Updated: How Urubko Nailed His New Route on Gasherbrum II

“I’m happy with gorgeous new line I’ve called Honey Moon,” Denis Urubko told Anna Piunova of the Russian adventure site, mountain.ru, on his way downvalley from the upper reaches of Gasherbrum II. “I’m tired from 24 hours of continual risk and passion; I’ll come back to life with Pipi [his partner, Maria Cardell].”

Urubko travelled to Pakistan this year to open a new route on Gasherbrum II. Originally, he hoped to climb with partner María Cardell, but she suffered a back injury during the trek up the Baltoro Glacier. Cardell tried to acclimatize on the normal route, but couldn’t get further than Camp 2. In spite of the pain, she remained in Base Camp while Urubko prepared for his new line by summiting the mountain via its normal route on July 18. Sticking to solo, alpine-style climbing rules, he was not supposed to step on the route before the single, definitive summit push.

Urubko’s planned route on Gasherbrum II. Details on whether his actual route deviated are still to come. Photo: Denis Urubko

Urubko hoped to rest up for his big effort, but events on the mountain did not allow. Instead, he lead three different rescues in three days, helped mainly by Don Bowie and (on the last two) by Sergi Mingote.

Back home, some praised a true mountain hero, while others wondered why he sacrificed his own chances by exhausting himself helping others. A Twitter comment from RussianClimb cogently explained the matter: “He has been raised and trained in the old Soviet school of mountaineering –- he helps because this is what you have to do.”

Meanwhile, everyone but Bowie, his climbing partner Lotta Hintsa and Matthew James from Climbing for Casualties had deserted Gasherbrum. Less than a day after he helped rescue a seriously ill porter, Urubko accompanied the threesome to Camp 1 on the glacier, at the foot of 8,035m Gasherbrum II. That day, he turned 46 years old.

Conditions were far from perfect. Slush and open crevasses increased the danger on the glacier, while unstable snow guarded the upper flanks of the peak. Huge avalanches made Bowie, Hintsa and James delay and finally abort their summit bids via the normal route.

Urubko checked conditions on his planned route and decided to go for it. On July 31, at 7pm local time, Urubko set off into the fading light, determined not to stop until he reached the top and returned to meet the group back at Camp 1.

The slushy, crevasse-ridden glacier leading to Gasherbrum II, as seen from Base Camp. Photo: Alex Gavan

What followed was a nerve-wracking silence lasting 42 hours. Urubko left with no satphone or radio, no tracking device and of course, no oxygen. His route was mostly out of sight from Camp 1. The climbers there were only able to spot Urubko on Aug. 1 at noon, somewhere above 7,000m.

Then the day finished, night fell and nothing stirred on Gasherbrum II. Hintsa remarked how dangerous the conditions were: extraordinarily mild temperatures during the night prevented the snow from freezing and thus firming up. Concern grew among the climbing community, although not a single voice expressed it aloud. Urubko is not any other climber, they said. He’s Denis — the one who rescues others, never the one in need.

Finally, James broke the news to his home team in the United States, and they passed the information to ExplorersWeb: “Denis Urubko is back in Camp 1, he summited!”

Details will have to wait, but there is no hurry, now that we know the happy ending. For once, spoilers were more than welcome.