The Russian North Face route on Mt. Everest, showing the upper half of the face, from about 7,800 meters to the top. Courtesy www.mountain.ru
After more than two months of punishing effort, a Russian expedition has completed the direct North Face of Mt. Everest. Teams of two or three climbers reached the summit on three successive days, starting with Pavel Shabaline, Iljas Tukhvatullin and Andrew Mariev on May 30. The Russians tackled a direct line up the North Face, between the Hornbein/Japanese Couloir on the right and the Great Couloir on the left. Numerous bands of steep rock climbing formed the principle difficulties, along with the usual storms, avalanche danger and debilitating effects of working at extreme altitude for many weeks. The final push required extraordinary effort. On May 28, Shabaline’s team carried heavy packs from Camp IV at 8300 meters to the very top of Everest’s Yellow Band, at about 8,600 meters (28,200 feet). Here they ran into a final band of very steep and complex rock. They managed to complete only half a pitch before setting up a grim camp for the night, with one tent, no sleeping bags, and just two oxygen bottles per climber. The next day they could climb only one pitch further, and they had to spend another night at 28,200 feet huddled in the tent in their down parkas and carefully conserving their food, fuel and oxygen supplies. Finally, on the third day, they managed to force a line through the rock band and continue up easier ground, reaching the summit at 10 a.m. Over the next two days, two more teams—a total of eight climbers in all—reached the top, capping a remarkable season of Russian mountaineering.