who climb big walls will understand me....
Interview for www.Russianclimb.com. Questions - by Elena Laletina,
the creation of warm-hearted atmosphere and digging into the depths
of the memory of "The Daddy"(Samoilov's nickname) - by
is it that until now you've never visited the Himalayas?
had the chance to go visit the Himalaya a long time ago. In
1988, I was invited as a candidate to the Soviet Himalayan
Expedition to Kanchenjunga. I was about 30. During the selection
competitions I was sick and didn't do well, and Dr. Lipen
(the team doctor) didn't even want me to participate in a
speed ascent. Candidates for the team demonstrated their endurance
during two winter speed ascents of Elbrus, and Boukreev was
the fastest. I participated anyway, but after the bad flu
I only made 15th and 16th. At the same time, my tests in the
altitude chamber were quite bad as well.
the competitions, I got married for the second time and moved to
Northern Kazakhstan, to Kustanay. Alpinism became at that point
not the second, but more like the fifth priority in my life. There
aren't even any mountains near Kustanay…this was the start of a
ten year long break in my mountaineering career. After just two
years, we came back to Almaty. When I was leaving to Kustanay, all
my friends told me that I will be dreaming of the mountains, but
I have to confess : I've never seen them in my dreams for all those
ten years. I made wooden sculptures and almost became a furniture-maker.
I also earned some money on the side doing industrial alpinism.
When I came back to Almaty, I was spending most of my time with
artists and sculptors, not alpinists.
did you get back to mountains?
got back to mountains only in 1998, after yet another divorce (Old
Hemingway had five wives, so I am not a record-holder in this business
at all), and started catching up. I accepted an offer from Rinat
Khaibullin to work as a coach for the Central Sports Club of the
Army(CSKA). Now at last I felt the lure of the mountains again.
With the young team of Illinski ( Denis Urubko, Vassili Pivtsov,
Damir Molgachev, Alexander Rudakov) we climbed the North face of
Khan-Tengri, with the veterans(Muraviev, Khaibullin, Chervonenko
and others) we made a Karlytau - Marble Wall traverse in Tien Shien
- in the winter. Then there was Khan-Tengri once again, this time
also in the winter (We hiked in from Bayankol and hiked out to Maydadyr),
14 days in severe cold. I also made a winter attempt on Pobeda (we
got till 6000m).
was the reason for you to start mountaineering in the first place?
father, a sports instructor in Almaty University, had a very interesting
friend, the scientist Grudzinskii (he studied clouds). My father
used to bring different mountaineering books from him, and it was
really exciting to read them. Besides that, one of our neighbors
was Anatoly Vitalievich Kelberg - a well known alpinist, a Master
of Sports. I was the same age as his son Anton( by the way, I met
him in December 2005 at the "Bask" event in Moscow) and
together we went to Talgar climbing camp in 1974. During the next
year I worked at the camp, helping with construction, but couldn't
yet do much climbing. Only 15 years later Vladimir Alekseevich Kolodin
confessed that he had asked the climbing camp doctor not to let
us go climbing. It was at Talgar climbing camp where I met Boukreev
and Agafonov for the first time. In 1976 I was accepted to the alpinism
division of CSKA, and Irina Davydova was my coach. We were climbing
the same routes that people climb today in Tuiuksu Ravine near Almaty.
At the time, Illinski's team consisted of the "monsters"
- Kazbek Valiev, Valeriy Khrischatyi, Youri Golodov, Vlad Smirnov
- they set a new route on South Face of Communism peak - and the
team of Youri Stepanovich Popenko; these were the leading teams
in the Altitude Technical and Technical Classes of the Mountaineering
Championship of USSR. Illinski was the leader of the team, and different
people coached us rookies: Vladimir Suviga, Kazbek Valiev, Valeriy
Khrischatyi, Youri Golodov and others. There I passed the qualifications
for the 3rd degree in mountaineering. I qualified for the first
degree in the Artuch climbing camp in the Fan mountains. In 1983
we climbed a Russian grade 6A route on Engels peak (South-East Pamir)
in the team of Victor Shkarban for the championship of the armed
forces. I qualified for Master of Sports of USSR of Alpinism in
1987, but never filled the paperwork because of the aforementioned
marriage and relocation. I managed to fulfill the "Snow Leopard"
requirements with Khaibullin and Boukreev, climbed Peak Communism
(7495m) in winter, participated in the USSR Championships (Kyzyl
Asker, Block Wall(Ak-Su)), climbed the South Face of Khan-Tengri
and many other routes.
How did Denis Urubko invite you on the
Broad Peak expedition this year?
training for the South-West Face of Broad Peak during the winter,
Denis was worried that he didn't have a reliable partner for this
climb. Seeing his doubts, I myself offered to go with him. I felt
well at 7000m, almost as if it were 4000m, and was sure that I will
be fine at 8000m. Denis took care of all the logisitical problems,
since it wasn't his first expedition to Himalaya and Karakoram.
