Denis Urubko: On his birthday without breathing mask on top of K2

Denis Urubko
Denis Urubko

The unstoppable. According to Denis Urubko, he stood on the 8,611-meter-high summit of K2 this morning, at 7:30 a.m. local time in Pakistan. In doing so, he gave himself the best present on his 49th birthday. As with all his many previous ascents, Denis climbed without bottled oxygen on the second highest mountain on earth. “I was alone above Camp 4,” Urubko let it be known via Facebook.

Within ten days, the climber, who was born in the Russian North Caucasus, thus reached three eight-thousand-meter peaks – in a rush via the normal routes, without breathing mask, without a companion. First Urubko scaled Broad Peak (8,051 meters) on 19 July, then Gasherbrum II (8.034 meters) on 25 July, and now K2.

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Eight-thousanders collectors: Not without my Sherpas

The eight-thousander Broad Peak in Pakistan (in 2004)

Success stories continue to pour in from the eight-thousanders in the Karakoram, today especially from Broad Peak. Among those who reached the 8,051-meter-high summit were the collectors of eight-thousanders Kristin Harila, Adriana Brownlee and Grace Tseng. Without minimizing their achievements, I think it’s high time to recognize the Nepalese climbers who made their eight-thousander ascents possible.

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Traffic jam in the K2 summit zone

Long queue at K2 Bottleneck
Long queue at K2 Bottleneck

Lucky! Damn good luck! This is the impression given by a video posted on social media by Mingma Gyalje Sherpa from 22 July, the record summit day on K2 (see below). On it, a long line of climbers can be seen at the so-called “Bottleneck” – above them huge ice towers that could collapse at any time. On Friday last week, some 120 members of commercial teams had reached (with bottled oxygen, except for a few) the summit of the second-highest mountain on earth – more than ever before in a single day in the history of K2.

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Eberhard Jurgalski: “Achievements of climbing not diminished”

German chronicler of mountaineering, Eberhard Jurgalski.

“Actually, I had thought that with our list, after ten years of research, the main work was finished,” Eberhard Jurgalski tells me. “But that was a fallacy.” The list published by a team around the German chronicler, according to which – as reported – without a doubt only three climbers have stood on the highest points of all 14 eight-thousanders, continues to cause heated debate in the scene.

“I won’t let anyone tell me that such an ascent is not valid,” Reinhold Messner, for example, scolded in an interview with the Swiss newspaper “Tages-Anzeiger”. According to research by Jurgalski and Co., Messner and his South Tyrolean teammate Hans Kammerlander had turned around on Annapurna in 1985 at a point on the summit ridge five meters lower and 65 meters from the highest point. In the new list Messner, celebrated worldwide as the first man on all eight-thousanders, is therefore listed with “only” 13 eight-thousanders. Even though he and Kammerlander had opened a new route through the Northwest Face of Annapurna.

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Summit wave and first fatality on K2

The 8,611-meter-high K2, the second highest mountain on earth (in 2004)

It seems almost surreal: Everest conditions on K2. After the first ascent of the second highest mountain in northern Pakistan on 31 July 1954 by the Italians Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli, it took 40 years to reach the mark of 100 ascents. Today, Friday, according to reports from Pakistan, around 100 climbers are said to have reached the summit of K2 at 8,611 meters – in a single day!

On Thursday, a five-member Sherpa team – Pasdawa Sherpa, Chhiring Namgyal Sherpa (both from the operator 8K Expeditions) and Siddhi Ghising, Dorjee Gyelzen Sherpa and Rinji Sherpa (from Madison Mountaineering) – had fixed the ropes up to the highest point, achieving the first summit successes on K2 this summer. They used bottled oxygen. So did the vast majority of members of commercial teams who summited today – among them Kristin Harila of Norway (eight-thousander number eight for her this year) and Samina Baig as the first woman from Pakistan.

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Denis Urubko scales Broad Peak without breathing mask

Denis Urubko published this picture today on Facebook

He is still able to do it. Denis Urubko informed that he reached the summit of the 8,051-meter-high Broad Peak in the Karakoram today. In February 2020 – after a failed winter attempt on the same mountain – Denis had still declared his eight-thousander career over with the words “(It) Is Enough!”. By his own account, he had summited eight-thousanders 22 times by then, always without bottled oxygen, sometimes on new routes, in winter or solo.

