library about Russian climbs:
Baruntse - Annapurna expedition (Spring 2004)
by Vassily Litvinov, July 2003
one of the most popular regions of the Himalayas, right
next to Everest, lies Kali-Himal (7066m). Most large expeditions
heading to the highest peak of the planet do not pay attention
to the corner of the valley always covered in clouds. Only
once has Kali-Himal been disturbed by people – in 1983,
a Danish expedition successfully reached the summit along
the north ridge.
is a Goddess. She was once the foremother of all other Hindu
gods and now aspires to eliminate universal evil. Of the
male sex, undoubtedly. It was for this “feminist” that human
sacrifices were made until the end of the nineteenth century
– and you are now surely pondering about their gender. They
still give her sacrifices these days – animals killed on
is the abrupt Northwest wall that gives this mountain its charm.
Cold and dark it stands above the glaciers, but at sunset – if the
sun is strong enough to dissolve the clouds – its purple curtain
creates a terrible decoration to the outgoing day.
by our chance to answer the calling of this 1750m high face, we
returned to Nepal in the spring of 2004. The author of the idea
and the leader of the expedition, Italian Simone Moro, is one of
the leading professional alpinists of the world. Reflecting our
sport ambitions, the group selection was extremely limited. Simone
chose Bruno Tassi, a mountain guide and rock climber, and myself,
representing the Central Army Sport Club of Kazakhstan and bonded
with Simone by many years of friendship and our common experience
from Himalayan expeditions.
Kathmandu, the route to the mountains begins with a trek in a caravan
of Sherpas or pack yaks. Lukla, where you normally get by a plane,
marks the start of the trek, from a deep canyon to snow-covered
peaks. Not one of the numerous tourist groups we met along the way
believed that we with our modest luggage are in fact a mountain
expedition. However, news of our venture, as it was called, somehow
moved through the air and we were met everywhere with much respect.
It was time to deliver.
On April 8, our mini-expedition set up Base camp at 5100m. Simone,
married two days before the departure, sends his wife Barbara to
home and decided to spend his honeymoon with us and Goddess Kali.
This time he planned only to help us while preparing for the upcoming
ascent of Annapurna (8091m) in May.
some reconnaissance and short but wild discussions, Simone, Bruno
and I decided on the safest variant. At the top end of the wall,
two icefalls were baring their white teeth. One has to be very cautious
in a Himalayan first attempt, which is why we chose a buttress in
the left side of the northwest wall Kali-Himal for our route. Moro
and Tassi took on the start of the route, through steep ice and
rock walls to a plateau around the icefall. Afterwards, Korshunov
and I exchanged them. Our task was to acclimatize for higher elevations
and get a feel for the character of the route – its tough and easy
spots, type of the rock, possibility of bivouacs on the wall.
elegantly climbed the rock part of the rib. At approximately 6200m
Boris and I rest in a wide band of overhanging rock. The weather
worsened in the mid-April and, climbing in streams of snow and whirls
of storms on slabs and cornices, I had to draw on all my years of
experience. Fortunately, our work was slowly coming to an end. We
succeeded in climbing about 100m per day and named this section
the “traverse of the suiciders”.
For the experts I can add that the rock is a mix of crumbly black
slate and light granite, all completely destroyed. Moreover, the
layers of rock are turned downwards, changing the rock face into
a group of slabs. Damn! It is now hard to believe that it was possible
but it really was all like that.
clothing helped us a lot. It used to be that you had to adjust this
and watch that all the time but now you just zipped up in the morning
and that was it – BASK worked.
And after two days of waiting for the weather to change, Korshunov,
as the older member of the team, made a decision to descend. It
can not be said I followed him with displeasure. Sliding along the
fixed lines into the foggy abyss, passing by avalanches, I was glad
that our route successfully bypassed the dangerous spots.
weeklong period of snow soon changed for freezing cold hurricane
winds at an elevation of 6,500m. Even the sun, hanging in an ultramarine
sea, was freezing in this cold.
Nevertheless, I, a serviceman, was obliged to fulfill my task –
hiding sometimes with amusement behind the sense of duty. In their
base camps, all expeditions stiffened with cold, waiting. The hurricane
winds covered the route up Everest, Cho Oyu and other mountains.
Kali-Himal, just south of the “peak of the world”, received particularly
violent blows of the Tibetan wind.
