Everest, north face, new route. One of the season’s most important climbs was the ascent of Everest’s great north face by a new direct line from a spot near their advance base camp at 6,200m to the 8,850m summit. During a month-long ascent, the leader, Victor Kozlov, and 14 other climbing members from Russia, faced nearly all the types of problems a mountain can involve. To overcome them the team employed three Sherpas to help carry supplies of rope, tents, and gear to camp 3 at 7,800m. From that point the members began their use of bottled oxygen and continued to use it almost all the way up to 8,500m, with some exceptions: not everyone slept on it, and no one used it while fixing rope above camp 3. Total amount fixed: roughly 5,000 meters from 6,300m to 8,500m.
They found problems from the very start of their climb. From base camp at 5,600m to advance camp at 6,200m, the concern was falling stones. Then came technical problems. Just below 7,100m, where they pitched their first camp on the face, they found a small, nearly vertical couloir. From camp 1 to camp 3 it was not very steep, but there were exposed rock slabs like slate roofing, alternating with patches of snow.
The face from camp 3 to camp 4 (from 7,800m to 8,250m), was steep gray rock followed by the famous yellow rock band; camp 4 was placed on a small rock ledge. The steepness continued for the first 200 meters above camp 4, then eased off to their final camp, also on a small ledge, at 8,600m. Above this camp 5, the steepness resumed, and here they discovered a serious barrier: the climb became extremely difficult because the vertical rock crumbled, making it nearly impossible to fix rope. One of the team’s four climbing leaders, Pavel Shabaline, gained only 50 meters’ altitude in one day using a belay from camp 5.
To continue on this direct vertical line would have required at least two more days of very dangerous climbing to surmount the next 50 meters, so they decided to traverse left 100 meters, then circle back around to the top of this crumbly area to return to their direct line above camp 5. From here to the top there was no real difficulty and on three successive days, May 30–June 1, eight members arrived at the top. The two on June 1 were the only summiters from any Everest team that day and the last ones of the season [they were also the first ever to summit Everest in June—Ed.]. They had succeeded in forging a new line to the top of the mountain.
The Everest team made no attempt to descend the face. Another Russian expedition, led by Alexander Abramov, had summited on May 24 and 25 via the standard northern route; they left a tent for the face team with sleeping bags, food, gas, and oxygen bottles where that route’s last camp is normally pitched, at 8,300m. The tent was, in fact, only used by the first summit party on the night of the 30th; they were exhausted from having fixed rope below their camp 5 and then trying to force their way up the crumbly rock section. The second and third summit groups descended past the tent all the way to advance base camp, and one member of the 3rd summit party even continued down to base camp.
Editor’s note: The “Russian Everest Expedition Central North Wall 2004” summiters were: May 30: Andrew Mariev, Iljas Tukhvatullin, Pavel Shabaline; May 31: Piotr Kuznetsov, Gleb Sokolov, Eygeny Vinogradsky; June 1: Victor Bobok, Victor Volodin. Spellings vary; these were taken from the expedition’s official website.
Elizabeth Hawley, AAC Honorary Member, Nepal