“I do not know how to write this,” Denis Urubko wrote to Russian climbing website Mountain.ru. “Today, May 15 at 5:00, Alexey Bolotov was going to descend on a rope…. On the edge of a sharp rock has frayed rope. Alexey fell on the rocky gully to a depth of about 300 meters. Has been instant death.”
Bolotov and Urubko were at 5600m on the south side of Everest when the accident happened. The pair were attempting a new route on the southwest face, between the Southwest Face route (Haston-Scott-Boardman-Pertemba-Burke, 1975) and the South Pillar (Czok-Kukuczka, 1980), in alpine style. The only ascent on Everest to match these conditions (new route in alpine style) is Reinhold Messner’s famous solo ascent in 1980. However, he started on the 1960 North Ridge route, breaking off onto new ground for less than 1000m of the 3600m route, long enough to constitute a new variation but not its own route. Historian Ed Webster asserts, though, “No one can ever ‘better’ what Reinhold Messner achieved with his solo ascent of Everest. ‘Absolute Best Style’ has already been achieved on Everest.”
Australians Greg Mortimer, Tim Macartney-Snape, Andy Henderson, Geoff Bartram and Lincoln Hall came close to Bolotov and Urubko’s goal in 1984, but used fixed ropes to ferry loads when they established White Limbo up the Norton Couloir without oxygen. Two years later, Erhard Loretan and Jean Troillet climbed with “no more than what they could fit in their pockets or in a small daypack,” (Alpinist 27) but by a combination of existing routes to reach the summit. In 1988, the four-man team of Robert Andersen, Paul Teare, Stephen Venebles and Ed Webster put up the Neverest Buttress on the Kangshung Face, but they also used fixed ropes to aid their ascent.
Age 50 at the time of his death and married with two children, Bolotov was well-known for mountaineering feats in the Greater Ranges that placed him among the top alpinists in Russia. He won his first of two Piolets d’Or for climbing the west face of Makalu (8485m) in 1998. In 2004, he was part of an eleven-man team that claimed the first ascent of the elusive north face of Jannu (7710m) by a route more than 3000 meters tall. Three years later, he established one of the most difficult routes on K2 as a member of another large Russian team using the same siege-style tactics over two and a half months. The climbers chose a direct line up the steep, mixed buttress on K2’s west face, even though an unclimbed couloir to the left of the buttress promised an easier path to the 8611m summit.
“Criticism often is leveled at the heavy-weight, traditional Russian tactics still used on big mountains, but their talent to overcome great technical difficulties at very high altitudes–and the now-famous ability to stick with it through very harsh conditions–has led to the completion of some highly impressive projects over the last few years,” Lindsay Griffin wrote in the September 5, 2007 NewsWire.
On May 16, Denis Urubko, Lakpa Sherpa, who works at the Base Camp medical tent, and Damian Benegas recovered Bolotov’s body with the help of helicopter pilots Maurizio Folini and Simone Moro. After filling out paperwork in Kathmandu, Urubko continued with the body to Russia.
“Denis is better off today,” Moro told Montagna.tv. “Having been involved in the recovery has definitely helped.”
A memorial service will be held today at 10 a.m. (local time) in at the Ural Cultural Center, while the funeral service and burial will take place at 1:00 p.m. at Shirokorechenskiy cemetery, Ekaterinburg, near the monument to mountaineers Salavat and Igor Bugachevskiy, who died on Makalu in 1997.