We have covered hundreds of expeditions in 2006. 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 2006.
Today number 6: Kazakh young guns Maxut & Vassiliy - Dhaulagiri/Annapurna double header
It's the most important list in high altitude mountaineering - the exclusive record of the very few people who have summited ten or more of the world's tallest peaks - the 14, 8000ers. Barely 30 years old, Kazakh Maxut Zhumayev and Vassiliy Pivtsov have already summited 10 of them.
The latest two they bagged only this year - and they did it in a remarkable way. The style wasn't intended to show off - lack of funds was what made the two climbers to simply walk to Dhaulagiri and Annapurna, and climb each in one single push.
The nameless summiteers
Hardly anyone noticed when the two warrior kids from the Central Sport Club of Kazakhstan Army stood on their first 8000+ meter summit: The year was 2001 and the place was Hidden Peak. Seven days later, they summited GII. The following year, in 2002, they reached the top of Kangchenjunga in spring and Shisha Pangma Main in fall, but still their names passed un-noticed, veiled by the rather anonymous 'Kazakh national team' they belonged to. 2003 brought Nanga Parbat and Broad Peak, and in 2004, the Kazakh national team summited Makalu via the west Pillar again, including Maxut and Vassiliy.
The route to independence
Last year though, something changed for Zhumayev and Pivtsov: the two showed up on Cho Oyu - alone. Their gear lost by the airline, the young climbers borrowed stuff from a Russian team they met in Kathmandu and bagged the top on May 3 - in a season with very few summiteers on the peak.
Summer came, and the Kazakhs returned to settle a pendant account with K2. A joint summit push including most climbers in place on the mountain was pushed back by an approaching storm. Everybody was forced back that is everyone but Max, Vassi - and their friend Damir.
As hours went by in silence, the entire climbing world was watching over the three bold kids trapped in a killer storm. Days later, the Kazakhs showed up in BC - alive and kicking after reaching 8400m on the savage mountain. Ironically, it was this drama rather than their previous achievements that finally made people familiar with the two shy mountaineers' faces.
2006: A double-header, the Kazakh way
In spring this year, Maxut and Vassiliy returned to Himalaya.
Once again, the two young climbers would climb it their way: While other teams routinely fly to Dhaula in a chopper, and spend time to set up camps and acclimatize - Maxut and Vassiliy trekked to BC in deep snow and over high passes, breaking trail for their porters. Once at the base of the mountain, they went straight for the top in one single push.
All other climbers were holding down low when Maxut and Vassiliy arrived. Without giving too much thought to weather forecasts or snow conditions which happened to be very bad - the two climbers walked right up fixing rope for everyone else.
Our backpacks weighed 25 kg (50 lbs), and we had to fix the entire route from Camp 2 till the top. We carried along a lot of rope, but it wasn't enough - we had to dig out some old ropes from the snow, and bring them up in order to fix some difficult sections. Now the entire route on the West ridge is fixed, the two men reported back then.
Four bivouacs later, the two exhausted mountaineers went for the summit on May 2. A savage storm broke loose as they reached the West ridge. The massive peak threw wind, thunder and lightning at the two warriors inching their way up through the death zone.
Max and Vassi made the summit but didn't stay for long. Charging back down to the safety of camp 4, a final obstacle waited for them: "When we got there [C4], there was no tent to be seen it was completely buried in fresh snow. We had to dig it out." At 9:00pm that evening, 21 hours after they had started out, the two climbers could at last enter the tent and get some rest.
A stroll to Annapurna
Such a climb would have been enough for most, but not for the two young Kazakhs. With time still left on their air tickets back home, the two now strolled over to the most feared mountain of them all: The deadly Annapurna.
Reaching the north side, the two Kazakh soldiers found themselves the only team there. With Annapurna sporting a 40% summit/death ratio; the two young men knew their survival would be solely up to them.
In a five day long climb, the two broke trail in deep snow all the way up the avalanche-prone slopes. They reached their final camp 4 (7315 m) in very bad conditions. "At 7:00 am a strong wind arrived; then came the snow, clouds and low (20 m) visibility," they reported to RussianClimb.
The same high winds swept the East Ridge, forcing Polish Piotr Pustelnik's team back. But the Kazaks summited the north side on May 19. They did it alone, in alpine style, and after walking there from the summit of Dhaulagiri.
The Kazakhs still have K2, Everest, Lhotse and Manaslu to go. Usually on a tight budget, at least the two have plenty of time to finish: Vassiliy is 31; Maxut will turn 30 on New Years Day.
Maxut and Vassiliy's 2006 double-header stays in our memory for their spirit of adventure, courage, self reliance, clean style and comradeship.
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:
7. Alex Bellini, Atlantic Ocean crossing
8. Iñaki Ochoa, Shisha Pangma climb
An additional 4 expeditions have received a special mention award:
Japanese K2 kids Yuka and Tatsuya
Serap Jangbu - 14 x 8000ers, the Sherpas' way
Colin Angus and Julie Wafaei: Human-powered circumnavigation
Borge Ousland, Mike Horn: North Pole unsupported through the Arctic night
More about Maxut and Vassiliy:
Maxut Zhumayev was born on January 1, 1977; Vassiliy Pivtsov was born on August 16, 1975. Before venturing in the Himalayas, both were experienced climbers, awarded several times for their climbing achievements in the ex-USSR.
They have both summited 10, 8000ers - they never used supplementary O2 or hired high altitude porters. They still have Everest, Lhotse, K2 and Manaslu to go, in order to complete all 14. Maxut and Vassiliy are part of a National Army team coached by Ervand Iljinsky.
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