Denis Urubko Reinvents Himself, Again

8000ers
Denis Urubko All photos from Urubko's social media.

The Russian strongman turns teacher and 8,000m peak bagger

Denis Urubko has always followed his own path but in a consistently energetic style. Last year’s COVID lockdown gave him time to write three books. Then as soon as restrictions lifted, he hurried back to his latest passion, sport climbing with his wife, Maria “Pipi” Cardell.

In some ways, Urubko now seems quite different from what we used to expect of him. He uses “we” a lot rather than “I”. And in an interview with KisstheMountain, Urubko revealed that he is reinventing himself into a high-altitude mountaineering teacher and — wait for it — an 8,000m collector! But then, he says that he has spoken of these projects before and that it was the media who didn’t understand him. In some ways, he is still the same old Denis.

For instance, he has not changed his view about expeditions such as the one on winter K2. However, he draws a distinction between the Nepali summiters, for whom he has only praise, and the rest.

“From the beginning, the winter K2 expedition reminded me of the film, Titanic,” he said. “So many people with big budgets, with plenty of Sherpas and O2 dope, hurrying to jump into the boat when it left port.” He does not seem surprised by the tragic events overshadowing the expedition.

Denis Urubko’s latest book (available only in Russian) about mountain rescue in the Himalaya. Yes, that’s a hypodermic needle Photoshopped into his right hand.

He was happy about the Nepali team‘s success. “They worked very hard, kept a positive attitude, and climbed in good style, despite the O2,” he said. “I have nothing against it, each must make his own choice…And after many years, the miracle occurred, and it was the Nepalis who enjoyed great meteo conditions.”

Urubko also praised Tamara Lunger for her decision to turn around, as well as Juan Pablo Mohr and Sergi Mingote for attempting the climb without supplementary oxygen. Most of all, he praised Ali Sadpara, whose loss he describes as a tragedy. “He knew K2 very well…his loss was a blow to the climbing community and in particular, for young Pakistanis and future climbers. They have lost a reference, and it will be hard to fill the void he left, possibly for generations.”

This is why he is currently putting together a teaching project for young climbers in Skardu, teaching them (at no cost) how to get started and especially, how to progress safely.

Denis Urubko and Pipi Cardell near their home in Granada.

“It is essential to be very strong physically and technically skilled, because only then will there be no doubts, no hesitations, and the limits will be dictated solely by the mountain, not by your mind,” he said.

Urubko says that many accidents in the mountains stem from a lack of basic skills and precautions. So together with Cardell, Urubko will spend this summer bolting sport routes near Skardu, so that young Pakistani climbers can practice and improve.

The couple, who recently obtained their accreditation as mountain instructors from the Polish Alpine Club, will partly fund the multiyear project by leading two groups of paying clients on what he describes as a mix of a commercial expedition and boot camp up Khosar Gang (6,046m), a relatively accessible peak in the Shigar Valley of Baltistan.

Urubko and Cardell’s accreditations as mountain instructors.

Urubko clarifies that he never said that he had quit 8,000m climbing. Another media misunderstanding, he insists. In fact, he intends to break Juan Oiarzabal’s record of 26 8,000’ers without O2. “I wanted to be the first to climb winter K2 without O2,” he adds, “but that has been already done, so it’s not my game anymore.”

Instead, says Urubko, “I will go for normal routes and climb them two or three times in one season: Do Gasherbrum II two or three times, then go to Cho Oyu and climb it again several times, etc.”

“I would like to help a woman climb a new route on an 8,000’er alpine-style because that has never been done before,” said Urubko. “I have many ideas about new routes and I know how to prepare for them.”

He didn’t mention whether any women have shown interest in taking this on, although he did specify that it wouldn’t be Cardell. “Pipi does not want it,” he says.

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About the Author

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides

Senior journalist, published author and communication consultant. Specialized on high-altitude mountaineering, with an interest for everything around the mountains: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional ranges, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. Feeling right at home since then!

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Steve
Steve
1 month ago

Im sure he’ll be rescueing a stranded climber on some big mountain again this summer like a few years ago in the karakorum.

