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Nanga Parbat (8126 m), Broad Peak (8046 m) and K2 (8611 m) Kazakhstan Expedition
Summer 2003

DENIS URUBKO (Almaty, Kazakhstan)


Photo: Gleb Sokolov L

In 2003 the whole Mountaineering World celebrates the 50th anniversary of the first Everest ascent - an event that will stay forever as the greatest confirmation of the human spirit, and the drive to achieve and to conquer the unknown.

Even though most of members of that historical expedition aren't alive, their accomplishment will live forever in history.

It is a pity, however, that a mountain like Nanga Parbat lies in the shadow of Everest. 50 years ago Nanga Parbat too had its first summit, and the climb itself differed much from the large attack on Everest undertaken in '53.

There was a single hero who was really without help. On Everest the duo summited, but they had a big team working with them until 8750m. Nobody helped Hermann Buhl - at least above 6900 m - to "plough" the amazing mountain face with its length and borderless snow fields. This climb is more interesting and dear for me as for sportsman, than the conquest of the highest point of the planet. Ambitions, thrill, and risk - all these are magic above all. Besides, from the team member opinion, the careful planning and aim for the summit are equally valuable on all mountains. So, I repeat, I can't understand why mountaineering community ignored the Naked Mountain jubilee. There were only few teams, 8 Kazakhs, 8 Italians, 2 Spaniards, 1 Russian, 1 American and 1 Austrian were going to climb this summit. I've heard, that some more teams are waiting (Japanese, etc.) but it's still insignificant in comparison with the great gathering under Everest this summer. But, "C'est la vie"- look at the History...

Nanga Parbat is the famous mountain where a lot of broken dreams and great achievements took place. How many people are buried here? How many bitter experiences have there been here? But most of all, the passion which climbers were going for the summit with is wonderful. I see that there's really something magical on this mountain, maybe in the sub-consciousness...

But Nanga was without individuality for me. "Conveyer" method which our team climb 8000-ers, retains its sign on impression from the Mount and my presence on it. Where is Messner with his impression of spirit and summit's call? Where is Kukuczka - he couldn't understand the other way to 8000-er, exept the first climb? Our team goes towards our goal, all 8000ers, and the single mountains themselves don't have the time to touch our soul. As for me, it's really about that. During the two weeks when I was on Nanga, my soul was only touched three times, once indirectly, and once not by my own guilt. But see below about it.

The events leading up to the expedition is long and it's written about a lot on the websites, so I can't be afraid of being called boring, beginning to describe it from day to day. I will say only that the way to the foot of the mountain was very short and we reached Base Camp at 4100m just after four days of easy trekking. By the way, it was that "indirect" moment which touched me. - I dropped the video camera, which was trusted to me by our team, to gorge from 100-m altitude, so we left the important accession, and I left my optimism for a long time.

The impression, that the Mount is over you more than 4000 m, came only through the mind. My feelings couldn't permit me to look at it with love, beautiful and being over the world around. It was somewhere up there in the heavens, like a goddess. It flies in the sky like an angel. And I couldn't tell the difference between reality and a fairy tale when it's slopes were colored blood-red by the setting sun.

Our base camp was at a beautiful place with a base of fresh grass, streaked by traces of old snow. The snow was melting and a lot of different colored flowers appeared around us under the shining sun. Their palpitating tenderness really contrasted with the bare icy tops, so I thought automatically about my house and my loved ones...

But fight is fight. Out team visited this Eden not to hear the birds sing Pakistani songs. Simone Moro, my old friend, had already set a tent at Camp I, 4800m, under the rock that shielded it avalanches. And in the evening we were already laughing with him in the dinning tent and discussed our further plans.

