Another avalanche in Nepal kills one of the foremost CIS mountaineers.

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 15/10/2012
North Face of Annapurna. Light blue line shows the Dutch Rib (and camps) and link up with the Original French Route (red line with Camp 2 marked). Dotted dark blue line is the proposed direct.

The Uzbek mountaineer, Iljas Tukhvatullin, who famously climbed new routes on both Everest and K2, has died in an avalanche on the north face of Annapurna.

This incident sadly comes close on the heels of the Manaslu avalanche that killed, amongst others, notable French guides and accomplished mountaineers  Ludo Challeat and Remy Lecluse.

There were only two expeditions attempting the north side of Annapurna this autumn. Tukhvatullin was leading a group of largely unknown climbers from Uzbekistan on the Normal 1950 French Route, while the accomplished Russian Gleb Sokolov, with a stronger team, hoped to share the same route as far as Camp 3 and then attempt a new direct line to the summit.

After a period of heavy snowfall, Sokolov and members of his Russian team managed to establish Camp 2 at around 6,400m on the 5th October. All climbers then rested at base camp before trying to push the route out to Camp 3.

In the afternoon of the 7th Tukhvatullin (54) and team-mate Ivan Lobanov (51) were moving between Camps 1 (around 5,600m) and 2, when they were hit by an enormous avalanche.

This side of Annapurna is notoriously dangerous, with much of the French route threatened by large seracs that have fallen on numerous occasions in the past, setting off avalanches, often with tragic consequences.

However, a third climber, who appears to have been around 150m below Camp 2 when the avalanche struck and was fortunate not to be caught, reported there was no serac fall; simply the slide of a vast section of slope.

Later, other members of the expedition searched the area but reported the depth of debris was huge. Both teams have now abandoned the mountain.

Tukhvatullin, from Tashkent, had notched up many impressive ascents, his name linked strongly with the ace Russian alpinist Pavel Shabalin.

Late in 1998, with Alexander Abramov and Shabalin, Tukhvatullin made the prestigious first winter ascent of the ca 1,500m north face of Ak-su (5,217m) in the Karavshin, one of the most famous rock and ice walls in the former Soviet Union. The three climbed the central line of Cold Corner (6A in summer).

This was Tukhvatullin's fifth ascent of the face at the time, though he would later add the demanding Nose Direct (5.9 and A5), again with Shabalin, in a 16-day ascent.

The following year he made an attempt on the true north face of Jannu, reaching 6,700m on this spectacular wall eventually climbed by Russians in 2004.

The spring of 2004 would find him in Tibet with a large Russian team. Their goal was a direct route up the north face of Everest.

The result was the first independent route put up on the mountain since 1983 and the first time the summit was reached in June.

From a final camp at 8,300m Shabalin, with Andrey Mariev and Tukhvatullin, tried to force the final vertical rock band at ca 8,600m. However, after two days work they decided to bypass it on the left, and were the first of the primarily-Russian team to reach the summit. A second summit party included Sokolov.

In the summer of 2005 Shabalin and Tukhvatullin made a ground-breaking ascent of the north face of Khan Tengri (6,995m). Their acclaimed climb of a direct line up this huge wall, linking three existing routes, was the first time the face had been climbed in alpine-style and the first by a two-man party.

They spent nine nights of the nearly 3,000m-high face, and a further one and a half days were needed for the descent, Shabalin sustaining frostbite. They carried only a single, one-kilogram sleeping bag that they both shared.

In 2007 Tukhvatullin climbed the hardest route on the world's second highest peak. With Shabalin, he made up one of the later parties to complete the first ascent of the west face of K2, a particularly notable effort as the pair had spent three nights at or above 8,150m before doing so.

By 2007 many climbers were rightly criticising the traditional Russian outmoded siege-style tactics, which although achieving staggering success on coveted objectives, did leave true alpine-style ascents of these routes more or less impossible for future generations.

However, on K2 the Russians did scorn the use of supplementary oxygen, and few would question the high levels of technical difficulty of the ascent.

Last winter Tukhvatullin returned to K2 in an attempt to make the first winter ascent. The expedition was eventually abandoned after he had reached ca 7,200m on the south-southeast ridge (aka Cesen or Basque route).



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22/10/2012
Thank you, Mr. Griffin ! From Moscow

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