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 4: Denis Urubko & Serguey Samoilov - new route on Manaslu
A short SMS delivered the news to RussianClimb.com: "We've just been awarded the Asian Golden Ice-axe." The sender: Denis Urubko typing from Seoul.
Denis and Serguey had made a new route on Manaslu's NE face in alpine style, and the brand new Golden Ice-axe jury in Korea had chosen the feat as the best Asian Climb of the Year. It was no mean award - Asian climbers have long been known for brutal climbs on high altitude.
Golden axes swinging wild
But the honor was sweet for the Kazakh duo also for another reason. Last year, Denis and Serguey had been awarded the International Piolet d'Or for a new route they opened on Broad Peaks SW face. That axe however went to American Steve House and Vince Anderson, a decision somewhat stirring the international climbing community:
The Americans pioneered a new route on Nanga's mighty Rupal face, in alpine style. They climbed in good weather and followed Steve's 2004 route up to 7500m. The face had already been scaled that season; good conditions also allowed a large number of summiteers on Nanga's normal route that year.
Over at Broad Peak instead, the Kazakhs were the only summiteers among 50 mountaineers and they climbed the 8000+ giant through a new route, on an unclimbed face, in alpine style, on site (unscouted) and in severe conditions.
When the (new) jury members, including Briton Stephen Venables, finally cast their votes some people cried politics, but Denis and Serquei packed their bags and went to Manaslu - the 8163 m tall Himalayan giant that had resisted all summit attempts since 2003.
A nice start of the season
The plan was two-fold. The Kazakh's would scale the mountain not once - but twice. They hoped to first climb from the normal route in order to acclimatize and check the mountains conditions.
Sharing a climbing permit with climbers in an international team, Denis and Serguei soon left everyone else behind. While the others were ferrying loads and fixing high camps, Denis and Serguei decided to bet their luck on a single summit push.
The peak was packed with snow and the two climbers had already been forced back once in a long and heavy snow storm. Other climbers on Manaslu reported very bad conditions but on April 26 the message arrived: We're at Base Camp after descending through the icefall in thick fog. We're excited about our alpine-style climb on Manaslu a nice start of the season.
For acclimatization, the guys had made the first summit in two years on the peak, opening a new variation of the normal route between 6500 and 7500m.
"They did it again"
Barely two weeks later, on May 8, Denis Urubko and Serguey Samoilov did it again. At 6:30 pm (local time) the Kazakhs summited Manaslu once more - only this time they did it via a new route on the NE side.
It happened so fast, that the news of their second summit confused ExplorersWeb staff at first. "Yes, we know they summited Manaslu. They did that last week." And then, "what do you mean 'they did it again'?!"
The climbers took only a week to rest. Well acclimatized, on May 4 Denis and Serguey hiked to the NE side of the mountain and went back up. They had set no ropes nor high camps, ascending the face in one single push, finding their way as they climbed.
Cold ascent through unknown territory into thin air
The climb began from BC at 4700m on the glacier, with the actual route starting at 5200m. The Kazakhs reached 5900m on their first day, climbing in alpine style. "Second bivouac was set at 6500m; on our third day we reached 7100m, and 7450m on our fourth day, Denis later reported to ExplorersWeb.
After each of the bivouacs, another hard day awaited. The ice sections were up to 75 degrees steep. Rock sections were between 6a to 5b in difficulty (European scale). The cold ascent, done in heavy boots and with heavy backpacks, led the two men through unknown territory into rapidly thinning air.
In fading light on May 8 at last, the mountaineers reached the top at 6 pm. After summit, the climbers managed to descend back to a plateau at 7600m, and reached BC the very next day.
Golden ice axe and Serguey's summary
The climb had taken five bivouacs on the unfamiliar NE side of Manaslu, a peak whose summit had remained unclimbed for 2 years until two lonely Kazakhs arrived - and climbed it twice.
Once again nominated for the International Piolet d'Or this year, in his answer to RussianClimb's question about the state of Himalayan mountaineering since the legendary Kukuczka, Serguey said: "I don't follow the history of alpinism, but I guess there have been lots of strong ascents since then. To climb in a party of two, one needs to be in extraordinary shape. Other than that, we are neither the first, nor the last."
Denis and Serguey's Manaslu climb stays in our memory for their courage, self reliance, pioneering, 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:
5. Nives and Romano, K2
6. Kazakh young guns Maxut & Vassiliy, Dhaulagiri/Annapurna
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 Denis and Serguey:
On May 8, 2006 Kazakhs Denis Urubko and Serguey Samoilov completed a new route on the NE side of Manaslu (8163m), alpine style. A few days before, they had already reached the top via the normal route, achieving the first summit on Manaslu in three years. In 2005 Denis and Serguey were also nominated for the international Piolet dOr after a new route opened on the previously unclimbed SW face of Broad Peak.
July 25th, 2005, Kazakhs Denis Urubko and Serguey Samoilov completed a new route on a previously unclimbed face (SW) on Broad Peak. They did the climb on sight, in alpine style and in very bad conditions. They were the only climbers to reach the summit of BP that year. For that climb, Denis and Serguey were awarded among the best expeditions of 2005 by ExplorersWeb.
In 2006 Manaslu celebrated the 50th anniversary of its first ascent. Climbing fees were reduced by 50% for the occasion. Denis and Serguey were among many climbers there, but they were the first to break trail and reach the summit via the normal route, on April 25.
Denis Urubko is considered one of the top climbers today. He has summited ten 8000ers and many other major peaks in the Himalayas and Central Asia. But he has also sacrificed summits to help climbers in trouble, some of whom he had never met before.
A great technical climber, Serguey, 50, was however new to 8000+ altitude when he joined Denis for the climb on Broad Peak last year. The expedition was a success and apparently so was the team, since the two of them teamed up again this year on Manaslu.
MANASLU (8163m) North East Face.
Climbing terrain: Mixed. Ice sections were up to 75 degrees steep. As for rock sections, difficulty was 1 pitch 6a, 3 pitches 5c, and 4 pitches 5b (European scale). The climbers consider the route as 6A, Russian grade.
Altitude difference : 2863m (from 5300 to 8163m)
Length: about 6000m.
Climbers: Denis Urubko & Serguey Samoilov
Start: May, 4 at 02 a.m.
Summit: May, 8 at 6 p.m.
Return to the base camp: May, 9 at 12 a.m.
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