Our first group (Zhumayev, Urubko, Chumakov, and Pivtsov) began to work on the route. We thought a little and took advise from our coach, Ervand Iljinsky, deciding not to go strait along the big couloir from the very base, where it's under the pendent icefall. Instead we fixed 250m of ropes under the safety of the rock ridge, and then started onto the snows of the big couloir. That day, June 3rd, our whole team carried loads to Camp I. Five returned to Base Camp, but four of us stayed there, sadly looking at the snowflakes, which began after the dinner. The weather did improve as the evening approached and Maxut Zhumayev fixed 250m of rope. Then I switched places with him and fixed 250m more.

At 8 pm we radioed to BC and reported our work to Iljinsky.

- "So, Ervand Tickhonovutch, we've had supper already, all's OK," I spoke to the radio, "We plan tomorrow that one pair will go down to BC, and the second pair will fix the next 200m of ropes."

The response from Base Camp, "And what about the ropes? I've heard that there is 600m of ropes in Italian tent."

I replied, "Not 600, but 400," laughing in my mind, because I had already looked into Italian's tent before the sunset. And I simulated the official incomprehension: I pretended to play dumb, "And have we to fix these ropes too?"

- Certainly, - grumbled the Chief. - I plan, that our second group will set the Camp 2 after your work.

- Poor fellows, - said Pivtsov. - And what about our foreigners?

- "We should not force ourselves too much in that push," I say to Iljinsky, "I think there's no need to force ourselves."

- According to my plan...- says the Chief with the metal in his voice, and continued with the long speech, after which I sighed and say:

- I've understood. We'll go up tomorrow.

Somebody says with perplexity that Iljinsky just yesterday said that we have a lot of time, and we needn't be that fast...

- It's he says for us "slowly, slowly", - quoted he after the Chief , and cried suddenly as strong as he can : - I say "Slowly!!!!!" Run!

It became funny.

Pivtsov worked first next morning, fixing 550m of ropes until the rock island in the center of couloir. After that our group went down to Base Camp for some rest and the second group - Lavrov, Litvinov, Molgachev, Raspopov, and Bogomolov made their way to Camp I. They fixed about 500m of the ropes until the top of the icy-snow coulior. This was their part of the work.

Then Simone, who is very active, and couldn't work "on the coattails" of somebody else, turned up for the attack on the route with his friends, working up to an altitude of 6000m. The route lay through the heart of the famous Kinshofer Wall. I read earlier the Russian diary about the climbing of this wall with old fixed ropes and heavy packs and instinctive shrunk back. Such sinister colors were used to describe it. Simone climbed there very quickly, setup tents with his friends, and already broke the silence of Base Camp by his creaky voice in the evening. As for us, we started up with the very heavy packs containing not only our personal equipment, but also 400m of ropes, two tents, and a lot of food, gas, etc. - it was very hard. I think most of climbers don't like this in such a way. When the heavy loads turn you upside down, snow is falling on your head, and your crampons scratch at the rock looking for purchase, it's not pleasant. Carpe Diem! And I understood the guys from Togliatti who so carefully described that part of the route in their diary.

In that push our group of four people worked till 6500 m, using all the ropes and hooks as we could. I fixed ropes above the spot till where Simone & Ko had reached, on the ice/snow slope for about 500 m. We set our tent on the wide snow ridge between the rock teeth and the huge cornice. There was the plane of the snow face above us , which extended to the infinity, it was terrible. And snowfall began in the evening - especially for us. I woke up all night, worrying, and turned my head, trying to hear something in the silence around the tent. Snowflakes landed on the tent, and fell down off of it in miniature avalanches. And from time to time more serious avalanches fell down near us with the calm sigh.

In the morning we looked at each other for a moment and decided to descent. Only Pivtsov turned his nose and said that "we could ..." Still, we decided to rappel , and the second group, which was in Camp 2 before dinner, dislocated above.

I have to say here, that at the side of couloir which is between Camp 1 and Camp 2, huge icefall hangs threatening above where you are climbing by the fixed ropes. Its blue breaks, like Fantomas, are ready to crush you with all its energy. This mass showed its force the day before our descent. It's really depressively- picture of the snow mass, which have "plough" through the icefall. God bless you from that!

