One of the stunning images shot by the 2007 K2 west face expedition photographer Vladimir Kuptsov (click to enlarge).


On July 12, heavy snow and a strong wind struck on all altitudes. In camp 3 on the west face, Vitaly Ivanov suddenly became very ill and unable to descend without help. All men went up and brought him down.
Climbers looking up from K2s BC could see nothing but snow fall. Yet somewhere high up in the fog; Nick, Gene and Alex clutched the wall.
K2 on the morning of the final summit push. The climbers attacked the mountain like a pack of hungry wolfs, hitting the upper slopes again and again through rain, snow, fog and screaming winds. But even the fierce Russians began to worry, "Our time is melting away," they dispatched.
High camp on K2 on summit push. After 4 days in the deathzone, the human body is shutting down, part by part. Yet the men forced themselves to climb even higher on an empty wall leading to a notoriously unpredictable summit.
Newbie cameramen put their gear down as soon as things heat up. Only true veterans know that that's the time to shoot. File image courtesy of the Russian 2007 K2 west face team.
In the morning of August 21, an inferno of red clouds veiled the mountain. High up on the face, two men cut their way through the blushing fog.
On August 21, at 12:50 pm, local time, the radio crackled in BC. It was Andrew Mariev and Vadim Popovich calling, from K2's top, reporting that the west face had finally been climbed.
The west face of K2 had surrendered - the Russian had won the battle through months of work regardless weather, countless nights in the deathzone and a Berlin wall 100 meters below the summit. None of the climbers used supplementary O2. Route topo, and pics of summiteers Andrew (left) and Vadim (right).
Come hell or fire - nothing could stop the Russians. A new route, for the first time in 10 years, was a fact on the Mountaineers' Mountain and only 2 faces (The East and the North) now remain unclimbed.
The Russians went into final mode like a fighter bringing a feared competitor to his knees at last; once they broke through, they just would not stop. One by one, all the nine climbers reached the summit and the west face was climbed at last. Images by RussianClimb.com and compiled by ExWeb (click to enlarge).
The Russian K2 west face team was the winner of the 2007 ExplorersWeb's awards. Image by expedition photographer Vladimir Kuptsov (click to enlarge).
Best of ExplorersWeb 2007 Award Winner: K2 West Face

Posted: Jan 01, 2008 12:20 am EST
We have covered close to a thousand expeditions in 2007. It's difficult to choose the best, as they all contributed in their own way, sharing their story - their very soul in fact - with us and the world.

And yet, there are those who linger in our minds long after their final debrief. We have chosen 8 expeditions who have contributed in an extraordinary way to the Spirit of Adventure in 2007.

Today number 1: K2 West Face first ascent

I'm worried about the Russians. They may need three days to climb the upper part of the west face," Kazakh Denis Urubko told RussianClimb.

The three Russians negotiated 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.

A British attempt on the ridge ended in tragedy: an avalanche killed Nick Escourt, Doug Scott was also caught in the slide, but was miraculously saved by his heavy backpack. A later Japanese team who ventured out on parts of the west face reported exposed, steep slopes covered with loose rock.

Denis Urubko's concern for the men was warranted. High up on the dreaded face for days already, forecasts showed that a storm would leave the guys less than three days to make it to the top and back to high camp.

Expedition made up of legends

The Russian expedition, by far the world's greatest high altitude mountaineering team, was made up largely of Russian Everest north wall and Jannu north face legends. Pavel Shabaline, who was the first to summit through the Everest north wall direct line, led much of the work - with only 7 toes and 5 fingers intact after losing the rest to Khan Tengris North Face shortly after Everest.

They were veterans: In the middle of the expedition, on June 22, Shabaline's grandson was born and on June 26, Gleb Sokolov had a grand-daughter.

The team had 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.

Storms = Climbers go down, Russians go up

When the work began, Gennady Kirievsky said the face reminded him of Jannu. The lower part of the wall is very steep," Alex Bolotov wrapped the 6 days of work that put the climbers at 7,000 meters on June 25. "We had to climb on overhanging rock sections 3 meters wide. There are a lot of such hard pitches, extremely difficult walls.

