Denis Urubko Hits Pakistan for a Virgin Summit and the Gasherbrums

As he promised, Denis Urubko has returned to Pakistan. His wife Maria “Pipi” Cardell is also there, recently recovered from a knee injury.

The couple arrived in Skardu yesterday and planned to hit higher ground today. “We will climb a 4,000m peak nearby for acclimatization,” Cardell told ExplorersWeb during a short period between breaks in her wifi connection. “Then we are going to climb a virgin 5,900m peak.”

Next, Urubko and Cardell will work for a local charity, bolting climbing routes for Skardu’s children. “That’s all my knee will let me do this season,” Cardell said. “But Denis will stay and head for the Gasherbrums. Weather permitting, he’ll try to climb some 8,000’ers – Inshallah.”

Whatever he does, his presence will be a healthy addition to the upcoming climbing scene in the Karakoram.

File image of Denis Urubko and Maria Cardell.

Return to the latest waypoint

It will also be Urubko’s return to the place where he led his last 8,000m summit in 2019: a new solo route up on Gasherbrum II, which he called ‘Honeymoon’. Cardell was meant to have climbed GII as well but injured her back on the trek in and so waited for him in Base Camp.

Loyal to his usual style, Urubko launched a fast, solo push (without communication) in a year when warmer-than-usual conditions made the route avalanche-prone. Even the trip on the glacier to C1 was dangerous amid crevasses and soft, slushy snow.

The following year, Urubko attempted winter Broad Peak with Don Bowie. When Bowie got sick and retreated, Urubko launched a nerve-wracking push on his own in tough conditions. After turning around at 7,400m and making it back in one piece, he announced that he was done with 8,000’ers. Until now.

After a couple of years of rock climbing, Urubko announced that he would return to the 8,000’ers. He came up with the idea of beating Juan Oiarzabal’s record for the number of 8,000’ers summited without O2. That is the way Urubko has always climbed. So he may do one or both Gasherbrums via the normal route, maybe more than once. Currently, Oiarzabal has 26 no-O2 ascents; Urubko has 22.

Denis Urubko on Koshar Kang this past winter. Photo: Denis Urubko


This past winter, Urubko opened a variation route with some old friends on Koshar Kang, a peak near Skardu. As usual with Urubko, conditions were tough. And he really enjoyed it. No wonder he is feeling right at home now.

Urubko’s other plans

Denis Urubko, at home in Skardu. Photo: María Cardell


Previously, Urubko had another project in mind: to do a new route on an 8,000’er, ideally partnering with a woman. There is no further news on that project. But this summer might be preparation for Urubko’s final idea: an 8K winter expedition, with no date or goal made public yet.

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides graduated university in journalism and specializes in high-altitude mountaineering and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporations, press manager and communication executive, and a published author.