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In this essay I am going to present the three stories of mountaineering - the way it could take sometimes in Russia. First of them is about the 1989 climb on the Korjenevskaya peak, Pamirs, second is about the 1998 climb on the McKinley mountain (or as it is called now, Denali peak), Alaska, the third is about the 2002 ascent on the Kilimanjaro mountain, Africa. All of them were performed not by professional climbers, but by those who just like mountains and have some experience in tramping. The first two were done by the team of four: Igor Gornushkin, Sergey Buldyrev, Michail Babich and myself, who knew each other for years. In the last one I accompanied the expedition consisting of Victor Boyarsky, the famous traveler who crossed Greenland and Antarctica on feet as a member of the international expeditions, the Director of Arctic Museum and polar guide, Michail Bobrov, the honorary citizen of St-Petersburg, former war hero and sportsman, Alexander Brinken, the Secretary of Russian Geographic Society, Victor Serov, the traveler and polar guide and Konstantin Antonenko, the businessman.

1. Korjeneva.

In the year 1988 I worked in the International Mountaineering Camp on Pamirs as a kitchen-boy. I had had a lot of experience in tramps in such mountain regions as Caucasus, Pamirs, Altay, but that year I was absolutely out of money and decided to spend the summer in a good place and earn something at the same time. The camp was on the Fortambek glacier, on the Suloev glade, about 3000m above the sea level. The surrounding scenery was great: Piter the First ridge in front and the Communism Peak (7495m) to the left with that famous Ski-jump glacier delivering jumping avalanches every other day. Opposite the ridge the Korjenevskaya peak (7105m) was seen - a mighty slanting pyramid of geometrical beauty, it had an 800m wall facing our camp. In the end of the season it was clear that I had nothing to do but to come back and climb this Korjeneva, preferably next summer. By the way, there was some romance behind: Korjenevsky was a geographer and traveler in the end of the 19-th or in the beginning of the 20-th century, and his wife Eugenia Korjenevskaya accompanied him in his expeditions. He took the survey map of the part of the Pamirs and named the highest peaks of the region. He gave his own name to the 6900m peak next to the highest peak he saw which he named after his wife.

When I came back to Leningrad I told my friends:"Do as you wish, but next year I am going to Korjeneva". I was not sure of their plans and, besides, none of us had ever been higher than 5500m. But, of course, they all wished to go there too. Moreover, Sergey Buldyrev was going to emigrate to the US and was looking for a place to visit as a final bang. The wall was a bit too much for us, but the classical ridge rout (category 5B with the extra category due to the altitude) was OK. To all these routs we knew that those who climbed there first had almost nothing but tough guts and some health. And these we possessed.
In December 1988 I went to Dushanbe on a business trip and made some preliminary steps to organize the helicopter which would take us to Suloev glade in summer - that is made friends and drank vodka with a pilot. In July 1989 we were there. The plan was the following. We were going to make two acclimatization routs: to spend a night on the White Stone peak (5000m) right above the glade (there is a huge white stone on the summit with a vertical gap in it through which one can have a view like through an embrasure) and then do the same on the Pamirs Firn table (6200m) leading to the Communism peak (14 long kilometers). And then to Korjeneva.
The ascent on the White Stone which I had visited twice last year with no problem, this time appeared to be sheering hell for me. I was moving like a sleep-walker and had to give direct and severe orders to my body to perform every step. When I finally managed to get to the top, the tent was already ready and the stove was heating snow for the meal. No appetite, I made myself drink some tea and eat a biscuit. Then crawled into the tent. Soon all the guys were there too, and we tossed and turned preparing to sleep. Suddenly, I brushed against my nose, and it started bleeding hard. It bled and bled and I had to get out of the tent to put some snow on it. I guess, I lost about a glass of blood until it stopped. At that moment I noticed that all the weakness had gone and I felt myself well as usually. It seems, all this was a high altitude effect when the blood changes its viscosity and produces problems for the heart. This caused the weakness. But now there was less blood to pump through, and the heart coped with it. The night was fine, and then we dropped down to spend a rest day on the glade.
That summer the weather was awful. Just to mention that out of 110 foreign climbers who were in the Fortambek International Mountaineering Camp that year, 90 didn't managed to ascend. During the rest day it was snowing hard, and in the evening we made a snow woman. Sculpturing all the gender details, we giggled enjoying ourselves at rest. This angered the Gods, and the storm in the following night nearly teared our tent to shreds. Since then I renounced such sculpture affairs.