We had climbed some routes together with him before that - North
face of Khan-Tengri, and a new route on the Marble Wall (3rd place
in CIS championship) very quickly, together with Durov. And, of
course, lots of routes of 1B to 4B grade in Tuiuksu ravine, each
weekend, throughout the year.
did you train for this climb?
mainly concentrated on rock climbing. He participated in rock climbing
competitions and even was a prize-winner. I paid more attention
to endurance training - I ran two times every day, 10 km per run
(at this time I was conducting the training camp of the Rescue Service
near Ili River). It was very hot, as is typical for Central Asia.
To climb in a team of two, one must be in top physical condition.
But the basis for climbing the Himalaya Wall in alpine style lies
in our past achievements. In 2000, Denis "ran" up Khan-Tengri
and came back to Base camp in 12 hours, the same summer I climbed
Aconcagua in 7h 15min Base camp to Base camp. Khan-Tengri was also
winter without prior acclimatization. For many consecutive years,
Denis has been the winner of a speed ascent of Pk Komsomol (till
4200m) and of a Boukreev Speed Ascent competition on Pk Amangeldy(till
3950m), which takes place each year on the last Sunday of December.
I also competed in these speed ascents; my best result is the 3rd
place for Pk Komsomol, my personal record is 2h 04 mins for Chimbulak(~2300m)
to Peak Komsomol (till 4200m).
are your first impressions of Pakistan?
was born and grew up in Kazakhstan, a Moslem country. Everything
in Pakistan was quite understandable to me.
are your impressions about this region in general?
the Baltoro Glacier I was impressed by the huge scale of K2 and
the walls nearby. I wanted to have a detailed look at all this,
but the weather wasn't good during our approach, too foggy. I had
the pleasure of enjoying the views only by the middle of the expedition.
I still wonder if I saw everything.
are your impressions of the Italians and other foreign climbers
in Base Camp?
the experience of being a high altitude guide on Khan-Tengri, I
foresaw all possible conflicts before the departure. Our Italians
were nice guys. I became friends with all of them.
did you feel when you saw you intended wall? Was it different from
what you had imagined?
the photo the route seemed SUBSTANTIALLY simpler. In real life,
the mountain seemed much more difficult and intimidating than I
had imagined. I felt a little anxious before the start, and calmed
down only after an acclimatization climb up to 7,200 meters on the
standard route. When Italians firmly turned around after having
a look at the Wall, I, frankly speaking, felt relieved : if you
have any doubts, it is better to quit right away.
the acclimatization on the classic route - could you have continued
on to the summit? How different does 7200m feel in the Karakoram
versus Tien Shien or Pamir?
the weather had been good, we would have probably summited. Altitude
feels much harder in Tien Shien and Pamir.
fits your character better - a team of two, or a larger team?
What unites you with Denis Urubko psychologically, what is different
about Denis compared to other CSKA climbers?
me the most important thing is the atmosphere in the team. If there
is a good mutual understanding, good spirit and a common objective,
the number of participants doesn't matter. Psychologically, Denis
and I are very different, but during difficult times this was not
a problem because we were united by our common goal. Most like,
we just compensate each other. Denis is a one hundred percent leader;
he becomes instantly fixated upon a goal. Among ourselves we call
him "champion". It is much harder to fire me up.
about equipment, clothing, techniques? Was it comfortable, or did
you suffer? What was the weight of your backpacks at the start?
clothing wasn't new, but it well tested. We had to work a little
bit on gear, exchange the pitons; Domenico Belingheri helped us
a lot. My backpack was no more than 15 kilos, ditto for Denis. We
deliberately tried to cut down on weight, expecting a difficult
route. We had our "North Face" tent, but left half of
the poles, since we didn't expect good ledges. We saved on everything
- only one sleeping bag and one down jacket per team. Socks and
sweaters always stayed on us. Of course, we were very cold. We had
a minimal reserve, but we weren't quite on the edge. Those who climb
big walls will understand me.
did you feel during your lonely overnight stay at the base of the
wall? Did you feel that you not there by accident and that you will
climb this wall?
was no anxiety, I slept as if at home. From the start the wall inspired
both fear and confidence; we felt the drive. I was there to climb
a new route.
did you spend the first and second nights, seated on the ledge?
did you feel after finding out that a two-day storm was coming?
