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Manaslu, Northeast Face

Denis Urubko on the first ascent of the Kazakh Route (VI 5.10b 75 degrees, ca. 4000m), Manaslu (8163m), Himalaya, Nepal. Urubko and his partner, Sergey Samoilov, first warmed up by climbing the normal route on the mountain with a 1000-meter variation between 6500 and 7500 meters, then returned to climb their route in an alpine-style push. It was their second alpine-style new route in the Himalaya in the last year: in 2005, they established a new route on Broad Peak (see Urubko’s climbing note in Issue 15, Page 93).
[Photo] Sergey Samoilov

When Sergey Samoilov and I arrived at the 4700-meter base camp of Manaslu (8163m), we found numerous climbers sitting around waiting. Each day more snow covered the mountain with a heavier white. When on April 12 we at last reached Camp I on the normal route, bad weather halted us again, and we rested for a week. On April 20 we left for the summit push in alpine style. As we wandered between cracks and deep snow, completely isolated from the outside world, I began to think of a new idea: the great bulk of the snow lay on the glacier down the north side. On the left, however, the slopes appeared more windblown, and therefore might have less accumulation.

As we’d done on Broad Peak in 2005, we were climbing with one sleeping bag, one down and one Gore-Tex jacket between us. After a slight variant from 6500 to 7500 meters in search of a more optimal line, we reached the presummit plateau in full conditions and set up our tent under a serac at 7450 meters. All night long it shook with snow and wind. At 4:15 a.m., April 25, in darkness and storm, we began climbing again to rejoin the normal route, and at 11:45 a.m. we stood on top, the first to do so in three years.

We reached base camp, tired but healthy, then on May 4, 2 a.m., departed camp once again, this time for the new route. Avalanches had drawn lines on the slopes ahead. Into my mind flowed the emptiness of the frozen Himalayan dark, but also the distant light of the stars. At 4900 meters we began to make our first steps on unexplored terrain that for many years had seemed too dangerous to other climbers.

Under the weight of our too-heavy packs, we plunged half a meter with each step. The low visibility made it impossible to see from crevasse to crevasse. Beyond the glacier we climbed steep steps up an icefall. Twice we lost our way and were forced to turn around. When the horizon became faintly illuminated, the seracs above seemed even larger. I shook my head and climbed as fast as I could up the sixty- to seventy-five-degree ice and the forty-five- to fifty-degree snowfield. By noon, clouds and wind obscured the avalanche slopes, and we stopped at 5900 meters. For the first day it was enough.

On the second day we were lost in deep snow. Step by step we moved toward the sky, with no sense of ending, up steep ice and crevasses. Midday a large bergschrund opened up before us, almost 100 meters deep and fifteen meters wide. My head spun. We lost two hours searching for a way around it. In the afternoon, everything again sunk into fog, and we stopped for the night at 6500 meters.

The next day was exactly the same. We fantasized that after the next serac the snow would be shallower. At times we set off avalanches. Above us the slope shivered, but didn’t slide. We continued along a thin border between solidity and dissolution.

That night we bivied at 7100 meters and ate the last of our food. I dreamed about the hot springs near Almaty until the sound of avalanches woke me. In the morning our tent was covered with fresh snow.

At last, however, the slopes became firm under our feet, and in some places our crampons cut into ice. Then solid blue waterice rolled up a slope and disappeared into a foggy chasm. We realized now we hadn’t rested enough after our first climb. But eventually we reached the rock, yellowish with black, diagonal cracks, and not so steep (5.8).

By that night (7450m) the wind had grown so strong we couldn’t hear each other speak. As the morning scattered rays across the cold face, we were already moving; we could not spend another night in this snow hell. The rock grew smooth, and we protected it with pitons. A 5.10b pitch that overhung by three meters proved the crux. At around 3:30 p.m. we reached the upper plateau.

“I see nothing, Denis,” Sergey screamed through strong wind, fog and snow. “I can only feel your tracks with my hands and try to follow them.”

We left our packs behind and continued up a 300-meter couloir. Five times Sergey asked me how far we had to go. A mixed section appeared, just as we were exhausted. Belayed by Sergey, I crept into the evening–until I was above the chaos of the weather and the world. May 8, 6 p.m.: we’d made it.

We descended toward the huge, red circle of the sun and set up our tent in the pitch black on the normal route, at the last limits of our strength. Our line, the Kazakh Route (VI 5.10b 75 degrees, ca. 4000m), was not extremely difficult. But never have I felt more strongly the merging of my self with an immense mountain. One month after the end of the expedition, I am still not able to be truly alive again. I lost a part of my soul in the deep snows of Manaslu.

–Denis Urubko, Almaty, Kazakhstan