sexta-feira, agosto 10, 2007

K2 west face special: Jannu legends in final battle for the impossible side of Savage mountain

7-8 days at 8000 meters without oxygen
Storms = Climbers go down, Russians go up
Expedition made up of legends
Tenho a certeza de que estes tipos são de outro planeta!! É simplesmente inumano!
A história é decididamente longa, mas vale a pena.
São russos, lá está!
Eu cá, fico a torcer para que hoje façam cume, depois de um esforço desta natureza, bem merecem! Neste mesmo minuto, andam lá por cima, já bem pertinho do cume do K2.

07:28 pm EST Aug 09, 2007
( “I'm worried about the Russians. They may need three days to climb the upper part of the west face..." wrote Kazakh Denis Urubko to RussianClimb today. His concern is warranted. The forecasts show that a storm should be moving in Sunday, leaving the guys less than three days to make it to the top and back to high camp.

Previously, the team reported that they'll need 2 days up and one down. If another day is added to this calculation and the forecasts are correct, they could get stuck in one of K2's notorious storms - high up on one of the Savage Mountain's meanest faces.

Jannu climbers doing west face top on a shoe string

The three climbers in the summit team are no newbies.They did Jannu's north face and Everest north ridge without oxygen together - among other things. (You might recall Nick Totmjanin from a recent Everest second step story.) But they are still human. The challenge ahead comes after four days already spent at 7800 meters - without supplementary oxygen. That's like hanging out 4 days without oxygen in the highest camp on Everest - and then go on a 3-4 day summit push.

The team has worked hard since early June to fix the face. That's 2 months climbing up and down the wall, starting out in brutal cold and later through all storms. 2 members have been evacuated already, due to altitude thrombosis. This happens when thin air thickens the blood so much that it begins to clot.

Now, the three front liners have only a small tent, some gas, one stove, 2 mattresses and 2 sleeping-bags between them - for a climb that could last as long as some alpine style ascents take on entire 8000ers. "They've reduced the gear to the minimum, but it's enough only for one or two nights," expedition leader Kozlov also noted.

They better be fast.

West side close calls and tragedies

The men are negotiating virgin territory. The west side of K2 was first climbed primarily through the easier west ridge. Japanese Eiho Ohtani and Pakistan Nazir Sabir finally summited, but had to spend a bivouac in a snow cave at 8470m.

In a first attempt on the ridge, a British expedition led by Chris Bonington ended in tragedy: an avalanche killed Nick Escourt at about 6700m. Doug Scott was also caught in the slide, but was miraculously saved by his heavy backpack, which anchored him in the snow – arresting his fall and snapping the rope that was dragging him to his death.

Latest, in 1997, another Japanese team managed to reach the top through the ridge and partially through the face where the team reported avalanche-prone sections and an exposed traverse on steep slopes covered with loose rock. (Check in later today for a K2 route special.)

7-8 days at 8000 meters without oxygen

What the men have behind them and ahead of them is a display of a high altitude feat rarely seen before. After 4 days in the deathzone, their entire system is slowly shutting down. Yet they have to force themselves to climb even higher on an empty wall leading to a notoriously unpredictable summit.

They're in radio contact with BC every other hour; this morning they began the push by climbing 12 previously fixed pitches. Before noon, the continued to the top - in a highly risky free climb.

Due to the recent snow fall, the men broke trail for 5 hours in deep snow after the fixed ropes ended. As a result of 4 nights in C5, they ascended very slowly. "We listened to their voices in the radio here in BC and understood how tired they must be," reported a team member to RussianClimb.

The three climbers finally stopped at 5 pm local time and set Camp 6 - that is they pitched their small bivouac tent there to spend the night. They had ascended close to the rocks on the right side, and stopped 200 meters below the horisontal rock band. They left again at 5 am this morning (local) and hope to summit later today. The weather's fine, but the snow is reportedly very deep - up to waist-deep or even chest-deep in some spots. (Check ExWeb's news section for updates through the climb today).

Expedition made up of legends

The expedition, by far the world's greatest high altitude mountaineering team, is made up largely of Russian Everest north wall and Jannu north face legends. Shabaline, who was the first to summit through the Everest north wall direct line, has been leading much of the work on the K2 west face. They are no spring chickens either: In the middle of the expedition, on June 22, Pavel Shabaline had a grandson and on June 26, Gleb Sokolov had a grand-daughter.

The team reached Goro II camp June 6. “It's still winter on the Baltoro Glacier," they reported. The porters were having trouble. The Liaison Officer brought with him so many books to BC, that the Russians hired a yak just to carry his gear.

When the work on the face began, Gennady Kirievsky said it looked like Jannu. June 25, they reached 7,000 meters. "We worked 6 days,” Alex Bolotov reported. “The lower part of the wall is very steep. We had to climb on overhanging rock sections 3 meters wide. There are a lot of such hard pitches – extremely difficult walls.”