The next day we started to the Burevestnik ridge to get to the Firn table. The ascent was not difficult but tiresome. When we were just under the Verbliud (Camel) lodgings the weather proved itself again. The wind and snow made us stop and put the tent on the small and narrow ridge - the only place to put a tent on. Part of the tent was drooping down the precipice but the tent was still a good home and we spent a good night. The next day was no good at all. The wind was roaring, the snow was continuously on and we could not proceed. Several climbers who spent the night in the Verbliud camp passed us going down and we waved good-bye to them. The next day was a bit better, but only a bit. When we set out in the morning and reached the Verbliud camp, all the rest of the climbers who were there at that time were preparing to descend. When we said that we were going up they looked at us as at crazies. No wonder. All of them were equipped like all those guys in the sport magazines, while we were in self-made clothes and had the old fashioned gear. Yes, we knew how to use all those crampons, ice-axes and ropes, but it was hard to believe it looking at us. The only team also going up consisted of Vladimir Balyberdin and his companion who were the guides of two Korean climbers. That inspired us and we started to climb changing places with Balyberdin's team from time to time. In several hours we were on the table, put the tent and made a tea earlier than Balyberdin and his Korean (two others went down half the way to the Firn table). It was an honor to invite Bal to our tent to have some tea. Five-o-clock in the mountains. The Korjenevskaya peak was in several kilometers just in front and we observed it with hope. Three kilometers down the Suloev glade with tiny spots of tents was seen in the mist. The next day we descended to the glade and the second stage was over.
To get to the Korjeneva foot one has to go a long way down the Fortambek glacier and cross it. After the days rest we did so and found ourselves in a picturesque place on the moraine near the small creek coming from under the ice. Some green plants were also seen and this was like a warm farewell. Next day the ascent began. That day was unusually hot and it was rather hard to go. We managed to get to the 5200m camp and spent a night there. Surprisingly, there was a problem with water although the camp was on the snow. This place is very suitable for lodging, and since there usually are many groups spending night there, the ecology of the place is very, very poor. In the morning we continued the climb. In the beginning it was a steep part with deep snow on it, and we had to move forward in the snow to the waist. In the end it was another famous camp point - a horizontal gap in the rock - where several groups stayed. Nobody dared to go because of the misty weather promising wind and snow again. At first we had some doubts about what to do, really, the avalanche situation was dangerous, but finally we decided to proceed. On the ascent we traversed a couple of crevices ready to drop the avalanches, and I silently prayed. In the end of the rise (at 6200m) there was a small bulkhead with place enough for a tent to stay. It was not late but we decided to stop there and to get up early next morning for the final burst. In the evening that day we were visited by the head of the sport staff of the Moskvina International Mountaineering Camp, who was leading his group from the summit which they had reached that day. We gave him some tea and he stood a treat of four apples. Tasty they were in that freezing and rarified air.
We started at 6 a.m. It was still dark and misty. At first there was a couple of steep steps not easy to overcome, but then the slope became more slant and we moved along breathing hard. We had to do so for 8 kilometers horizontally and gain a vertical kilometer more. On the route there were several dangerous places falling from which led to the wall we saw from the glade, but we managed to pass them safely. The main thing was to make oneself go, since every step needed four inhales and four exhales and the consciousness was as misty as the surroundings. On the halfway Misha said that he could not go further, and we decided that he would return to our camp on the bulkhead. Two hours later the thunderstorm began. The air was full of electricity, the small lightnings stroke the ridge we were ascending. I felt the electric stroke along my body twice and Igor whose windbreaker was synthetic had it more. Serega was 40 or 50 meters ahead of us, but still we all moved too slowly. It was already 4 p.m., we saw the summit, we were at 7000m because the Korjenevskiy peak (6900m) was already below, but there was not less than an hour to reach the top. Suddenly, Igor sat down and said there was a sharp pain in his stomach. We had to return. What a problem it was to shout to get Serega hear us. At last he turned back and returned to us. "Igor, can you move?". "Not fast". We went down. Two hundred meters lower the pain stepped back. Soon we were at our tent totally exhausted. Misha had made some tea and compote. It was such a relief. Though such a defeat. I went aside to piss and saw a red spurt leaking out of me. Dehydration?
The night was really cold. We pressed to each other in our common sleeping bag. At 3 a.m. I scrambled out of the tent. Jesus! The weather was good! I saw the Communism peak on the opposite side of the valley and the other mountains around. The frost was biting but this promised some hope for the weather next day. Suddenly, I felt absolutely sure that next day we would ascend. I crawled back and wakened Igor. "The weather is fine, we will do it". We started at 6 again.
This time the rout was not new, and all the four of us moved faster. The weather was not so fine as we hoped, but still it was better than yesterday. At 4 p.m. we were on the top. Taking shots we laughed: no way to prove you are on the Korjeneva summit, only white mist around. Still, we were there. The descent was dangerous. Feeling that everything is already behind, we went quickly, paying little attention to the dangerous places with 800m fall. In one of them my foot slipped, I fell head forward and hardly managed to stop with the help of the ice-axe. Third night on the bulkhead was a celebration.

