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Denis and Serguey have achieved the first summit on Manaslu since 2003. Imagw of Serguey (left) and Denis (right), during their expedition on Broad Peak last year, courtesy of Denis Urubko / Russian Climb (click to enlarge).
"In the photo the route seemed substantially simpler," said Samoilov. "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 the 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." Image of camp ..
"When I moved to Kustanay, all my friends told me that I would be dreaming of the mountains, but I must confess: I never saw them in my dreams during those ten years. I made wooden sculptures and almost became a furniture-maker. Even once back in Almaty, I kept on spending most of my time with artists and sculptors, not climbers." Image of Serguey Samoilov, courtesy of RussianClimb.

Serguey Samoilov: A life of climbs and wives

Posted: Jan 17, 2006 03:00 pm EST
(K2Climb.net) Serguey Samoilov was the newbie on the team, the unknown partner of the Kazakh climbing celebrity Denis Urubko. Close to 50, this was his first expedition in the Himalaya, his first 8000m and he went for a new route in stormy weather up Broad Peaks SW face. The Italian team they were supposed to join forces with refused to attempt the face at first glance and opted for the normal route. <cutoff>

The Kazakhs went up anyway. Facing the unexpected, they had no idea if they would find a way up the mountain - or off it for that matter. Not a surprise coming from Urubko, who has a long list of epic climbs under his belt.

For his partner, Serguey, on the other hand this was a whole new ball of wax. Despite no previous experience on an 8000m peak, he gladly embraced the challenge.

<b>And you thought you were tough?</b>

There is a method to this madness though. Before attempting Himalayan peaks, many Kazakh climbers are already well experienced in the mountains of Central Asian - a region of peaks whose conditions mirror that of many 8000ers and could easily intimidate many climbers.

But Sergueys life seems to be dictated not by the climbing seasons but by his wives, and subsequent divorces.

Lena Laletina, journalist with RussianClimb, dug deep into Sergueys background. Here goes an excerpt of RussianClimbs interview:

<b><i>RussianClimb: </b>How is it that until now you've never visited the Himalayas?</i>

<b>Serguey: </b>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 Kangchenjunga. I was about 30. During the selection competitions I was sick and didn't do well, and the teams 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 a 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. When I was leaving to Kustanay, all my friends told me that I would be dreaming of mountains, but I must confess: I never saw them in my dreams during 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 kept on spending most of my time with artists and sculptors, not climbers.

<b><i>RC: </b>When did you return to mountaineering?</i>

<b>Serguey: </b>I got back to the 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 Kazakh Army (CSKA).

Now at last I felt the lure of the mountains again. With the team of younger climbers ( Denis Urubko, Vassili Pivtsov, Damir Molgachev, Alexander Rudakov) we climbed the North face of Khan Tengri; with the veterans we made a Karlytau-Marble Wall traverse in Tien Shan - in winter. Then there was Khan Tengri once again, this time also in winter (we hiked in from Bayankol and hiked out to Maydadyr); it took us 14 days in severe cold. I also made a winter attempt on Pobeda, reaching 6000m.

<b><i>RC: </b>Why did you start climbing in the first place?</i>

<b>Serguey: </b>My father, a sports instructor in Almaty University, had a very interesting friend, the scientist Grudzinskii who studied clouds. My father used to borrow 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 and together we went to Talgar climbing camp in 1974, where I met Boukreev and Agafonov, among other climbers.

<b><i>RC: </b>How did Denis Urubko invite you on the Broad Peak expedition this year?</i>

<b>Serguey: </b>While training for the BPs expedition during the previous 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 at 4000m, and was sure that I would be fine at 8000m. We had climbed some routes together with him before that - North face of Khan Tengri, and a new route on the Marble Wall. And, of course, lots of routes in Tuiuksu cliffs, each weekend, throughout the year.

<b><i>RC: </b>How did you train for this climb?</i>

<b>Serguey: </b>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 the 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 to climb a Himalayan face in alpine style lies in our past achievements. In 2000, Denis "ran" up Khan-Tengri and came back to Base camp in 12 hours; that same summer I climbed Aconcagua in 7h 15minuntes, Base camp to Base camp. We also had done the Khan Tengri winter climb without prior acclimatization. For many consecutive years, Denis has won several speed ascents. I also competed in these speed ascents.

<b><i>RC: </b>How was the first impressions of Pakistan and its mountains?</i>

<b>Serguey: </b>I was born and grew up in Kazakhstan, a Muslim country, so everything in Pakistan was quite understandable to me. Once 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. I still wonder if I saw everything.

<b><i>RC: </b>And how about the Italians and other foreign climbers in Base Camp?</i>

<b>Serguey: </b>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.

<b><i>RC: </b>What did you feel when you saw you intended wall? Was it different from what you had imagined?</i>

<b>Serguey: </b>In 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 the 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.

<b><i>RC: </b>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 Shan or Pamir?</i>

<b>Serguey: </b>If the weather had been good, we would have probably summited at first try. Altitude feels much harder in Tien Shan and Pamir.

<b><i>RC: </b>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?</i>

<b>Serguey: </b>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 likely, 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.

<b>Find Part 2 of the interview, with all details from the climb in the links section below the images.</b>

<i>Less than 300 climbers have summited Broad Peak, 8,051m. The mountain is the only 8000er that has actually become more dangerous to climb. Up to 1990 the Broad Peak summit/fatality rate is 5%, but from 1990 until last year the rate jumped to 8.6 %, or close to twice that of the modern Everest fatality rate (4.4%).

In addition - the mountain had a terrifying wall: There had been many attempts to climb BPs Southwest face, including big names such as Kukuczka but until this year, the face had remained unclimbed.

A killer mountain, and a scary face, yet if that wasn't enough of a challenge - destiny threw in another obstacle: 2005 proved an uncommonly bad year to climb the peak. Deep snow turned back party after party of mountaineers on the normal route - more than 50 in the end.

A great technical climber, Serguey was however new to 8000+ altitude. Denis instead, had nine 8000ers under his belt and had summitted BP before, through the normal route.

July 18, the Kazakhs started their push from 4800m on the SW face.

The pair set six bivouacs during the ascent, but only found space enough to lie down on two occasions. The other 4 nights, Denis and Serguey would just sit and wait for the morning light.

At 7950 meters, the wind turned into hurricane. Climbers at the normal route were forced back below the true summit. Denis and Serguey pushed on, up the summit ridge to the main summit of Broad Peak, at 8,051m.

The next day, after three days of silence, a remarkable sms arrived to RussianClimb.com: "We're going down through the normal route, currently at 7700 - we reached the top at 11:30 am. It was 25 July 2005,

The only summiteers of Broad peak in 2005, Serguey and Denis had climbed the 8000+ giant through a new route, on an unclimbed face, in alpine style, on sight - in severe conditions. </i>
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