Lhotse Current: 1990 South Face Flashback

1990, Russian Lhotse South Face diretissima (2 pictures)

The tram came to a halt and his friend cheered him on, “get on here bro, your place is next stop!” He tried to run but somehow his feet wouldn’t move.

With a jolt he woke up to his nightmare: Sitting huddled with three mates at 8300 meters on a dug out ice ledge six feet wide, his back frozen to the cruel south wall of Lhotse.

The night still deep, the wind howling, the summit still too far and below nothing but a black abyss – he would drift off to the same dream and suffer the same awakening a few times more.

They had crawled up from 8000 meters, literally digging and swimming through the hanging ice and snow, without food for two days and close to two nights.

Somewhere near their involuntary shelter they had encountered bits of rope and gear left behind, they knew, by the only mountaineer who could have made it this far: Jerzy Kukuczka, before falling to his death.

#Gennady’s story

Gennady Kopeika tells a story that is seldom heard in Himalaya these days.

18 of Soviet’s greatest mountaineers take turns to work the face days and weeks on end. Gennady has the camera-man’s ungrateful task of having to climb up with every party, lugging a 10 lb camera and bulky batteries, to film the struggle of the other guy.

Initially the strong young men, selected in hard competitions, jump on each chance to take their turn and maybe a shot at the summit itself. But the toll climbs in the technical, impossibly exposed terrain at frigid temperatures and an altitude that kills all by itself.

When the route is finally set and the Captain calls to a summit-push meeting asking who can go up, there’s dead silence. Before him a ragtag crew in stages of frostbite, pneumonia, and internal organs shutting down.

Finally only two think they can do it, and set off.

Gennady and his mates had made a valiant effort that night up on the dug out ledge but it wasn’t enough. Little does he know that he will find himself in that same spot once more, giving up his own chance at glory for a second time. The final part is about mountaineers fighting for each others lives down 140 pitches, already cripples they know, but alive.

There’s a mention of frostbite healed by a pacemaker, invented by some comrade. And there’s moral put on a fine scale. How important is the team? Who has the right to summit? What feelings should be felt? And how do the Soviet and modern Western ideals compare?

This story is not a fast facebook update, nor a polished translation sponsored by some big gear. It’s a long story in broken English, told by grown men.

RussianClimb.com has it.