How diffiuclt was the upper part of the route - the climbing, the
storm, the cold, all without gas or water? Did you ever take off
your boots? How did you go through all this - does it remind you
of any of your previous climbs? What was the most extreme situation?
we understood that there was no escaping this storm, we did not
panic; after all, there were no options but to continue. If we had
been climbing in Himalayan style, with fixed ropes, we would have
retreated. This is reasonable. The weather deteriorated on the fourth
or fifth day. We were at 7400m. I can't say that we got to "
the edge" at any particular point. We worked our way up at
roughly the same pace day after day, even without gas and water.
We didn't take our boots off only during the last night. Imagine;
during my winter attempt on Pobeda peak I once took a bottle of
Pepsi which I was warming up on my belly - there was ice in it.
Here, it wasn't that cold even at 8000 meters. The climbing itself
was really strenuous on Broad peak, with very low visibility during
the storm. The wind was strong, but I can't say that it was ripping
us off from the wall.
I felt the strongest gusts on the ridge, probably because of the
change in the weather - it got considerably colder, and the clouds
went down to 7000m.
messages from friends - what did you receive; what did you answer?
What was memorable?
friends gave us constant support. Rinat Khaibullin was strict and
laconic (After all, he is my boss in the Rescue Service). Messages
Svetlana Sharipova warmed us up, and messages from Darjeeling irritated
Denis. Sasha Chechulin sent us lots of useful information.
night was the worst; how did you feel at 8000m?
second to last night was the most difficult - very uneasy. Avalanches
were coming down everywhere, one of them even grazed us.
didn't feel any pressure of 8000m, even though it was my first time
at this altitude. My main objective was not to restrain Denis. The
hardest thing on this route wasn't the altitude, the ice or the
coldness; it was the technical rock climbing.
did you talk about during the nights on the wall?
everything. Denis had the photo of his daughter Masha, he talked
about how nice it is at home, made plans about his return. He yearned
for his family, his wife. I was thinking about all my women at the
What pill did you split on the top instead
of food? In general, what did you eat on the route?
planned to climb the route in 5 days, and took food for just that
long. We kept eating until there was no more. Because of the bad
weather, the climb took us seven days, the last two days we didn't
eat and on the last day we didn't drink. Denis had one last tablet
of "Renny", against heartburn, which we split evenly.
you sleep well?
I always sleep well at altitude, even sitting on a ledge.
was the temperature at night?
felt cold, but I can't tell the temperature for sure. Maybe We may
have felt colder because of dehydration.
many minutes did you spend on the summit?
more than 10 minutes. Somehow, we still had enough strength left
for emotions, and we enjoyed the thrilling view: the clowds lowered,
and the summit of K2 shone in all its beauty. If I ever get the
chance, I will surely try to climb it. Maybe nature had awarded
us with the views for the successful climb? I attached a small container
with 200 Tenge (Kazakhstan currency, about 1.5$) to the summit pole,
Denis left a small mascot - a Japanese Rabbit. We made several photos
with K2 in background and hurried down.
about the avalanche danger on the route?
was present all the time. Especially on the descent by the classic
to the top of the fixed ropes.
eventually happened with your feet?
ached. I think this has to do with dehydration. But, we escaped
were you greeted at base camp?
Italians welcomed us warmly. Roby Piantoni and Marco Astori left
the BC and met us on the glacier, between the start of our route
and the first camp on the classic route. They helped us to carry
the backpacks, and we came to our camp only by late night. Because
of the communication problems during last two days the team didn't
know when we are coming back. We had no energy left for celebration
that night, and by next morning we started going down towards Askole.
much weigh did you loose? And how did you feet after the mountain?
How much did it take you to recover - a month, two months?
lost about 15 kilos. At the beginning of big expeditions I always
have +5 kilos extra. My feelings after the mountain - EXHAUSTION
and SATISFACTION. Ten days after our arrival to Almaty we made an
attempt to climb Khan-Tengri with our own team (Denis, Evgueni Shutov,
Svetlana Sharipova, Gennadiy Durov). We have a goal with Denis to
train the young strong team for climbs in Himalaya. Unfortunately,
because of ailment of three members we were only able to reach 6200m.
At 5400m we met Pavel Shabaline and Ilias Tukhvatullin coming down
from their North Face climb. After the end of this expedition it
took me the whole month to recover.
do you think about the West face of K2? Is it possible to climb
it in a party of four, or two teams of four? Or would it require
a larger team?
is hard to judge by the photo. For a realistic assessment I need
to see it myself and spend a week under the route.
said that you had climbed in the style of Kukuczka of the seventies.
What has happened to Himalayan mountaineering since then? Has it
really never been surpassed?
don't follow the history of alpinism. There had been lots of strong
ascents since then.
To climb in a party of two, one needs to be in extraordinary shape.
We are neither the first, nor the last.
something change in the soul after a climb like this?
changed so far - neither in the soul, nor in life.
into Englisg by Adilet Imambekov and Alexey Dynkin (USA)