Cholatse (6,440m) North Face, Calendar Winter Ascent, Russian Route
Asia, Nepal, Mahalangur Himal Khumbu Section
Galya Cibitoke, Alexander Gukov, Sergei Kondrashkin, Viktor Koval, and Valery Shamalo from St. Petersburg arrived in Kathmandu at the end of February and from there reached the north side of Cholatse via a trek over the Chola Pass. Their goal was the large rock buttress right of the 1995 French Route. During the second week of March, five days into the first attempt, the very strong female alpinist, Cibitoke, lost consciousness. She had to be brought round by artificial respiration and an injection of dexamethasone. The team retreated to base camp.
Despite Cibitoke recovering quickly, and eager for another attempt, her teammates felt it best for her to descend to lower altitudes, and Kondrashkin accompanied her. Later, they realized the probable cause of her sickness was carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty Jet-Boil stove.
On March 14, after only one day’s rest at base camp, Gukov, Koval, and Shamalo started back up the route but with a change of plan. The first foray had showed that the upper, partially overhanging pillar would need much aid, a portaledge, and capsule style. The team had not brought a ledge and wanted to climb in alpine style, so they followed a slanting line up left, bypassing the overhanging pillar to reach the upper section of the French Route. The initial pitches followed snow and ice runnels to a complex rock section, which the three crossed on aid. Above, the climbing was a mixture of free (with ice tools) and aid.
They made their first bivouac at the top of pitch 11, the second on pitch 14, third on pitch 18, fourth on pitch 20, fifth on pitch 23 (above which they joined the French Route), sixth on pitch 28, seventh on pitch 33, and on the eighth day, their 37th pitch took them to the summit. Most bivouacs were of the “sitting” variety, but the weather was generally stable throughout, with temperatures down to -20°C. On a couple of days it snowed in the afternoon, causing spindrift avalanches. On those occasions they stopped early for the night. The Russians found no trace of previous passage until they joined the French Route, where they discovered a piton. Difficulties were Russian 6B, VI+ A2 80°, and the height of the route just over 1,600m (2,030m of climbing). They reached the summit at 2 p.m. on March 20, just within the calendar winter season.
After spending the night on a snowfield, below and southwest of the summit, they descended the southwest ridge. This proved difficult, as they had only a vague idea of the line. They ended up on the southwest face and had to make a few rappels, another bivouac, and then a tricky descent of the lower icefall and glacier before they reached level ground and were able to take off their harnesses for the first time in 10 days. For the last two of these days they had nothing to eat, so the descent to Gokyo Valley proved harder than expected. They reached base camp on the 24th.