American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, China, K2, North Ridge

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1997

K2, North Ridge. In July, two expeditions met at the bottom of the north face of K2, the world’s second highest peak (8611 m). A Polish Expedition under the guidance of Krzysztof Wielicki consisted of six Poles, two Italians and two Americans. Our Russian team comprised 19 people: Ivan Dusharin, Leader; Andrei Volkov, Victor Kolesnichenko, Ilia Sabel’nikov, Vladimir Udin (leader of the second group), Vladimir Zhirakovskii, Oleg Meshkov, Sergei Sokolov, Sergei Penzov (leader of the third group, ascended on August 14), Igor Benkin (ascended on August 14, died on the descent, above 8000 m), Mickail Ishutin, Renat Temirbaev, Alexandr Dosaev (leader of the 4th group), Andrei Mariev, Vadim Mel’nikov, Vitalii Klimenko, Lubov’ Shvedov (medical doctor), Vladimir Shuvalov (photo and video operator), Alexandr Nesterov (cook), and Carlos Buhler (who joined the expedition on August 1 and ascended on August 14).

We learned about the Polish Expedition only when we arrived in China. The Poles undoubtedly had a great advantage because they set up Base Camp II 10 days before us. They also used the help of six porters in the exhausting transportation of expedition baggage to Advance Base Camp. Because of limited financing, we could not afford the luxury of porters. Instead, we spent seven days transferring the first 1000 kilos to ABC. The rest, another 1000 kilos of baggage, was taken up in two weeks in parallel with work on the route.

On July 14, we established our Base Camp. The Polish Expedition had worked the route up to 6500 meters. The members of both expeditions met at the “Official Opening of the Russian Base Camp,” where Russian vodka helped to overcome language barriers between Polish, Russian, English and Italian. On the next day, the residual alcohol helped us to set up Camp I (5700 m). In a three days, we reached Camp II (6500 m), where a huge snow cave was dug out. (Later, the cave helped members of both expedition survive in foul weather.) We managed to ascend that fast because of the use of ropes fixed by the Poles. At the same time, the Polish Expedition did not succeed in advancing because of bad weather. Later on, both expeditions shared efforts to fix ropes up to 7500 meters.

On July 28, we set up Camp III at 7100 meters, and on July 30 camp was moved to 7500 meters. Originally, we were not planning to set up a camp at 7100 meters. However, too many people on the route and continuous periods of bad weather made it necessary to have an additional shelter. In our expedition, 16 out of 19 team members worked on the route in groups of four. Limited places to sleep on the route required strict coordination of the work, with groups leaving to work the route along one-day intervals. Despite the experience of previous expeditions where substantial portions of the expedition members were out of the game by the time of the final ascent, all members of our team worked successfully up to 7500 meters.

After 7500 meters, the Polish Expedition concentrated on reaching the summit because they were running out of time. Our expedition continued to work as before. We fixed ropes up to 8000 meters, and then up to 8300 meters. On August 7, Camp V was set up at 8000 meters.

Surprisingly, Carlos Buhler, an American member of the Polish expedition, asked to join our Russian expedition on August 1. One reason was that the Polish expedition had divided into three teams (Polish, American and Italian) that did not interact and were running out of time. It was the third attempt for Carlos to ascend K2 and he felt that he was losing his chances. The other reason was that Carlos participated in a Soviet-American expedition to the Central Pamir in 1978 [an AAC-sponsored exchange], where he met Ivan Dusharin. We finally agreed to accept Carlos, who shared with us the difficulties of the following days.

On August 10, Krzysztof Wielicki, together with two Italians [Christian Kuntner and Marco Bianchi], reached the summit at 7 p.m. They had to spend a night in a crevasse at 8400 meters. As a result, one of the Italians [Marcho Bianchi] needed medical help. Sergei Penzov helped him and supported him with oxygen. The other Russian team member, Renat Temirbaev, assisted the Italian with the oxygen until Base Camp. On August 11, Vladimir Udin, Vladimir Zhirakovskii, Oleg Meshkov and Sergei Sokolov undertook an attempt from Camp V. Quickly worsening weather allowed them to reach only 8200 meters, where they fixed ropes and then returned to Base Camp. On August 13, Sergei Penzov, Igor Benkin, Michael Ishutin and Carlos Buhler started at 2 a.m. from Camp V. Sergei Penzov had to turn back at 8300 meters because of hypothermia, and the rest of the group turned back with him. However, they managed to make a trail in deep snow and to fix another 200 meters of ropes. The next morning, they repeated the attempt again, starting at 2 a.m. They were joined by two Poles, Petr Pustelnik and Richard Pavlovski. Between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., five of them reached the summit. (Michael Ishutin turned back at 8400 meters.) Dramatically, Igor Benkin died above 8000 meters of exhaustion and hypoxia on his way back from the summit. Twice later on, on August 15 and August 21, Ivan Dushanin, Andrei Volkov and Andrei Mariev attempted to ascend or at least to reach Igor’s body. However, severe stormy weather did not allow them to climb higher then 7500 meters. On August 23, the temperature dropped and we decided to end the expedition. K2 had once again confirmed its dangerous reputation and retained its deadly ratio of those who succeed to those who die.

Ivan Dusharin and Andrei Volkov, Russia

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