Winter Makalu debrief interview with Denis Urubko, "we were in the right place at the right time"

Posted: Apr 02, 2009 03:25 pm EDT

(MountEverest.net/K2Climb.net) Early morning February 9 phones were jumping at ExWeb: Italian Simone Moro and Kazakh Denis Urubko had summited Makalu at around 2 pm local time.

The climb was focused and fast. After acclimatizing in Khumbu; once on Makalu the two utilized bad weather to train climbing in hard conditions or speed climbing between lower camps.

The friends had shared spectacular climbs in the past, but split for a while to develop each on their own. Joining forces again; their victory came out of commitment rather than chance. <cutoff>

A promising weather forecast sent the two up for a summit push just as Simone's wife was out of town and RussianClimb was visiting US. This made ExWeb temporarily HQ for the finale, and unexpected part of Himalayan history.

Back in Moscow last week, RussianClimb's chief Lena Laletina sat down with Denis Urubko for an extensive interview. Here goes part one; check back for the final tomorrow.

<b>Russianclimb:</b> The recent Makalu climb became your 16th 8000-er. Remember when you arrived Himalaya for the first time, nine years ago? You saw those huge peaks and thought of those famous climbers scaling them. First impressions are often so bright, and then gradually fade. So what excites you now, when you come to Himalaya and Karakoram?

<b>Denis:</b> Of course not everything is like in the beginning. But I take on the mountain as an athlete first; with beauty only my second priority. The more I go to the 8000-ers, the more opportunities open to me: I see more potential routes, a lot of them, and very interesting. Only now do I see the previously un-noticed.

Back then I would look at Lhotse and only see this huge mountain to climb. Now I see it differently; and study it for unusual lines. The more mountains I scale, the more novelty they unveil to me in that sense.

<b>Russianclimb:</b> Do you think you were lucky on Makalu this year?

<b>Denis:</b> Yes; but in a complex variety of factors. We managed the expedition well, and came to the right point at the right time. In this regard, we were more fortunate than all the previous winter Makalu expeditions.

<b>Russianclimb:</b> You attempted Makalu already last winter; what was the difference between then and now?

<b>Denis:</b> This winter was warmer, the wind was different. Last winter it blew mainly West, South-West; while this year it came from North and North-West. The weather was good in general until on descent, when we found BC covered by thirty centimeters (ed note: one foot) of snow on our arrival back from the summit.

We were both in top shape, and well-trained. I knew the route well and planned the departure for our climbs accordingly, but we actually arrived 2-2,5 times faster than we had anticipated every time.

My mates last winter lacked sufficient high-altitude climbing experience and I was liable for them. This time it was just Simone and me; two soldiers, two gladiators It was my third time on this route, and it didnt matter to me, where and how long I climbed. But Simone always held us back a little, so we had strength left, and would be safe. He is older than me, calmer. I could feel that he has already been in more than thirty Himalayan expeditions.

<b>Russianclimb:</b> How important is trust in a partner?

<b>Denis:</b> I have known Simone for a long time, and he knows me. We have confidence in each others technical experience, professionalism and endurance. Plus, we know each others capabilities. And we are sure that one will not leave the other, no matter what. We'll crawl if we have to, but not leave without attempting a rescue.

I can do the normal route with anybody but I would never attempt a climb such as this with an unknown partner. Climbing Makalu above 7400 meters in winter is like walking a thin line on altitude; even the most minor error or wrong move will lead to the deaths of both.

On Annapurna in 2004, Simone and I climbed a dangerous snow field on the very teeth of our crampons. Between 8100-8200 meters on Makalu this winter, just below the rocks, the snow and fixed rope had been blown away, leaving us only with the last of a short rope for belay. You cant do such climbs without absolute trust in your partner.

<b>Russianclimb:</b> Pablo Ochoa de Olza (Inakis brother) wrote in his letter: <i>"These two extraordinary men have once again shown what they are made of. Made of the same rock as the Himalayas, of the same spirit as the wind, of the same nature as steel. What they achieved on Makalu will be correctly measured only decades from now, when it really becomes obvious the impossible quest it is."</i> Did you feel that you pushed the limits, or just gently did a professional job?

