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Mountaineering: Himalayan expeditions: Comments:  
Whither the Eight Thousand Meter Code of Honour?

Ascents of "eight thousanders" (8000 meter peaks) have always attracted experienced and amateur mountaineers alike. Even among those who lack even the most basic mountaineering skills, there is a constant wish to experience the sharpest of sensations. The first successful ascent of a summit higher than 8000 meters was accomplished in 1950 on Annapurna (8091 m) by French mountaineers. On May 29, 1953, the highest pole, Mount Everest (8848m), was surmounted by New Zealander Edmund Hillary, and Sherpa Tensing Norgay. And the last of the 14 8000ers, Shishapangma (8013m) was successful scaled by Chinese climbers on May 2, 1964.

Soviet mountaineers came late to the 14 highest peaks, but they have, in a short time, forged new routes on several of the 8000ers and also re-traced some of the established routes. Our mountaineers entered "the Death Zone" ( over 8000 m) for the first time in 1982, making an immediate impact. This first venture succeeded on a new route, known as the West Pillar, on the steep Southwest Face of the highest, Mount Everest. It was also only the second overall ascent of the mountain's most severe feature.

Dreams of a second great adventure were fulfilled on one of the most prominent Himalayan problems - the 'four top' traverse of the third highest, Kangchenjunga. Quite frankly, this imaginative and successful effort has not found the worldwide response and recognition that such an achievement merits. Is this, in part, due to the fact that its participants used supplemental oxygen.

Since 1990, the gates of the Himalayas have been opened wide for our climbers. With the establishment of a regular Aeroflot airlines route (Moscow - Kathmandu), anyone that is able to attract financial support, has started to think about summits - legends. But not all expeditions and their participants have reached the maximum point, the top, and some have ended tragically.

Climbing in the Pamirs and Tien Shan ranges, Soviet climbers have always performed as a team. Up and down the mountain, we climbed together and as one. To the end of an ascent we remained together, helping each other, and descending when one climber became ill.

The lives of all climbers were fought for, whether or not they were members of our own team. And, as a rule, we always struggled to recover the bodies of fallen climbers, bringing them down to the valleys and meadows whenever possible.

Things are no longer as they were. Whoever goes to Himalayas now, must realize, that if he becomes seriously ill, is injured or lost, it is unlikely that anyone will bring him down. Perhaps not even a friend from the same team. His monument will only be the slope of his last summit.

This is one reason why so-called modern international expeditions fail more often than not on the highest peaks. Most members routinely work only for themselves, and as such most expeditions fail even before they begin (Kanchenganga - 1994; participants from Belorussia and Bulgaria, Russia; Dhaulagiri - 1995; participants from Belorussia, Bulgaria).

In 1978, in the book "The Victory in Loneliness" Peter Hubeler wrote: "... It should be a struggle in loneliness. Not only with the horrible mountain and its unknown dangers, not only with physical exhaustion, arctic cold, hurricane wind, snow, lack of air, with the insidious nature of high-altitude illness, one's own "internal banality" but also with the ghastly certainty that if something goes wrong up high, there is no opportunity of rescue... Every one should trust only oneself. If something should happen and no help is available then each should be engaged to rescue oneself... We had only one opinion: if one of us should get into trouble, the others should try to rescue themselves without any other thoughts."

Many climbers are now trying on the clothes of this style for themselves. On average, the new standard is for mountaineers to reach the top in solitude, and on simple routes without the assistance of a partner or rope for belay. Now our mountaineers are must pay their own way to participate in a ascent (from 2 to 16 thousand dollars, US). And sometimes high on the mountain the choice becomes summit or chivalry. Do I help others, do I accept this code of honor, or do I climb this mountain? For many climbers the chance to climb to the summit of an 8000er may only come once, and the conflicts of such a decision can be high, the consequences great. They realize, afterall, that to assist in a rescue will almost always spell the end to their summit dreams (lack of time, equipment, food, oxygen, energy, etc.).

But in truth, there have also been some notable recent exceptions to these "rules." Take the following examples. Valery Karpenko with a broken leg and Alexandr Sheinov suffering from mountain illness were helped down from the South face of Annapurna by the participants of a Moscow team. USA climber Lavern Woods suffered bilateral pneumonia and yet was assisted down from north col of Everest by mountaineers M.Gorbenko and A.Tokarev. And a Japanese mountaineer, M.Imiya, was rescued from a height of 8300 ì from the Northeast Ridge of Everest by mountaineers from Kazakhstan - Y.Moiseev and V.Dediy, V.Suviga, V.Khrischaty.

