Dmitry Golovchenko on the Lure of Gasherbrum IV

As we reported earlier, elite alpinists Sergey Nilov and Dmitry Golovchenko have returned to the Greater Ranges, with a first-class goal: Gasherbrum IV (7,925m).

For this pair, their choice is not surprising. Over the last 20 years, the two Russians have repeatedly tackled premier routes on Asia’s most difficult peaks. No matter that most climbers in Pakistan flock to the normal routes up the 8,000’ers. Nilov and Golovchenko just cannot take their eyes off vertical dreams like Gasherbrum IV.

We spoke to Golovchenko about their upcoming climb.

“Gasherbrum IV is one of the most beautiful and famous mountains in the world, I can’t believe there’s anyone who has never dreamed of climbing it,” he told ExplorersWeb. “We have been to the Baltoro region twice, and it is one of the mountains you see from almost everywhere.”

the climbers shake hands on a glacier, peaks behind them.

Sergey Nilov (left) and Dmitry Golovchenko during their attempt on Jannu in 2019. Photo: The Wall of Shadows/Facebook


The climbing plan

They will definitely climb on the south side of the mountain. Beyond that, they are keeping an open mind about potential routes.

“The final decision will be made only after some time under the mountain,” says Golovchenko. They could attempt any line between the south ridge and the east face. There have been several attempts but no successes on this part of the mountain.

Since they have no permits for any other mountain, they will acclimatize on Gasherbrum IV itself.

“The plan is to climb up to the plateau [above the icefall] and live there for two or three days,” Golovchenko said. “Then we’ll return to Base Camp, rest, and start our climb to the top.”

They will then traverse the mountain and descend via the northeast ridge, where Walter Bonatti and Carlo Mauri made the first ascent of GIV in 1958.

Gasherbrum IV in a clear day, the Gasherbrum glacier at the base, with ridges, faces and ridges marked.

Front view of Gasherbrum IV’s south face, as seen from the Gasherbrums’ Camp 1. The icefall on which the climbers will travel is visible at the base of the mountain. Photo with labels: Dmitry Golovchenko

Basic training and a shoestring budget

Golovchenko and Nilov are currently finishing off their preparations. Their training has been simple compared to cutting-edge hypoxic tents or even preparatory trips to other high peaks.

“We train as usual: in the climbing gym and by running in the woods. There are no mountains for 1,000km near [Moscow] where we live,” he said.

Very tired, thin climbers sitting on morraine terrain

Dmitry Golovchenko and Sergey Nilov after reaching the Yamatari Glacier, coming down from Jannu East. Photo: The Wall Of Shadows


In fact, the most pressing issue for the climbers is how to cover their expenses.

“Our budget is always less than it should be. “By ‘our,’ I don’t mean just Sergey and me, but all ‘sport’ climbers,” Golovchenko said, referring to small, independent teams seeking rare objectives.

“We definitely we have less influence on media compared to well-organized rich expeditions to well-known summits,” he added.

The climbers on a high mountain place, one of them speaking on the radio.

Sergey Nilov and Dmitry Golovchenko on the top of Thalay Sagar. “I called my wife right after the summit,” Golovchenko noted. They won a Piolet d’Or in 2016 for this climb. Photo: Russianclimb


Historic background

Golovchenko and Nilov won two Piolets d’Or, for their new route up the north face of Thalay Sagar in 2016 (with Dmitry Grigoriev) and the first ascent of the northeast ridge of Muztagh Tower (with Alexander Lange) in 2012. All their new routes featured high difficulty and commitment.

Walter Bonatti and Carlo Mauri first summited Gasherbrum IV in 1958, as part of a bigger Italian team led by Ricardo Cassin. They went via the northeast ridge and across the north summit.

The epic GIV climb by Wojciech Kurtyka (Poland) and Robert Schauer (Germany) in 1985 is often called the greatest climb of the 20th century, although they didn’t reach the main summit.

Greg Child (Australia), Tim Macartney-Snape (Australia), and Tom Hargis (U.S.) made the second ascent via the northwest ridge. A Korean team bagged the first complete ascent of the west face via the central spur in 1997. Bang Jung-ho, Kim Tong-Kwan, and Yoo Huk-Jae summited in full expedition style.

A mighty face of rock and ice, with a distictive central spur.

Gasherbrum IV’s west face, known as the Shining Wall. Photo: Wikipedia


Past attempts

Previous attempts on Gasherbrum IV’s south and east sides (as researched by Dmitry Golovchenko):

  • 1980 – Attempt on the south face by Steve Swenson, Todd Bibler, Don Frederickson, Matt Kerns, Craig McKibben, Jim Nelson, and Dr. Charles Scherz from the U.S.
  • 1988 – Attempt on the south ridge by Dai Lampart, Geoff Hibbert, Phil Thornhill, and Martin Hind.
  • 1993 – Attempt on the American south face, south ridge line by Andrew Macnae, Andy Perkins, Andy Cave, Kate Phillips, Chris Flewitt, and Brendan Murphy.
  • 1993 – Solo attempt on the east face by Yasushi Yamanoi of Japan, up to 7,000m.
  • 1995 – Attempt on the east face by Koreans Lee Gye-Nam, Kim Chang-Ho, Park Young-Sik, Kim Yong-Ho, Kim Saeng-Muk, Kang Houn-Soo, and Kim Duck-Sun.
  • 1999 – Attempt on the southwest ridge by Americans Steve Swenson, Charley Mace, Steve House, and Andy DeKlerk (South Africa)
  • 2006 – Attempt on the west face-south ridge by Jordi Corominas and Oriol Baro of Spain.
  • 2017 – Attempt on the east face by Bruce Normand (Switzerland), Marcos Costa (Brazil), and Billy Pierson (U.S.).
  • 2018 – Attempt on the southwest face by Herve Barmasse (Italy) and David Goettler (Germany).

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.