Oct, 16 1990 Serguey Bershov and Vladimir Karataev reached Lhotse Main top (8511 m), completed the grandiouse work of 17 climbers from USSR National team, who lost their health and energy on that route.

R. Messner, who tried to climb Lhotse South Face some times, named this route as “XXI century route”.

The third Soviet Himalayan expedition, consisted of the best climbers of the USSR as a result of a severe selection, planned to climb the toughest route – Lhotse South Face diretissima. The key of the route – the steep bastion at 8000 m. Thanks to the coordinated work of highly skilled climbers, the expedition was successful! What was the price of this success? Several dozen frostbitten fingers amputated , pneumonia, acute disease liver and kidney, hemorrhoids are not a complete list of what the team got from the Mountains…

Лхоцзе, Южная стена

The team in Kathmandu

Геннадий Копейка

Gennady Kopeika

The third Soviet Himalaya Expedition was in Fall 1990 – to Lhotse (8516 m).

According to the selections results I become the member of the expedition. The special value of my participation was the fact that by this time I was a cameraman and worked in the Kharkov regional filmvideo center , creating programs and reports for the new channels. The expedition, due to lack of funds, didn’t include the professional film crew, and I had to compensate this gap.

Eighteen climbers were divided into 4 groups , which are in turn worked on the route.140 rope pitches were fixed and 8camps had been set. It was immediately clear for the experienced climbers, that, due to the complexity of the route, not all of us will be able to reach the top.

On average, the group worked on the mountain for 3-5 days, then 2-3 days of rest at base camp and again on the route. I, as cameraman, received a ” preferential ” mode under the pretext that I must work in different groups and filming the route for all athletes. In fact, it was resulted in the fact that, sacrificing my personal rest days, I passed from one group to another and went up again. It was physically hard, but I was healthy enough.

Thus, the next (third or fourth ) exit at the route, I was in a very strong group with Mikhael Turkevich, Alexander Pogorelov and Vladimir Khitrikov. By this time, the expedition stalled on the climb the rock bastion at about 8000m. In the case of the climb this wall and install the camp at the beginning of the summit ridge (8100 m), we could hope to attempt the summit!

The climb rock tower at a height of 7500-8000m turned out to be quite tricky. It was almost vertical icy rock , where the avalanches fell constantly. The partner often disappeared from view with a shroud of snow for a few minutes. First, we fear clung to the wall to avoid being carried away by snow avalanche, but then got used to it and bathed in the snow flows like in the river and even received pleasure from it. In the upper part of the rocks we found a 30-meter steep gully, where our helmets had been constantly beated (like the “drum roll”) by the ice grains with a diameter of 2-3cm. Physics of formation of such grains is unclear, but they fell continuously. Pogorelov led there, but he was stuck on the rocky cornice. So, the well-known rock climber Misha Turkevich began the battle: using artificial anchor points and ladders he managed to pass five meters of overhang in forty minutes. The key has been passed, the path to the top was open!

I was filming it all on video. The camera was not small ( “Panasonic M8”) weight 3.6 kg,plus 3 spare battery (3 kg) which I kept constantly under my clothes, warming them with body heat. To keep the camera running at altitude and the cold, I sewed the protective case. Of course, it wasn’t easy to make a movie at the route with such baggage during the actual ascent. In -20C weather , snowstorm and wind , it took huge effort to stop, get the camera, connect the battery wires to filming the episode, then to conceal all and to catch up the comrades, who has departed up. And sometimes I had to go up the slope without belay to filming “the leader’s hard work on the route”…

By the way, during filming of Mikhael Turkevich, who over climbed the key area of the bastion at 8000m , my new camera broke. As it turned out later, in Kathmandu , busted the housing of the chip, it is not stand heavy frost and low pressure. But climbers survived!

Setting the camp at 8100 m, we could attempt the summit. It was necessary to ascend only 416 meters. What happenedthe next three days was the most horrible nightmare in my climbing career… To reach the summit and descend to camp 6 for the daylight hours, we decided to climb without some equipment (tents, sleeping bags , stove…). Meals without the stove , and therefore without hot water, did not make sense to take, and we didn’t want to eat at this altitude. In out backpacks was the only gear – ropes , hooks and two cylinders of oxygen for the ” big finish”. We left for the summit bid at 6.00 am and immediately were faced with unusual terrain: path to the summit ran along a very steep ridge , which consisted of long rock walls, topped by huge snow cornices. The snow layer sometimes was so thick that piercing it on the steep wall by an ice axe, we wouldn’t hit the rocks. For passing such snow walls and cornices had to dig deep vertical trenches and tunnels to swim in the thickness of the snow, not feeling the support under the feet. This lasted for a whole day. We realized that we are moving very slowly, but did not want to retreat. To turn back now from the mountain – this means the next attempt to be in a long queue of four groups. Moreover, with high probability, we can not wait! So we dug, as the bulldogs, without stopping. On 17.00 we reached 8250 m. Moving on, after an hour it got dark. There’s places for bivouacking, but we have no tents. Decided to go “on to victory”, all through the night. The route is unusually complex for a night climbing, too cold , we progressed slowly. To 23.00 hours passed only 50 meters vertically, decided to seek the option of spending the night.

