(By Andrey Verkhovod) In February 2013 Denis Urubko and Alexei Bolotov stayed for some time in Almaty (mainly for training) and toward the end of the visit they agreed to discuss their forthcoming attempt at Everest. In November 2012, ExWeb has already posted brief news about their plans and it did cause discussions, not surprisingly – the target was really extraordinary. So, it was quite natural to try to know more on the whole thing. And the guys were cooperative.
In fact, that was a rare case when alpinists of that league agreed to discuss in detail the planned route before a climb. The climbing community get used to “post-factum” debriefs and it’s no secret that more than a few words info on the plans is often considered as nothing but a bare show off or overdone promotion.
I guess there were two primary motives for such an unusual openness:
The first reason is actually a logical consequence of the November’s preliminary info, mentioned above. As some details on the planned climb were still then unclear, the information was rather sketchy.
However, given the non-trivial nature of attempted route, it caused obvious interest and various speculations. And so, although it is not yet usual in the current alpinist environment, the challengers decided to explain unclear points (including those that had already caused discussions) before, not after the climb :-) Probably such prologues and reasoning will (with time) become a common and trivial practice. At least for the non-trivial expeditions.
The second reason is more specific and related to this particular attempt. The point is that the climbers will not take with them any communication equipment during the decisive push. They will be totally cutoff electronically but, according to Denis, well observed from the Western Cwm, from the area of traditional Camp 2.
In my view, it will be psychologically much easier for the guys if they know that their progress is watched by the interested observers that are well informed on their plans. Important – this is *my* guess. For those who may think it is not so, just use this point as an information that the climbers will not take any comms gear for the push.
If realized, it can be the first ascend of Everest strictly complying with the following three attributes:
A new route
Made in Alpine style
Denis argues that no one previous climbs on Everest complied with the all three conditions.*
*Denis mentioned two climbs that complied with at least two attributes but failed to comply with one of them:
a) Reinhold Messner’s 1980 solo climb was not made in pure alpine style as he used previously made deposit on the route.
b) Ascend of Erhard Loretan and Jean Triollet in 1986 was made in stylish alpine style but they climbed via already known route (Everest North Face via the Japanese and Hornbein couloirs).
To date there were only few routes climbed on the South West Face of Everest. These include the first successful ascend led by Chris Bonington in 1975, Soviet 1982 Everest Expedition and, most recently, the ascend led by the late South Korean climber Park Young-Seok in 2009. All three expeditions were conducted in Himalayan style with the use of supplementary O2.
Description of the route by sections**
** The description was provided by Denis and Alex during our talk, including all given characteristics of the stages (the whole route’s partition on sections, estimated times / difficulties / terrain configuration etc). However, it is obvious that in brief publication all details cannot be listed. Denis verified the final written variant of the text before print. Thus, hopefully, there are no significant errors in the descriptions.
First, it may be helpful to expound two points related to the description of the route:
The first and the key subject that needs explanation is the line proper of the route. It was drawn by Denis on the photograph of Everest’s South-West Wall made by Simone Moro from approximate altitude of 8200 during his solo flight on helicopter along Nuptse ridge in Spring 2012.
Given that at the present phase of the expedition it is not possible to say for sure where the real line of the actual climb will pass (for obvious reasons – there may be small or even significant variations from imaginary planned line, forced by particular conditions at a given moment of the climb) the line discussed here is understood in “interval” sense.***
***That is, it is a line with small borders surrounding it. It is like a narrow track that has, as a center, a line presented by the mathematical line (having zero width) depicted on the photo. The thickness of interval [a, b] is believed by the climbers to be as small as possible. However its resulting actual extent may vary significantly on a various sections of the route. Denis: "We hope we will follow the planned line of the route but only the real climb will show if we manage to do this.”
The second point is related to bivouacs. Obviously, on such routes the points of stay are considered carefully and possible points for bivouacs are chosen in advance. However, for this item of the whole plan the factor of uncertainty is even higher than for the line of the route. So, no surprise that when Denis was asked to place on the route’s line the possible points for bivouacs, he replied: “I would prefer not to point out the places for bivouacs, as there may be serious deviations between the planned points and those that will be used in a resulting real climb."
1) The first stage is due to start from the altitude near 6550:
The exact starting point, placed in the Western Cwm. It is supposed that main terrain structure of the stage will consists of snow and ice. Denis estimates its average inclination as being 55 degrees. The guys hope to climb this section in two days, having one intermediate bivouac at approximately 7000. Denis suggests that so far no one ever climbed this line/area.****
****Denis said this after my question on, “Has anyone/expa ever climbed this section of the route’s line before?” Of course his assertion may be wrong, no one knows everything for 100%. This was just his opinion. Similar question was asked about the other sections of the route.