April 30, we stormed the mountain. We were receiving bad weather
forecasts and warnings from everywhere. “Don’t go!”, everyone was
saying, “It is time to wait!” Nevertheless, Simone and I, feeling
lucky, managed to convince Bruno to join us.
Our assault was in alpine style – starting at the base of the mountain
we headed up with bivys on the wall and all gear in our packs. Hanging
above the abyss on a portaledge with barely enough space for one
person, we with concentration calculated our foodstuffs, gas, and
chances of success. Two days of wind thundering against the rock
and the roof of our portaledge remain imprinted well in our memory.
two days of work in the ledge belt were well worth the effort. Here,
after the same overhang I went over last time, somewhat easier rock
appeared. But the cold and wind were a strong mix and we had to
climb in gloves, front-pointing on our crampons. Drytooling on CAMP’s
Awax icetools, scratching under snow and ice in search for the microscopic
features to hold yourself on. But the pleasures, as you may well
know, do not last long. On top of all this, hammering pitons in
an uncomfortable position, I smacked flat my pinky finger. Nevertheless,
hanging in the portaledge in the evening, I felt content about our
today’s work. The road ahead laid now open.
next day, balancing around with our heavy packs, we continued along
rock and ice slabs towards the sub-peak ridge. We again worked in
hurricane winds, and hammering in the ice-crews it struck me how
deeply frozen the high-altitude Himalayan ice is. Its dark blue
color was almost haunting. Building our portaledge camp on the snow
ridge at 6700m in the twilight of the day is better forgotten.
morning greeted us with a thundering roar. On the east of us stood
the massif of Makalu, and it was clear that the winds reigned there
as well. In this final day of the assault our route followed a steep
snowy ridge – as if a springboard to the sky. At 11a.m., on the
summit, Simone, Bruno and myself watched all the highest peaks of
the planet bow under the gusts of wind. Or was that a tribute to
our persistence? Or just a vision?
reached the base came the following evening after a twenty pitch
rappel. The air was still at the base of Kali-Himal. With a happy
grin, cook Tsering made us a dinner of pizza, spaghetti, and tea
with compote. I noticed the myriads of stars twinkling in the sky
as I was sipping from my mug. It was cozy and still at the camp,
yet somewhere out there, unseen, icy wind was whirling, a messenger
of the Tibetan mountains. So good, I thought, that him and I did
not cross our ways!
This was the end of the ascent of the north-west wall of Kali-Himal
in the spring of 2004. In honor of the famous French alpinist Patrick
Berhault, who died a few days later, we named the route “Ciao Patrick!”.
He was a friend of ours.
* * *
(8091m) was the first 8000-meter peak summited by people. Not that
this means much; many expeditions attempted to summit other 8000-meter
peaks time and again: Everest, K2, Nanga Parbat. Annapurna gave
in at the first try. A true drama unfolded on its slopes in 1950,
and the French alpinists Herzog and XYZ (the transcript of the Rusified
name is clearly wrong - Lachenal) miraculously managed to return
from their successful summit bid. These days, Annapurna is the 8000-meter
peak summited by the fewest number of people.
climbers never succeeded in climbing the mountain. In 1988, Valiev
and Moiseev planned to do so but for some reason changed their plans
later on. Instead, together with a Slovak mountaineer Zoltan Demian,
they set a beautiful new route on Dhaulagiri that fall. A new climbing
pair appeared at the base of Annapurna in the winter of 1997: A.
Boukreev and D. Sobolev. Simone was with them. They begun their
ascent of the mountain along the south-west ridge but bad weather
covered the whole route with heavy snow. On December 25, an avalanche
from Fang peak buried the Kazakhstan’s alpinists. Simone survived
by a chance, yet suffered serious injuries.
is a beautiful mountain. Its beauty is full of charm that cannot
be described in logical terms. It is simply magnificent, as if to
challenge human ambition. It is obviously not by a chance that its
name is the second name of the Hindu goddess of fertility Lakshmi.
This goddess personifies the primary living energy Shakti that gives
existence to everything in the world. Hindus treat her with flowers,
sweets, rice and saffron.
As an object of climbing attention, the mountain leaves plenty of
space for mountaineers’ aspirations. Its walls rise steeply on the
south and west sides from the canyons, up some 2.5 – 3 kilometers.