We went near the icefall around dinnertime, having already eaten meat in the Base Camp. Our cook, Farman, began to master with the Russian-Kazakh cuisine. At the very beginning of the expedition Lavrov spent all morning in the kitchen, teaching him to cook borsht. So, our collective demand of meat, onion, and green tea - all of it, sure, helped our cook to understand that we have healthy appetites. As Iljinsky joked, "Why wolves the second place carnivores? Because WE are the first..."

Usually it's necessary for a healthy man to eat meat - he'll be able to work. The second group fixed next 250 m of ropes on the slightly pressed snow and reached rocks to the left from the Camp. They saw the old ropes which are under the white cover, and understood where the right way was. So, they worked further.

I may note that from the very beginning of the work on the route, foreigners began to leave -some became ill, some were tired. It was clear that not all of them would make it. When Italian-Austrian team arrived to the Base Camp, their members began to fall ill already. Our hopes diminished about their help in preparing the route. Only Simone Moro, who isn't one to ride other's hard work, added something to our team. And somebody helped to bring up some equipment from time to time.

We were pleasantly surprised, however, by the energy of the woman-climber from Austria, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner. She easily endured all difficulties of the high-altitude climb together with us. We noted the fire in her eyes, and in accordance the common decision, she became "our team-mate" whom we can to climb with.

We rested in the Base Camp, but some insects appeared in our sleeping bags (we thought that from Pakistan porters' bags). They were especially angry in Iljinsky's tent, and he couldn't understand, who bite him at night. In mornings the Chief angrily demonstrated his bitten legs to us, and explained how he fought against them. Than Pivtsov said him that there's an excellent way to fight the bugs, it's called "Camp 3" - we experienced this by ourselves.

- They are frozen or sleeping there, Ervand Tikhonovitch...

- So, I'll die if I climb there, - said the Chief

- It's only one from two, - sighed Pivtsov, - Or insects, or you...

When I've read again the "Guy from the Hell" , the story by Strugatskies, I felt that all our difficulties on the mountain are only kid's talk compare to problems that people encounter in their lives. In the morning June 13th Inaci (Spaniard) and I went up from the Base. The trio of Pivtsov- Chumakov- Zhumayev came to Camp 1 the evening before, but I decided to spend one more calm evening on the green grass. Taking turns leading, Inaki and I trampled through the fresh snow in the couloir and reached Camp 2, where I began to boil water for guys who were nearing Camp. The snowfall began. Chumakov, who had just climbed up, said that Pivtsov asked for help for Gerlinde, who was climbing with Kurt (from the Italian team) from Camp 1, because she probably wouldn't climb Kinshofer Wall by the ropes with her pack on. I returned to the bottom of the Wall and saw Gerlinde and Kurt, who were choosening packs, which is easy. When I put on froilen Kaltenbrunner's pack I immediately believed that Pivtsov said. Some more - and myself, I wouldn't climb the wall with such load. How did this pretty Austrian girl come here? At the top of the wall I noted Chumakov, who smiled and prepared the rope.

- Now we'll do the fishing-rod for Kurt, - he explained for me. - Will help him to pull out the rucksack... Or Olympic Champion may to die...

Kurt was an Olympic Champion in sledge sport in Lillienhammer.

Above the Camp at 6500 m, we got a payback from our foreign partners. Inaci and Gerlinde, who went without packs that day, worked ahead about 200 m , fixing ropes well on the ice slope between the rock teeth. Than they went down. Their acclimatization push was over. But we went further.

The day before, Zhumayev, working at first without load, fixed about 200 m on the ridge, and we spent one more night at 6500. I worked next day. After the descent of Spanish-Austrian duo, we understood that there weren't enough ropes. We also understood that we could find old ropes from the half-a-meter layer of snow. And we, being fun and with jokes, went further "acclimatization blanket". The amount of the load, less than in the previous push was very heavy. Only in evening our four climbers, after the traverse of couloir, reached the top of the buttress by the rocks. There was the beginning of the summit plateau. We had set our Camp at 7050 m.

