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 Valeri Babanov and his fine Himalayan ascents

 By: Ang Karma Sherpa (Dec 2003)

43 year old Russian climber Valeri Babanov along with his partner, Yuri Koshelenko, after 3 consecutive attempts in two years have made the first successful ascent Nuptse East via the formidable SE Pillar route. 

The 7804m Nuptse East peak which is one of the 4 subsidiary summits of the Nuptse main (7855m) on the Nuptse massif has turned back several attempts by renowned Himalayan climbers in past 18 years.  The first attempt on this route was by Americans Jeff Lowe and Mark Twight in 1986. Climbing in 'alpine style' they were able to reach 6600m on the mountain. Jeff Lowe recorded the approximate route difficulty to be at 5.10 / A4.

Following the Lowe / Twight attempt, Italians Fabrizio Manoni and Enrico Rossi attempt this route in 1987.  They were only able to reach the point  Lowe / Twight had reached in 1986.

Eight years later, Frenchmen Michel Fauquet and Jean Christoper Moulin had a significant attempt on this route by reaching 7500m.  Other attempts made on this pillar were by an international team comprised of Stephen Koch, Marko Prezelz, and Steve House in Spring 2002 and by famous Austrian climber Hans Kammerlander in 2003 spring.  The international team reached 7250 meter in alpine style whereas  Kammerlander choosing a slightly different route in the beginning was able to make it only to 6900m.

As for Valeri Babanov, his first try on this route was in the autumn season of 2002.  His desire to climb this yet unfinished and challenging route was impregnated in autumn '98 when he had participated with a big Russian team to climb the 8500meter high Lhotse Shar as his debut Himalayan expedition.  From his base camp near the Island Peak, he had many occasions to gaze at the impressive routes leading to the main peak of Lhotse middle and the South East Pillar of Nuptse.    His first thoughts were to Solo some impressive routes leading to the summit of Lhotse Middle but short of budget and experience for an 8000 meter peak, he opted for the less higher and comparatively inexpensive route via the SE Pillar to the summit of Nuptse East.  On his first attempt to come to Nuptse, despite his excellent records on seven thousand meter summits in the ex. Soviet Union and in the French Alps, he found no sponsors to fully support his Nuptse dream. Understandably, lacking enough budget, in the spring of 2000, he opted for the equally impressive but less higher North Face of Kangtega.  With two bivouacs and an effort taking more than a month to overcome the difficulties on the route he was able to solo up on the North Face of Kangtega to reach 6600m in height which led a ridge to the summit at 6799m on May 2000 on 29.

Following Kangtega, in august / September 2001, he chose to go for another unclimbed face  known as Shark's Fin on the Central Meru Peak 6310m in the Garhwal Himalaya in India.  Establishing an advance base camp at an altitude of 5900m. and working single handedly for almost a  month he fixed a little over 500 meter ropes to overcome a 1500 meter steep face of Shark's Fin to reach the summit.  For Valeri this was a second attempt after his first attempt in the spring season ( same year ) was unsuccessful due to bad weather.  In recognition of this outstanding achievement Valeri received the prestigious international award " Piole d'or"  for the year 2002.  15 previous attempts were made by other expeditions to reach the summit of Shark's Fin.  Valeri has named his route on Shark's Fin the "Shangrila".

Then, it was finally the time for him to pursue his dream of 5 years to solo the South East Pillar of Nuptse to the yet unclimbed Nuptse East summit.  In autumn 2002, he was able to find enough money to pay for the flight, permit ( US$ 4,000.00 ), liaison officer (approx. US$ 1,600.00) and hire a sirdar cum chef to manage base camp and cook for him at the base camp.  However, lacking time, permit restriction ( only 65 days are allowed in one permit for peaks between 7500m ~ below 8000m) and finding the route too big for one person to handle, his first attempt didn't fare well since he could only manage to climb up to 6300m.  Though still reluctant to give up his desire for yet another solo attempt to better the record, he had no options left but to look for a partner to return to the mountain  for the second attempt in the spring 2003 this time better prepared !

