Asia, Tibet, Himalaya, Mahalangur Himal, Everest, North Face New Route, Personal Commentary on History and Style

Publication Year: 2005.

Everest, north face new route, personal commentary on history and style. The expedition to Everest by the North Face was planned immediately after our ascent of Lhotse Middle in 2001 [feature article in AAJ 2002]. This plan was collective, and most team members welcomed it. Personally I had dreamed of this route since 1997 when I first saw a poster in the office of the Russian Mountaineering Federation of the North Face with the Spanish team’s route. There were two test climbs in 2002 and 2003. I did not take part in the first one, its task was just to photograph. But I took part in the second one because at heart I expected project leader Victor Kozlov to get a permit and this test climb to become a full-fledged attempt. Kozlov organized the expedition and got a permit, but only up to 7,000m, and transferred to me the leadership of the test climb in Tibet. Then I planned a route, and three of us climbed up to 6,700m (to my mind there was no point in climbing higher because it was simple relief to 6,900m-7,000m, where our rights ended). Then we took all the equipment off the wall, took away all rubbish, and struck the camps.

Though my plan was not completely realized, nevertheless I was eager for a new route. I believed that as there had already been many worthy routes in good style on the North Face, it is not enough just to put up a new line in order to be an innovator on this massif. First you should do it without artificial oxygen, second you should use alpine style as much as possible, and third the team should be small—just five or six members. I joined the preparations for a new expedition. Once having said “yes,” I kept my word. My plans for the climb and those of Victor Kozlov initially did not coincide. Being the leader, Victor needed only victory—to climb in the safest and most guaranteed style, with oxygen and a large team. But after all it is not the leader who climbs a mountain, so I expected to find support from the climbers themselves. Many of the members of the team had already been to Everest (five of them), so I thought that it would be interesting for them now to make an ascent without oxygen. Others were rather young but they had the experience of high-altitude ascents—some of them could support me. My expectations appeared idealistic. If in the beginning some climbers still thought “Why not?,” then the further events developed the more the climbers inclined toward artificial oxygen. In this case, the tactic was clear and simple, it did not require additional risk, and there was just a pattern that was copied. Such an approach gave a very high probability of success. It was the effect of professional work.

We climbed, fixing ropes and establishing camps. The majority of the team felt well, and I hoped that in the final stage the advanced combined group of resolute climbers would try to make a fast push to the top without oxygen. I worked together with my friend Victor Bobok. Unfortunately he was out of form for an ascent without oxygen. Two of our climbers worked 20 pitches of the total of 63 up to 7,900m (this was not bad if you take into account that besides us there were two groups of three climbers and one group of four climbers). They established a high-altitude camp at 7,800m at the base of Hornbein’s couloir. Staying in this bivouac, I offered our community the seditious idea of continuing the ascent from this point in alpine style and without oxygen via Hornbein’s couloir. I considered it quite a logical course, the route would go without a traverse to the left. Deviating from a pattern and climbing a route without oxygen were important to me. This appeal met strong resistance from both the leader of the expedition and the group following us. Then my not very smooth relations developed into open opposition to the main idea of the expedition: ascent by the safest way strictly in the center of the north wall of Everest.

The team’s opinion won. Two of our climbers fixed four ropes in the direction of the center of the wall. The next groups were already working with oxygen from 8,000m. The moment they started using artificial oxygen, the ascent lost the main sense for me, the adventure ceased to exist. In the final stage of the expedition began a struggle for who had priority for the oxygen carried up the wall, and in the end two of our climbers had to go down. The forthcoming work seemed like the usual rise with oxygen by a fixed rope up to 8,500m. Then the way out to Mess- ner’s route and the descent down the classic route. I felt I had obligations to my friend Victor Bobok because it was me who had involved him in this expedition as far back as the investigation, and Victor longed for Everest. Therefore, despite of all psychological troubles, we started.

At this stage Victor Volodin joined us. The quantity of oxygen in high-altitude camps was not clear. At 7,100m it became obvious that the oxygen was not enough for three climbers to make a safe ascent and descent. Then I decided to give my oxygen to my friends so they could be assured of a summit and descent. Our group was the last, and it could not expect any help from previous tired summit climbers in case of a force majeure. Besides, this decision was quite logical for me. I had dreamed of climbing Everest without oxygen. This did not mean a personal ascent without oxygen, it meant climbing such a route with a small team, ideally in alpine style. Certainly one should not consider the Russian route an absolute direct, but our team passed a new line on the North Face of Everest, and this is undoubtedly an achievement in the class of oxygen ascents in the Himalaya.

We left fixed ropes and camps with some equipment on the mountain because all groups came back on the classic route. During the fourth and fifth descents from the wall I managed to dismantle and lower downward the rest of the auxiliary camp at 7,000m.

Yuri Koshelenko, Russia