American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Pik Pobedy in Winter

  • Feature Article
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1991

Pik Pobedy in Winter

Eduard Myslovski and Valery Khrishchaty, Soviet Mountaineering Federation

FINALLY, ALL FOUR SOVIET 7000-meter peaks have been climbed in winter. The first winter ascents were attempted in the 1960s. These were expeditions to the famous Ushba in the Caucasus in 1965, to the Marble Wall in the Tien Shan in 1966 and other successful and unsuccessful expeditions. For years, severe cold and hurricane winds prevented success on summits higher than 7000 meters. Climbers paid for boldness with severe frostbite as little by little they accumulated winter experience in the high mountains. After the successful Soviet ascent of Everest in the spring of 1982, enthusiasm among mountaineers increased and equipment for winter ascents improved.

The first winter success on a 7000er came in 1986. A combined Soviet mountaineering team under the direction of Valery Putrin on February 4 and 7, 1986 reached the highest point of the Soviet Union, Pik Kommunizma (7495 meters, 24,590 feet). On these two days, 23 mountaineers visited the summit. Unfortunately, during the descent at about 7000 meters, two Uzbeki climbers slipped on the ice and perished. Two days later, a team from Leningrad of 18 under the leadership of Yuri Chunofkin climbed the neighboring 7000-meter peak, Pik Korzhenevskoi (7105 meters, 23,310 feet). This ascent was, of course, done by an uncomplicated route.

In 1988, an expedition from Leningrad led by Leonid Troshchinenko set out for Pik Lenina. The group included three mountaineers from Kazakstan, who had been invited. Six of the 17 climbers reached the summit (7134 meters, 23,406 feet) on January 31, 1988.

Unconquered in winter, there remained in the Tien Shan the last and most difficult mountain. This huge massif extends for ten kilometers from west to east in length and rises to nearly 7000 meters throughout its length. In the center the highest point rises to 7439 meters (24,407 feet). This is Pik Pobedy, the northernmost 7000-meter peak in the world. The struggle to conquer it abounds with heroism and repeated pain from lives lost. We bow our heads before the courage and bravery of those who dared to challenge it thirty-five years ago. More than forty people were doomed to find eternal rest on its slopes.

On January 19, 1990, an expedition was landed by helicopter on the South Inylchek Glacier. From Base Camp to the foot of Pik Pobedy was 15 kilometers. A participant of the expedition, Valery Khrishchaty, who has also summited on Everest and Kangchenjunga, describes the climb. E.M.

The South Inylchek Glacier greeted us with cold, sunny weather and a temperature of –22° C. There was a total calm. The Pik Pobedy massif was hidden in hazy clouds. Of the 25 of us, 21 hoped to reach the summit. Vladimir Balyberdin was leader with four more from Leningrad. He had been on the summits of both Everest and Kangchenjunga. Two were from the city of Saratov and 14 were from Kazakstan. We formed four groups.

Acclimatization took five days, during which time we dug seven snow caves on the slopes of the mountain and climbed as high as 6100 meters. After a three-day rest at Base Camp, on January 29 two of the groups, Balyberdin’s and mine, set out for the summit climb. Well acclimatized, we reached the cave at 5950 meters at the end of the second day and spent the night there. Outside, the temperature sank to –50°C, but inside the cave our body heat brought it up to –20° and when we cooked, the primus stoves raised it to –5°. We heard on the radio that the other two groups immediately behind us had left Base Camp. They were headed by Kangchenjunga climbers, Yuri Moiseev and Vladimir Suviga.

January 31, as was the case on the two preceding days, dawned clear. We traversed a long snowy crest and reached 6500 meters where we rested, protected from the wind by crevasses. We dug two small caves and spent the night. The following day, we would install the assault camp as high as possible to give greater chance for success. Just one thing worried us; was it possible to dig a cave on the steep upper slopes? Constant hurricane winds swept all the snow from the summit slopes, exposing bare ice. On February 1, my group of four and I left the camp at nine A.M. The second group waited and followed two hours later.

Going around crevasses, we traversed for 200 meters and then began to climb upwards. The slope was about 40°. The weather on this fourth day was still not bad. For Pik Pobedy this is a rarity. Towards four P.M. we reached 7100 meters but Balyberdin’s group stopped for the night at 6800 meters.

At five A.M. on February 2, we woke up but could not get going until after eight o’clock. We saw that below, two of Balyberdin’s group were already climbing. Surprisingly, the weather remained good. It was very cold with a light wind and clear skies. We were protected by face masks and double mittens, but I couldn’t imagine how I could keep our arranged noon radio schedule with Base Camp. Without a fur mitten, the hand in only a woolen mitten would quickly go numb. Towards eleven o’clock, clouds drifted in from the west with windy gusts. Such abrupt changes can make Pik Pobedy dangerous for climbers. Severe squalls can hurl men into the snow and kill chances for success and rescue. But just then, unexpectedly, there was a calm in which not even a hair fluttered.

By radio, we learned that Balyberdin’s group, fearing being benighted, was descending from 7250 to 7100 meters to dig a cave there next to ours with the hope of repeating the ascent the following day.

On the summit ridge, a southwest wind howled, its gusts reaching hurricane force. The crest was about 300 meters long. Because of bad visibility, we got somewhat off course and had to search for the highest point. After losing confidence that we would ever find it, at 2:15 P.M. we came on it. Sergei and Gennadi Bogomolov from Saratov, Sergei Ovcharenko, Gennadi Mikhailov and I from Alma Ata stood on the highest point of the Tien Shan.

We turned around and headed back down. Pitch darkness enveloped us as we were still 200 meters from our cave at 7100 meters. I have no idea how we could ever have found the cave on that terrible night after eleven hours of exertion in the extreme cold if our comrades in the camp had not signaled us with their flashlights. We skirted the crevasses and séracs with utmost care and joined them at nine P.M.

During the night, the weather deteriorated completely. Bitter cold and hurricane winds on February 3 and 4 did not permit any further summit attempts. In fact, during the descent, the enthusiasm of most of the other climbers evaporated so much that even after a reasonable amount of time at Base Camp, it was not restored. Therefore, on February 7, we decided to terminate the expedition and evacuate Base Camp to the city of Prievalsk.

V.K.

Summary of Statistics:

Area: Tien Shan, USSR.

First Winter Ascent: Pik Pobedy, 7439 meters, 24,407 feet, on February 2, 1990 (Valery Khrishchaty, Sergei and Gennadi Bogomolov, Sergei Ovcharenko, Gennadi Mikhailov).

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