He found Vladimir Suviga, a climber with considerable experience climbing in the Himalaya.  The 49 year old Suviga had climbed Dhaulagiri by a new route, traversed Kangchenjunga, climbed Manaslu and summitted Everest without oxygen. However, despite high hopes, Valeri and Suviga were only able to slightly better Valeri' first attempt due to bad weather. From their base camp at 5200 meter,  they set up Camp 1 in a crevasse at 6700m and the second camp at 7450m.  Their plan was to attempt the summit from the second camp but bad weather prevented all attempts to the summit.

Valeri and Suviga worked for a month to put a 1000 meter fix line on the bottom section of the route (5400m to 6300m) which posed great technical difficulties.  They also set up a temporary camp at 6300m. which was later moved to 6700m to act as camp 1.  Greatly disappointed for not being able to finish the climb on his second attempt, Valeri now more experienced and knowledgeable of this route planned for a third attempt and return to the mountain the following season.  He found another Russian climber, Yuri Koshelenko to join him this time ( Vladimir Suviga also wanted to join but could not find money).  Yuri and Valeri were together on their ascent of 'Petit du Dru" in the French Alps in 1998.  Yuri's climbing record included the first ascent of Lhotse Middle, Trango Tower in Pakistan, Bhagirath in India and the Troll Wall in Norway.

Valeri with Yuri arrived in Nepal around the second week of September 2003 for his third attempt on the SE Pillar of Nuptse.  Arriving at the Nuptse South base camp a week later, they set up their first set up camp 1 at 6300m. at the head of the fix rope, camp II at 6900m., camp III at 7200 meter and the final camp at 7450m.

Getting acclimatized and fixing rope on the difficult section between 5400m ~ 6400m. took much of their effort and time on the mountain.  Having failed their first attempt to the summit on the 22nd October morning due to strong wind above at 7000m meter, Valreri and Yuri still high spirited decided to descend all the way to the Amadablam Garden Lodge in Devuche ( 3750m below the famous Tengboche monastery) for a few nights rest and recreation and return to the mountain for a second attempt.

On the 27th October, Valeri and Yuri returned to base camp to find their camp blanketed in thick snow.  However, on their mood was brightened up when they received an optimistic weather report for the next few days. So after a day at the base camp, on the morning 29th October, they set out for their second bid for the summit and spent the night at Camp I ( 6200m) followed by Camp II on 30 October at 6900m,   Camp III on 31 October at 7200m and Camp IV on 1st November at 7450m.  The 1st November night at Camp III was a very cold night for both Valeri and Yuri since they had carried only the clothing on their body and a karrimat pad to give space to ropes and protection gear they would need for the climb on their summit day.  On the 2nd November, they carried 7 pitons, 5 friends, 3 nuts, 4 snow bar, 5 ice screws and 2 ropes (each 60 meter) and left their camp for the summit at 8.40 am.  Climbing in below 25 / 30 degree temperature and very windy conditions.

Valeri and Yuri reached the East Summit of Nuptse ( 78040m) at 7.30 pm in the evening which required 10 pitches of very difficult climbing graded at - M4-M5 grade and in French grade 5a, 5b grade of rock climb . Had it not been for the moon lit night and their sheer will urging them to finish the climb now or never the East Summit of Nuptse may still have remained a virgin.

For Valeri, the greatest moment of the entire climb was when was able to complete the climb on the face and get on the ridge that led to the Nuptse East summit a mere 60 meter above.  The view of Mt. Everest and other peaks in the area spreading in front of him washed in the moon light were just breathtakingly magical.   After the punishing hard pitches on the face, Valeri felt a divinely pleasure climbing the 60 meter gently sloped ridge to the summit that looked corniced but safe to stand upon!  Valeri and Yuri spend a 30 glorious minutes on the summit and decided to call their route the Moonlight Sonata.

With Valeri and Yuri's successful ascent of the East Summit of Nuptse concludes one of the unsolved big routes on the Himalaya. Valeri likes to dedicate his success on Nuptse to all his friends who have lost their lives in the Himalaya specially to Vladimir Bashkirov who died in his arms when climbing on Lhotse Shar in 1997. Valeri's passion is to solo new routes on steep Himalayan faces and he wants to be in the Himalaya all the time (if that is possible!). His future climbing itinerary include North Face of Jannu East and South Face of Makalu. For Yuri, he has a plan to climb Everest from the north side next spring.

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