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The eight-thousanders shrink list

The 8,163-meter-high Manaslu in western Nepal (in 2007)

Eberhard Jurgalski polarizes. Some insult him as an armchair adventurer and runner-down. Others praise the 69-year-old German as a meticulous chronicler of mountaineering on the world’s highest mountains who simply works conscientiously. A week ago, Eberhard caused a medium-sized tremor in the high-altitude mountaineering scene. For ten years, Jurgalski and a handful of other chroniclers had reviewed summit photos of the 52 climbers so far who claimed to have scaled all 14 eight-thousanders. Had they, the chroniclers asked, really reached the highest point in each case or “only” a somewhat lower spot – whether deliberately or by mistake?

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Sigurjonsson’s family asks the climbers on K2

John Snorri Sigurjonsson (1973-2021) on the summit of K2 in summer 2017

Actually, it should go without saying. But what is self-evident in times when, for some, the only thing that seems to matter on the mountain is making it into the headlines? It is not only the truth that tends to fall by the wayside, but also empathy. The family of Icelandic climber John Snorri Sigurjonsson, who died on K2 in the winter of 2021, has asked summit aspirants this summer season to show reverence and not to film or photograph John’s body.

The body of the Icelander is still lying in the summit area, above the so-called “Bottleneck”, the avalanche-prone key section of the normal route at around 8,400 meters – latched into the fixed rope. That the request of Sigurjonsson’s family is not superfluous is proven by the countless pictures circulating on the Internet of the corpses of climbers who have died on Mount Everest, for example.

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When communication breaks down on the mountain

Broad Peak (with the shadow of K2, photographed in 2004)

4G network in the base camps at the foot of Mount Everest or K2 – climbers have now become accustomed to being able to communicate with their smartphones even on the two highest mountains in the world. In this way, they receive the latest weather reports in a simple and, above all, extremely fast way or can also maintain contact within their teams by cell phone. Not as in the past with radios or the considerably more expensive satellite phones. In recent days, however, expeditions in Pakistan have reported communication problems with their teams on the mountain.

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Fatal fall on Broad Peak

Broad Peak (in 2004)

The second fatality of the summer climbing season has occurred on the eight-thousander Broad Peak in the Karakoram. Pakistani climber Sharif Sadpara fell from the summit ridge and has been missing since. The hope of recovering him alive is close to zero.

Describing how the accident happened on Tuesday, Austrian expedition operator Furtenbach Adventures wrote on Instagram: “There is still difficult and limited communication (with Broad Peak base camp) but what we know so far is that our team started from Camp 3 in the night, also fixing the rope to the summit ridge. They were followed by climbers from other teams. Shortly before the summit a following Pakistani climber from a different team fell through a snow cornice on the summit ridge down to the Chinese side. That event halted the summit push for everyone for obvious reasons.”

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Italians without bottled oxygen on Nanga Parbat – first fatality of the season

Nanga Parbat

At express speed, six Italian mountain guides from the Aosta Valley at the foot of Mont Blanc have scaled the 8,125-meter-high Nanga Parbat in Pakistan – without bottled oxygen! Marco Camandona, Francois Cazzanelli, Emrik Favre, Jerome Perruquet, Roger Bovard and Pietro Picco climbed via the Kinshofer route, according to Italian press reports, and reached the summit in less than two days on Monday morning local time.

They had decided to rest only at Camp 3 at around 6,700 meters. Cazzanelli set off from base camp at 4,300 meters only after the others and reached the highest point in just 20 hours and 20 minutes. Cazzanelli and Picco had – as reported before – opened a challenging variant to the Kinshofer route in the lower area of the Diamir Face last week and called it “Aosta Valley Express”.

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Kristin Harila’s eight-thousander chase: Number 7, Nanga Parbat

The Diamir side of Nanga Parbat
The Diamir side of Nanga Parbat

The first eight-thousander summit success of the summer season in Pakistan is reported from Nanga Parbat. According to Pemba Sherpa, founder of the Nepalese operator 8K Expeditions, today the 36-year-old Norwegian Kristin Harila and her three companions Chhiring Namgel Sherpa , Pasdawa Sherpa and Dawa Ongju Sherpa reached the summit at 8,125 meters. Kristin thus continued her record chase in the footsteps of Nirmal “Nims” Purja.

Like the Nepalese did in 2019, Harila wants to be the first woman to climb all 14 eight-thousanders in half a year – like Nims with bottled oxygen, strong Sherpa support and, if possible, helicopters to cover the distances between the mountains as quickly as possible. This is unlikely to be realized in Pakistan, where helicopter flights in the north of the country are only permitted to the Pakistani military.

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