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K2/Chogori Winter 2003

The K2 Winter Expedition is in danger (1/29/03)

Gia Tortladze from Georgia and Ilias Thukvatulin are leaving the expedition

Gia Tortladze Revolts - Three Eastern Mountaineers Leaving -

Conversations About Pushkin Are Over

Gia Tortladze from Georgia and Ilias Thukvatulin are leaving the expedition.

This piece of news came as a shock for everybody.  After returning to the main base (5100 m) from his rest at the Chinese base (3900 m), he informed the head of the expedition, Krzysztof Wielicki, that he is leaving.

He has decided to return home along with Denis Urubko, Vasilij Pivtsov and Ilias Thukvatulin.  I was present during that dramatic conversation.

Gia Tortladze, from Georgia, organized the participation of the climbers from the East and considered himself their leader and head from the very beginning.  They called him “Kniaz” (the Prince).  He claimed that his wife is descended from the house of former Georgian rulers.  On behalf of his friends, he stated that the expedition has no chance of succeeding, that it is dangerous and unprofessionally prepared.  He formulated about 20 accusations.  Some of them related to the expedition’s lineup, others to organizational matters.  For example, he was indignant that the camel herdsmen were eating fresh meat, while the expedition’s participants made do with packed meat.

While it is true that some rams had been butchered to satisfy the demands of the camel herdsmen, after a few weeks’ time none of the mountaineers could even look at mutton any longer.  They preferred the packed, home-made products taken from Poland: beef cutlets with onion, knuckle of pork or roast pork.  Another accusation was the shortage of oxygen cylinders.  It seems the expedition’s fate hangs by a thread because there were not enough sausages on the table.

Tortladze claimed that his team has been doing the lion’s share of the work on the slope, while the Polish climbers take it easy and do not do much.  It is certainly true that Denis Urubko and Vasilij Pivtsov are a wonderful team that deserves respect and admiration.  Krzysztof Wielicki reminded, however, that he does not work in a vacuum, and that the base of the expedition is created by all the other participants.  Tortladze added that he has been sounding out the Polish climbers.  At least half of them supposedly told him that they see no point in continuing the expedition and that they are ready to return home.  For fear of the Head, they cannot express their opinion freely, however.

The situation is reminiscent of the events that took place two years ago during the Polish winter expedition to Makalu when Tortladze, also invited by Wielicki, brought about a situation in which some of the Polish participants refused to climb farther at one point, coming out against the Head.  This time, the Poles were solid on the issue and expressed their willingness to continue the expedition for as long as it is possible, even if as it gets more and more obvious that reaching the goal is too much for the participants in the current weather conditions, and with forecasts predicting even worse ahead.

After Tortladze’s statement, Denis Urubko from Kazakhstan has surprised everybody with his attitude and courage. Pale and serious, he declared that he came with the expedition, so he would also leave with the expedition and not earlier, even if it is doomed to fail.  Denis was then attacked by his colleagues/friends  (COLLEAGUES IF HIS “ATTACKERS” ARE  CLIMBERS) from the East, who demanded loyalty towards them and not the expedition.  He did not change his position and remained alone.

Gia Tortladze, the only mountaineer who has not managed to climb above camp I (5950 m) during the expedition, left today along with Ilias Thukvatulin from Uzbekistan.  Urubko’s climbing partner, Vasilij Pivtsov (also from Kazakhstan), stayed, but, after a few phone calls, he will probably also return home for family reasons.

Today, the members of a young team of climbers, who have been working until now as “porters”, carrying cargo between the intermediate and the main base, have arrived at camp I.  Jacek Teler, who is very fast and strong, has managed to bring the cargo to camp I and return to the main base.  Jacek Jawień and Bartek Duda are staying for the night at camp I.  Despite the snowstorm, they have managed to arrive quickly and safe, visibly delighted with the unexpected promotion.  All three of them will be carrying equipment to camp I, maybe even camp II.  They have accepted their designation as senior climbers with enthusiasm.

I will be missing the conversations at the expedition table about Russian literature and Pushkin’s poetry, as well as the specific sense of humor of the Eastern mountaineers.  They are very interesting people, but we were denied the opportunity to get to know them better due to inflated egos.

The wind has torn off the Georgian flag from the pole. The Uzbekistan flag, which we have hastily stitched together so arduously from different pieces of fabric, was taken down by Denis Urubko after his friends had left.  The flags of Poland and Kazakhstan have remained as the expedition continues.


Written by Monika Rogozinska, "Rzeczpospolita"; translated by "Scrivanek".