<b>Denis:</b> We worked as professionals; those who work within the framework of consistent excellence. You don't allow situations where you don't understand what to do.

We felt more on the edge last year; when Serguey Samoylov was ill, Eugeny Shutov did not have sufficient experience, and the weather was just terrible.

<b>Russianclimb:</b> You were four in the team last time, and now only two. What is preferable?

<b>Denis:</b> Four is safer. If someone is hurt, there are more chances to rescue him, while it's almost impossible in a team of two.

Two is more comfortable psychologically though. You are always in an equal position, one by one. Even a third member adds divisions, one is always against the other two and so forth. This adds meaningless strain, not to mention in large teams where there always is conflict enough, particularly in lengthy expeditions.

<b>Russianclimb:</b> Did you read news reports about your expedition in BC? What did you think about them?

<b>Denis:</b> Simone was told that Messner had written in a popular Italian newspaper that mountaineering has not developed well in recent years, but that Simone and I are involved in the real deal. I was shocked of course (in a good way :) by those words.

Another important support was that of Mario Kurnis who did the very first attempt on Makalu in winter with Renato Casarotto. Although Mario's memories from the 1980 expedition were very heavy, he followed Simone to the airport before the expedition and had a premonition that we would be OK.

<a class="linkstylenews" href="http://www.mounteverest.net/news.php?id=18175" target="_new"> Part 2, final: about the climb, Jean-Christophe Lafaille, the future and the legacy of lost friends. </a>

<i>Urubko's climbs are legendary; over only the past few years Denis and twice-divorced, ever-loyal climbing buddy Serguey planted new routes on Manaslu and an unclimbed face of Broad Peak. In 2007 the two made the latest K2 summit ever in the first K2 north side ascent in 11 years.

Denis Urubko is considered one of the top climbers today. He has summited most of the 8000ers and many other major peaks in the Himalayas and Central Asia. He has also sacrificed summits to help climbers in trouble, some of whom he had never met before.

With few other takers, modern winter climbs became somewhat of a Simone Moro specialty in the past five years. In an eight-year marathon during the eighties; Polish climbers had grabbed all the seven winter firsts and revolutionized Himalayan climbing. A void followed until 2005 when two men bagged number 8, Shisha Pangma, on January 14. They were Polish Piotr Morawski and Simone Moro - who became the first non-Polish climber to bag a winter virgin in Himalaya.

Following two straight years of winter attempts on Broad Peak; Simone rerouted this year for Makalu with Urubko. "Simone and I are ready to fight to the last bullet," Denis told Lena. He had tried a winter ascent of the peak already in the last winter season, together with Serguey Samoilov. They survived the night on a rocky ledge, but at 7500 meters hard winds finally forced the climbers back.

This time, victory arrived - with the last Himalaya giant summited in winter - by Italian Simone Moro breaking the Polish spell for the second time and old friend Kazakh Denis Urubko by his side.

Up until today, 9 out of all 14 eight-thousanders have been winter climbed. The remaining are all in Pakistan, where all five 8000er summits are yet untouched by man in winter.

Expedition sponsors: SIVERA, La'sportiva, CAMP, The North Face.</i>



#Mountaineering #feature






"I take on the mountain as an athlete first," Denis Urubko (in image) told RussianClimb. (Click all images to enlarge.)
Denis Urubko reaching for the summit of Makalu, touched for the very first time by man in winter. Image courtesy of Simone Moro (click to enlarge).
"We were both in top shape, and well-trained," Denis said about the Makalu winter climb. "I knew the route well and planned the departure for our climbs accordingly, but we actually arrived 2-2,5 times faster than we had anticipated every time." (Click to enlarge).
"I have known Simone (left) for a long time, and he knows me. We have confidence in each others technical experience, professionalism and endurance. Plus, we know each others capabilities. And we are sure that one will not leave the other, no matter what."
"He is older than me, calmer. I could tell that he has already been in more than thirty Himalayan expeditions [...] My mates last winter lacked sufficient high-altitude climbing experience and I was liable for them. This time it was just Simone and me; two soldiers, two gladiators" All images courtesy of Russianclimb and Denis Urubko (click to enlarge).

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