Russian climbers Vitaly Gorelik and Gleb Sokolov completed a difficult and dangerous new line up the north face of Peak Pobeda, the highest summit in the Tien Shan mountains, in late August. The two men climbed the circa 2,400-meter (7,875-foot) buttress alpine-style over seven and a half days, with another day and a half to descend. They topped out on a minor peak along the long, high ridge between the 7,439-meter main summit of Pobeda and 6,918-meter Pobeda West (Peak Pavel Pshavel), and then crossed over the summit of Pobeda West during their descent.
Gorelik and Sokolov acclimatized by climbing nearby Khan Tengri (7,010m) and then started climbing Pobeda on August 20 in unstable weather. As they ascended the lower face, new snow began falling and avalanches swept past them. They had hoped to find shelter under some steep rocks at about 5,500 meters, but avalanches continued to roar past. Eventually they pitched their two-man tent on a tiny ledge and squeezed into it, staying up all night as more avalanches pounded over them.
The next day the weather cleared, and after drying out they continued up the face. The two had hoped to climb firm snow, but instead discovered iron-hard ice, and it took two and a half more days to reach the yellow band of rock at 5,900 meters that Sokolov had hoped to attain on their very first day of climbing. The shattered rock was covered with thin ice, and progress slowed even further. For three and a half days, the pair worked up the steep rock buttress, climbing about 800 meters to reach the final ice slopes. They were plagued with high winds and bitter cold (around 0°F).
Gorelik and Sokolov reached the top of the wall in darkness on August 27, their eighth day of climbing, in very high winds. With zero visibility, they decided next day to forgo Pobeda’s main summit, and instead turned in the opposite direction to traverse over Pobeda West. After one more night out, they were safely back in base camp.
This was Sokolov’s third attempt on this very steep line; he previously attempted the wall in 2006 and 2008. Remarkably, Sokolov was nearly 56 at the time of the ascent; Gorelik was 42. The men are among Russia’s most experienced mountaineers; both summited K2 during the Russian siege of the west face in 2007, and Sokolov summited Everest by the Russian new route on the north face in 2004. But some of Sokolov’s most impressive climbs have been on Pobeda. In 1993, he climbed the peak via its extremely long normal route in an astonishing 20-hour round trip. In 2003, he led the first ascent of a new route on Peak Armenia (7,100m), to the east of Pobeda’s main summit. And in 2005 he completed a solo east-to-west traverse of the massif.
Dates of Ascent: August 20-29, 2009
Sources: Elena Laletina, Bask.ru, American Alpine Journal