The slope of the north face of the mountain is relatively low but
with its length and the large quantity of snow and ice it presents
a no-lesser obstacle. That is why all mountaineers of the world
treat it with respect and suspicion.
the spring of 2004, Simone and I decided that the time has come
for another adventure. The mountain was still equally dangerous,
but our experience of climbs of the 8000-meter peaks in the course
of the past few years added to our confidence. That is why we decided
to “do” a new route along the north rib of the mountain – our little
but beautiful note in the melody of the Himalayan mountaineering.
first ascents always bring something new to sport mountaineering.
They are about understanding the nature and yourself. The will to
make the step to the unknown, to risk setting a route that has never
been done before – all that is of interest to the world of mountaineering.
Typically, a new route is created because all the other simpler
routes have been done before. And the fact that the alpinist prefers
a route not climbed by anyone to a more reliable route on the mountain
set by other people gives reason to judge the person as someone
willing to risk the success for the sake of self-expression and
discovery. In alpinism, this also characterizes you as a sportsman.
the expedition to Kali-Himal, Bruno went home while Simone, Korshunov
and I appeared under Annapurna on May 15. The funding for the expedition
came from Simone, Rinat Khaibullin and the American Anatoly Boukreev
Foundation. The management of the foundation was able to find sources
to support our attempt, as it always tries to support Kazakhstan
were three more alpinists with us at the base camp at 4100 meters.
Leader of the expedition R. Diumovich from Germany, an Austrian
climber G. Kaltenbrunner and Hirotaka from Japan tried to summit
Shishapangma in April and now intended to summit Annapurna. It was
difficult to find a more international group in the Himalayas this
spring. We were all from different countries with the exceptions
of Ralph and Gerlinda was Germany and Boris Stepanovich and me being
started the ascent a few days later. The four started first, and
Simone and me headed up two days later with all our heavy gear.
The idea was that Ralph, Gerlinda, Hirotaki and Boris Stepanovich
Korshunov) would climb Annapurna together along the standard first-ascend
route. Simone and I wanted to test our mettle on a rocky buttress
on the right side of the standard route. The buttress starts at
around 7000m and rises sharply to 7300m. The steep ice walls above
and below the buttress make the route more difficult.
On May 28, Simone and I came to the upper part of the icefalls where
we set camp 3 at the elevation of 6800m. Our friends ahead successfully
reached the summit of Annapurna that day and returned to their camp.
Boris Stepanovich stunned everyone with any knowledge of the mountain
when he headed up, without any idea about the actual route, simply
following what he thought was the best way up the large rocky pyramid.
This way he reached the east summit of Annapurna (8012m) that has
only climbed by a few people before.
were getting on less brilliantly for the two of us. The climb with
heavy packs in deep snow was very tiring. Moreover, Simone felt
sick and could hardly cope with the last few meters. Rested after
the supper, we agreed that climbing the new route is not realistic
for us at the moment.
grief knew no end. The goal was rising right above us – cherished
yet exhausting. Only one last effort was needed to crown our victory,
to reach the summit of the most dangerous 8000-meter mountain along
a new route. I have stubbornly aimed not to take the easier way.
One’s plans can only go as far as the circumstances allow. After
a thorough rest and a long talk with Simone we decided not to climb
the buttress but attempt to follow the footsteps of the first group.
Tomorrow we would leave all now useless equipment and follow the
felt better in the morning. At high altitude, illness generally
develop swiftly, and a cold can develop overnight into a serious
inflammation of lungs (pulmonary edema???). Happy that my partner
is healthy again, we climbed to 7200m with light packs where we
met with the four summiteers. They moved on down into the maze of
the icefield while we set up tent and prepared for the final push.
general, the “French” route on Annapurna follows mainly ice and
snow. The icefalls that fall along the north face of the mountain
to 4300m are very dangerous. We hear the thundering of collapsing
seracs in the middle of the night. The upper part of the mountain
always accumulates a large amount of cornices making avalanches
a serious problem. Within a few hours of a snowfall at camp 2 we
counted more than 30 of the “white deaths” flying down. This is
why the first ascent route did not become a “classic”, unlike on
Everest or Cho-Oyu where large numbers of alpinists continue taking
the first ascent route to the summit. On Annapurna, majority of
the expeditions prefer to take a more complicate route to the summit
– Bonington, Japanese, Polish, etc. For us, acclimatized this year
at other high peaks, our safety on this mountain depended on the
speed of our progress. We were to avoid moving slowly through the
fields of seracs and cross icefalls first thing in the morning.
camps on our route are traditionally placed at 5000, 5900, 6800
and 7200 meters. The areas are spaced out to match the normal pace
of the climbers and in relatively safe spots.
view of the upper mountain imprints into every climber’s memory.
