Broad Peak SW face debrief: The Kazakhs' new route, another candidate for the Piolet dOr

Posted: Dec 06, 2005 04:50 pm EST

(K2Climb.net) Names of the nominees for the Piolet dOr should be released any day now. Among the most likely to be nominated are Kazahks Denis Urubko and Serguey Samoilov, who together completed a new route on Broad Peak earlier this year.

The Piolet dOr has gone to Russian teams for the last two years. The awarded climbs sported great difficulty (first climb on Nuptse East in 2003 and first climb on Jannus North face in 2004), but neither of these new routes was done in alpine style - a fact stirring controversy among the purists. These advocates thus believe that this year's Piolet d'Or award should go to an Alpine style climb, such as the new route opened on Nanga Parbats Rupal face by American Steve House and Vince Anderson.

Kazakhs followed alpine-style rules too

The Kazakhs, however, just may give Steve and Vince a run for their money this year since Denis and Serguey strictly followed the alpine-style rules on Broad Peak as well.

The two Kazakhs had originally joined forces with a larger Italian team for the goal. However, once there, the Italians changed their mind and opted instead for Broad Peaks normal route (eventually launching their summit bid and turning around at the foresummit). Meanwhile, the Kazakhs and went by themselves up the SW face, following a new route which took them eight days on an unknown mixed wall, with no previous preparation.

Climbing in the Stratosphere

Back in Base Camp, Urubko was psyched about the climb: It was a series of really fantastic days climbing in the stratosphere! Everything was at the limit: Air, stamina, weather. But we climbed it despite everything, he said.

With the experience now behind him Denis wrote ExplorersWeb about some of the technical details he and Serguey faced on Broad Peak.

Glacier, summit ridge and a 2300m face in the middle

The Kazakhs new route runs up the South West face of Broad Peak, starting at 4,800m on glacier terrain; then, a sheer rock and ice face from 5500m to 7,800: That is 2,300 vertical-meters of face. The climbers next proceeded up the summit ridge up to the main summit of Broad Peak, at 8,051m.

Denis and Serguey climbed without supplementary O2, and had no previously fixed ropes, gear caches or camps.

The climbers set off on July 18th, 2005. During the ascent the pair set six bivouacs, all of them with tents, but only twice managed to actually lay down. On the other occasions, the climbers only had room enough to sit and wait for the morning light. The first bivouac was set at 6100m; the last bivouac, just before the summit, at 7800, right on top of the face. By the time they reached the top, they had run out of food and gas to melt snow. After the summit, thirsty and exhausted, the Kazakhs were forced to set a seventh bivouac on the way down.

M6, 6B on rock, A2 and high exposure

Difficulties encountered on mixed passages went up to M6, the face being 45ยบ to 70ยบ steep. Especially tough were the highest sections before the summit ridge.

Rock quality was not bad, but the structure was inverted," said Denis, referring to the upside-down nature of the climb. Erosion is not always perfect and on some climbs can result in having to climb leaning back, making progressing up the route even more difficult. In the upper sections the rock was smooth, washed away by avalanches through the centuries. It is pretty difficult for me to propose a difficulty degree on the rock pitches, Denis told ExWeb. However, Ive done some rock climbs with Simone Moro across Europe this is the only reference I can use to set a grade on the new route on Broad Peak. According to Denis's calculations, difficulty degree goes from 5C to 6b, plus 4 meters aid-climbed (and graded as A2).

Summit in bad weather conditions

As for the weather, Denis and Serguey set off on their summit bid as soon as a weather window appeared. Conditions were great on the first day, but became gradually worse with each passing day. On the fifth day of ascent, they woke up at 7000m to bad weather and snow, which increased their exposure to avalanches.

By the sixth day, the the weather was just terrible, but they decided to go for the summit the following morning, regardless. Luckily, the sun shone for some hours, allowing the climbers to reach the summit in good visibility on July 25th. A front with strong winds, bitter cold and clouds engulfed the mountain later that day though, making the descent more difficult. The climbers stopped for the night at 7200. Some hours later, they proceeded in thick fog further down, reaching BC by night fall.

Only confirmed true summit

However difficult the route was, the fact is, the climbers tried to follow a logical line up the face, and tried to avoid unnecessary exposure. We tried to climb the least dangerous route we could, Urubko claims.

