Alexander Ruchkin (St. Petersburg)
"Search bold, and you will find many magical peaks ...."
Interview for Russianclimb.com
In May 2011, Alexander Ruchkin (St. Petersburg), Mikhail Mikhailov (Bishkek) made the first ascent of Shark's Tooth in Greenland. Expedition chronicle is on the main page.
Shark Tooth / Shark Tooth / 1555m
East Greenland, region Renland
The first ascent to the top
Shark Tooth / 1555m /
The North-West ridge
from 05/02/2011 to 05/05/2011
Alexander Ruchkin and Mikhail Mikhaylov
The height of the ABC / Edward Bailey Gletscher / - 40m
The height of the glacier Sharks Teeth Glacier 640 m
Vertical wall, 915 m
6A, 1200m, A2, 6C,
The route length of 1200 m
From ABC 02/05/2011
Top 05.05.2011 at 18.30.
Descend to ABC 05/06/2011
- Shark Tooth is beautiful, great, of course.... But how did you find it, and what's the idea to go to Greenland?
- There's a lot of unclimbed peaks. And the adventure format is possible yet on this frozen island: you play the game with a lot of unknowns. It's tempting. The harder to reach the object of ascent, the more he beckons. The result is not only climbing, but a kind of the small expedition. Together, this gives a sense of Real Adventure.
- In the 60's such format prevailed in the mountaineering. And then ... everything changed, changed, and ... now - look, Edurne Pasaban wrote, that every morning a "taxi" waits in EBC (Everest Base Camp) - helicopter for climbers to Kathmandu. Tears on the mountain - and the next day you can wash in the shower, swim in the pool ... Yes, and the EBC increasingly resembles the base camp in "Vertical Limit". But it isn't easy to kill the spirit of adventure, is it? It seems to me that those who value the Real Adventure, do very similar things in a result - a bold journey plus climbing: for example, the team led by Andrew Lebedev. There're the very interesting projects, where is no distinction between hiking, backpacking, mountaineering ... Do you find that your project has a lot to do with them?
- Yes, very close to it. When I started in 2009 the project "The unclimbed peaks", the idea was to get away from the stereotype, accepted by the vast majority of the climbers. Conditions have been already clear: each time the new country, or the new continent, with its culture, people, flora, fauna, mountain system. Previously, I had often seen in the articles: "no more blank spots," the last unsolved problem ... "etc. I couldn't understood, what else really new could be done in mountaineering? And once I got in touch with Tamotsu Nakamura, he wrote that only in Tibet now there're more than three hundred unclimbed peaks!
Tamotsu Nakamura - the famous explorer of Tibet mountains, and advocate for ascents of virgin peaks.Tamotsu Nakamura was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1934. During his years at Hitotsubashi University he studied commerce and accounting, and with the university's mountaineering club he began climbing in the Japanese Alps. In 1961 he took an expedition to Bolivia and Peru, where he made the first ascent of Pucahirca Norte (6046m) in the Cordillera Blanca. He then climbed three more first ascents and several second ascents in Cordillera Apolobamba and Pupuya in Bolivia.
After living and working around the world in Pakistan, Mexico, New Zealand and Hong Kong, Nakamura began seriously devoting his life to the mountains of Tibet and western China. Over the past eighteen years he has made thirty expeditions to those areas, where he has discovered, documented and mapped countless unclimbed peaks.
These forays have garnered numerous awards from internationally recognized societies. Nakamura has been given the Prince Chichibu Memorial Mountaineering Award (2003), the UIAA Award for contributions to international mountaineering (2007) and, most recently, the Royal Geographical Society's Busk Medal (2008).
