The military-trained climbing machine will try the summit against strong winds.
- Denis Urubko’s solo bid to summit Broad Peak (8047m) will likely happen on February 17. The forecast announces strong winds;
- He will climb fast and light. No rope partner, no Sherpa support, no sat phone;
- Some might call it a suicidal solo attempt. But Urubko made the right call in past similar circumstances;
- If successful, the Russian-Polish climber will claim the first winter ascent on Broad Peak;
In the far reaches of the Karakoram, a 46-year-old mountaineer, one of the best that the world has ever seen, is determined to fulfill his probably last adventure at high altitude: to climb Broad Peak in the deadly winter. According to news coming from Pakistan on Saturday, Denis Urubko will “try summit on February 17. Then BC and expedition finished”, he announced via sat phone.
Meteorologists forecast winds up to 80 kph. Often underestimated by climbers, wind chill is a life-threatening danger – they can bring on the outset of hypothermia and frostbite. It’s even more dangerous during harsh winter, due to exposure to severe cold, and when there’s no one around to help. (Urubko ended up alone due to his climbing partner’s pneumonia; Don Bowie flew back by helicopter to Skardu on February 8).
The experienced climber thinks he can manage the strong winds. Note that the blue-eyed, fit military-trained mountaineer is famous worldwide for his tough view on winter style.
Yet, emotions are running high: how will his family, friends, and supporters bear Urubko’s decision to climb without any communication device? Previously, on Gasherbrum II (2019) and K2 in winter (2018), Urubko acted the same – and a storm of emotions developed on the internet.
“I follow my way”
But Urubko has focused on his goal and acts accordingly. “The sat phone is additional weight”, he explained in an interview that took place in Karpacz, Poland, just ahead of his departure for Pakistan (December 2019).
Why Broad Peak in winter, since the first winter ascent was already claimed by a Polish team in March 2013? Because Broad Peak is “unclimbed in winter”, just like K2, Urubko thinks. The only comment that Urubko made related to the argument with some Polish climbers about the winter calendar was that ″they have a different opinion”. So, ″I will follow my way”, he concluded.
According to the winter calendar for the Northern hemisphere, the spring equinox falls on March 19.
Successful or not, Urubko’s expedition to Broad Peak is likely to make history, since this might be his last adventure at high altitude. Last summer, on his return from Gasherbrum II (8032m) – which he climbed on a new route, solo, alpine style, without supplemental oxygen – Urubko revealed in an interview that he will make a change after the winter expedition to Broad Peak.
“I am old. I am mentally tired of high altitude”, he confessed.
Urubko, who is one of the best climbers of all time, survived heroically for three decades full of adventures in the Death Zone. He accomplished speed records, 20 summits above 8000m, two winter ascents, traverses of 8,000’ers and opened new routes. All brought him worldwide recognition.
But Urubko stunned the world and became a legend for the lives that he saved at the expense of his own sportive goals sometimes. In a highly competitive, profit-oriented sports industry, what other sports discipline yields such characters? As National Geographic wrote in April 2019, “Urubko either summited peaks or rescued people trying to summit peaks. His dramatic rescue attempt of Iñaki Ochoa on Annapurna in 2008 was the stuff of legend.”
Urubko’s legendary story is not written yet. The climbing machine feels strong and is ready to try the summit against all odds.
Photos: Courtesy of Denis Urubko
“After each expedition, looking back at what I had lived, I feel the fear. I feel amazed, too”
After three decades of harsh mountaineering, one of the best climbers of all time is determined to fulfill his probably last adventure at high altitude.
ORIGINS: Denis Urubko was born in a Russian family, in the North of Caucasus, in 1973. He moved to Kazakhstan in the early 90s and became an officer in the Kazakhstan Army. He then moved back to Russia, and renewed his Russian citizenship. He moved to Italy in 2012, in Bergamo (North). He is a Polish citizen.
HIGHER AND STRONGER: Denis describes himself as “a professional athlete, mountaineer, writer, and journalist”. “Like any professional athlete, I set the slope higher and higher, in order to be faster, higher and stronger.”
NEW ROUTES: Denis Urubko achieved the rare ‘Himalayan Crown’ climbing each of the fourteen 8000m summits of the world without oxygen. His specialty is opening new routes at extremely high altitudes (above 8000m): South Face of Broad Peak in 2005, North-East Slope of Manaslu in 2006, South-East face of Cho-Oyu in 2009, Gasherbrum2 in 2019. During the spring of 2010, Denis soloed a new route on Lhotse from the South Col of Everest.
JUST NORMAL CLIMBS: “Each time I look at my ascents as being normal… during the climb. But after each expedition, looking back at what I had lived, I feel the fear. I feel amazed, too. I am wondering how I had survived” – Denis Urubko during an interview in 2014.
RESCUER: Denis Urubko became legendary for his rescue operations under life-threatening circumstances, spanning decades:
• In 2002 -2003, he was part of the winter expedition on K2, led by the Polish climber Krzysztof Wielicky. The other team members were Peter Moravsky and Marcin Kaczkan. Urubko reached 7650 on North ridge. Tey aborted the ascent, to rescue Marcin.
• In May 2008, Urubko flew urgently to Annapurna Base Camp to try to rescue Spaniard Inaki Ochoa de Olza (1967-2008) from a higher camp, above 7400m, on the South Ridge. Don Bowie (Canada) and Ueli Steck (Switzerland – 1976-2017) were part of the rescue team, too.
• In January 2018, the alpinists of the Polish winter expedition to K2 rescued the French Elisabeth Revol on the Nanga Parbat – Denis Urubko, Adam Bielecki, Jaroslaw Botor and Piotr Tomala received the “Legion of Honor”, the highest French decoration – created in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte – for their superhuman effort.
• In July 2019, Denis Urubko and Don Bowie, who were on Gasherbrum II, set off on foot to Gasherbrum VII (6955m), to rescue injured Francesco Cassardo of Italy.
INSPIRATION: Throughout his activity, Urubko was mostly inspired by Vlad Smirnov, Eric Shipton, Boris Studenin and Reinhold Messner.
(sources: Alpinistiemontagne.gazzetta.it, Planetmountain.com, Explorerweb.com, Denis Urubko Facebook page, Larisa Ghitulescu archive)