Storms = Climbers go down, Russians go up

That day, Bolotov fell 4 meters when a ‘friend’ snapped, while Nick Totmjanin set a tiny tent at 7150 m. A few days later, climbers on the Abruzzi were turned back by a storm. The west face climbers meanwhile, continued their work high up.

July 2, while most teams had spent the weekend weathering a raging storm sweeping all the Karakoram peaks, the Russian climbers still headed up their face - in drifting snowfall - and pitched a tent at C3.

“After the extremely steep rock band on the bastion, which can be compared to the vertical walls on Jannu’s North Face, the route continues on equally difficult rock sections above 7000m,” reported Victor Kozlov and Nickolay Totmjanin from BC.

In addition to the altitude and bitter cold, the climbers negotiated the rocky middle sections, "it's tough; there are many long, vertical cracks and dihedrals covered in ice. All [our men] are brave,” the BC crew proudly reported.

G2 avalanche; K2 west face climbers rescue team mate

July 6, another summit push was thwarted on the normal route. And then another one on July 10. Meanwhile, the west face Russians set up C4 at 7,600 meters.

And so it went on, pitch by pitch. July 16, in the middle of another stormy weekend, the Russians remained high up on K2's west face - enduring avalanches and heavy snowfall in C4 - while fixing new pitches above, toward the final camp.

July 18, following another bad snowstorm, an avalanche killed 2 people on GII. Meanwhile, the west face climbers were having their own drama.

The storm had struck on July 12 with heavy snow fall and strong wind on all altitudes. Vitaly Ivanov suddenly became very ill in camp 3 and was unable to descend without help. His mates climbed up for him that morning, with an emergency oxygen bottle and medical aid. The effort lasted until 10 pm. The next day, they descended to ABC through the storm in a climb that lasted until that evening.

As Vitaly became worse, other climbers including the expedition doctor and coach also climbed up to ABC to meet him. In the final parts, they brought him down on a sledge and at last, Vitaly was evacuated by Pakistan chopper. He was the first man down due to the altitude blood clots that would come to plaque the team.

No break

The climb however continued relentlessly, without break. Shabaline's group, who had helped their mate down from the upper sections of the wall, went straight back up - to continue the work above C4, while others worked the sections below.

In spite of the 6 straight days of storm, the team managed to salvage all the tents in the high-altitude camps and bring up more gear to higher altitudes. "The K2 West Face climb continues and the climbers are very grateful for all who believe in the team and support the guys on the expedition website," the team dispatched.

July 20, K2's normal route was summited at last - at the cost of 2 climbers' lives. July 21, while the K2 summiteers fought their way back down the Abruzzi Spur in full blizzard conditions, the west face climbers went up to cintinue the route to C5, at about 7,500meters.

Low spirits

By July 25, remaining climbers on the normal route began to taper off. Weather was terrible, and they were tired and worn from previous climbs. "It’s cold, snowy and rainy,” vented Giuseppe Pompili. “K2 is buried in snow — I am afraid the season’s over.”

The Italian climber added, “We’ll try to go up, at least to retrieve our tents in C1 and C2. The fixed ropes are useless, buried under the fresh snow. Most teams hoping to attempt K2 after Broad Peak have called it quits. Gerlinde is still here, but with doubts about conditions on the mountain.”

Over at the west face, the Russian climbers still worked their horrible wall, but very slowly. Difficult rocks were never-ending, the altitude was high and another storm was forecasted.

Summit push!

July 31, new climbers on a summit push from both the Abruzzi Spur and the Cesen route were turned back due to whiteout -exactly 53 years after Italians Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli had become the first humans to step on K2’s summit. Meanwhile, the Russian's overcame the bastion and at last set up C5 by the upper snow field.

Only four days later, on August 3, still in the middle of a bad weather spell - the Russians decided it was time. Strong winds or not - two teams headed to C5 on the summit push. The plan was to fight through the storm in order to be in position for a summit push whenever the good weather arrived.

“The wind is blowing hard at altitude,” the team reported. “Still, Alexey Bolotov and Gennady Kirievsky are going up from C1, and Nickolay Totmjanin, Valery Shamalo and Victor Volodin have departed ABC. They all hope to reach C5 and wait there for better weather conditions. As soon as the wind drops, they’ll start a summit push.”

Meanwhile, Alexander Korobkov became the second man to be airlifted with altitude-induced thrombosis. But nothing could stop the summit push now. August 6, three men were reported to have reached reached C5 - Nickolay (Nick)Totmjanin, Gennady (Gene) Kirievsky, and Alexey (Alex) Bolotov.

"They won’t leave until they make it,” commented Slovak Dodo Kopold.

