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A Kazakh side story: Father Alexander's cross

Posted: Apr 11, 2006 01:35 pm EDT

(K2Climb.net) Their names have become familiar to the international climbing community: Maxut Zhumayev, Vassiliy Pivtsov, Damir Molgachev, Serguey Brodsky, Denis Urubko, Serguey Samoilov...and Anatoli Boukreev. They are the Kazakh climbers, at times coached by Ervand Iljinsky, and always looked after by father Alexander, a priest in Alma-Ata.

Star City

Kazakhstan holds great history and a lot of heart. It is the original site for "Star City", former Russias Space Center. Baikonur Cosmodrome was the launch site when Gagarin became the first man in Space, and this is also where Marcos Pontes, Brazil's first man to be sent to space, landed yesterday, together with space-time record holder cosmonaut Valery Tokarev and American astronaut Bill McArthur.

Tough climbers

As for the Kazakh climbers - they too have lofty goals: The national climbing team intend to summit all fourteen 8,000m peaks in time to commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of its independence from the Soviet Union, coming up in December 2006.

Kazakhstan is the place for the speed climbs and scary avalanches at Khan Tengri. Kazakh climbers have been carrying out the Anatoli Boukreev Memorial speed ascents on Amangeldy Peak (3,999m) since 1999.

Kazakh climbers are known to be tough: I've often seen the Kazakhs climbing in bad weather they do that a lot in Central Asian Mountains," Oscar of the Magic Line told ExWeb last year and other climbers chimed in.

St. Nikolay, patron of travelers

Last summer, four Kazakh "young guns" launched a summit bid on K2 in high winds. As hours and days went by, ExWeb received calls and emails from worried climbers all over the world and one first-hand source of information.

Father Alexander knew the climbers personally, including their coach Ervand Iljinsky. Ervand told the priest and other friends in Almaty that the team on K2 was unable to communicate due to low batteries in their sat-phone. Father Alexander kept us in the loop.

"More importantly it was father Alexander who advised us what saint (St. Nikolay, patron of travelers) we should pray to for the climbers to find their way back to BC, Kazakh Andrey Verkhovod reminded ExplorersWeb in a recent email.

Andrey, a climber from Alma-Ata, has been feeding us valuable information for years. It was Andrey who brought us the full information about the 1993 Khan Tengri avalanche which killed the international team led by Valeri Khrishchaty, the famous mountaineer (of then Soviet - Kazakhstan team). Valeri led a team of three British climbers and Ilia Iodis, a Kazakhstani climber and friend of Valeri. Only one climber, a Briton, survived.

Climber and priest

This time around, Andrey has some news for us regarding Father Alexander.

Apparently, father Alexander is a local celebrity among Kazakh climbers belonging to the National team. Father Alexander always finds time to pray for climbers' safety and, himself an experienced climber, does this with full spirit and, let's say "technically correct" :), added Andrey.

That is why one of the subjects of his prayers decided to return the favor before going off on another expedition this spring: He was Denis Urubko, currently on Manaslu ready to attempt a new route with Serguey Samoilov.

All of us here in Alma-Ata remember Denis' most recent feat, helping out with father Alexanders new church," Andrey wrote.

During the last five years farther Alexander and his team have been building a new church. By mid March, the new building was ready for one last detail: Rising the cross. The job literally raising the huge, golden cross in place on top of the domed roof.

Returning the favor

It is a dangerous operation that required not only high skill in industrial alpinism but also a good will, as it was not just an ordinary job but the placement of the Holy Cross!, said Andrey.

Farther Alexander asked for help and Denis did the job - all by himself. Yuri Gorbunov, a rock climbing coach and Denis friend, helped as technical adviser."

"The pictures of the cross speak for themselves, ends Andrey.
The K2 2005 Kazakh team members were part of a National team coached by Ervand Iljinsky whose intent is to summit all fourteen 8,000m peaks in time to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the country's independence from the USSR this December 2006.

Already in 2003, the Kazakh National 3 in 1 team managed to accomplish 2 of their 3 peaks in one summer, Nanga Parbat and Broad; the first of which they ascended in a scant 15 or 16 days. By then, the young pair had already summited both Gasherbrums, Shisha Pangma and the highly difficult Kangchenjunga.

In 2004, the Kazaks ascended Makalu's West Pillar. In spring 2005, Maxut Zhumayev and Vassilyi Pivtsov showed up on Cho Oyu (despite the air company losing some of their gear) and accomplished one of the first summits of the season. In summer they went for K2 and launched two amazingly bold attempts in very bad conditions. Finally they had to call the expedition off - not because the mountain won them over - but because someone stole much of their equipment in the peak's lower camps.

Maxut and Vassilyi are climbing Dhaulagiri and Annapurna this spring. Denis Urubko and Serguey Samoilov hope to open a new route on Manaslu.

On July 25th, 2005, Kazakhs Denis Urubko and Serguey Samoilov completed a new route on Broad Peaks SW face on sight and in alpine style. No one else officially reached the real summit of BP that year. The pair was nominated for the Piolet d'Or and was awarded among the best of 2005 by ExplorersWeb.

Denis Urubko is considered one of the top climbers today. Last year, he opened a new route on the North Face of Baruntse together with Simone Moro, and made a night summit on Annapurna in bad weather conditions. Denis has summited nine 8000ers. He summitted BP already on July 18, 2003, through the normal route. He and Ed Viesturs carried out a nighttime rescue of Jean-Christophe Lafaille when he suffered pulmonary edema on descent. Denis has done many summits, but also sacrificed summits to help climbers in trouble, some of whom he had never met before.

#Mountaineering #Space

Farther Alexander asked for help to place the cross on top of the domed roof, and Denis volunteered." (click to enlarge).
Father Alexander always finds time to pray for climbers' safety and, being himself an experienced climber, does this with full spirit and, "technically correct" (click to enlarge).
Dressed in full climbing gear, Denis checks how the cross is raised by a crane, whilst a cheering crowd supports the operation (click to enlarge).
It is a dangerous operation that required not only high skill in industrial alpinism but also a good will, as it was not just an ordinary job but the placement of the Holy Cross!, said Andrey. (Click to enlarge)
Homeboy Denis Urubko (middle in yellow) helped father Alexander mount the cross on top of his church some years back. Their prayers will be his only support on Everest.
Denis returned the support and prayers of father Alexander. The new church has a bright golden cross on top, and Denis is back climbing again, on Manaslu. (Click to enlarge).