We had trampled the site of meter on two and began in turns to chop in hard snow (almost ice) the cave for the night. By 2 a.m. we managed to cut down only a small niche not more than a meter depth. Tired, the four of us squeezed into it. Our feet in huge plastic boots did not fit, so our bodies were intertwined in a strange way – where someone shoes, do not disassemble. But to feel the warm of the friend’s shoulder was much nicer than being outside in the wind at 30 degrees below zero. Only there I remembered that whole day nothing to eat. I found 2 candies in the pocket of the jacket. Divided them into four, had dinner and tried to sleep…

It was very cold, and I didn’t even have down jacket. Someone from the previous group accidentally took it to camp 5. My back all night was frozen to the ice wall of the cave, I always had to tear it.. At that time I survived thanks to the Italian sponsors “Samas”, who gave us the perfect jackets from “Gore-Tex”. However,we couldn’t sleep, we had to move our hands and feet constantly, so they did not freeze. Sometimes in short minutes the blackout, I saw the same dream:

“I’m standing under a canopy of trolley stops. And my buddy Gosha jumps out of the approaching trolley and says to me : “Come, sit down, let’s go! YOur house at the next stop! Well, what are you?!?” But I can’t lift “cotton ” feet and move…” How many of these trolleys were? I do not remember, but a lot! And each time, I woke up and realized with horror that I can’t go out – there’s abyss! Finally the sun appeared and was just more fun. We were got up and went up. Another day we went through the extraordinary “hanging snow”, dug the tunnels. Did not go , but floated … And it’s very hard to swim up!

…Another difficult part of the ridge at 8350 m we decided to go to the right along a steep rocky wall. Unexpectedly stumbled on a rock where were hammered pitons and hung bits of rope. We realized that it was the place of last year’s tragedy. This altitude on Lhotse South Face was able to reach only the famous Polish climber Jerzy Kukuczka – the winner of Olympic medal in 1988 for the conquest of all 14 eight-thousanders of the Planet, who in this place slipped and fallen into the chasm. On the bottom, in the beginning of the route we saw a memorial plaque to his memory. This testimony of the tragedy cooled our excitement “to reach the top at any cost”.

The day flew by. By 17.00 we climbed no more than 100 meters vertically. Decided to make a desperate attempt! For the jerk, wearing an oxygen mask, hooked up the cylinders. High flow oxygen was impossible, because the cylinder would have ended after half an hour, but a small flow did not help. After 20 minutes, I inadvertently pushed the oxygen mask on the cheek to shout my partner a bunch about the readiness of belay. Mask immediately frozen to my beard , and so firmly that to tear her I could only in the tent the next day. It was the only time I used oxygen at altitude.

…In the dusk we saw the top, but at this rate we would going there at least half a day! The second “cold night” at the height of 8400 m? Very risky! In addition, it became clear that to overcome such a complex climb at night – it’s suicide! Two days of continuous work without food and drink and the second night without a tent at this altitude – a trip to one end! Very disappointing, but the forces were on the wane. Mikhail Turkevich radioed to the BC and said to turn back. We requested the group, which spent the night in camp 6, come out to meet us with the tent – we’ll going to go all night!

It was a nightmare! Our feet would not obey, we were completely exhausted. Wanted to quickly into the tent, we went ignoring the belay. In the dark a Piton into the rock very difficult, and we had lost the hooks… On the next steep part of the ridge Misha deeply drives the ice axe into snow, hangs rope, descends. Runs along a steep slope and dives in the steep neck. And soon he says – next can go! Next Volodya went. Soon I begin the descent. Sasha Pogorelov put his foot on the handle of the ice axe, not to be pulled out from under the weight of climber coming down. I approach the edge of the snow slope and had difficulty peering into the darkness – what’s there, below the neck? Tread carefully into the abyss and see about five meters cliffs. Then I need to do the traverse to right to the ridge, otherwise you can fly from the crest into the abyss. The plumb, foot slips off a cliff… and I’m falling in the dark! Seconds seem eternity.

