Urubko and Cardell Aim For a New Route on Gasherbrum I

Last year, Denis Urubko said he wanted to climb a new route on an 8,000’er in his usual pure style. He wanted to partner with a female climber because a woman has yet to open a new alpine-style route on an 8,000m peak. Maria Jose “Pipi” Cardell, his wife, stepped up and accepted the challenge. We had a chat with Cardell before they left, about the project and what it means to her.

A ski rescuer and rock climber, Cardell has undergone hard training with the hardest teacher to prepare for the task. “I am addicted to rock climbing but in winter I also like to enjoy the wildest side of the mountains,” she told ExplorersWeb.

In 2015, Cardell soloed Hombrok (5,470m) in Pakistan. “Then, climbing with Denis [Urubko] brought me the opportunity to develop that kind of alpinism beyond limits I had not even dreamt of.”

Cardell climbing last winter at home in Spain's Sierra Nevada mountains.

Cardell climbing last winter at home in Spain’s Sierra Nevada. Photo: Pipi Cardell


Injuries delay plans

The plan was to try a new route on Gasherbrum II in 2019, but Cardell suffered a back injury that kept her in Base Camp. Meanwhile, Urubko opened the new route on his own. He paid tribute to the original plan, naming it “Honeymoon.” Last year, Cardell was recovering from another injury when Urubko opened a route on Koshar Gang in winter.

In June, Cardell and Urubko climbed a virgin 5,975m peak in the Shigar Valley. Cardell then returned home while Urubko climbed Broad Peak, Gasherbrum II, and K2 in three fast, single-push ascents.

We asked if being Urubko’s climbing partner is an added pressure. “The only pressure is that which I put on myself to get well prepared,” Cardell said.

This year, after months of training, they’re trying again. The couple is now ready to leave for Pakistan on June 8. The goal is Gasherbum I.

Cardell battling rough weather on Ushba in Georgia.

Cardell battling rough weather on Ushba in Georgia. Photo: Denis Urubko


A first on Gasherbrum I

“Back in 2019, we spent two months at the foot of this mountain. It was the first thing we saw in the morning and the last sight when we zipped up the tent. I would observe the peak and discover new lines and details as the light changed. Somehow, it became alive,” Cardell said.

Cardell raises her arms in triumph on a winterly summit, a veiled sky and sun in background.

Cardell after a climb. Photo: Pipi Cardell


As for the chance to bag a “world first,” Cardell’s focus is on the beauty of the goal itself.

“I didn’t know that no woman has opened a route on an 8,000’er in alpine style. Being first is not why I’m involved in this climbing project,” she said.

“To me, a new alpine-style route is one of the most stunning climbs you could dream of. It is the kind of alpinism we both like. I want to go because of the absolute loneliness in an extreme environment, because of the degree of commitment, because of the challenge of looking into yourself and finding out what you’re made of, for the uncertainty of every step you take. Any of these reasons are more powerful than being first.”

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.