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 3: Simone Moro and Piotr Morawski Shisha Pangma first Winter Climb
"...But the night was extremely cold; -52Â°C in the night...! We stopped at 7700m because it was 3 p.m. and the shadow came upon us. Our feet started to freeze again. Had we continued to climb I'm sure we would have reached the summit. But we would have had to make a bivy in extreme conditions, risking to die or to lose our feet and hands."
Winter was approaching Himalaya and Simone Moro was returning for another winter push on Shisha. The previous year, this dispatch entry had ended the former attempt.
Simone was climbing with a band of Polish friends; Piotr Morawski, Jacek Jawien, Dariusz (Darek) Zaluski and Jan Szulc. And for good reason. Up until then, only 7 out of all 14 eight-thousanders had been winter climbed - all first winter accents made by Polish climbers whose feats revolutionized the Himalayan climbing community in the eighties.
First out was Leszek Cichy on Everest in 1980. Then came Maciej Berbeka and Ryszard Gajewski on Manaslu in 1984. The following year, Maciej Berbeka went to Cho Oyu in 1985, together with Maciej Pawlikowski. That same year Andrzej Czok and Jerzy Kukuczka took Dhaulagiri (1985).
The following year, Kukuczka came back for Kangchenjunga, together with Krzysztof Wielicki (1986). And in 1987, Kukuczka - now a legend - returned again, this time with Artur Hajzer, to accomplish the first winter climb of Annapurna! Krzysztof Wielicki summited Lhotse solo on New Years Eve in 1988 and that was the last virgin winter ascent on a summit higher than 8000 m.
Simone was missing one old climbing buddy though - Kazakh Denis Urubko. The guys shared many climbs, including a remarkable Lhotse/Everest traverse attempt in 2001, where Simone singlehandedly rescued a man in a night climb to 8300 meters, while Denis helped an exhausted lady clipped on the fixed ropes unable to move.
Denis had been firm to return to Shisha with Simone, but at the last minute was forced to stay behind. Instead, they kept in touch over satellite phone.
There is a reason why so few climbers attempt the biggest mountains in their darkest hours. It was said that only the Polish, and perhaps some Russians can do it - because they are used to suffering from home. Kukuczka was a prime example: Who else but a poor coal miner from communist Poland would have the courage and determination needed to scale the alpine giants in the coldest of winters and hurricane winds, and to do it time and again - in record speed?
Italian Simone caught the desire for winter in 1997, when he - along with Anatoli Boukreev - summited Lhotse without oxygen on May 26. The next plan was to attempt the first winter summit of Annapurnas south wall in December. The climb was aborted when Boukreev died in an avalanche.
Respecting the rules
The Shisha attempt was in fact Simones fifth winter climb: To the tragic December attempt on Annapurna in 1997, Simone had successful climbs on Aconcagua and Cerro Mirador (new route in alpine style in 1993), and on Marble Wall - the northernmost and coldest 6000er in Central Asia - with Denis Urubko in 2001.
Simone respected the rules of the game; he climbed without excuses, coming back if he failed, but never compromising his goal and commitment. Now he was returning to Shisha in deepest winter, to finish what he had started one year before.
The climbing world was watching. Already from his previous attempt, it was clear how much Simone wanted this prize. Out of all the seven remaining frosty virgins - Simone had eyes only for Shisha Pangma.
Virgin brides and old friends
On the mountain, a surprise was awaiting: Another climber was aiming for the winter bride. The climber had actually pursued another unclimbed winter peak lately - Makalu - but for some reason, he was now charging for Shisha Pangma instead, and "charging" was exactly the word for it. The climber was set to claim the summit before Simone. And whilst Simone's plans had been very official, this horse ran in the dark.
December 6, Simone's dispatch first relayed the news: "When we arrived in Nepal we heard about one climber attempting Shisha alone right now. Nobody knows who he is and he ordered people he met not to say anything about him... we got information that he could be French but it's no confirmed news. In any case, winter begins on December 21 and we will start our expedition to Shisha only after that date."