Nakamura's photographs and writings have been published widely in such journals and magazines as The American Alpine Journal, The Alpine Journal, The Himalayan Journal, Japanese Alpine News, Altitudes, Vertical and Alpinist. (www.alpinist.com)
[Photo] Tamotsu Nakamura
This information had become a good kick for me. I began to meticulously gather the information about the unclimbed peaks in whatever area they are. I was helped by friends, the editors of climbing magazines. It turned out, for example, that in Pakistan there're a lot of such peaks. I got many letters: there is something there, that is unclimbed peak ... However, the most of them did not represent a great interest for me, because there're simple snow routes. And I like technical difficulties... Then I narrowed the search, limiting his three conditions: the mountain has to be virgin, beautiful and technically challenging, let there not big wall route. And, beside of this, I actually dreamed about Greenland for a long time, even before Jannu (2004), we planned it with Valery Rozov. But it hadn't been realized that time... I read a lot about Greenland, compared its walls to the walls on the Baffin Island - the same verticals cut steeply to the bay...
- And how do you like the Greenland project, which was awarded by Piolet D'Or this year?
- I really like it! I would love to be a member of it.
- How did you and Misha prepare to the expedition?
- You know, basically it was impromptu. My desires run ahead of our abilities. The main our mistake that we began our expedition too early. It would be better to go in July - August: we would not do so many trails in the deep snow...
Shark Teeth Glacier
- Have you chosen the climbing objects there for the future?
- Yes! There're a lot of great peaks. We have to go there again. We almost had not seen Greenland this time, because there's very bad weather when we flew there. But in summer you can reach the point not far from BC by the boat in the fjord.
- You said that you were severely constrained by the equipment because of luggage weight restrictions on the plane? Therefore, you did not have the portaledge, and eventually decided to climb the ridge, not a wall?
- Yes, I first became interested in the wall. There's such a good crack at the center of the wall: it's steep :about 80 degrees ... very attractive, close to peak "4810" on Pamir. But the luggage weight restriction of 40 kg forced us to reject such an extreme route. It couldn't been climb without the portaledge in spring - there is no ledges for the tent and too cold for sitting nights.
- And, really, your extreme adventures began long before the climb?
- Yes, we went by snowmobiles to the place in 10 -12 km to the planned base camp. Drivers worried of they would kill their snowmobiles on a snow covered glacier. We had to carry all our cargo on skis, very slowly. First we went to recon, than carried loads to Shark Tooth bottom. The glacier is cut steeply (10-15 m) to the lake. The trail was hard. Then we began to go quicker: already one day trip. Every day fresh snow covered the trek, and we trail again and again.
snowmobiles caravan and frozen icebergs
- What was the first impression of the mountain?
- Coincided with the expected. The wall is very difficult, and it's impossible to climb it under such conditions. The weather forecast gave us 5-6 days of good weather. And nothing later... In fact, we got 7 days. In addition, we did not know the height difference on our route. There're peaks around us 1700 m, 2000 m. So, our route could be 1000 m and 1500 m: In short, we choose the ridge route, and didn't regret. It was covered by the sun since the afternoon, and up to 22 hours we could work safely and relatively comfortably.
The view from the glacier
- How did you work on the route?
- The ascent took four days.
2.05. The first day.
We set ABC on Edward Bailey Glettscher, under the mountain at an altitude of about 40 m. At 11 a.m. we started directly from the ABC, began to climb the slope of the moraine to climb 600m, then climbed the snow-covered gully. The wall and the route starts from Shark Teeth glacier, a height of about 640 m The qouloir was steep, we hoped that nothing will fall on us, because the couloir is never covered by the sun. It was 300 m high, about 8 pitches. We climbed it from 3 pm till 9 pm, and on its top found a good flat place for the tent. On 1-30 am we went to sleep.
Passage of the couloir
We woke up at 10 am. Around 13-00 I started to climb the first pitch to the wall. First, there were snow pillows on the wall, just from the col. Then small wall, 7 meters traverse almost vertical slab. Then I appeared in such good fireplaces (70-90 degrees), with excellent friction and excellent relief-flakes. I climbed the first pitch in the boots. Then changed the boots, and then 3.5 pitches I climb in the rock shoes (the temperature was-5-10C). Cold, but the climbing was nice. By the way, almost the entire route, including the most precipitous plot, is completely climbing. Only in two sections of 2 meters we had AID. There're simply no clues, and a very small crack, where I scored a pair of anchor hooks. There're several sections of 6 C. In that day I climbed 4.5 pitches.