I have to note, that push of our group was planned as working-acclimatization. I was sure, that after one more night here we'd go down to the Base Camp, and will do the summit bid from there. Really, we needed to save our energy, and not run as horses. We'll have the long epopee, and future Broad Peak and K2 force us to use more calm tempo of acclimatization. And there was one climber in our group, who climbed the 8000-er for the first time. And we have much time. We needn't to be fast.

So the decision of my partners about the summit bid right here, which was born in the Base, as they said, was the surprise for me.

"Let's, - I decided, - I can remember the worse time". And said, that I think it's not right, but I'm ready to go, if they want. Shortly, I went on leading strings. Although, I may lose the summit. This decision was not less surprise for the five guys from the second group, who were spending night in Camp below us. ILjinsky said only by the radio, that he's understood our feelings.

Besides it looks like the brave attack, our Nanga Parbat summit bid was a charge. And it's not the result of training in the isobaric chamber.

Yes, from the first look, we climbed easy and beautiful, working as on Kangchenjunga and Shisha Pangma. And we could find our energy till the sky. With the fact, that actually all preparing the route and trampling deep snow were made by the Kazahkstan team. Maybe, our experience was very important. Really, most of our members had 4-5 climbs to 8000-ers.

The summit bid, really, began already from 6500 m - nobody climbed upper, except of our 5 guys,who trampled in snow field 200 m ahead. The warm of the tent, which we have crammed under the little rock at 7050 m, added the optimism to our group, and my friends commonly gave their voices for the summit attempt. So, I appeared being the single, who was not equipped enough for the top of the 8000-er.

Ploughed next morning snow fields of the plateau, we reached the base of the summit tower of Nanga Parbat, where we began to pour in ourselves litres of water with added calories, rising mentality and physical mood before the summit. The altitude was already 7400 m.

We started in 0.00 hours. We trampled through the deep snow, changed each other, trying to touch our dream on this way. It's only the piece of rock somewhere under the sky... But what about it? all of us were possessed by this process. Pivtsov, Zhumayev, Chumakov, me... And again by the circle... but in two hours I have felt that I couldn't control my toes. The sky covered by stars really frosted the soul. My friends went in the down jackets, but me, who couldn't imagine, that the third push could already became the summit bid, I went in polar and gore-tex. I felt myself about undressed in the cemetery Moon light.

I returned back, to the tent, and spent not less than hour, trying to warm my frozen foots. And I could went up only in 5.10 am, when it was light already. I was sure that guys have certainly reached the summit, and I was afraid of catching the cutting filling of loneliness on the 8000-er.

June 17 was extremely clear and cold day. The Mount massiff divided me from the sun which rised on the East. Only Maceno ridge which lied below, was already glowing under the sun rays. And - o, miracle! - it reflected weak warm from the sun. Very-very weak, but it's enough to warm my heart, which was like the piece of frozen beef after my start. I tried to be as fast as I can, because my chances to summit melted very fast, like they sinkt into the snow, which fell on the trek after Pivtsov, Chumakov and Zhumayev , who were going ahead.

Try to understand my joy, when I saw three very little figures at the border between rocks and sky, in the snow flakes, turn by the wind. They were going up, in bright down jackets, like lighthouses, which are shining on the white-black background. I have sighed with the lighten, and could work not so fast.

At the very top of the fight, lost all of our energy in this beautiful heat push, our group in 8-35 am June 17 2003 reached the top of Nanga Parbat (8125 m). Guys said something, made pictures, showed to Karakorum. As for me, frozen till the bones, I wanted only one thing - go down, down, down... to the warm. The sun, which was covered by pieces of mist at the East, didn't warm. We began to descend.

That day we descended to 6500, and our second group went up to our Camp at 7400.

Exactly, not all of us descended till 6500. I've descended below, decided to catch some equipment from Camp2 and than to go down to the base.