Bolotov took a fall when a friend snapped, but Nick Totmjanin managed to put a tiny tent at 7150 m.

A few days later, a storm - one of many to come - sent down all the international climbers on the "easy" Abruzzi route. High up on the west face; the Russian climbers continued their work. This particular blizzard swept all the Karakoram peaks for the entire week yet while most climbers hunkered in base camps, the Russians just kept climbing up their face - in drifting snowfall - and pitched a tent at C3 on June 2nd.

In altitude and blowing snow, the climbers now negotiated the rocky upper sections, After the extremely steep rock band on the bastion, which can be compared to the vertical walls on Jannus North Face, the route continues on equally difficult rock sections above 7000m, they reported. "It's tough; there are many long, vertical cracks and dihedrals covered in ice. All [our men] are brave, BC chimed in.

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. On July 12, heavy snow fall and a strong wind struck on all altitudes. In camp 3 on the west face, Vitaly Ivanov suddenly became very ill and unable to descend without help.

His mates climbed up for him through the blizzard 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, more climbers including the expedition doctor and coach headed up 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 to suffer the altitude blood clots that would come to plaque the team.

And so it went on, pitch by pitch. July 16, in the middle of yet another stormy weekend, the Russians were again found high up on K2's west face - now 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. The entire Karakoram range seemed at a standstill or rushing down; except for K2's west face.

No break

The Russians cared for their wounded but the climb continued relentlessly, without break. Almost immediately after taking down Vitaly from the upper slopes; Shabaline's men went straight back up - to continue the work above C4, while others worked sections below.

In spite of the latest 6 days of storm, the team managed to salvage all the tents in the high-altitude camps and bring more gear up. "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.

Now news arrived from the other side of the mountain; on July 20 the normal route was summited at last, at the cost of 2 climbers' lives. On the following day, the K2 summiteers fought their way back down the Abruzzi Spur through a raging storm while the west face climbers crawled up 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. "Its cold, snowy and rainy, vented Giuseppe Pompili. K2 is buried in snow I'm afraid the seasons over.

The Italian climber reported that the fixed ropes were useless, buried under the fresh snow. They would be lucky if they made it to C1 or C2 to fetch their gear. Most teams hoping to attempt K2 after Broad Peak had called it quits, Giuseppe reported.

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. It didn't look too good.

Fight through the storm to get in good position for summit attempt

July 31, exactly 53 years after Italians Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli had become the first K2 summitteers, a few remaining international star climbers on the normal route were finally also turned back down. Meanwhile on the west face, the Russian's overcame the bastion at last and 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. The plan was to fight through the storm in order to be in position for a summit push whenever the good weather arrived.

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

"They wont leave until they make it, commented Slovak Dodo Kopold.

Jannu climbers on K2 west face summit push

Climbers looking up from K2s BC could see nothing but snow fall. Yet somewhere high up in the fog; Nick, Gene and Alex clutched the wall. All three had climbed Jannu together, the climb awarded by ExWeb and Piolet D'Or; they knew their rival well.

The three front liners had 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 noted. This is when Denis Urubko voiced his concern; the men had better be fast.

After 4 days in the deathzone, the human body shuts down, part by part. Yet the men forced themselves to climb even higher on an empty wall leading to a notoriously unpredictable summit.

They began the final push by climbing 12 previously fixed pitches. Before noon, the continued to the top - in a highly risky free climb.

Due to the snow blizzard, 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.

They finally stopped and set Camp 6 - a small bivouac tent in which to spend the night. They left again at 5 am the next morning, hoping to summit that day. But after 6 nights in the deathzone without O2, the vertical rock section finally forced the fighters back - just 100 meters shy from the summit.

Everest north wall climbers next

All the drama crashed RussianClimb's server - but behind the three retrieving men, another star gang was heading up. Everest north wall summiteers Gleb Sokolov and Eugeny Vinogradsky, along with Vitaly Gorelik ascended straight into a forecasted storm. They too were forced to retreat however, descending through high winds from C5 to ABC.