In the morning the sun was shining. We went down, again through these awful crevices full of ready to go avalanches, again I prayed crossing them, again we passed the Gap, again this friable deep snow, down, down, down. On the way we met the climbers who were in a hurry to use the weather to go up. Oh, how hard they breathed! Poor devils. How lightly we breathed gulping that air that became thicker with every step down. In the evening we were on the same moraine with the green grass. Unbelievable. Sipping warm air, eating hot soup, drinking cold compote. We talked of future, and Serega, who was going to the US, said: "See you on McKinley!". We laughed heartily. Good joke. It was time then, when even to think of going abroad was impossible, to say nothing of some Alaska, known only from Jack London's books.
We returned to the Suloev glade and began waiting for the helicopter to come. Mind, that we didn't pay for it. My pilot friend took us here together with some group who ordered the chopper. When will he come now? Not far from us there was Balyberdin's team. They didn't manage to ascend - Korea is not a climbing country. They were also waiting for the chopper, which THEY payed for. In a day or two it came. Its propeller was still rotating when a guy jumped out of it and ran in our direction. Bal and his Koreans took their stuff and intended to move towards the chopper. We stood timidly aside. "Where is Siparov and three with him?" cried the guy. "Here we are!" cried we overjoyed. Bal was astonished. What the hell?! This is THEIR chopper by all means. Who argues? There appeared to be room enough for both teams, and the pilot is the boss there. Bal, being a Soviet, smiled, Koreans didn't understand anything, we took our seats. On the way back we flew in parallel to the small AN-2 plane heading to Dushanbe. Having boarded the jet to Leningrad, we flew near the Pamirs. Everything was in the clouds again. Only the Korjeneva peak, the pyramid of which we knew so well, and the Communism peak sticked out beside each other.

