Internationally renowned Russian alpinist Alexander Ruchkin killed in Peru

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 06/09/2015
Alexander Ruchkin (right) with Mikhail Mikhailov on the summit of the Shark's Tooth, Greenland, in 2011. Alexander Ruchkin
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One of the foremost Russian mountaineers of his generation, Alexander Ruchkin, has died while trying to climb the south face of Huandoy in Peru.

On the 2nd September, several days after Vyacheslav 'Slava' Ivanov and Alexander Ruchkin had made their last communication by satellite phone to Russia, a rescue team from Peru Expeditions, guided by Eric Raul Albino Lliuya, found their bodies on the lower part of the face at ca 5,300m

The following day they recovered them to the glacier below the face, from where they should be repatriated to their home town, St Petersburg.

Ruchkin, a highly accomplished big wall climber, had come to Peru with the expressed intention of establishing a new line on the ca 800m south face of Huandoy Sur (6,160m), one of the most daunting faces in the Cordillera Blanca.

In 1968 this face was the objective of Don Whillians and team, who found the rock unjustifiably dangerous. Another British team met similar problems in 1974, as did Italians in 1975.

However, in 1976 it was climbed by three routes: the first by Japanese climbers who took a direct line near the centre up an overhanging pillar, then Italians who followed the Japanese line partway before traversing left onto the main rock wall, and finally René Desmaison and team, who made a direct ascent of the main wall.

All three climbs were prolonged and extremely hard siege ascents with much aid climbing on unstable, vertical to overhanging granite.

The Desmaison-Faivre-Ottmann-Salomon route had to wait until 1997 for a second ascent, when it was repeated by the French Jérôme Blanc-Gras and Yannick Graziani (800m: 5+ and New Wave A2+).

It is thought Ivanov and Ruchkin began climbing on or around the 20th August, reaching 5,300m that night.

Next day they climbed six mixed pitches, and on the 22nd three more rope lengths to bivouac at 5,552m

On the 24th they still seemed to be bivouacked in the same place, Ruchkin communicating that the day before they had climbed only 20m, finding themselves in a blind alley from which they were forced to retreat.

The following day, on their third attempt, they managed only 30m, and on the 26th another 60m to a bivouac at 5,640m.

Next day they tried to force a way through crackless yet rotten rock but after five hours and only 25m they realized it was a lost cause - it would need skyhooks and bolts, neither of which they appear to have carried.

The indication now is that having been on the face for more or less a week, they decided to descend, and from then on contact was lost.

Just what caused the ensuing accident is unknown: an error during the descent; a rockfall?.

Ruchkin began climbing in 1985 and despite taking part in classic Russian siege ascents, always favoured a lighter style, an approach at variance with traditional Soviet expeditions.

In later years his ambitions were directed towards exploring remoter mountain ranges and climbing good routes, with small teams, in alpine-style.

He climbed in the 1990s with other emerging climbers like Babanov and Shabalin, making hard new routes in the Ala Archa and Karavshin, some of the hardest climbed solo.

In the Alps he made a relatively early ascent of No Siesta on the Grandes Jorasses, and put up a hard new aid route on the Grand Capucin.

From his many other superb achievements, notable are the first ascent of the Russian Route on the Troll Wall, the new big wall route on Great Sail Peak in Baffin Island, the first ascent of the Shark's Tooth in Renland (Greenland), the first ascent of the southeast face of Kyzyl Asker in the Western Kokshaal-too (China/Kyrgyzstan), and the first ascent of 6,134m Gonnga North, via a hard 1,100m rock pillar, in the Minya Konka Range of Sichuan.

This latter route was nominated for a Piolet d'Or and was also awarded a Russian Piolet d'Or.

He also climbed in Patagonia and in 2005 gained a Piolet d'Or for his first ascent of the north face direct on Jannu, an award that at the time proved highly controversial. While the ascent was arguably the most sustained, technically difficult route so far climbed at high altitude, it was achieved in a outmoded heavyweight style.

Ruchkin also made two major attempts to climb the impressive west face of Latok III (6,949m), and an attempt on the futuristic northeast face of Masherbrum (7,855m)

In 2013, with Ivanov, he made the much coveted first ascent of the southwest face of Kusum Kanguru, an ascent that gained the pair a Russian Piolet d'Or.

Ivanov was three times Russian mountaineering champion, and in 2010 put up a major line on K7 West in the Pakistan Karakoram.
 


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