In the spring of 1996, a correspondent of ITAR-TASS, Vasili Golovkin, reported, "Above eight thousand meters, the action of human morals meets an end, so have Japanese mountaineers quietly declared since being connected to the demise of three Indian climbers recently on Everest. The questions around this tragic and very strange incident will probably continue unabated, but for the first time the golden rule of climbing is cast under doubt: you may die but always help your friends, fellow climbers.

However, the Japanese mountaineers expressed this scandalous opinion only "in principle" and rejected all particular charges of negligence concerning the events on May 11-13. Their group, organized from the University of Fukuoka (Japanese city), had successfully reached the top of Everest from China in two groups during the days in question. Simultaneously, the highest peak on the planet was assaulted by more than ten other international expeditions, and some got into trouble. Several exhausted climbers were caught in a powerful snow storm, which consequently played out their cards. As a result, 9 mountaineers from different countries were lost.

The team from Fukuoki avoided disaster and safely descended to base camp where unpleasant "talk" soon began. A group of mountaineers from the Indian-Tibet Border Police expedition blamed the Japanese for rejecting the request to help three stricken Indian climbers, even though they passed very close to their fellow climbers. The three Indians soon expired from extreme exhaustion and dehydration.

Well-known Indian climber and Everest summiter, Captain M.S. Kohli, has declared it a murder and has directed an official protest to the Japanese Alpine Club and the Japanese association of mountaineers. He has concluded that the group from Fukuoki could have rescued the dying climbers if only they had blunted their ambitions for the summit of Everest. "It is a code of honour for mountaineers, and such actions can not be forgiven" Captain Kohli emphasized. His anger has been further aroused by one of the Japanese expedition members at basecamp who casually declared the "impossibility of allowing oneself the luxury of morality at a height of more than eight thousand meters".

The leader of the Japanese group returned from China/Tibet and held a press conference in Fukuoke, Japan. At the time, he had no comment except to say that he wished an end to all discourse concerning the incident in question. But other Japanese climbers were more forthcoming. "During the ascent and descent we did see three people, and they looked exhausted" said a climber, Hirosi Khanada. "However, there were strong winds, not enough oxygen, and we were also very exhausted. None of us realized that these people were so near disaster."

In such extreme conditions each climber must decide for himself, whether or not to rescue a partner or fellow climber - this was the theoretical base for explanation by well-known Japanese mountaineer, 52 years old Mitiko Imai. Further he argues, above eight thousand meters you are completely engaged with yourself and, naturally, do not help others when there are no additional resources to call on.

On a question - if to descent the body of climbers killed in Himalayas or not, it seems to me, the life has answered, just look at a list of mountaineers killed in Himalayas.

Personally, I find it difficult to accept that in the high Himalays there is one principle alone that rules, "Save yourself!"

Afterall, is it not the very reason that Irina Vyalenkova, descending alone from Dhaulagiri, stopped in expectation that someone would come to rescue her. "... Was sure, that somebody would help me, and I thought, should I wait three, four hours... At 11 o'clock I suddenly realized, that no one will come. I had to rely on myself." Is this the new reality of 8000 meter climbing?

Increased bureacratic restrictions by Nepal and other host countries have further impacted the ability to climb in supportive teams. Nepal currently limits the number of climbers to 7 participants on Everest, and for each additional person over 7 they must pay another fee. For example, a permit to climb Everest from the South Col for 7 persons is $70,000 US, and $10 000 more for each additional climber up to a maximum of 12 total members on the team. As a rule of thumb on an 8000 meter climb, 3 or 4 out of 7 climbers will suffer some type of illness. That typically leaves only a few mountaineers to struggle up the mountain.

Italian mountaineer, Reinhold Messner, has already completed all 14 eight thousanders, however, climbers of many nationalities aim to repeat Messner's success. Jerzy Kukuczka (Poland) completed the goal in 1987, but was lost on Lhotse's South Face in 1989. Erhard Loretan from Switzerland became the third on October 5, 1995, having reached the Kanchenjunga top. The Frenchman Benoit Chamoux attempted Kanch's summit the same day as Loretan, but disappeared along with his partner Pierre Royer. In the spring of 1996, success was also achieved by Mexican Carlos Carsolio, and in the summer, a fifth man, Krystof Wielecki (Poland) tagged K2 and Nanga Parbat to finish.