2. McKinley

The time went on, Serega went to America, found a job in the University, his position became solid. Writing letters to each other, we still ended them with "See you on MacKinley", but for years it remained a joke. In 1993 Igor went to America too. Since it was not him who pronounced this joke, he for some time was out of this play. But in several years it suddenly turned out that we could take it seriously. I started saving money. Serega learned all the details. The preliminary plan was for 1997, but that time there appeared some job problems and we postponed it for a year. Those Americans are tough guys and make money out of everything. You can't get to McKinley without being approved by the rangers and without buying a permit. To say nothing of the plane to the glacier. No haliava at all. Still, all this is a small amount in comparison to the air tickets. But. Igor and Serega lived in the US, Misha worked abroad from time to time and earned something there. And my job permited me (demanded!) to visit some distant places in Russia. Like Magadan. Which is much closer to Alaska, than St-Petersburg. Therefore, I can fly to Magadan and back for free, and only Magadan-Anchorage flight is left. Thus, the money problem is solvable.
We met in Anchorage in June, 1998. Misha flew from St-Petersburg to New York and then to Boston, where Serega lives. Then they flew to Anchorage together. Igor flew from Florida. I went in the opposite direction to Magadan and met them all in Anchorage. Four ants on the globe. Here we are.
We had to spend the night in the Anchorage International airport. Seats aside, common sleeping bag out on the floor, nobody mentions. Good people. In the morning the car came and took us to Talkeetna - a small village where the expeditions start. A visit to rangers. The rout up the Kaheeltna glacier full of crevasses on the large TV screen. Civilization. Lots of stuff, mostly food, to be packed and transported to the Kaheeltna camp (2200m) by plane. We expect 20 days to fulfill the expedition. The average time it takes to climb McKinley (6200m) and descent to Kaheeltna camp is two weeks, but we are planning to return to Talkeetna by feet and have a look at Alaskan tundra.
There are two main problems with McKinley. First is crevasses, that is why the ascent can be undertaken only in June, when there still are snow bridges on the glacier. Second is cold, the mountain is inside the Polar circle, and that is why there is a lack of oxygen which is a heavy gas and, therefore, moves towards the equator due to centrifugal force. Actually, from the oxygen point of view McKinley is 700m higher than its geographical altitude. We are not so afraid of cold - thanks to Kola peninsula and Ural winter experience, but the thin air remains.
I flew first with the gear on a small Cessna plane and managed to put the tent before the others come. This time it's not a self-made tent, but a professional one bought by Serega (the rangers would have not let us in without a decent tent!). The rangers on the glacier supply us with snow-shoes to cover 25 miles up the glacier. But Misha rejects the shoes, he has brought his forest skies with him - and he is an experienced skier - and saves $35. They also give us sledges to drag our gear behind.
In the evening - it's almost the same as in the morning for we still have problems with the time shift and it's a polar day here - we are ready to start. Suddenly, a German guy comes up and asks us to click him to our rope. He is making a solo ascent, but going solo through all these crevasses is too dangerous and senseless. He will leave us in the upper camp. OK, we go. Two days of going through the cloud filling the glacier valley. No reference points on the snow but the small rods marking the rout. Until you find a rod your eyes defocus and when you find one, you see two of them first and only then mange to focus them into one. Unpleasant feeling. Thanks God, it is not so cold due to this cloud and the wind is not very strong. Every day we meet people going down. On the third day we heard the helicopter engines roaring far away near the summit. What did they do there?
Then we get to the camp 3300m where the snow-shoes will be left and will wait for us. In front of us is the edge of the Western Buttress which is our rout to the top. There is a lot of groups going up and down. This is just a climbing industry. Nothing like what we were used to. One feels oneself as on an excursion. Yes, there is cold and snow and you have to know how to survive and how to climb. But everything is under control. Safety is an American God. The ecology is beyond any praise too. You have to collect your shit in the plastic bag, show it to the rangers, and then throw it into a specially chosen crevasse. No kidding. So, there is lots of spare pure snow around.
Next day the way becomes steeper. We use crampons to climb to the next - base camp, 4200m, a broad snow valley on the glacier. The critical point is Windy Corner - the very edge of the ridge. Fortunately, the wind is weak. In case it is strong it could easily wind you a dozen meters down the shining icy slope into the waiting crevasse. Turning over this corner we get to the place with different climate. It is really cold now. When we put our tent, it is about -30C in the street, and cooking (and heating) in the tent is impossible: the air becomes unbearable.
Next day is a rest day. The sun is shining. Foreign climbers visit us, talking, observing with surprise our gear - again we (mostly Misha and me) are definitely out of date. His sunglasses were presented to him by his grandfather who used them when he was young, mine were presented to me by Igor, they are the special glasses to work with lasers which are very convenient since I wear specs. We both use galoshes to protect our mountain shoes which are of low quality. Some Koreans (again Koreans!) shoot us with their video cameras and giggle. Come on, guys! The rangers tell us what was all these helicopters about. Three days ago the Britain expedition lost three members during the ascent. There is a place near the top where the wrong step brings you to the Eastern Express - fall down for 600-700 meters. Two of them were found by the rangers and evacuated, one was not.
Next day we ascent to the ridge, 5000m, to get some height acclimatization, and come back. And the next day we start to the top. When we get to the ridge this time the wind is blowing hard, and it is cold there again. We go and go, the rope connecting us presents the arcs strictly horizontal due to the wind. At last we get to the upper camp, 5200m.
In the morning we somehow are not in a hurry. On the slope leading to Denali Pass from which the way to the summit begins, there are 10 tiny figures of those, who have already started. Finally, we start too. A Polish guy whom his partners left in the camp because of his sickness makes a farewell shot. It's cold and windy again. When we approach the Pass we meet those who have started earlier. They have turned back and are descending. Too strong a wind. We are alone on the mountain. The last rest in a decent place - a small cave in the rocks. Now - only snow. When we come to the place where the Eastern Express begins, it becomes clear what is the trick. There is a turn over there just on the edge. If there is no sun, there is no shadows, again the same as it was on the Kaheeltna glacier. So easy is to make a wrong step! Fortunately, the sun is shining now. We proceed the ascent falling on the snow from time to time to have some rest. Now the Football Field - a broad place to cross, now is the steep ascent, and we approach a narrow edge - about 50 meters long and 30 centimeters wide. Classical thing - like that in the text books on alpinism: if one falls to the left his neighbor has to jump to the right. To the right no bottom is seen under the clouds, to the left it is seen, and this way though definitely traumatic is maybe not lethal. But it is surely long - several hundred meters. We pass the edge safely and ascend the summit. Farewell to McKinley dream, here we are. Far to the east beyond the clouds but beneath our level the jet plane passes by.


