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Read the latter part of the interview with Denis Urubko, expedition leader

What could be the best mountaineering project these days? The answer is “Yes”, says Denis Urubko, a multiple Piolet d’Or winner, who will lead an expedition to K2, The Killer Mountain, in less than a month.

K2 (8,611m) is the second-highest mountain on Earth. K2 was never climbed in winter.

By Larisa Ghițulescu

For the team to survive and operate well, the temperature must not go below -50 degrees and the wind speed must not exceed 100 km/h.


Who is your model in mountaineering? Who inspired you the most?
There are many great famous mountaineers around the world, who became role models for each young generation. I was mostly impressed by Vlad Smirnov. Little is known about him. He died, unfortunately. This is what people used to say about Smirnov: “he is the best climber of a mountaineering team and the best mountaineer of a climbing team”… I would also mention Eric Shipton, Boris Studenin and Reinhold Messner… they still inspire generation after generation.

For the team to survive and operate well on K2, the temperature must not reach -50 degrees and the wind speed must not exceed 100 km/h.

Which help is more critical in the Death Zone, generally speaking: the bottle of oxygen or the Sherpa?
In case of real emergency, everything helps. Surviving at high altitude is not a game; you push your health limits with every step. Here is an example: during the K2 winter expedition in 2003 I had one aspirin in my pocket for Marcin Kaczkan, who was ill… and just 100 grams of water… Without those we would not have been able to descent.

In your opinion, what sponsors look at these days: the story itself (the buzz, the thrill and the engagement it generates) or the success of the project?
Sponsors need to be promoted. They pay attention to all the things you said. But there is another category of people — philanthropists, like Baglan Junusov, who sponsored my ascent to Cho-Oyu, for example.

RECOGNITION: Denis Urubko, 41, achieved international recognition as a world-class alpinist in 1999, during the Snow Leopard Project, with his remarkable ascents of the five 7,000m peaks of CIS (USSR) in 42 days.
HIS SPECIALTY: His specialty is opening new routes at extremely high altitudes: South Face of Broad Peak in 2005, North-East Slope of Manaslu in 2006, South-East face of Cho-Oyu in 2009, and during the spring of 2010 Denis soloed a new route on Lhotse from the South Col of Everest.
Source: North Face

“No, we don’t have an answer to this question”

What does climbing 8,000-m mountains still mean these days — on standard routes, during summer season — for professional climbers? Is it innovation, performance or business?
It’s a kind of tourism. Climbing is good; climbing is useful and interesting for many people. It is a good way to spend time in nature and get some adventure. But it is just an option of tourism.

Who would be the best mountaineers and projects these days, in your opinion?
No, we don’t have an answer to this question, because the evaluation criteria are so diverse. To some, being the best would mean to climb freely above El Capitan (a 3,000-feet vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park, one of the world’s favorite challenges for rock climbers)… To others, being the best would mean to climb Mont Blanc on a very fast run.

Here is another example: in paintings, we admire landscapes and we like dead nature, too. Which is more beautiful? The answer is “yes”!

TESTIMONIAL: “I met Denis in 2006, on Mount Manaslu (8,163 m). His plan was to open a new route and he was not anxious, nor hasty. On the contrary, he was in mood for joking, as if he was about to leave for vacation at seaside. He climbed Manaslu on the standard route to acclimate to high-altitude, he descended, had some rest and then he made it to the top again, on a new route.

In 2007, we met on Dhaulagiri (8,167m), where he saved the life of a companion, who had spent the night at 7,000 meters. In 2008, he showed up like a miracle on Mt. Annapurna (8,091m), putting his life in danger for Inaki Ochoa, my comrade and friend. In 2013, on Lhotse (8,516m), I saw Denis descending from the Death Zone as if he had just been shopping. He was preparing an exceptional ascent, which eventually turned out tragic — he lost his partner and our mutual friend, Alexei Bolotov.

To me, Denis is the perfect match to <new route-rescue-Himalayas>. These words have no meaning without him. Denis is an inspired mountaineer, a powerful man and good-souled person. I can’t think of him otherwise. In the Himalayas.”  –  Horia Colibasanu (Romania), pure climber

Image courtesy of Horia Colibasanu

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Read the former part of the interview with Denis Urubko, about the K2 winter expedition, here.

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LATER EDIT: The expedition was put to an end before starting due to permit issue. On December 26, Denis Urubko published the letter he had received from the Chinese authorities: “Dear Denis, I am very sorry to tell you that the permit has been refused by the Xinjiang government administration; the reason is that due to the terrorisim event happened in Xinjiang , the situation presently is not safe for the foreigners (…)”.

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Photos: Denis Urubko
Text: Larisa Ghitulescu
Contributors: Tatiana Russu, Elena Voinea (translation of the paragraphs that Denis wrote in Russian language)

K2 WINTER PROJECT 2014 – 2015

Denis Urubko joined 4 expeditions over the past 12 years on this mountain.

THE KILLER MOUNTAIN: K2 (8,611m) is the second tallest mountain on Earth, after Mount Everest (8,848m). K2 (Karakoram range) was ascended for the first time in 1954 (summer season). It registered 306 successful ascents and 81 fatalities. K2 has second-highest fatality rate among the 14 eight-thousanders (26,5%).

K2 peak was never ascended in winter.

KICK-OFF: The team led by Denis Urubko is expected to leave for Karakoram on December 16th. They will approach the new route from China, on the NE Ridge.

TEAM MEMBERS: Denis Urubko — Russia; Adam Bielecki — Poland; Alex Txikon — Spain. By the end of November, two mo Russians joined the team: Artiom Braun and Dmitry Siniew.

BACK TO K2: In 2002 -2003, Denis Urubko 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. Denis reached 7650 on North ridge. Unfortunately, they had to abort the ascent, to rescue Marcin. Denis left his ice axe around C4, hoping to come back for it.

SURVIVING IN EXTREME CONDITIONS: For the team to survive and operate well, the temperature must not go below -50 degrees and the wind speed must not exceed 100 km/h.

GEAR: The team will use “the minimum of gear and the maximum of effort” in the expedition to come. They will carry about 600kg of equipment and stuff and 1000 meters of rope.

ITINERARY:

  • ABC (4,650m)
  • C1 (5,500m) at the bottom of an icefall
  • C2 (6,200m) at the bottom of two gigantic “steps”
  • C3 (7,200m) just below the wall leading up to North East Ridge.
  • C4 (7,600m) and C5 (8,150m) both on the ridge.
  • Summit (8,611m)
(With data from Explorersweb.com; 8000ers.com)

FINANCIAL SUPPORT: Anyone can contribute to raising the necessary funds for this expedition. See how.

Denis Urubko2ORIGINS: Denis Urubko was born in a Russian family, in the North of Caucasus, in 1973. He moved to Kazakhstan in early 90s and became an officer in the Kazakhstan Army. He then moved back to Russia, and renewed his Russian citizenship.

NOWADAYS: He moved to Italy in 2012, in Bergamo (North), where he lives now. Why he moved to Italy? “I love mountains, I live close to Alps. My friend Franco Acerbis became a sponsor; he gave me a car and an apartment, where I live. I use it with pleasure.”

HIGHER AND STRONGER: Denis writes on his blog that he is “a professional athlete, mountaineer, writer and journalist”. “I have been a professional climber for 24 years. Like any professional athlete, I set the slope higher and higher, in order to be faster, higher and stronger.”

Sources: Excerpts from the interview with Denis Urubko; North Face; Denis Urubko’s blog

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