The men on the wall

Two days ago, climbers looking up from K2’s BC could see nothing but snow fall. Yet meteorologists peered beyond the cloudy fronts and announced good weather approaching, to last until this Sunday. Let's hope they're right - and that the three Russians are strong and fast enough.

But who are the three climbers?

You might recall Nickolay Totmjanin from a previous ExWeb story "I free climbed the Everest second step to avoid the crowd." ExWeb ran the article in relation to Altitude Everest's claims that their climbers (reported "two of the best in the world") had been the first to do so.

Born December 8, 1958, Nick began climbing in 1977. He is a five time Snow Leopard and has hundreds of rock climbs, winter climbs and high altitude climbs to his name. He summited Everest north ridge in 2003 without oxygen, and free climbed the second step simply because he couldn't afford to wait in line. (His - and others - 'sidestep' was only mentioned briefly before Anker & co made global media fuss about theirs.)

Nick summited Jannu's nearly unclimbable North Face in 2004, and was also member of the Soviet team who achieved the first ascent to Lhotse’s main summit via the south face (summitteers were Bershov and Karatajev). He is married with 2 kids, and works as a mountain guide in the ROSTEP outfit.

Gennady Kirievsky was born on May 29, 1961 and started climbing in 1978. A repeat champion of Russian climbing competitions, Gene was the leader of a 2002 Everest north ridge expedition and the 2004 Jannu north face expedition. He summited Jannu on May 27 - together precisely with Nick Totmjanin - but not until after helping one of the first summiteers down. He is married with 2 kids - the entire family is in fact very active in outdoor sports.

Alexey Bolotov was also on the Jannu expedition. He was badly injured, tried for the summit anyway, but had to finally abort after he lost his crampon. Born on January 20, 1963 Alex too works at ROSTEP. Married, with 2 kids, he is another Russian climbing champion whose major climbs include Jannu, Everest (without oxygen) in 2002 and the 2001 Lhotse Middle first ascent.

Jannu repeat?

The Jannu climb was awarded by ExWeb and Piolet D'Or, and for good reason.

In their final week, bivouacking in a portaledge at 7000 meters, gaining only 30m per day climbing, the men were on the limits of human endurance. They were coming off the wall like wounded soldiers; bloody heads and broken ribs, everywhere danger lay in waiting. They began to lose their nerve, ascending only five meters a day; they couldn't imagine how many days would be needed to climb the last 700 meters of the wall.

"The idea that we would have to retreat with nothing to show for our pains, to live up to the expectations of those who did not believe in us, after we spent so much energy, forced us to continue the climb even in heavy snowfall, into late darkness," the guys reported back then - before completing the epic ascent.

Perhaps something similar is going through their minds in this minute.

Viktor Kozlov, Vassily Yelagin, Piotr Kuznetsov and Pavel Shabalin spent a few weeks by the west face in 2004 scouting access routes through the glacier and possible routes on the wall.

Despite bad weather conditions – the guys returned to Russia boiling with excitement: “The first impression is very good,” called out team leader Viktor Kozlov. Their exploratory team had found a pass to the sheer wall near the Chinese border. Right after the scouting expedition, Pavel Shabalin made an alpine-style ascent of Khan Tengri’s North Face with Iljas Tukhvatullin. Pavel paid dearly for it though - losing 3 toes and 5 fingers to frostbite.

But loaded with topos, images and video of the wall, the team has now been feverishly working for two months on the new route they hope to open on K2's west face. There's nothing on the wall, and it has never been climbed before.

After opening a new direct route on Everest’s north face in 2005, Victor Kozlov is again leading a strong Russian team to complete the first direct ascent up K2’s west face. Team members are Nickolay Cherny, Serguey Penzov, Victor Volodin, Valery Shamolo, Dmitry Komarov, Pavel Shabalin, Iljas Tukhvatullin, Andrey Mariev, Vadim Popovitch, Gleb Sokolov, Vitaly Ivanov, Vitaly Gorelik, Eugeny Vinogradsky, Alexey Bolotov, Nickolay Totmjanin, Gennady Kirievsky, Alexander Korobkov, Victor Pleskachevsky, Serguey Bychkovsky, Igor Borisenko, Vladimir Kochurov, Vladimir Kuptsov and Oleg Ushakov.

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1 Comment:

Daniela Teixeira said...

Nem os russos! :(((((
Após 4 dias à espera de bom tempo no C5, tentaram o cume, mas o desgaste pela enorme espera em altitude sem oxigénio levou a um enorme desgaste.
Ao cansaço, juntou-se neve pela cintura e por vezes pelo peito...isso ainda conseguiram suportar, mas a secção de rocha aos 8500m já foi demais! Comentam ainda, que para além do cansaço, não tinham material suficiente para aquela rocha toda!
Taditos! Nem os super-homens fazem milagres!...é pena.
Mas...ainda à esperança que haja cenas dos próximos capítulos...talvez envolvendo outros membros da equipa?!