. He was a goofball, sure, but he didn’t materialize from nowhere as many have written. If anything, Kropp was a lot more like Ueli Steck, an advocate of fast and light soloing-and one of the most skilled climbers of his day, too.
Kropp first fell in love with mountains as a kid. His father took him to the Dolomites as a toddler, and when he was six his dad took him climbing up the Galdhøpiggen, the highest mountain in Norway. But Kropp’s parents divorced and Kropp’s rebellion took the form of joining a band and partying. Until that got old. In a different fit of rebellion he went straight-laced and joined the Swedish paratroopers. There Kropp became known for ridiculous feats of strength; he’d wake at three in the morning and march in full gear (another 150 pounds on his back) for 60 kilometers.
As a paratrooper Kropp once again was exposed to mountains and climbing and his embrace quickly turned to obsession. Broke, he moved into a tent to save the anemic military pay so that he could afford to spend off time climbing, and by the end of the late 1980s, in the Andes, Kropp had soloed five peaks up to 6,300 meters. In 1990 he and Rafael Jensen made the fourth ascent of Muztagh Tower (7273m) in the Karakoram. He followed that up with a 1992 climb of Cho Oyu (8201m) and then was the first Swede to reach the top of K2 in 1993. By the end of the 1990s, Kropp was the only Swede to have climbed five of the world’s fourteen 8,000-meter peaks and the only Swede to have climbed Everest twice.
And all that success meant that by the time he rode a bike to Everest he was a far more accomplished climber than most of the non-guides in base camp-and he was a household name in Sweden, where the lecture circuit and a guiding company called Kropp and Eventyr (Kropp and Adventure) funded his exploits.
And he wasn’t done. He attempted a ski to the North Pole with Ola Skinnarmo but suffered from frostbite, as well as a polar bear attack that caused a lot of controversy when he was forced to shoot and kill the animal.
That, and other nutball exploits like buying a share in a race car, and not so savory episodes including being sued by some of the Into Thin Air subjects (for allegedly defaming them in his book about climbing Everest), led Kropp and Chlumska to decamp to Seattle in the early 2000s. There Kropp began to plot his ultimate adventure: Sailing from Sweden to McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, skiing to the South Pole, then skiing back to McMurdo, and sailing back home.
It would’ve been a miraculous feat, not least for the sailing: Kropp had never sailed a day in his life and began taking lessons in Seattle. Sadly, nobody knows if Kropp could’ve become competent enough at sailing to achieve his audacious goal because he died September 30, 2002, on what for him would’ve been a fairly routine 5.10a crack climb in eastern Washington State when his protection zippered out of the rock.
All such deaths are tragic; Kropp was only 35 when he passed. But in his case it seems a unique loss because beyond his feats of adventure, Kropp was known for being eminently humble and giving, both in teaching in the field and motivating people on speaking engagements.
Kropp was perhaps only getting started on charitable work, too. In Nepal he worked with Wongchu Sherpa to found the Goran Kropp Bishwa Darshan Primary School in Taptin, Chyangba, which serves 165 pupils and eight teachers. And with such a big heart and ebullient, life-loving character, it’s doubtless the badass Goran Kropp would’ve done so much more if he’d only lived a bit longer.
Top photo: Fredrik Blomqvist