K2, west face. Applying the tactics they used successfully on the north face of Jannu in 2004 and the direct north face of Mt. Everest the same year, a Russian team made the first ascent of the west face of K2 (8,611m). After a siege of two and a half months, an extremely strong team completed what is almost certainly the hardest route on the world’s second-highest peak.
Arriving at their 5,000m base camp on June 7, 16 climbers, most of whom had taken part in the Jannu and Everest expeditions, began fixing ropes and establishing camps on a previously unattempted line left of the west ridge. After initial snow slopes above the Savoia Glacier, the meat of the route is formed by a mixed rock buttress that rises from 6,500m to 7,850m. Although a prominent curving couloir skirts the buttress on the left, the Russians chose to tackle a direct and far more difficult line up the center. They established Camp 2 immediately below the buttress and set to work on the steep rock wall above. The initial section was as hard as Jannu; above, the angle was not as extreme but the difficulties were still sustained. Operating in small, close-knit teams without recourse to supplementary oxygen, the expedition battled through inclement weather to reach the top of the bastion on July 30. Here, they placed Camp 6.
Bad weather stopped activity for a few days, but then Alexey Bolotov, Gennady Kirievsky, and Nikolay Totmjanin moved back up the mountain, spent four days in Camp 5 waiting for a weather window, and on August 10 left Camp 6 for a summit push. Deep snow, at times up to their chests, slowed them considerably, and at 8,500m they hit an unexpected vertical rock step. Unable to find a way through, the exhausted trio retreated.
On August 21 the weather allowed the Russians another shot. On the previous day they had established a seventh camp at 8,400m, and in the morning Andrey Mariev and Vadim Popovich found better snow and took a different line to reach the summit. The next day nine other members followed them: Bolotov and Totmjanin, and then Gleb Sokolov, Eugeny Vinogradsky, the three-man team of Vitaly Gorelik, Gennady Kirievsky, and Victor Volodin, and finally Pavel Shabalin and Ilias Tukhvatullin. This was a particularly notable effort for Popovich, who had never climbed an 8,000m peak, and for Shabalin and Tukhvatullin, who spent three nights at or above 8,150m before reaching the summit. Shabalin and Solokov both became grandfathers during the climb.
The team descended via the same route, leaving most of their fixed ropes and camps on the mountain. Two climbers were evacuated by helicopter because of injuries or illness, in mid-July and early August.
Lindsay Griffin, Mountain INFO Editor, adapted from www.alpinist.com