With the possible exception of an unconfirmed summit by an Iranian team, the Kazakhs would be the only ones to have reached the real summit of Broad Peak this year. All teams and there was about 60 climbers in base camp- reported difficult conditions, mainly due to constantly bad weather and an excess of snow on the mountain.

On July 25th, 2005, Kazakhs Denis Urubko and Serguey Samoilov completed a new route on Broad Peaks SW face in alpine style. No one else has officially reached the real summit of BP this year.

Denis Urubko is considered one of the top climbers today. Last year, he opened a new route on the North Face of Baruntse together with Simone Moro, and made a night summit on Annapurna in bad weather conditions. Denis has summited nine 8000ers. He summitted BP already on July 18, 2003, through the normal route. He and Ed Viesturs carried out a nighttime rescue of Jean-Christophe Lafaille when he suffered from pulmonary problems after summiting and could not descend on his own.

Denis has done many summits, but also sacrificed summits to help climbers in trouble, some of whom he had never met before. While he does not have all the 8000ers he could have had, instead, Denis has earned unanimous respect from the climbing community.

Named for its great expanse and bulk, the triple crested Broad Peak was scaled for the first time on June 9, 1957 by Hermann Buhl, Kurt Diemberger, Marcus Schmuck and Fritz Wintersteller.
With a route considered less technically challenging, Broad Peak has a reputation of being among the easiest of the 8000 meter peaks. But statistics are signaling a more dangerous mountain than its reputation lets on.

Less than 300 climbers have summited Broad Peak. The summit/fatality rate is around 7%, pretty close to Everest's rate of 9%.

Interestingly enough, comparing statistics show that Broad Peak has become more dangerous to climb! Up to 1990 the Broad Peak fatality rate is 5%, but from 1990 until last year the rate jumped to 8.6 %, or close to twice that of the modern Everest fatality rate (4.4%).

Whilst the old Everest risk was 37% and BP only 5%, the giants now have switched places with Everest on 4.4% and BP on 8.6% in the last decade. An indication to climbers not to take Broad Peak lightly.

At 8,051m, Broad Peak is number 12 on the list of the fourteen 8,000m peaks, and is the third highest in the Karakorum range. It is located in Pakistan on the upper reaches of the Baltoro Glacier, the main access route to the mountains which cuts through the center of the Karakorum range.


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Serguey Samoilov teamed up in Summer 2005 with Denis Urubko to climb a new route on Broad Peaks SW face. The Kazakh pair were the only ones that season to reach Broad Peaks main summit and they did it on the unclimbed west face via a new route in alpine style. Image courtesy of Denis Urubko.
"Our clothing wasn't new, but it was well tested. We saved on everything - only one sleeping bag and one down jacket per team. Of course, we were very cold," said Serguey. "From the start the wall inspired both fear and confidence; we felt the drive. But I always assumed I was there to climb a new route." Image of Serguey carving a ledge for the tent at 6500m, courtesy of Denis Urubko (click to enlarge).
The Kazakhs had originally joined forces with a larger Italian team, whose members changed their mind and eventually went for BP normal route. Denis and Serguey went on their own up the SW face, following a new route which took them eight days on an unknown mixed wall, climbing in pure alpine style.
"I can't say that we got to "the edge" at any particular point," reckoned Serguey. "We worked our way up at roughly the same pace day after day, even without gas and water. I didn't feel any pressure of 8000m, even though it was my first time at this altitude. My main objective was not to restrain Denis. The hardest thing on this route wasn't the altitude, the ice or the cold; it was the technical rock climbing. " Image of team member at 6800m, courtesy of Denis Urubko (click to..
"I led as if we were at war: Searching for protection among the rocks. Step by step, through the deep, almost black sky we pushed towards our goal. Suddenly the Summit appeared. Sergey and I had turned our dreams into reality. It was 11.30 on 25 July 2005." (Click to enlarge).
Rock quality was not bad, but the structure was inverted to the sense of progression," said Denis. "In the upper sections the rock was smooth, washed away by avalanches through the centuries." Urubko reported on rock pitches up to 6b - they only aid-climbed four meters (A2).