The third day.
Misha led, also 4.5 pitches. 2 pitches of the simple ridge. In some places there were the walls 5-10 m, many sites covered by the snow, had to be dug out. Snow was fluffy, loose, sinking to the rocks. It was very difficult to estimate, will it slip or not. It's scary.
The route is convenient because everywhere there are ledges for the tent. In summer, I think, it could be quickly completed in two to three days (if you are a good climber), and without a tent, with bivouacsak.
We spent the night on the ridge, on the flat site. Misha climbed two more ropes up, snow-covered fireplace and interior angle. Above there were smoothed ridge without snow ledges. We left all gear on the bivouac, decided to climb light to the summit in the morning. The altitude of this place was about 1300 m. We hoped to descend to the tent before the night.
The fourth day.
I climbed four challenging pitches (6a-6c graded), and a fifth pitch was gentle - to the top. In the 18-30 we reached the highest point. The weather was good. We could see the glacier and a lot of virgin vertices. You can choose: to climb the Bigwall, or something in alpine style ....
Stayed a hour on top, then began to rappeling. The first two pitches were OK, while the other two were stuck terribly. We didn't hope yet to reach the tent. With great difficulty, we held out the third, but the fourth rope flooded almost grasping unit. I twisted it like a skipping rope, until freed. We regretted that didn't have 50-60 m of the thing rope (5-6 mm) with us, just in case ...
Bivouac at the crest
On Shark Tooth top
- When you climbed in China, and here in Greenland you climbed in duo , and nobody waited you in BC. Was it comfortable?
- In such situation you have to climb more gently, with a large margin of safety. Not to risk too much. But I would prefer, of course, that observers're in BC, even just to socialize. But if we need the serious help, we need the party of the same climbing level like ourselves, so they will be able to reach us. Therefore, optimally, to have two parties, which climb the close routes - so they can help to each other.
- Did you plan to go all three to Greenland?
- We just tried to find the two, which would be interesting to go in this area. Simply to Ski Touring, or a simple mountain route. The man, who planned to go with us, couldn't fly at the last minute. Of course, observers are needed. But that means extra funding. And it is difficult to agree in advance a convenient time for everyone.
- And you can get an injury on the mountain?
- We had a sat phone, and the ability to call a helicopter. It is unlikely that they would have removed us from the route, they're not the French or Swiss rescuers, well, but we could descend some pitches by ourselves. Jennifer and Innuits, whom we contacted with, knew our coordinates. In addition, we took a great first aid kit, injections could be hold us for several days.
- Why didn't you reach BC by a helicopter?
- It's twice more expensive ...
In just one month before the departure, we were still not convinced that the expedition will take place. Besides, for a long time I could not find a company that would help us to reach the desired area. At list, we found the company deals with the cargo transportation by snowmobiles. And thanks to a wonderful girl, Jennifer, who are the chief's secretary in that transport office, we were able to achieve our goal.
- Are you satisfied by the equipment?
- Yes. I tried AKU boots. It's comfortable. We used Adidas clothes. Thermal underwear was the best between all I've used before. I am delighted that we began to cooperate, though at first they doubted, considering that my age is already declining. Thanks, Artjom Zubkov to convince them that I can: yet!
- What do you wish the young climbers, eager to do something bold in mountaineering?
- Not afraid of new areas with difficult approaches. Do not waste their time on the same peaks in traditional locations. For three years I've been to three new regions: Tibet, Antarctica and Greenland. Everywhere there are plenty of unclimbed mountains. This is a brand new mountain, untouched by human hands. Among these three regions Greenland is the most accessible in the finance and logistics aspects.
Important: there're enough the stunning mountains not only to you but to all, young, old and not yet born mountaineers and travellers. Go for it!
unclimbed mountain about 2000m height
General sponsor of the expedition ADIDAS.
Sponsors: AQ, Beal, AKU
Elena Laletina (www.Russianclimb.com) talked with Alexander
May 23, 2011