Snatch, I hang for a split second and fall again … I understand that I hung on the rope, but ice axe did not bear the load, and Sasha and I fall into the abyss… in a split second, hit a rock, trying to linger, but the cliff is steep and I pushed lower and lower. I do my best to cling for the ledges and fall fifteen meters , but suddenly hangs on a rope. Afraid to move, breath hammering at the limit, I gently lift the head and see Pogorelov’s silhouette against the starry sky, who recliners in a narrow rocky inlet. He tore from the slope with ice axe, on which hung the rope. Slid on a snowy slope, he miraculously jammed in the neck and aborted my fall! I carefully crawl to the crest – all is OK!

On three o’clock in the morning we managed to get to the tent of our friends. The rest of the night we sat (8 persons),squeezing ourself into a small, but very cozy tent. We were warm, despite the fact that snow dust was blown by the windthrough the nylon walls of the tent. Finally, for the first time in three days I drank a small cup of tea. It was the most delicious tea I ever drank! …Then our group descended to the base camp, but after examination by the doctor Pogorelov and Khitrikov were immediately sent by helicopter to Moscow. Volodya’s frost-bitten hands had swollen up and were completely covered with blisters , we had to cut engagement ring by clippers. Me and Misha “got off lightly”. Although, I lost sensitivity in the first phalanges of the hands and feet , there were blackening in those places. I felt like an absolute invalid, but didn’t want to retire from the team. Surprisingly, but Anatoly Nepomnyashchy, the research fellow of the expedition and a great climbe , restored the sensitivity of my fingers in three days. with the help of pacemakers, developed by him. The other ” black holes” I have cured in Kharkov Andrey Stepanov using hyperbaric chamber. Meanwhile, the traffic on the route did not stop. To consolidate our mad dash to the top, we had to work thoroughly. Two weeks two groups worked at an altitude above Camp 6 (8100m), processing the route. A good result is that the route to a height of 8400m has been processed, and set camp 7 – the high-grade snow cave, and ropes fixed in dangerous places of the ridge. But no one could stay for the long time at such altitude, so the result was that almost all climbers “out of order” – Victor Pastukh miraculously survived, with pneumonia, others had frostbitten hands and feet, some serious diseases of internal organs activated … Almost everyone who was above 8000, began to descend to the base camp. Only Serguey Bershov and Vladimir Karataev.were able to continue the summit bid.

Me and Turkevich fully recovered at the base camp, and we had a great acclimatization and energy, and, most importantly, we had a great desire to make a new attempt to reach the top. Especially, Bershov and Karataev needed belay, because no one from our team stay on upper part of the route.

In evening in the base camp in mess tent the head of the expedition Alexander Shevchenko called a meeting. It would be better we go up not in a pair, but as a group, to lift the oxygen, equipment and food. The main question was: “Who want to go up?” If at the beginning of the expedition there were a lot of wishing, now it was a deathly silence. Besides me and Misha, no one could go up: frostbites, pneumonia, sore throat, liver, kidneys, hemorrhoids … This is not a complete bunch of diseases that defeated the strongest climbers after many days of extreme at height. As a result, we hardly persuaded Piotr Kazachok to help us, but he warned that won’t climb above camp 5.

… By the evening of the second day after that me and Turkevich ascended to Camp 6 (8100m). Excellent health and mood! We prepared everything for tomorrow’s early start and went to sleep. During the day, regularly communicated with the base camp by the radio. We knew that Bershov and Karataev and this day went to the summit bid, but they got the radio battery run off and there were no communication with them. We hoped to clarify the situation tomorrow when go up, our radio constantly worked in the receiving mode. And then early in the morning we hear unintelligible wheezing in the dynamics. In snatches of conversation it became clear that Sergei Bershov and Vladimir Karataev reached the summit only on night and began to descend. Volodya feels poor and has severe frostbites. Help is needed!

Without words me and Misha understood each other and began to repackage backpacks already prepared to leave . At 90%, we can not reach the top, we have to help comrades who need more oxygen, stove, fuel, food, first aid kit … Mixed feelings overpowered us: on the one hand, the joy – the top subdued, the expedition is successful! On the other hand disappointing – so much personal effort we have spent working on the mountain, and stay without the summit, and others wolud get laurels!

Without words me and Misha understood each other and began to repackage backpacks already prepared to leave . At 90%, we can not reach the top, we have to help comrades who need more oxygen, stove, fuel, food, first aid kit … Mixed feelings overpowered us: on the one hand, the joy – the top subdued, the expedition is successful! On the other hand disappointing – so much personal effort we have spent working on the mountain, and stay without the summit, and others wolud get laurels!

