Urubko reaches the summit of Kangchenjunga alone from the north

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 21/05/2014
The northwest face of Kangchenjunga after heavy snowfall. Marked is the line completed to the main summit on the 19th May by Denis Urubko. The original route to gain the north ridge lies to the left, climbing more or less directly to the north col, the lowest point between Gimmigela Chuli and the Kangchenjunga Massif. Lindsay Griffin

The former Kazakh and now Russian citizen Denis Urubko has reached the summit of Kangchenjunga (8,586m), establishing a minor variation on the lower face to access the north ridge.

Adam Bielecki (Poland), Artem Braun and Dimtry Sinev (both Russian), Alex Txikon (Spain) and Urubko originally planned a new direct route up the northwest face, after first acclimatizing thoroughly on the original line on this side of the mountain, the 1979 North Ridge.

Conditions and circumstances led them to re-assess their goal and opt for an ascent by the north ridge.

The first ascent of Kangchenjunga from the north remains one of the landmark climbs at high altitude in the 20th Century.

By 1979 Everest and K2 had been climbed without oxygen, but in conventional style, and Messner had soloed his new route on Nanga Parbat, also without oxygen. However, no one had succeeded in a lightweight, bottled-oxygen-free ascent of a new route on one of the very highest peaks.

In 1979 the north side of Kangchenjunga had never been climbed. The northwest face is riddled with objective danger in the form of huge, calving serac barriers, but if a route could be established to the north ridge, it  presented a relatively safe line to the summit.

Georges Bettembourg, Pete Boardman, Doug Scott and Joe Tasker decided that by running a short gauntlet across the first flat section of the Kangchenjunga Glacier, they could quickly get established on the face directly below the north col.

This face, although objectively safe, was steep, mixed and difficult, not dissimilar to the climbing on the northeast spur of Les Droites.

The team fixed ropes on this 900m face, arriving on the col at 6,900m.

From here they climbed alpine style

The first attempt (without Tasker, who was suffering severe headaches) was forced back by extremely strong winds, which ripped apart their tent, blew Bettembourg's rucksack away, and frostnipped fingers and toes.

On the second attempt Bettembourg, fearing another bad storm, decided to retreat to base camp, but the remaining three continued, to make the third ascent of the mountain.

Since then the north ridge has been repeated on several occasions, but the majority of these parties have opted for technically easier, faster, but more objectively dangerous lines to reach the crest further up from the col.

In 1982 Messner opted for one such alternative further to the right, using this variation start to make the second ascent of the north ridge.

The following year a German team started up the face below the north ridge, left of the Messner but right of the British route and north col, then slanted right, pioneering new ground up the northwest face to below the Croissant at 7,900m, where they retreated.

Contrary to some current reports, Urubko and friends more or less followed this line to where it veered right, then cut back left to gain the crest of the north ridge at ca 7,050m, where they established Camp 3. Camp 2 had been atop a serac on the face at around 6,600m.

To that point they completed 18 pitches of technical climbing and fixed the entire section.

From there they moved up to camp at 7,650m on the British Route and on the 18th May made a summit push.

Braun and Urubko decided that the slope was too dangerous and retreated. The remaining three continued, breaking a trail to 8,350m, where at 4:30pm they decided it was too late in the day and returned to camp.

Having obviously thought about it during the evening, and given the excellent weather, Urubko decided to use their tracks the following morning and made the summit by 9:40am, returning to Camp 3 the same day. All are now safely back in base camp.

On the other side of the mountain history was being made by the Spanish mountaineer Carlos Soria, who reached the top on the 18th in conventional style by the Normal Route.

At 75 he becomes the oldest person to have summited the world's third highest mountain.

He is now the oldest climber to have reached the summits of K2 (when 65), Broad Peak (68), Makalu (69), Gasherbrum I (70), Manaslu (71), and Lhotse (72).
 



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