We have covered hundreds of expeditions in 2005. 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 continue to 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 the year of 2005.
Today number 7: Denis Urubko and Serguey Samoilov
Names of the nominees for the Piolet dOr should be released soon. Among the most likely to be nominated are Kazahks Denis Urubko and Serguey Samoilov, who together completed a new route on Broad Peak earlier this year. In a year where great climbs were few, the two Kazakhs stood out.
Denis and Serguey arrived at Broad Peak, after one year of preparations, intending to climb the SW face in expedition style with a larger team of Italians. When their mates backed out on the challenge, the two men found themselves with a choice: Go the normal route, go home - or go it alone.
A killer mountain with a scary face
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 - including great mountaineers such as winter climber Artur Hajzer and veteran climber Piotr Pustelnik.
"It looked insane, suicidal"
Would they pull it off? 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. The climb almost a deja vu of this year's drama on the mountain's normal route; in 2003 Denis and Ed Viesturs carried out a nighttime rescue of Jean-Christophe Lafaille when he suffered from pulmonary problems after summiting.
Denis track list is outstanding: A snow Leopard and speed climber, In 2000 he began to add 8000ers to his list of highly technical routes on lower altitudes. Since then, Denis has had a remarkable career: 10, 8000+ summits (BP twice) - all without oxygen, including Everest, Kangchenjunga and a night climb on Annapurna last year. Denis is also known to have sacrificed several potential summits to rescues of other climber.
In spite of his experience, the decision on Broad Peak was still a tough one for Denis.
Before them, not only a new route but an entirely unclimbed face. The wall had already turned back some of the greatest climbers in history, and the small team would have to go it in some of the worst conditions. They'd have to do it in alpine style, and on sight. "I studied the wall from BC," a BP/K2 climber told ExWeb, "it looked insane, suicidal."
"We need our friend's support.."
With the Italians bailing out, Denis reported: "What could we do? Serguey and I started preparing a two-person attempt."
July 18, the Kazakhs started their push from 4800m on the SW face. The guys took it step by step, becoming psyched by the challenge with each successful day. Somewhere along the way, they realized they might actually make it and that's when a tremendous summit fever struck the two - it was summit or bust.
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.
"Strong wind and extremely deep snow with avalanches and dangerous rocks - we have spent too much time and effort here. There is no visibility now. We have stopped at about 7800 for the night. All's OK. We need our friend's support..," was one of their last sms-messages to RussianClimb - before all went quiet.
"We were surrounded by rivers of water, but it was all frozen"
The Kazakhs route went up 2,300 vertical-meters of face, starting on glacier terrain; and then, a sheer rock and ice face from 5500m to 7,800. Denis and Serguey climbed without supplementary O2, and had no previously fixed ropes, gear caches or camps.
By the time of their last message, a rescue drama unfolded on the peak's normal route, where other climbers were undertaking a three day rescue in foul weather of the injured Artur Hajzer.
At the SW face meanwhile, Denis and Serguey were climbing at the end of their rope:
"After the fifth night we ran out of food. We had spent too long on our wall. My friend found a pill for stomach problems in his pocket - we shared it with water and resumed the climb. That evening though, our gas to melt snow also finished," wrote Denis in his debrief.
They had pitched their tent on a tiny flat place at 7800m, sharing one sleeping bag, one down jacket, one Gore-Tex, and one polar fleece between the two of them. They didn't even take their boots off, and suffered from thirst - all water around them was frozen and they were out of gas.
"I led as if we were at war"
It was a grisly morning at the top of Broad Peaks South-West wall. It was extremely cold, but the clouds had been swept away by the strong wind and Denis could see the last slopes before the summit ridge. "I had only one thought in my mind - onwards!" recalls Denis. "I was so charged by the sight of that ridge; I just climbed on - kicking steps in the hard snow."
At 7950 meters, on the South-East ridge, 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. "I led as if we were at war: Searching for protection among the rocks. Step by step, through the deep, almost black sky we pushed towards our goal."
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.
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.
"Suddenly the Summit appeared. Sergey and I had turned our dreams into reality," Denis later wrote in his debrief. "The panoramic view included some of the highest points of the planet: The imposing K2 pyramid to the North, the Gasherbrums on the other side. It felt like an empty world, with only two climbers in it ... It was 11.30 on 25 July 2005. It was a sweet climb."
Denis and Serguey stay in our memory for pioneering, courage, self reliance and persistence.
By their performance, the awarded expeditions have proved themselves outstanding in all or most of the following:
- Self reliance
- Respect towards competition
Previous in the countdown:
8. Expedition Siberia - for their heart and Shackleton Spirit.
An additional 4 expeditions have received a special mention award:
Marcin Miotk - for his self-sufficiency and courage to speak up.
Minoru Saito - for his humble life of great adventures.
Pavel Rezvoy - for his power of will and refusal to retire.
Fedor Konyukhov, the Renaissance explorer - for his pursuit of fairness.
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