In the Himalayas many times I had to put on the scales the moral and the success. Such is the specificity of the Himalayan ascents – the overall success is result of the work of each member of the team, but heroes are those who find themselves at the right time in the right place … This is not in any way diminish the achievement by Bershov and Karataev. They have done the impossible! At the cost of their own health, they pulled out a victory! But at that time they were luckier than us …

All of us at that time were the pupils of the Soviet mountaineering – with high morale, a deep sense of reciprocity, overflowing with pride for our great country! Later on concrete examples I learned another moral code, which is shared by most western climbers: “I’ve been training, I came to the mountains, I paid a lot of money for this ascent to the eight-thousander, I knowingly risk my life, but I want to reach the top in any case, I want to become famous! If I won’t be lucky on the route, I should not be a burden to others and prevent them from achieving their goals. But I do not have to risk my outcome and my health, helping other climbers who overestimated their strength or which are out of luck … The fame is luckies companion! “

Me and Misha quite easily overcame a familiar part of the route, and about 13.00 hours were at that memorable place, where we dug the little cave at 8300m. We saw the fixed ropes above, along the difficult rocky site. Before we took a breath, we heard voices from the top. After a few minutes Serguey Bershov came from the rocks, meters in 60 from us. Sergei shouted that they are OK. So, we waited. Serguey came down to us and told that Karataev has frostbites and feels very bad. At that time Volodya appeared, who was moving very slowly. o help him on steep rock traverse, so we decided to wait until he overcomes this plot by himself.

Only on 17.00 Karataev descended to us. We gave the oxygen to the climbers. Breathed life-giving gas, Serguey quickly recovered and was able to descend the rest of the route to the base camp by his own. The situation with Volodya was much more difficult. He used oxygen all four days of the descent, and he couldn’t work alone because his fingers would not obey. Most worryingly, that day we did not already have time to go down to the camp at 8100m (where there was a tent) and so had to spend the second “cold night” in a niche at 8300m. However, now we had a kerosene stove, food, tea and oxygen. But the weather worsened, the wind blew the flame of a kerosene stove. It was even colder than last time, in spite of we try to close the entrance by the carimate. We couldn’t sleep.Teeth rattled all night, we looking forward to the first rays of the sun.

The next day Karataev was descending very slowly. And he had to go alone, because there was no fixed ropes on the difficult steep ridge. We organized the belay to him, and slowly moved down. During the day, we descended a total of 200 vertical meters and about 400 meters in length and reached the tent in camp 8100 at dusk. Wildly tired, but happy for the pretty comfortable conditions. After drinking tea, I immediately fell asleep …

Vladimir Karataev

Only in the morning we realized the gravity of the situation! The scene of this morning imprinted in my memory forever: the bright rays of the sun breaking through the orange tent fabric and refracted in the vapor of boiling tea. Misha is sitting, holding saucepan over primus preparing breakfast. Next to him – swollen Volodya carefully consider his fingers. They have already blackened up to the third phalanx, and hastily taped earlier plaster comes off together with the skin.

– Do not be sad, my friend. Everything will be “OK” – Misha says sympathetically, – This is the life. Nowhere we, climbers, can get away from this …
– I already envision my life with “kultyapami” on my hands in a wheelchair …
It was clear that it’s impossible to save the fingers and toes. The main thing is that there are no complications, and Volodja have to come to hospital as faster as as possible, that he had the physical strength and fortitude to get to the base camp. If he won’t be able to descent, and will stay here, we unassisted on such a complex terrain does not have enough time to pull him …

I marvel at the dedication and courage of Karataev, who was able to mobilize the limitless possibilities of the human body. Below camp 8100m there were 140 fixed ropes, each anchored intermediate hooks in four or five places, so he had to go about 600 plots, to lock and unlock descender and belay on each site!

Vladimir Korotaev’s hands with Lenin Order for that climb…

His fingers were not bent, so he could stick the rope only by the hands in thick gloves – that is all! The descent was as follows: I tucked rope in his descender. Then he himself or with my help (and sometimes even upside down) descended 5-10 meters down to the next fixed rope station. There I caught up him, took off from this rope and clings to the next … It lasted three days! Serguey also had frostbites, but he was able to go down alone and descended in front of us. Misha was behind us and evacuated the intermediate camps. He took the tent, wrapped a different gear in it and dropped down. Then we managed to find some bales under the route …

The expedition has been completed! Consolation prize for me at the end of the expedition was the Order of the Red Banner of Labor, signed by Mikhail Gorbachev in the order book.

It is surprising that Karataev Volodya, despite the terrible pain, was fighting for his life until the last moment ! But when we had already descended to the beginning of the route, and he saw a hundred meters below us climbing rescuers, he sat down and said: “It’s all… I can’t more! ” We carried him in arms to the base camp, the next day Vladimir was evacuated by helicopter to Kathmandu, then to Moscow …

Original source russiaclimb.com