Best of ExplorersWeb 2004 Awards: Everest Central North Wall

Posted: Dec 26, 2004 05:00 am EST

ExplorersWeb has been awarded best of adventure by National Geographic and best of the web by Forbes magazine. What is then the Best of ExplorersWeb?

We have covered hundreds of expeditions in 2004. 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 2004.

Today number 6: Everest Central North Wall

A record 300 climbers summited Everest this year, a handful of them decided to do it the impossible way - up the North Wall.

On May 30th at 10 a.m. Pavel Shabalin, Iliyas Tukhvatullin and Andrey Mariev summited Everest by means of the first new route in 20 years, since the Great Couloir in 1984. The next day, May 31st at 9:15am Petr Kuznetsov, Gleb Sokolov and Evgueny Vinogradsky summited. Then at 9.20 a.m. on June 1st the third group made history twice over by becoming the first to summit Everest in June.

Astonishing perseverance

It took the climbers three months of unimaginable hard work to get to this. Nobody, who hasn't spent two nights at 8600 with only 2 oxygen bottles and no sleeping bags, only to climb to 8848 the next day and descend alive can truly understand the fear and pain overcome and the astonishing perseverance involved in this achievement.

O2 tumbling down the wall

Opening a new route on the Everest North Face is hard enough, but the team had some unexpected problems: Someone was throwing empty O2 bottles down the North wall; a couple of them missed the Russian climbers, right underneath, by inches.

Sneakers dance for Sherpas

The sherpas wouldn't go up the face, Victor Kozlov reported problems already at 6000m. The team of Tibetan porters refused to go any further even after Pavel Shabalin stood on the glacier in sneakers showing them how safe it was. The porters refused to go any further, however, and began to descend leaving over 2500Kg of cargo at the foot of the glacier.

Technical, hard rock

The climbers reached camp 5 carrying tent, ropes, gas and meals. The backpacks were very heavy for this kind of altitude. They fixed 5 mm rope on the rocks, which were so hard they bent the pitons. Because the technical, hard rock was unexpected, the guys didn't have enough oxygen and had to use what they had sparsely, working on minimal flow.

Supported exclusively by a vodka factory

All the while, this team maintained a good head about them and had a great time in Base Camp.

They seldom complained. Instead, the Russian tent was the place for a party: Yury Ermachek and Victor Volodin sounded off about the possible use of dope or using drugs to improve their ability. Heres what they had to say:

"We, as the Soviet people did, will reject any dope preparations. We will have the necessary analysis. We will work supported exclusively by the Crystal factory (the famous Vodka factory in Russia). It is our military secret. Let other people be tormented how much the Russians can drink on the Northern Face of Everest."

Beer, whiskey, wine, Vodka, and a sauna. They worked hard and when they were resting after a push up high, they played hard.


Even though they did climb the North Wall, the team did not take their originally intended direct line. The major deviation was above 8600m. Instead of going straight up, the team deviated left.

Shabaline explained, ...Group 'Siberia' could not physically bring iron (pitons/protection) and dynamic ropes for the continuation of work on the wall at 8600m, because Sherpas refused to work and bring up all the loads necessary for life-support from below. In light of the circumstances we had to make the decision to pass a rocky belt at the left on an edging, having deviated from direct line edge of a wall. This variant was scouted by Andrey Mariev in the second day of work above Camp V.

Technical difficulty along with the extreme altitude

Despite the deviation, this new route is something very special and will leave its mark on Everest. They worked the route relentlessly through all weather and difficulties. When they did hit that difficult section above 8600m, they spent three days and two nights there without sleeping bags, with only two oxygen bottles each for survival. That is absolutely outstanding. The technical difficulty of the route along with the extreme altitude makes this one of the most difficult climbs in all time mountaineering.

The Russian North Wall team stays in our memory for their persistence, pioneering, courage and comradeship.

By their performance, the awarded expeditions have proved themselves outstanding in all or most of the following:

- Courage
- Determination
- Persistence
- Self reliance
- Ingenuity
- Pioneering
- Idealism
- Comradeship
- Compassion
- Respect towards competition
- Honesty

8 expeditions have been chosen best in the world of adventure in 2004.

