Why Gasherbrum IV May Be the Climb of the Year

As I write these lines, Sergey Nilov and Dmitry Golovchenko are in the middle of Gasherbrum IV’s southeast ridge, fighting for every meter in high wind. Their summit chances are slim, the mountain is not 8,000m, they don’t care for Instagram, choosing instead to send brief, old-fashioned SMS messages to their press team regarding their progress, and the mainstream media are not paying attention. But the climbing community is.

According to the team’s update today, the weather is bad, with high winds and snow falling. The climbers were able to climb only a pitch and a half, but at least they managed to reach a good ledge to spend the night. Below is their current location on Google Earth.

The climbers' location (coordinates) on a 2D map of gasherbrum IV. They are in the middle of the SE ridge.

Dmytri Golovchenko and Sergey Nilov’s location on Gasherbrum IV, August 23, on Google Earth.


Regardless of the outcome, the Russian climber’s endeavor is on track to be the most remarkable climb of the year, for the intrinsic difficulties of the route they are trying, and more.


Nilov and Golovchenko are proof that there is still a lot to do in the Himalayas and Karakoram, just by stepping off the normal routes and peak seasons. They are the last climbers left in the Karakoram’s higher mountains. The only trace of the commercial expeditions that crowded the Gasherbrums glacier weeks ago is a trail of litter that, as the climbers pointed out, is only good news for the crows feeding on scraps.

Golovchenko stands in the middle of a pile of trash, including dozens of empty Red Bull cans.

Piles of abandoned garbage mark the passing of commercial expeditions. Photo: D. Golovchenko


Being alone means there is no one around to help in case of trouble. The team only has a minimum non-climbing base camp team, based low down the glacier and out of sight. Their two-man team must be completely self-sufficient. There is a chance they could ask for a helicopter rescue if things went really wrong, but the choppers could only fly in good weather and there would be no ground support team.

Exploration values

The climbers set foot on the Gasherbrum glacier with some ideas in mind, but no fixed plans about their climbing line. Gasherbrum IV’s south side is not visible from Base Camp. Moreover, the approach includes two icefalls in a pretty poor state. At the beginning of the expedition, it was not clear if the climbers would even be able to reach the base of the peak.

They did so by finding and marking a route by themselves. Even the sections that previous teams heading for Gasherbrums I and II had fixed had changed dramatically, breaking apart with the glacier’s movement.

A climber among uneven glacier terrain, with sharp seracs, on a clear day.

The plateau at the base of Gasherbrum IV is flat, but not easy to navigate. Seracs and crevasses constantly move with the glacier. Photo: Nilov/Golovchenko


The climbers reached the plateau at the base of the peak’s south side last week. Once there, they deemed the southeast ridge doable. They have no reference points other than what their eyes can see because it has not been attempted before.

They decided they would do a traverse and descend the Italian route, the first route ever completed on Gasherbrum IV. The route, opened by Walter Bonatti and Carlo Mauri in 1958, follows the Northeast Ridge and the North Summit.

Excellent style

Weather forecasts were unclear and not very reliable, so the climbers eventually decided to go up an all-or-nothing summit push last week, whatever the conditions. So far, they have had some “acceptable” days, but winds are increasing, as they experienced during their bivouac yesterday.

The climbers returned to Base Camp after reaching the plateau but, once on the peak, they are all in for the summit in a simple, alpine-style push that involves the maximum level of commitment.

As far as we know, there are no previous attempts on Gasherbrum IV’s southeast ridge. As Mountain.ru pointed out, only 17 people have summited Gasherbrum IV, from at least 15 expeditions.

Gasherbrum IV's south side at sunset.

Gasherbrum IV’s south side at sunset. Photo: Nilov/Golovchenko


Style and the highest level of difficulty have been the norm in Nilov and Golovchenko’s climbing careers. They have proved their mettle, with two Piolets d’Or, and their latest new route on the mighty East face of Jannu in 2019. Yet, when asked about why they chose Gasherbrum IV, the climbers don’t speak about an ambitious challenge or achievements. Instead, they speak of beauty.

“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,” Glovchenko told ExplorersWeb before departure. No wonder, the climbing community watches with bated breath while Nilov and Golovchengo progress meter by meter along the lethal beauty of Gasherbrum IV’s southeast ridge.

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.