A glacier of a characteristic form (nicknamed “serp”) crawls down
from under the summit. Its crevassed lower part gradually rises
to the upper summit tower, about 200m high. Our fourth camp lies
at the “handle” of the “serp”.
spent the whole day drinking tea and resting before the decisive
push. Simone got gradually better and more optimistic. We spent
a few hours worrying at night after being informed on the radio
that Korshunov got lost somewhere in the icefall. He was found soon
after Simone and I put on our crampons to go searching for him.
Finally, we could return to our sleeping bags. Yet given that we
were to get up at midnight again we decided to start our ascent
immediately. We left our camp at 9pm.
Going up snow/ice slopes in dark at elevations above 7000m is not
too pleasant. In the glimmering light of the moon we slowly made
our way through the seracs and across less than stable ice bridges.
More and more often, Simone would stop for a breather and the rope
connecting us would straighten up. We quickly lost the tracks of
the previous group and continued climbing along the shortest way
straight up. Soon my partner felt very bad and refused continuing
a situation! Simone said that I should continue alone if I like
while he goes back down. But alone? I understood at once there will
be no second chance. Either now up for the summit, or back home.
After thinking for a while I untied from the rope, which slid down
the ice slope towards Simone’s headlamp. I shouted I’m heading for
the summit, turned around, and climbed up the ice slope towards
moon was out. The eerie greatness of the night covered everything
a man lost if the world of altitude can sense. I was alone. Alone
as no one else in the world. Just the stars, the ice, the rocks
and the snow, and one lieutenant of CSKA Kazakhstan filled with
determination. All or nothing – the motto pushed me along the flat
fields of ice and snow right into the space. I sped up after Simone
turned around and my feet stopped freezing. I walked up 20-30 steps
and then took a breathing break. First up along the rocks, then
a traverse to the right. Here I encountered the tracks of the Germans
and followed them to the summit pyramid. It got very dark underneath
it, for the moon was now on the other side of the mountain. I had
to climb up a steep and narrow rock couloir covered with snow in
places, as if inside a well. And then, after a few hundred meters,
at 1:20am on May 30, I stood on top of Annapurna.
uppermost point of the mountain is narrow as a blade made of firn
snow. The south face dropped on the other side like the entry to
the underworld. The darkness at the base of the mountain was awesome,
like water in a bottomless pool. The moon has just set at the horizon,
and from it through a barely perceptible cloud of mist a lane of
light came my way. The silver tower of Daulaghiri hung in the sky
between the stars. After warming the video camera underneath my
armpit I took some shots from the summit…
Then the climb down followed, of which I have nothing nice to say.
You can’t help it! (???) All the preparation, all the work that
coaches L. Savina and D. Grekov put into me during my youth has
paid off. It is to them that I am thankful for having what is necessary
in alpinism. At 3:15 I was back at the tent. Simone met me here
and we jumped back to the warmth of our sleeping bags to await morning.
The work was done.
Somewhere in the ice under Annapurna lie Boukreev and Sobolev. Let
their achievements live and promote Kazakhstan alpinism. That is
why I dedicated my climb of Annapurna to them.
expedition was over. Evaluating it we can say that the new route
on Kali-Himal climbed in the Himalayas is undoubtedly a great achievement
for Kazakhstan alpinism bringing about optimistic thoughts for the
future. Taking into account the fact that our sportsmen did not
put a new route in the Himalayas since Daulaghiri 1991, I hope that
the the work in the steep walls of Himalayan giants will start again.
Sport ascents can not be reduced to climbing the mountains along
their first ascent routes and routes done decades ago. For me, this
experience was very valuable and allows me to make the following
conclusions. The complexity of climbing in a small group, especially
with the representatives of the “western” school of mountaineering,
allows for a relatively free choice of objects for serious mountaineering
and climbing tasks. Undoubtedly, the prestige of Kazakhstan sport
can only gain from this.
course, the sport side of our expedition lost somewhat from the
fact that we did not climb a new route on Annapurna. This was caused
by the indisposition of my friend which, unfortunately, is in part
determined simply by luck. Nevertheless, the ascent of the mountain
adds to the treasure box of the Kazakhstan mountaineering.
The switching from Kali-Himal to Annapurna also made the expedition
more difficult. The first route took a huge amount of our energy,
both physical and mental.
Central Army Sport Club (CSKA)
SALICE, La Sportiva, CAMP, The North Face