At the dawn of this decade, the main goal of USSR mountaineers was only to successfully complete ascents of the eight thousanders, and, as a rule, generally by the the most straightforward routes of first ascent, the classical way. More recently, however, some teams with more highly skilled mountaineers have sought out and passed the most notorious routes. These are the first ascents which will become known as the "Russian way" in the Himalayas. The list is growing and among them are Everest, Kangchenjunga, Dhaulagiri, and now Makalu.

And there are others such as Ama-Dablam by the Southeast slope, Annapurna South in the winter by the South Buttress (leader V.Bashkirov), and Baruntse by the West Face(V.Pershin). There has also been successful work accomplished on Cho Oyu by the East Ridge (V.Pershin), Dhaulagiri by the SW Face (Y.Moiseev), and Dhaulagiri by the North Face (S.Efimov). Besides the SW Pillar, another new route was also posted on Everest via a couloir on the NE Face (V.Kohanov).

The search for new routes and passages to the tops of higher 6000 meters (and the first ascents!) in the Himalayas and Karakorum is the possible path to the future for mountaineers from CIS and Russia.

It is also important to stress separately ascents with and without oxygen. In 1982, when the Soviet team completed their new Himalayan route on Everest, the application of oxygen at the time was acceptable. But as the years unfold since the landmark 1978 ascent of the mountain by Messner and Habeler without oxygen from the south col, it is now clear, that the most prestigious ascents can only be made without oxygen. To me it seems already not necessary to publish the names of climbers to Everest, K2, who have summited with the help of oxygen. Nepal's Ministry of Tourism publishes a list of successful Everest climbers and in the autumn of 1996 it reveals that 655 persons have summited from Nepal.

In October 1996 on a meeting of the General Assembly of the International Union of Mountaineering Associations a new rule was accepted - to recognize a large difference between ascents on eight thousanders with supplemental oxygen and without. There was also the question of whether or not to forbid ascents of Mount Everest by commercial groups, taking into account the tragedy of May 1996.

The current state of many foreign teams is that high-altitude sherpas complete the entire work of a route (fix ropes, pitch tents, carry equipment, and cook meals). Especially in some commercially guided groups where mountaineers are akin to a "dummy" only to be dragged to the top. Bad weather alone can often be the only barrier to summit success.

In 1995, from the North Col from Tibet, 300 climbers were there to attempt the peak, and most of them, primarily members of commercial expeditions, did not expend any effort to prepare the route. The main goal for mountaineers (not sherpas) was to summit Everest, as Tenzing once said " Everest makes people great" and most do not know whether the ascent was accomplished by their own work and effort. One recent example is the climber, Fedor Konyukhov. Nowhere does he mention that his ascent of Everest was made with oxygen.

As of October 1996, the mountaineers of the CIS have already made ascents on 12 eight thousanders. Only Hidden Peak (Gasherbrum I) and Nanga-Parbat remain unclimbed. Altogether on the eight thousanders, their have been 128 persons (on Everest - 47, including without oxygen - 5, on Dhaulagiri - 45.

A few mountaineers have climbed multiple eight thousanders. Anatoli Boukreev from Kazakhstan has 6, Sergei Bogomolov from Saratov City has pocketed 5, and Vladimir Koroteev and Vladimir Bashkirov from Moscow both have 4.

It is an extremely hard situation in the Himalayas for female ascents. They are pursued by a rock. The greatest success has been Wanda Rutkiewicz (Poland ) who made the first ascent of Gasherbrum III (just below 8000 meters) and collected a sum of 8 eight thousand meter summits. But she is now gone, lost on an attempt of Kangchenjunga.

For CIS female mountaineers there have also been successes and tragedies. Ekaterina Ivanova collected 3 summits (Everest, Shisha Pangma, Manaslu), but was lost on Kangchenjunga in 1994. Currently, only one Russian woman, Anna Anikina (Tomsk city) has an ascent of Dhaulagiri, made by its classical Northeast route in 1995. And Irina Vyalenkova (Belorussia) has an ascent of Shishapangma, but on her 1995 attempt of Dhaulagiri she received severe frostbite to her feet. Mountaineers from Ukraine have also made an ascent on Dhaulagiri. In 1994, Tamara Ena and Galina Chekanova summited the mountain, but Chekanova fell to her death from a height of 7350 meters.

The Himalayas does not lower its defenses, even for women.


Vladimir Shataev

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