The descend to the upper camp and fall asleep. All these days we ate very little, something appeared to be wrong with the menu. We drank rather little too. All the climbers do not part with the bottles with water. Good for them. Next day we descend to 3300m camp, and next we go further down. Again those clouds. Finally, we penetrate them through and find ourselves in the lower part of the Kaheeltna glacier. This time we manage to have a look at the surroundings. It doesn't resemble any mountains I know of. Maybe it resembles the Moon surface. Not a sign of life. The scales are characteristic for Pamirs, though the mountains look more like Caucasian. Serega and me take snow baths. Igor and Misha are pessimistic about it. Contrary to the feeling I had when we descended from Korjeneva (and then I felt that I had acquired something), now I feel that I have lost something.
When we approach the base camp 2200m, the girl-ranger comes out of the rocks and shouts:"What company?". You know what she meant? What company we took to fly here. She had to know it to send a radio to the pilot to take us to Talkeetna. We decided not to go back by feet, since there wasn't snow enough and we would lose time curling between crevasses.
So, we flew back. It took us ten days for the round trip.

3. Kilimanjaro

What could be the next plan? How else could we spent our vacations? Parting in the Anchorage airport and drinking vodka, we thought that it would be probably good, when all of us are retired, drift on a raft across some ocean. Not bad idea. Too long to wait.
The time moved on again. With Serega's help I managed to earn some money in America to spend it in Russia. In autumn 2001 there appeared a plan to go to Akoncagua, Argentina, on Christmas 2002. This is the highest point in South America, by the way. But the hell! Who has any doubts that we will manage it? Again all those excursions. Yes, the company is good. Yes, the mountain is high. Yes, it's in the Southern Hemisphere where I have not been and even am not sure that it exists. And it is so expensive, and rather little money left! Doubtful, doubtful. Only in case there is a new grant.
On the June evening I came home from my job, dined in the kitchen, smoked and read a newspaper. The radio mumbled something. Suddenly a voice said: "And now our guest Victor Boyarsky will tell you about his plans". I put the newspaper away. I knew Victor years ago when we both worked at the "North Pole" drifting station, and now he was a famous polar traveler. The familiar voice that had not changed said: "We are going to fulfill a "7+" plan dedicated to the 300 anniversary of St-Petersburg. That is to ascend 7 highest mountains of the continents and reach the North Pole on skies. In 5 days our expedition is ready to fly to Kilimanjaro, the main thing, that is the yellow fever vaccination, is done. The details can be obtained by the phone…". My Lord! OK, I am through with Kilimanjaro, it's a pity, but maybe I can get in touch with this company in future. McKinley experience could be useful and I remain in the ranks up to now. I called him next day and we met. After a talk, I told him all that. "Why! Come now with us to Kili", he said. "Is it not too late? I have not got this fever shot and what about the visa?". "Just say you go, and I'll send you to the hospital and arrange the hotel for you there. As to the visa, there are 3 days left. Why not go to Moscow to get it or just learn if you could get it on the border?". So it happened.

The right impression of Kili one can get from the plane, the direct flight from Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro airport. It's a solitary mountain on the plain. A volcano, by the way. Like those one can see at Kamchatka, but with a crater 5 kilometers wide. The solitary mountain produces a different impression from all the other mountains. And besides, which is not the least important, this Kilimanjaro is a cultural reference of my youth. The snows, the leopard… Like visiting childhood dreams.
But if you visit it to have some tramping/climbing, you should know something beforehand. This mountain is a National Park and is the main hard currency resource for Tanzania, and that's why it is strictly guarded by the armed rangers and only fixed paths can be used to walk there. For two days we went up, first through the rainy jungles (with monkeys), then through alpine meadows full of flowers. No tents. There are sites with wood houses and sun batteries and dining huts where you will get the regular (though partly African) food.
From the site 3800m, we made an acclimatization trip and on the next day moved to the last camp at 4800m. All the way there is a good road, no snow, it's warm and it's not difficult to breath. Remember that oxygen that the polar McKinley lost? Here it was now as an extra portion. We started at midnight. The ascent is no problem, it is just a talus. Of course, one has to have some health, but not too much. After a kilometer ascent, we got to the crater ridge and went to the left to reach the highest point which is 5895m. At the dawn we were there and met the rising sun at the 3-rd degree of southern latitude and on the highest point of Africa. The crater is huge. There is some snow on this side of it, though we have not touched it, and there is a lot of it on the opposite side. A picturesque view. No leopard neither here, nor there, nobody of the locals ever heard of it. News in blues.
In the evening we were back in 3800m camp. Next day we left the Park. I took a stone from the top. They say one can see it in the special labyrinth built of stones from all over the world in St-Petersburg University's back yard.