The climber was Jean Christophe Lafaille. It was a hard blow to Simone. The anticipation of the climb had been tough enough, and now he would have to do it in competition - one with some sketchy rules too: On summit day, Lafaille went public and claimed a winter climb, although he was on the mountain in November - long before Simone and the Calendar winter.
Back home, Denis Urubko heard the news and felt for his friend. The next day, he called Simone to relay some good news: Simone, Denis and Tassi Bruno "Camos" 2004 new route on Khali Himal NWF (7066 m) had won the URSS championship.
But on December 11, one month after his arrival in Tibet according to his Liaison officer, Jean Christophe summited Shisha Pangma.
It was a weird situation. The previous year, Lafaille and Simone had climbed together up a new partial route up Nanga Parbat, and on July 15th, Lafaille was helped down from the summit of Broad Peak by Denis Urubko. Now, Lafaille had snatched his former peers' planned climb.
The Polish/Italian team decided to be Gentlemen: "We would like to congratulate JC Lafaille for the good climb and the success. Really!" came the dispatch. Adding however, that Lafaille's Liaison officer had refused to write "winter expedition" on Lafailles summit certificate because he didn't consider it a winter climb. The question arised: Was it a winter climb?
The meaning of winter in 8000+ climbing is to pick the toughest season of them all - to begin the climb, and make the summit in the harshest conditions possible. The Polish never accepted a day outside the calendar, so ExplorersWeb checked average weather data on Everest over the past years. The temperatures (Nov -30, Dec -34, Jan -36, Feb -35, Mar -32) showed that the coldest climbs in Himalaya take place between Mid December to Mid February - pretty consistent with the Calendar winter rules. The highest wind speed was noted on February 6, 2004.
Next, two of the world's few winter climbers, Fernando Garrido and Krzysztof Wielicki, sounded off on the subject: "Winter begins on December 21 all over the world. There is no place even for this kind of doubt, as Lafaille summited before Dec 21. It was a late autumn climb, Garrido told ExWeb.
Wielicki told Desnivel, "My experience tells me and I have taken part in seven winter expeditions to Himalaya and Karakorum that the wind blows very hard in the beginning of November - sometimes already in October but by the end of November it drops until Christmas - when the first, moderate snowfalls arrive and the wind picks up. Therefore, I think Jean Christophe has enjoyed excellent autumn weather conditions."
In fact, on December 21, the first day of Calendar winter, Simone and his Polish friends were still far from the mountain, and now they got other things on their hands. Maoist rebels ambushed a military patrol in eastern Nepal, triggering a firefight that left 13 dead including 10 soldiers. In gun battles elsewhere, at least 10 Maoists were also killed, ending the then bloodiest weeks in Nepal since the Maoist insurgency resumed in the country.
The team reported straight from the front lines, sitting on a roof top in Nyalam: A military street blockade with barbed wire and machine guns lined up had stopped the climbers in their tracks, forcing a one day delay on their crossing into Tibet. "We were able to sleep in a small private house and eat in a hut for the Nepalese. The block was due to an armed clash with Maoists a few hours prior to our arrival, which had killed 11 people," they wrote.
By December 27, the team had reached BC at 5200 meters, performed their Puja and it was down to business. The work on the Yugoslavian route began in Shisha's freezing mid winter temperatures. It was cold, dark and the wind was howling. The plan to continue to 7000 meters was wrecked by a storm and the climbers were forced down. New Year was spent in a lonely BC, At midnight there was nobody in the dining tent. We were too tired and it was too cold, so we decided to go to our warm sleeping bags and sleep." The next four days, BC was cold, dark and windy. The climbers tried to, "recharge our motivation and determination".
