Denis Urubko’s Bitter Farewell

8000ers
The acerbic Denis Urubko and his sharp ice-axes. Photo: Courtesy of Urubko/RussianClimb

Denis Urubko was supposed to have had his grand finale on winter Broad Peak…and who knows, maybe K2. On the first summit try, his partner Don Bowie got sick, and Urubko chose to sacrifice his chances in order to accompany him down. Bowie was later evacuated with pneumonia.

That was the one good summit chance, because after that, the weather crapped out. Nevertheless, Urubko launched a solo attempt, hoping to endure the 70kph winds. But it wasn’t the wind that almost did him in. An avalanche swept him down and he landed just metres from a crevasse. Somehow, he managed to descend and declared the season — and his 8,000m career — over.

Back at home in Bergamo for a well-deserved rest, his farewell from the higher reaches might have been a quiet affair, a dignified retreat to the Olympus of mountain myths. Instead, it has turned out a sort of verbal Red Wedding in his own personal Game of Thrones.

Urubko gave one of his rare interviews to the Polish site, Eurosport.pl. In it, Urubko backtracked a little, stating that he might return to the 8,000’ers at some point —  declaring himself an enemy of the inflexible, whether in climbing tactics or future possibilities. He even toyed with the idea of climbing Cho Oyu four times in a season. Most of all, he seemed to want to make his new wife, Maria Cardell, happy. “I leave the gate open, in case my wife asks me to help her open a new alpine-style route,” he said.

A new page in Urubko’s book of life: enjoying breakfast with Maria Cardell at the crags. Photo: Denis Urubko

Then the always controversial Urubko moved from romance to criticism. The story, as rendered on the Polish site, was apparently inaccurate, because Urubko irritably demanded a correction and gave a copy of the original interview to RussianClimb.com‘s Elena Laletina, who posted it in Russian and English. This way, Urubko said, he wanted to fix the damage done by  “people looking for self-promotion… liars… and journalists presenting these distorted words to [the] public as an ultimate truth.”

So, no more Mr Nice Guy. Starting with Polish climbers and following with recent expeditions and past friends, he pretty well chopped heads off all around.

It is well-known that Urubko had serious disagreements with the Polish team with whom he attempted winter K2. “There were three or four good climbers on the K2 team,” he says now. “They’re Marcin [Kaczkan], Adam [Bielecki], Rafal [Fronia] and young Maciej [Bedrekczuk]. But it was impossible to act in the swamp of other members, the organization and the management of the expedition. Spend three months in the team full of weak climbers, lying and lazy losers? I’d rather not.”

Urubko painted a sorry image of Polish mountaineering in the last decade. But his vitriol went beyond the Poles. Getting more off his chest, he also had not-so-kind words for past climbing mates:

“I’m tired of wasting time. This happened too often. I spent a lot of time training, but for my family and friends, this was a lost time. The expeditions lasted two or three months, but the partners often turned out to be the ballast, as was the case several times with Simone Moro, and as it was during the last attempt to climb K2 or this year on Broad Peak. I mean Don [Bowie]. Being a good person is good, but it’s not enough to reach the top. I’ve had to stop so many times because of other people’s irresponsibility.”

The bitterness of the comments have come as a surprise since it’s not his usual style. However, his outspokenness does shed light on the disagreements and clashes actually present on expeditions, which are usually kept quiet in order to maintain a front of harmony and friendship. And Urubko also spoke on less threatening subjects —  rescues, priorities for the future and many aspects of his intense relationship with mountains. It’s worth a read here, in Russian and English.

Interview reactions

When the interview was first published, a shocked Adam Bielecki said, “This interview is so arrogant and disrespectful to so many people that it hurts to read it.” He added that he hoped that it was all a mistranslation: “I want to believe that Denis didn’t say all of that.” Since the later English version doesn’t differ much from the original, Bielecki, who tends to avoid controversies, has remained silent.

Don Bowie has also grazed the issue on social media. He pointed out how we are all more dependent on others than independent, then added,”The degree to which we are ignorant of this inescapable interdependence is directly proportional to the degree of our own personal ego and arrogance.”

Bowie also declared himself nearly recovered from the pneumonia that knocked him out on Broad Peak. He then thanked everyone related to the expedition, including “climbing mates Lotta and Denis (despite what Denis recently wrote about me, ha).”