+1
Uttam
Uttam
1 month ago

Denis Urubko failed to climb K2 in winter at least twice in his mountaineering career.  When Nirmal Purja did it without 02, many like Urubko seem to have suddenly lost the motivation to do K2 in winter period, which is such a pity, because it makes one wonder if it was not all about ‘setting new records’ or ‘bagging 8000ers for the nth time’, a rather narcissistic venture, all along. This is probably what has been knawing at Urubko, and may continue to knaw at him for the rest of his life.  All the more reason Urubko should make another… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Uttam
Inspired
Inspired
1 month ago
Reply to  Uttam

Perspective…. Urubko’s 2 so called failed no o’s K2 attempts…. 1st time, he stopped to save best friends life… 2nd time, he stopped 2 save lives on Nanga Parbat, and tried again SOLO….and fell in snow bridge and one if these 2 major crevasse points. There is no comparison to Purja, who only flocks small groups, so he can stand in the middle. Someday some truth revealed about this guy, that’s still under wraps for now, during possible your, and k2. The 10, came down to Sergi’s death, and could have helped more to save other lives, especially Ali. Seven… Read more »

Inspired
Inspired
1 month ago
Reply to  Inspired

And declining future winter K2 is giving up? Not hardly. K2 has 2 big crevasses at the top that ladders won’t stretch. Simon vowed to his wife he’d never try. How can anyone demand to do this on anyone, even when they are the best, if they won’t do it themselves? I’m glad Denis survive so much and knows the boundaries when the mountain speaks. Now he will teach others. Its often said it makes no difference what we do . What makes a difference is teaching others.

0
Inspired
Inspired
1 month ago
Reply to  Inspired

Possible Tour, not typo of “possible your”…editing original post not available

0
Alex
Alex
1 month ago
Reply to  Inspired

Wow you took the words out of my mouth! Nirmal Purja definitely has lost a lot of respect from many people for his self centred actions. Not that he’s going to care. He is a guy with a huge ego and absolutely zero *genuine* caring of fellow climbers, I totally believe he either cut the ropes on K2 or instructed someone else to and otherwise did things to maliciously sabotage Ali Sadpar and the other fallen climbers and totally by malice, caused their deaths. This is my opinion and I hope there can be some real investigation that can appeal… Read more »

Uttam
Uttam
1 month ago
Reply to  Alex

Sure Nirmal Purja is not going to care one bit if he loses respect from the likes of you with an axe to grind. Don’t you forget Purja did attempt rescue efforts on Annapurna I (which has a higher fatality rate than K2, in case you didn’t already know), Kanchenjunga, and Everest (where he saved one life). His complaints on Kanchenjunga were justified – as the commercial company under whose banner those unfortunate climbers had climbed did not initiate a rescue mission soon enough. Do you know why the 11 climbers died around the Bottleneck on K2 in the August… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Uttam
Bob
Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  Alex

Read the interview with the son. The ropes were there up to where he turned around. He is the one that would know not people with stories

+2
Uttam
Uttam
1 month ago
Reply to  Inspired

I still stand by my statement that Urubko failed to summit K2 in winter twice – even if he stopped to save others’ lives. Not that I already didn’t know that. The way you tell it, you make Urubko seem like he is the closest thing to the “catcher in the rye” we have in high-altitude mountaineering – who comes out of nowhere (even interrupting his climb on K2 to save lives on Nanga Parbat) to save lives of climbers. When you say, “Urubko proves no one dies when he’s around ….,” you make him seem like a God. He… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Uttam
Uttam
Uttam
1 month ago
Reply to  Inspired

Your perspective on Urubko’s failed attempts on K2 winter only tells half the story. In 2002/2003 winter, Urubko made the first summit push from Camp 4 (higher than the Nepali team’s point of summit bid in 2021 winter) and failed; he abandoned the second summit push when one of his team colleagues contracted life-threatening cerebral edema and needed to be rescued. In 2018 winter, Urubko sure departed from K2 base camp (with a few others) to save lives on Nanga Parbat on the urging of their Polish Expedition Leader, but they eventually returned to K2 to resume their climb. Urubko… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Uttam
Bob
Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  Inspired

Not sure what they could have done to prevent the deaths. 1 occurred while they were reaching the summit and the others when they had been home for weeks.

+3
OldHikerDude
OldHikerDude
1 month ago

There are still many “First’s” that Denis can attempt. There is still K2 Winter solo……..from the North. He knows the North side well. I don’t think the Chinese are issuing permits for the North approach. There hasn’t been any action on that side for quite a few years. Denis had a new route from the North planned a few years back, but was not granted a permit. The Chinese are rumored to be building a road up the Shaksgam River Valley. Maybe they don’t want anybody in there…..? Maybe the Uyghur camel drivers were rounded up and put in “Re-Training” camps…..?… Read more »