ExWeb editorial: About Space, Everest and Borat

Posted: May 04, 2007 05:13 am EDT

A Russian proverb states "The darker the night, the brighter the stars."

Yesterday news came that Kazakh Denis Urubko had summited Dhaulagiri, but only after aborting his speed ascent in order to help down 7-times Snow Leopard and mountain guide Boris Korshunov. The 72 year old Space engineer had been caught in the night alone and without a tent at 7,300m. Denis helped the veteran climber to safety, and then turned back up. He summited the next morning, in 4,5 hours. It was not the first time the Kazakh soldier had sacrificed summits (including on Everest) to help fellow climbers in trouble, some of whom he had never met before.

Everest: "There was nothing that could be done "

At the same time, world media reported that former British Army officer Ian Woodall is going back to Everest north side to recover the body of a female American climber that he and wife Cathy O'Dowd left dying back in 1998 not far from high camp (below First Step). "There was nothing that could be done even before we reached her," O'Dowd told media. It was the second time the couple was criticized. In 1996, their young team mate Bruce Herrod was left behind on the south side of Everest and died after he got tangled in the ropes at the Hillary step.

On the north side of Everest two years later, the American womans last words to Ian and Cathy were "Don't leave me, please don't leave me." Ian tells media that they tried to help her for up to an hour, but that's not how the story went back then. A horrible tragedy was described when unable to summon help; the woman's desperate husband apparently headed down to camp where he fetched emergency oxygen (the couple climbed without) and came back up, but perished in his long and lonely attempt to rescue his wife.

Borat's truth about us

Borat is a recent movie box office hit. The fictional street-smart but ignorant Kazakh farmer is ordered by his government to go to the USMA and check what's up. The movie is funny, although maybe not so much if you are a Kazakh. That said, Borat's plain and straightforward questions reveal our true nature and the guy therefore comes out on top after all.

In that sense, the Kazakh climbers are a little bit like Borat. Anatolij Boukreev (another Kazakh mountaineer legend and the only true hero of Everest 1996), Denis Urubko, and the recent Everest summiteers Max and Vassily - have nothing in common with Borat's fictional personality and background. But their no BS, all-doer approach to mountaineering often shows us the unflattering truth about our own climbs.

The questions is though, how many times will we have to witness a Kazakh, a Pole, a Spaniard or any other of the world's foremost climbers rescue people in the death zone while we keep hearing amateur climbers (preferably Anglo-Saxon) and Everest business folks repeating into Discovery's cameras that it's impossible?

Killing independence

Boris Korshunov, the senior climber latest helped down by Urubko, is not only a veteran climber but also a brainy guy. In fact, he worked on the team that sent Gagarin to orbit. The launch went from Kazakhstan, and put the first man in space. That was a long time ago though, long before Borat.

A few years back, Tito (no, not the Yugoslav president) managed to buy a seat on the Soyuz (Kazakhstan based rocket supplying the International Space Station) and thus realize his childhood dream of going to space. His former employer, NASA, went through the roof. They called Tito un-American and even had Rosaviacosmos to sign off on an agreement stating that NASA would be reimbursed for any damage Dennis Tito - a former NASA Jet Propulsion Lab engineer - might cause during his visit at the International Space Station.

Tito kept his cool, and so did the Russians. But why was NASA so desperate? And why are some commercial leaders on Everest acting the same way?

Money and pride

When searching for motive one is advised to look for one of the two - money or pride. Both were at stake for NASA.

The agency was terrified that the public would find out what everyone in the industry already knew: That the Kazakh's yearly budget for their entire flight program to ISS was half of one single shuttle flight. In addition, the Soyuz has the best safety record in manned spaceflight - by far. Fact is, that if all US astronauts had traveled to ISS in a Soyuz; it's possible that the crews of Columbia and Challenger would still be alive.

Back on Mount Everest; NASA's attempt to trash one of their own when he decided to go independent is very similar to Himex propaganda attempts to belittle the world's foremost climbers, and with the media power of the Discovery channel create a completely false image of mountaineering to the world.

When the two young independent Kazakhs climbers Max and Vassily outran the Himex summit factory on Everest this week (without oxygen), a guided client smugly blogged about their feat with astonishing arrogance and ignorance - probably a give away of the talk in Himex expensive dining tent.

Why this vicious attack on the two great climbers, not to mention the lack of proper respect and plain good sportsmanship? Coming from people not even close to Max and Vassily's accomplishments? Money and pride.

Everest today latest sign of social stagnation

They continue to repeat that independent climber David Sharp could not have been rescued in spite of an entire world of elite mountaineers, from Hillary, over the Kazakhs and including Americans - saying and proving in action that a rescue attempt should have been made.

If it wasn't for their Sherpas, Himex would get nowhere on Everest or any other 8000ers. Yet the documentary about their climbing style - not Ed Viesturs - has spread worldwide.

This spring, real climbers have been busy summiting 8000ers for weeks already, without armies of Sherpas, bottled oxygen and Russel Brice. But Discovery keep hanging out with Himex, their image eventually finding its way to people's living rooms all over the world.

That's how come we still haven't gone to Mars - although we could already 30 years ago. In fact, we can't even go back to the moon anymore; we forgot how. Everest today is the latest sign of the social stagnation. New frontiers are ignored and harder challenges ridiculed. We might soon forget altogether how to climb mountains on our own, why we helped each other and how it was done.

"The darker the night, the brighter the stars" says the proverb. This story is to all the true explorers and climbers out there: dont give up. In spite of all their media power, the world would easily survive without magazines and cable channels. But know that the human kind is doomed without you.

Last year, Max and Vassiliy were awarded by ExplorersWeb for two oustanding climbs. Reaching the north side of Annapurna by foot, the two Kazakh soldiers found themselves the only team there. With the peak 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 did it alone, in alpine style, and after walking there from the summit of Dhaulagiri.

Before venturing into the Himalayas, both Maxut Zhumayev and Vassiliy Pivtsov were experienced climbers, awarded several times for their climbing achievements in the ex-USSR.

They have both summited 11, 8000ers - and never used supplementary O2 or hired high altitude porters. They have Lhotse, K2 and Manaslu to go, in order to complete all 14 8000ers.

Denis Urubko is considered one of the top climbers today. He has summited 11, 8000ers and many other major peaks in the Himalayas and Central Asia. Last year, Denis Urubko and Serguey Samoilov were awarded by ExplorersWeb after completing a new route on the NE side of Manaslu (8163m), in 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 awarded by ExWeb and nominated for the international Piolet dOr after a new route opened on the previously unclimbed SW face of Broad Peak. They did the climb on sight, in alpine style and in very bad conditions. They were also the only climbers to reach the summit of BP that season. This summer, Denis and Serguey are planning to attempt a new route on K2's North Face.

#Mountaineering #Space #Opinion

"The darker the night, the brighter the stars" says the Russian proverb. Image ExlorersWeb files.

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