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Serguey Samoilov

...Those who climb big walls will understand me....

expedition chronicle

An Interview for 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 Darjeeling

How is it that until now you've never visited the Himalayas?

I 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.

After 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.

How did you get back to mountains?

I 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).

What was the reason for you to start mountaineering in the first place?

My 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?

While 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.

How did you train for this climb?

Denis 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 climbed in
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).

What are your first impressions of Pakistan?

I was born and grew up in Kazakhstan, a Moslem country. Everything in Pakistan was quite understandable to me.

What are your impressions about this region in general?

On 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.

What are your impressions of the Italians and other foreign climbers in Base Camp?

Having 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.

What did you feel when you saw you intended wall? Was it different from what you had imagined?

On 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.

During 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?

If the weather had been good, we would have probably summited. Altitude feels much harder in Tien Shien and Pamir.

What 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?

For 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.

What about equipment, clothing, techniques? Was it comfortable, or did you suffer? What was the weight of your backpacks at the start?

Our 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.

What 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?

There 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.

How did you spend the first and second nights, seated on the ledge?

Embraced; teeth chattering.

What 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?

When 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.

SMS messages from friends - what did you receive; what did you answer? What was memorable?

Our 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.

What night was the worst; how did you feel at 8000m?

The second to last night was the most difficult - very uneasy. Avalanches were coming down everywhere, one of them even grazed us.

I 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.

What did you talk about during the nights on the wall?

About 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 same time..

What pill did you split on the top instead of food? In general, what did you eat on the route?

We 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.

Did you sleep well?

Yes; I always sleep well at altitude, even sitting on a ledge.

What was the temperature at night?

We felt cold, but I can't tell the temperature for sure. Maybe We may have felt colder because of dehydration.

How many minutes did you spend on the summit?

No 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.

What about the avalanche danger on the route?

It was present all the time. Especially on the descent by the classic to the top of the fixed ropes.

What eventually happened with your feet?

They ached. I think this has to do with dehydration. But, we escaped without frostbite.

How were you greeted at base camp?

The 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.

How 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?

I 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.

What 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?

It is hard to judge by the photo. For a realistic assessment I need to see it myself and spend a week under the route.

You 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?

I 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.

Does something change in the soul after a climb like this?

Nothing changed so far - neither in the soul, nor in life.

12 December, 2005.

Almaty - Saint-Petersburg.

Translated into Englisg by Adilet Imambekov and Alexey Dynkin (USA)