The interesting thing appeared when I was descending by the fixed ropes. Above the Camp2, at the place, where the snow ridge was interrupted by rocks, I found that somebody had been there, when we were absent. It was the place, where earlier I had fixed an excellent Lafaille's rope- to be calm on the icy-snow part of the slope. And now I saw with the interest, that there is no that rope, but somebody fixed short pieces of old ropes which were used 5-10 years ago. It was that place, where I've torned off. The rope broke when I, holding my breath, was stealing along ice. Crying " Stop, twoju mat'!", I reclined back.

I think that only my fast reaction saved me. Had time to push off the slope by legs, I didn't permit me to go head over heels. All was like in slow cartoon. And flying some meters, spreading my arms and legs, I've strong caught hold of rock projection at the edge of precipice.

I didn't go down below Camp 2. And all my teammates though they lost me. And they imagined some bad things. And only in morning, when I climbed again to that place to change the ropes, Iljinsky saw me with perplexity by the monocular from the Base. Than, when the trio from the second group, who spent the night at 6500, descended to there, we together rappeled to the Base. And, went by the green grass with blue flowers, I felt the happiness. Alive happiness.

And one more drama was being preparing on the Mount. The beauty and unlogic of our ascent , seems, inspired the second group for the similar summit bid. They started from C4 in 02.20 am, and went up fast, when the history with the frozen fingers was repeated. One from that group, Damir Molgachev, felt, that he's "losing" his fingers, and returned to the tent, but he couldn't to catch his friends later. In 11-30 am Lavrov, Raspopov and Litvinov stood among clouds, which were flying under the top, and made pictures. Bogomolov reached the summit some hours later. And only Molgachev, going back from 7850 m, haven't reached his maximum.

That day the second group spent the night at 7400 again. The party Inaci-Gerlinde was going up, they rested and wanted to try their abilities in the summit bid. So, Molgachev decided to stay in upper Camp to try summited Nanga Parbat one more time. Next day they were together, but altitude is altitude... And sometimes climber can't cross the line, which divides "before" and "after". Damir stayed "before" the summit. Because some days at the altitude more than 7000 m broke you so strong, as nobody living at plains can understand. The man disappears, his energy come to the null.

Way by way, after the descent Inaci and Gerlinde from the summit, they spent one more night in the tent at 7400. We tryed to understand how Damir was, hearing his voice. Rubbish... We saw how he went down , and could understand all. In morning he began the descent after his partners, but very hard, and came to 6500 only in evening. Going by fixed ropes near the tent where Simone , Viesturs and Lafaille were, he could only joke: "If I go very fast?" They gave him two litres of water and some food. Gerlinde and Inaci were waiting him below.

Next morning duo Zhumayev-Urubko started to help Damir. We met him at 5800, under the Kinshofer Wall. Inaci went ahead, trampling in fresh snow. He was very tired. Damir went after him, and pretty and energy Gerlinde was the last. She said again and again "'key, Damir, 'key, Damir", and, as a shadow, went behind him.

I have to note, that Simone and Jean-Cristophe climbed very beautiful variant on the Diamir Face, left to the our route. This idea appeared when they talked with Iljinsky, when he noted the simpleness and logical of this way. Chief looked at this way by the monocular from the first day in the Base, and showed it by his finger with the great interest. That's a pity, but Simone returned from 7150 m , felt bad. Lafaille and Viesturs, who was waiting him in Camp 3, summited June 23.

Now we are resting after Nanga Parbat climb. All the team are tired, of course. We went down back by the valley very fast - went only one day instead of four days. So , we tired. But we are resting in one of the best Pakistan health-resort complex. There is a big lake here, and many cottages around it. There are apple trees and a lot of cherry. So we feel as in Eden. All's OK. We play tennis, boat, and swim.

Hope, Broad Peak and K2 will give us the chance to try our abilities one more time in the fair fight.

Denis Urubko, June 27 2003

Denis' sponsors: Manaraga, Salice, CSKA Kazakhstan

P.S. Author's position is subjective, and mustn't be equal to the official information , and the position of the head of the expedition, the coach and other members.

Translation: Elena Laletina (