Don Bowie, not looking back in anger, perhaps. Photo: Don Bowie

Just a climber

Denis Urubko is not only a very good climber. He also likes doing things his way, at his own pace, which barely anyone is capable of keeping up with. When he set off for the summit of Broad Peak despite a forecast of 70kph winds, who would have followed him?
His disparagement of Simone Moro in the interview surprised many. But as Laletina points out, Moro himself previously mentioned that Urubko was too reckless a companion, which finally led to a “climbing divorce” between them. This summation came after the pair’s last attempt to complete the daunting Everest-Lhotse traverse.
Simone Moro is himself a highly experienced climber and likely not willing to take risks beyond what he considers acceptable. And so is Denis Urubko. The problem might be, then, when a climber accepts a challenge beyond his capabilities or risk beyond his comfort level and only discovers this high up on the mountain. At this point, turning back is difficult and his actions will affect the rest of the team.
For perspective, it’s important to keep in mind that Urubko isn’t a diplomat or a politician. He may be simply a superb, opinionated climber prone to blowing his stack occasionally.

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. From Dec19 to Feb20, I'll be also working as press manager for Alex Txikon's expeditions to Antarctica, winter Ama Dablam and winter Everest.

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13 Comments on "Denis Urubko’s Bitter Farewell"

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Pablo C
Guest

Totally agree with Adam Bielecki.

Wes
Guest

Yowser!

Ryan
Guest

Really like Denis a lot, but if he really said this shit, fuck him.

Trish
Guest
I think the Russian/English article might have come across a little harsher than what Denis meant. For example he states, “Team completed three real athletes – Marcin, Adam, Rafal and one young Maciej. But against of swamp of other members, organisation and leadership was possible to do nothing.” I took this to mean a compliment to Marcin, Adam, Rafal, and Maciej. Regarding his reference to Moro and Bowie he states, “but partners are as a ballast. As Simone some times, as mostly of Polish team in 2018, as Don in last winter.“. (A ballast, as in a ship, is something… Read more »
OldHikerDude
Member

I agree with your assessment. We shouldn’t be so quick to hate on Denis. It would be a shame for him to “retire” from a sucessful and extremely dangerous life under such a dark cloud.

gian piero
Guest
Denis is right! He said what everyone who knows about mountaineering has already guessed. It’s no mystery that climbers like Moro or Bowie have been limiting for him. In fact, his greatest achievements was made by him alone or with Russian mates (who traditionally do not complain, know how to suffer and hold on). It is hypocritical to pretend that this is not the truth just to be nice to others and even a good climber like Bielecki should admit that, last year, apart from him and Denis and a few others, the team was made up of people who… Read more »
Pole
Guest
Unfortunately climbing highest peaks in the world is still a team work. If all those expeditions and partners where such an obstacle why he didn’t go there on his own?? He was invited to K2 expedition by Poles and had everything paid for then he dared to say that if he gets to the top it will be HIS success. Why he didn’t set up all camps , ropes, base camp, supplies etc . himself?? He is one of the best no doubt but also a selfish man who likes to use others to gain what he wants and then… Read more »
Trish
Guest

Pole, I agree it is a team effort but let me ask you this Would a selfish man who only thinks of his own success stop what he’s doing and risk his own life to go save someone else?

Ande Rychter
Guest

Pole is absolutely right. Denis is a strong guy but he utterly lacks judgement in the mountains. His solo attempt during the Polish expedition two years ago was the hight of folly. He was lucky to come back to the BC in one piece. Adam Bielecki had shown maturity and good judgement when he rejected Denis’ entreaties to come along.
Denis is not a great climber.

Damien François
Guest

Reminds me of that t-shirt in the movie Natural Born Killers:
TOO MUCH MEDIA, TOO MUCH COMMUNICATIONS, TOO MUCH BLAH BLAH BLAH.
Sad, but this is 2020 and bashing seems to be THE existential thing, these days… Too much antisocial media.

Ande Rychter
Guest

Angela, I will keep repeating it until it sinks in.

Accompanying a stricken partner down is not a sacrifice but the most basic tenet of mountaineering ethics.

anonymous
Guest

Urubko pushed himself further than almost anyone else who is still alive. Somewhere between Messner who easily could have died and Lafaille who died. Hopefully, he is now hoping to stay alive for his partner’s sake!

fabrizio ventricini
Guest

With all due respect to a superb mountaineer ; having just read his article, would it be too hard for Denis to find an editor or even a friend to properly translate his words in English ? Or is he too arrogant to even care ?