Denis Urubko: The Man of Few Words Opens Up

For the last 15 years, Denis Urubko has become a legend among the climbing community. His remarkable strength and endurance have allowed him to press on when others retreat, and he has successfully embraced some of the most ambitious goals in the Himalaya: winter ascents, traverses of 8,000’ers, new routes, etc.

He has climbed all 14 of the 8,000m giants without O2 and put up five new routes in the Himalaya and many more around the world, from his home peaks in the Pamir and the Tien Shan to the spires of Patagonia. Such a resumé suggests a climbing machine totally focused on the next pinnacle in front of him. Sometimes, we need reminding that he is human too.

From the beginning, Urubko has shown that he always steps up to help a climber or porter in trouble, even at the expense of his own goals. In the last few years, he has also endured events, both good and bad, which have eventually forced him to slow down and inspect his own life and inner principles.

“I am strangely changed in last four to five years,” he told ExplorersWeb. “I did good, interesting routes over 8,000m during the period of my life in Kazakhstan. But then immigration, troubles, familiar questions, job…I was not able to concentrate completely on personal art.”

Denis Urubko and María Cardell. Photo: Denis Urubko

One obvious and major reason for the change is his new climbing and life partner in María “Pipi” Cardell. A rock climber rather than an alpinist, Cardell has added her skills and perspective to Urubko’s, as they build a common life together in northern Italy. Little wonder that earlier this year, the power couple launched a joint venture on an 8,000’er: a clean line up the pyramid-like slopes of Gasherbrum II.

Unfortunately, Cardell suffered a back injury during the approach trek. Despite increasing pain, she refused to return home. Instead, she waited in Base Camp while Urubko faced a solo climb in delicate conditions. Other teams aborted their own climbs because of unstable, wet snow. Forty-eight hours later, he returned with a satisfying new route on the mountain. He called it Honeymoon. Looking back some months later, Urubko said the climb reflects perfectly his idea of “real mountaineering” — mountaineering that “is rather than merely seems.”

Urubko’s elegant Honeymoon route on Gasherbrum II. Graph: Acerbis

“I had become too dependent on the opinions of other people,” Urubko added. “Now I have reset my priorities. Currently, I prefer to use less of my time in interviews and with media and more with climbing, gardening, kids and preparing for the new expedition.”

That new expedition, which kicks off in less than a month, is winter Broad Peak – the first ever, according to Urubko’s definition of “real” winter: “Winter’s shortest day and longest night is a culmination: the solstice,” he explains in his blog. “In this moment, the northern hemisphere gets its minimum energy from the sun. After that, solar rays become stronger every day, so Dec. 22 is not the beginning of winter, but the middle.”

His main goal is thus to complete the climb by February 28, which he considers the end of winter. “I have not considered opening a new route or climbing alpine style this time,” he said. “I just want to do it in winter.”

Teaming up with Don Bowie from Canada (and, according to Montagna.com, Bowie’s partner, Lotta Nakyva), they arrive in Pakistan on December 12 and should reach Broad Peak Base Camp 11 days later.

The team also has a climbing permit for K2, but Urubko considers that a secondary goal, which they will attempt only if they summit Broad Peak in time and the conditions on K2 are right. Meanwhile, the team has shared a striking introductory video about their expedition.

About the Author

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides

Sport journalist, published author and communication consultant. Feeling back home at ExplorersWeb after five years exploring distant professional ranges.

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Mark Zatylny
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Thanks, great article!!!