Editor’s Note: This article can also be seen on Vince Anderson’s Blog.
“It is the large, siege-mentality expedition that is an aberration, a sixteen-cylinder shark-finned gas-guzzler that should be relegated to the mountaineering junk pile where it so richly deserves to rust.”
-R.G. Morse, The Naked Mountain
K2’s mighty West Face is one of the greatest big mountain walls in the world and ripe for a beautiful alpine style ascent. This past summer a large, 18-person team of Russians converged upon Concordia intent on forcing a direct line up the steepest part of the face by any means necessary. Like they have done before on Jannu, they sieged the mountain, fixing ropes from base camp to nearly the summit, establishing seven camps enroute! Like Maestri and many others, they have left the refuse of their daftness behind to spite their detractors and litter the face; a not-so-subtle “fuck you!” to the others to follow like a dog pissing on the fire hydrant.
This expedition marks yet another unfortunate regression in mountain sport at the hands of Russians due to their insistence on adhering to such stillborn styles and attitudes. They call this alpinism? I call it what it is: disgusting, lame and weak! There is no reason for what amounts to the fleecing and raping of the ambitions of future–or, perhaps even the current–generations of inspired alpinists. The “Russian Way” is an agent of death to modern alpinism.
By late July they had breached the main difficulties of the wall, fixing ropes to over 8,000 meters. “The bastion has been climbed!” They would stay there as long as needed to push the route up the remaining 500 meters to the top. There would be little left to uncertainty. Like a machine, the 18-member climbing team would continue to slowly grind and manufacture their way up the face. This is much more reminiscent of a military exercise, not true alpinism. True alpinism is art; it is beauty, things that are quite the opposite of this folly. Hubris, narcissism, vanity and especially solipsism are their true inspiration. Three weeks later, the final 500 meters to K2’s summit succumbed to their greedy hands.
Since these Russians–though certainly not all–clearly were unable to climb K2’s West Face by fair means this summer, then they should have waited until they were able to do so. And, if it is–more likely–just beyond them, then they should have gone elsewhere and tried something that was within their means. Instead, they chose to bring the mountain down to their own pathetic level. Certainly, they should have left it for others who do have the skills, courage and vision to do so. It can be done.
While I am sure my ranting might easily be dismissed as just the jealous rants of a rival climber, I harbor no illusions that I might have been able to do the face justice myself. Still, I would love to have tried and would have humbly accepted defeat had it proved beyond me.
It is a true tragedy that this face has been violated in such a manner. It is forever changed both physically and psychologically. If there is any saving grace it is that in their efforts to force the route up the straightest possible line up the face, they left the obvious, much more elegant “crescent” line to the left untouched. Shame on these men for desecrating yet another great one in the name of the “Russian Way!” What these gentlemen really lack is imagination.