Previous in the countdown:

7. The Russian Extreme Project (Amin Brakk BASE jump)for pioneering, ingenuity and courage.

8. Fiona and Rosie (South Pole) for their record-breaking performance and respect for each other.

An additional 4 expeditions received a special mention award:

Edurne Pasaban and Juanito Oiarzabal (K2) - for their courage and honesty.
Henk De Velde (NW Passage) - for his battle to the bitter end.
Pavel Rezvoy (Ocean rowing) - for his power of will and refusal to retire.
Nawang Sherpa (Mount Everest) - for his determination and ground-breaking performance.

More on the Russian North Wall:

So these guys must have climbed Everest like ten times via the normal route before, right? Nope, they've been busy elsewhere: Already in 2001, Kuznetsov, Sokolov, Ermachek, Vinogradsky, Koshelenko, Volodin and Zhilin, coached by Cherny, were members of the team that successfully summited the "last unclimbed 8000er" in the world - Lhotse Middle.

The team scouted the North Face already in May 2002, when they planned the line from BC. In a second scouting expedition in 2003 the climbers managed to climb via the center of the North Face up to 6800 meters.

"The main difficulty will be rocks at that altitude. When I saw this Wall for the first time, I wanted to climb it right away... This huge, grandiose, beautiful wall on the highest mountain. Our team is very strong. We promise to do our best to climb the new Russian route to Everest," said Eugeny Vinogradsky, a legend of Soviet and Russian Mountaineering.

The Shabaline group: Summit May 30.

Already before their unexpected bivouac without sleeping bags at 8600 for two nights, Shabaline and his team (Shabaline, Tukhvatullin, Mariev) were responsible for the very difficult task of fixing the highly technical parts at 8000m and up, the Bastion. The rest of the team said earlier: Everything depends on Shabaline's group working the Bastion, we are counting on them.

Pavel Shabaline had earlier Ak-Su - 10 climbs, Khan Tengri, Northern face; and El-Capitan. Andrew Mariev had К2, and Nanga-Parbat. Iljas Tukhvatullin had Everest, Ak-Su (6 ascents), and Khan Tengri Northern face.

The Siberia Group: Summit May 31

Eugeny Vinogradsky had four Everest climbs (all with oxygen), three climbs on Cho Oyu, fall double header Shisha Pangma - Cho Oyu.
Gleb Sokolov; High-speed solo to Khan Tengri (14 hours from base camp and back), Makalu, Lhotse, Lhotse Shar, Lhotse Middle.
Piotr Kuznetsov; Everest twice (the first time via the classic route, the second the North Face first ascent up to 6400m), Lhotse Middle, and Khan Tengri.

Ermachek's group: Summit June 1

Yuri Ermachek was winner of the Piolet dor for the ascent on Makalu, Western Face, Everest, Lhotse Middle, Khan Tengri, Northern Face, and Annapurna. Victor Volodin has done Everest before. Nickolay Zhilin is the winner of the Piolet dor for the ascent on Makalu Western Face and Khan Tengri.

Koshelenko's Group: Summit June 1

Yuri Koshelenko, nominated for the Piolet dor four times, the winner of the Piolet dor for the ascent on Nuptse East; first ascents on Ak-Su, Khan Tengri, Petit Dru, Trango Tower, leader of the third group. Victor Bobok had Shisha Pangma and Alexey Bukinitch. Alexey was the youngest member of the team. Bukinitch didn't work at the wall however - the doctor wouldn't let him - 'he's too young for the high altitude' said Dr. Bytchkovsky.

The 20-member team of Russian climbers was supported by the Russian Mountaineering Federation.

Images courtesy of the team and

Once upon a time on Everest.
Image by 2006 Russian Everest North Face expedition courtesy RussianClimb, SOURCE
When Altitude Everest climbers were touted as two of the world's greatest climbers; and reported the first to free climb the northeast ridge (normal route) - and Anker mentioned his "performing the world's highest rock climb" - throughts among mountaineers went to climbs such as the Russian's first ascent of the notorious Everest North Face a few years back. Image ExWeb files (click to enlarge).

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