2) Rock pillar 7700 - 7900:
Denis: ”We think it will present quite complex and difficult rock climbing. The average inclination of the section is estimated as being near 60 degrees. We hope to climb it in one day.” As to the question if anyone ever climbed this section before, there is some controversy.*****
*****Denis said that he has information that one (or both) of 1971 International Expeditions did climb this section that time. However, if one compares pictures of proposed line and lines of all three expeditions climbed during spring 1971 and spring and autumn 1972, on the right-hand flank, given in Chris Bonington’s Everest, it appears that proposed line passes mostly more to the right and thus (maybe except only its very end before the next section, Snowfield) was mostly unclimbed before. However, so far it looks it’s good question only for Everest’s pundits :-)
3) Snowfield (System of snow shelves) 7900 – 8200:
Denis: “We estimate that it should be relatively simple section. It may be climbed during the same day.” It appears this part of the route was passed by several expeditions that tried the right-hand flank of the Rock Band in early 70s.
4) [Notorious] Rock Band 8200 – 8400:
Denis: “Probably this will be the most intricate and challenging section of the entire route.****** It was exactly that part of the South West Face of Everest where in spring 1971 strong International Everest Expedition led by Norman Dyhrenfurth turned back
*******. I saw pictures of the rocks made during this expedition and they look really tough. The average inclination of rocks at that particular part of the Rock Band that we hope to scale, we estimate as being near 70 degrees. Here I would like to note that in 1971, when the International Everest Expedition tried to conquer the section, it was made in classical Himalayan style – with organization of intermediate camps and fixing ropes. We will try the right-hand flank of the Band in alpine style”.
As to duration needed to scale the Rock Band, Alexei Bolotov said simply: "We cannot estimate the time even given our natural born optimism :-)” Then, after some (jokingly) debate on the genesis and evolution of optimism inherent to an average climber with more than ten eight thousanders in his CV, Denis summed up the talk on the fourth section : “It is definitely not only the key part of the entire route but also a point of no return”. ********
******In his book, Everest, Chris Bonington clearly defined the Band as “the crux of the South West Face”. It’s worth to give an extended quote from the book related to it: “The crux of the South West Face is the notorious Rock Band, a wall of sheer rock stretching across the face that starts at around 8300m (27,230ft). Expeditions had to find a way around it.” The aim of Denis and Alex in this section of the route is to climb through the Band, not around it.
*******In Everest, C. Bonington described several attempts made during expeditions in 1971-1973 on the right-hand flank of the Rock Band. Bonington did not specify absolutely exactly what highest point of the Band was reached by the expeditions. As to the uppermost points reached during two International Expeditions of springs 1971 and 1972, he writes: ”it is academic whether Kuen and Huber had got any higher than Whillans and Haston the year before.”
Considering description of attempts made during 1971-1973, including the picture of the routes’ line given in Bonington’s book (p.20), it can be assessed that at the time, the progress via proper Rock Band was rather limited. Apparently, since then there were no other attempts to get directly (not around!) via the Band’s rocks. All three successful expeditions on the SWF (listed above) actually rounded the Rock Band, all from the left-hand flank. Hopefully, we know soon if Denis and Alex manage to be the first who can meet “the challenge of the Rock Band” successfully.
******** Though it is generally understandable, I anyway asked what they mean for “a point of no return” in this particular case. The guys replied that if for the lower sections there may be at least some feasible possibility to turn back and climb down, after entering the Band they will have no option but to continue climbing only UP.
5) Big (snow?) shelf 8500 – 8650:
Denis: ”It is not too steep, around 45 degrees, and seemingly (as its cover is seen on available photos) consists mostly of snow. We plan to pass it for one day. It may look too slow, but we need to account for a factor of tiredness during the previous very difficult section." The upper part of this section is crossed with the line climbed by Bonington’s 1975 expeditions that went through the left-hand flank of the Rock Band.
6) Summit Rocks 8650 – 8848:
Denis: ”It is a section of relatively difficult and complex rocks. We estimate that some segments of the rocks have inclinations of up to 60 degrees. What can be said definitely about this section is that it is better to avoid organization of bivouac on this part of the route. And climb it in one single push. However, everything is possible.” Denis suggests that so far no one ever climbed this line/area.****
7) The descend:
Denis: “Two days itinerary via classic route with a night on the South Col: The Summit – The South Col – The Base Camp.”
The two men are already on their way to Everest. Denis reported in his blog on March 31 that they have spent 2 nights at an altitude of 5800 for acclimatization and are heading to Gokio at 7100m. Denis and Alex to Andrey: “We spent long enough time and conducted a lot of expeditions in the Khumbu Valley and so we know well where and how we can acclimatized for the Everest’s summit. The ascend to the South Col and two nights stay there should be used as a final phase of acclimatization process.”
The planned end of the expedition is the beginning of June, at the start of monsoon period.
Alpine style: no porters, no camps set up in advance, no supplementary oxygen.
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