After their six nights in the deathzone, the original three summit climbers spent almost no time in BC before they were eager to try again. In addition, Pavel Shabalin's group was holding in C1 and three other climbers were already ascending to ABC.

Russian adrenaline ran high. They attacked the mountain like a pack of hungry wolfs, hitting the upper slopes again and again through rain, snow, fog and screaming wind. But even these fierce mountaineers began to worry, "Our time is melting away," they dispatched.

Red cloud

August 20 at 6 am, Pavel Shabalin's group left C6. One hour later, they were forced back by deep mist, whiteout and very strong wind gusts. Twelve hours later, by 6.15 pm, Pavel and his team mates Andrew Mariev, Iljas Tukhvatullin and Vadim Popovich had again climbed above 8400 meters - this time pitching a camp 7.

Following their first marathon summit push - Nick, Alex and Gene were back up in Camp 5. Forced to retreat through high winds from C5 to ABC in the second attack; Victor Volodin, Gleb Sokolov, Eugeny Vinogradsky and Vitaly Gorelik were back in Camp 6.

"Wish us good weather! Good night, see you tomorrow," was the latest 8 pm message from expedition leader Victor Kozlov.

The next morning, an inferno of red clouds veiled the mountain. High up on the face, two men cut their way through the blushing fog. On August 21, at 12:50 pm, local time, the radio crackled in BC. It was Andrew Mariev and Vadim Popovich calling, from K2's top.

The west face had finally been climbed.

Final

The Russians went into final mode like a champion fighter bringing a feared competitor to his knees at last; once they broke through, they just would not stop. One by one, the nine climbers reached the summit.

It was as if the mountain itself smiled at the human courage and willpower displayed on her slopes. As night fell on the Karakoram range, Victor Kozlov reported that the weather was finally improving: "Clouds are not wrapping K2 any longer, and the wind is decreasing," the expedition leader reported. K2's west face was courteously bowing to her fearless challengers.

With 3 toes and 5 fingers lost to frostbite, Everest North Wall legend Pavel Shabalin had spent 4 nights between 8200 and 8400 meters on the summit push. It was plain incredible when he too was reported to have reached the top. It took a while for the five last summiteers to report, since their radio set froze up during the ascent.

Come hell or fire - nothing could stop the Russians. A new route, for the first time in 10 years, was a fact on the Mountaineers' Mountain and only 2 faces (The East and the North) now remain unclimbed.

The Russian K2 west face team is the winner of the 2007 ExplorersWeb's awards for showing the world the very essence in the Spirit of Adventure: with the right mindset, anything is possible.

By their performance, the awarded expeditions have proved themselves outstanding in all or most of the following:
- Courage
- Determination
- Persistence
- Self reliance
- Ingenuity
- Pioneering
- Idealism
- Comradeship
- Compassion
- Respect towards competition
- Honesty

Previous in the countdown:

2. Jason Lewis - circumnavigation, world
3. Denis Urubko and the Kazakh climbers, K2
4. Tomaz Humar - Annapurna solo, Himalaya
5. Silvio Mondinelli - 14 years, 14 summits, Himalaya
6. Dodo Kopold - 3, 8000ers in 4 months, Himalaya
7. Borge Ousland and Thomas Ulrich - North Pole retrace
8. Hannah McKeand, The fastest trek, South Pole

Special mention:

Jannu West Ridge First Ascent: Valery Babanov and Sergey Kofanov
Torres del Paine Base Jump: Valery Rozov
In the hoofsteps of Genghis Khan: Tim Cope
NW Passage in ice catamaran: Sebastien Roubinet
Lhotse Shar, G2 NF & Jasemba, Lhotse south near-winter ascent

More about the K2 west face team:

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 Tengris 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 feverishly worked for two months on the new route they hoped to open on K2's unclimbed west face.

After opening a new direct route on Everests north face in 2005, Victor Kozlov was again leading a strong Russian team to complete the first direct ascent up K2s west face. Team members were 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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