January 5 saw Darek ad Jacek above 6800 meters, at the foot of the last few hundred meters of the couloir, while Simone and Piotr carried loads to C1. Planting a tent on the ridge at 7200 m was the next goal, but the route turned out longer than expected.
Winter conditions in full swing
By now, the winter was in full swing. ABC had -30C in the morning, the high winds forecasted to increase to 40 m/s (144 km/h, 90 mph). The team's generator stopped working due to frostbite".
But already the next day, on January 6, Darek and Jacek could almost see the exit to the col. Simone and Piotr meanwhile were waiting their shift in camp 1, lying in sleeping bags full of ice, the wind rattling the tent canvas. After little sleep, they headed out into the cold. They fixed more rope, on the steep parts closer towards 7200 meters. Camp 2 on the col was next.
January 10, Darek and Jacek were still in C1, whilst the other climbers assembled back in BC, fighting hurricane-force winds, roping up the tents to keep them from being blown away. Even the birds were suffering - breaking the tent canvas both in BC and Camp I, looking for food. Darek and Jacek made the decision to descend back to BC. That evening, all assembled at the 5200 meter Base Camp.
"We don't even think what it's like up there," they dispatched. The wind was growing even stronger. But the climbers set off for the col already two days later, January 12, trying to disregard the conditions. They walked straight into hell. The entire mountain was screaming when they reached Camp 1.
"Up until now only 7 out of all 14 eight-thousanders have been winter climbed. Tomorrow we could see number 8 go down - for the first time in 17 years. And for the first time ever - the expedition reports and images are live from high camps!" was the next report at ExplorersWeb.
It was a sudden turn of events. Piotr and Simon had reached the col on Shisha Pangma and pitched Camp 2 on 7400 meters, more - they were planning a summit attempt!
The climbers knew little about the route at the extreme right of the wall. When they arrived the Col it was already in shadow, and extremely cold. Pitching the tent they noticed that a part of the ridge was somewhat protected from the freezing wind.
Originally, they had planned to sleep in C2 to acclimatize and then turn back to BC. But at the sight of the unexpected chance - and the secondary summit - Simone turned to Piotr: Let's try it tomorrow!" he said. Perplexed, Piotr accepted.
Cima, cima, cima!!! Summit!
The triumphant news came over the phone from Italy early morning EST (04.00 am), January 14 and only two hours later the summit pictures arrived, straight from camp 2 at 7400 meters. The joy was sky high in all camps. Simone Moro (Italy) and Piotr Morawski (Poland) made the summit of Shisha Pangma under clear skies but in very windy conditions, exceeding 30 m/s (hurricane force).
It was a dream come true for Simone and a great victory for Piotr after the previous year's aborted attempt. The entire expedition was celebrating on the cold mountain. Simone Moro and Piotr Morawski left the 7350 m camp at 8 am, virtually flying up the crest. It was cold, extremely cold. No one answered on the radio in BC. The guys summited only 5 hours later, at 1.15 pm (local) and only one day after they had fixed ropes to the col, pitching Camp II in high winds.
They took a long shot and the gamble paid off. "Regularly and punctually, Darek and Jacek alternated the duties with Piotr and me. The honest work of these four climbers has been the secret of our summit," said Simone.
On January 20, CTMA issued their summit certificate with the words Shisha Pangma first winter Summit. For the first time since 1988, an eight-thousander had its first winter climb, and for the first time ever - by a non-Polish climber.
Simone and Piotr stay in our memory for pioneering, persistence, idealism, comradeship, honesty - and fair play.
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:
4. The German Alpinclub Sachsen - as a symbol for climbers' courage, idealism, self reliance, ingenuity, compassion and heart.
5. Ed Viesturs and Christian Kuntner - for courage, idealism, determination, comradeship and the spirit of a climbing life.
6. Didier Delsalle and his Mystery Chopper - for pioneering, courage, ingenuity, and magic.
7. Broad Peak SW face - for pioneering, courage, self reliance and persistence.
8. Expedition Siberia - for 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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