Denis Urubko Reinvents Himself, Again

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.