“It is better to return to Pobeda ten times than to not return once” –Gleb Sokolov
Fifty-nine mountains are higher. Plenty are steeper. But few are harder. Despite it’s relatively moderate climbing, Peak Pobeda routinely turns back—and kills—those who don’t take it seriously.
Following several weeks of acclimatizing and strategizing, Pobeda casually thwarted our strong and competent team over a vertical mile below its summit. Here is the story:
For days, base camp had been abuzz. Prior to potential summit windows, these places become infested with gossip, anxieties, impressive gear spreading, and endless conversations about the weather.
Thirty or so Russians and Ukrainians, ascending in what can only be described as a military siege, were nearing the summit. Excitement was in the air, but with the short climbing season nearing its close, the rest of us sized up the others and scrambled to make arrangements. It was a veritable hodge-podge of mostly small teams.
My own thinking and organization began to crystalize around a few core concepts: 1) Don’t do anything stupid, 2) I knew that despite my perfect health and strong climbing below 6000m, I had limited acclimatization. I was able to climb from base camp to Khan Tengri’s Camp 3 (5900m) in seven comfortable hours, but I only had one night there and two at 5600m. I needed a slower, more conventional ascent on Pobeda in order to acclimatize on the mountain. No sprinting to a snow cave at 6900m in just a couple days, 3) I needed the security of extra food, fuel, and strong shelter. This was shaping up to be the biggest pack I’d ever lugged…about two weeks of food and fuel. And my clothing system was outrageous—as warm as gear is made.
All three factors drew me to joining an American couple living in Canada. Bob, a contractor and former Alaska Range guide, and Katherine, a philosophy professor with a calm, determined mind, had tons of big mountain experience, and I could tell that by partnering with experienced Americans, we had similar philosophies, risk tolerances (hell yes we were roping up on the lower glacier) and strategies for the summit. We got along well personally, which we knew would be vital for the inevitable tentbound storm days. We would try as hard as we could within our safety bounds. Team America was born.
One hitch…we didn’t have the ideal shelter solution. I had a two man single-wall tent and they had a double wall, but essentially a one-man tent. We needed to distribute weight better: one tent, one stove. I set off on a multi-day and impressive, if I dare say so myself, diplomatic mission. Within a day, I brokered a straight up trade with a Dutch trio for our pie in the sky dream tent: a Mountain Hardwear Trango 3.1. Double wall. Strong as hell. And downright palatial. My single wall was perfect for their objective.
More writing coming as I get more juice. I am in base camp waiting out the storm. It is bad, even down here. Hopefully heli to Bishkek tomorrow!