“The alarm on my altimeter rang at 24:00. The first idea that came
to mind was to wonder whether I had slept or not? In the mountains
at high altitude, there is no certainty in sleeping. The last thing
I remembered was the scene of hay being mowed: the burning summer
sun, the ringing clank of steel, of the mower moving over grass
wet with dew vzhik… vzhik… and I was in valenki (felt boots). I
did not know why. Oh yes… in order to fall asleep I had persistently
imagined the monotonic motion of the mower, and at the same time
I was in down overalls and had an ice-axe in my hands. Gradually
I succeeded in getting rid of the overalls and ice-axe but I failed
to take off the valenki. That is the nature of sleep during a high
altitude climb. In order to fall asleep up high, it is necessary
to fantasize, to visualize a dream, then to hold it in mind until
you drift off to sleep.
- Oh, this is a real art to master.
So, now I am in the tent at Camp 2 at the height of 7000m on the
slope of Cho-Oyu. Yesterday while leaving BC I agreed with my Polish
friends that I would overnight in their tent. But in the evening,
having descended from the upper camp, Pan Kovalevsky and Serbian
Miloshevich barged into the tent where I was resting comfortably.
They had made several attempts to summit but failed each time...
so there was no sense in talking with them, tired and angry as they
were, about friendship and love between Slavic peoples. I did not
waste time and moved into another tent, that of my Czech friends.
Their tent was filled with food and gear, but I had no energy or
time to put the place in order. Hurriedly, I melted snow on a gas
stove, and cooked kissel of currants for now and two liters of compote
for the next day. I poured it into plastic flasks and put them into
the bottom of my sleeping bag. To relax better and improve my sleeping,
I drank a cup of compote with 30g of Armenian brandy and began a
“hay-mowing.” I remember that I mowed for a long time, my shoulders
aching. My heels were burned by the hot flasks, and also I remember
that my nose froze permanently. So that’s indeed an alarm…
I turned on my head-lamp, I knew that I should eat something but
that was also a problem. My taste perception was absolutely dead,
everything disgusted me. Chocolate? Did not even try it, but salo
(pork fat) with dried brown bread worked, despite the fact that
theoretically at high altitude fats are not digestible. With the
salo and bread I drank warm sour compote. I pulled on fresh socks
and plastic boots. In an hour I was ready and moved on to the route
- this was a record, usually it takes 2-3 hours.
I came to the tents of an American expedition. In the evening I
proposed to them that they join me on my bid for the summit, but
they said that according to their strategy they needed to make one
more ascent to Camp 3 at 7600m. Hopelessly, I tramped around their
tents, exhaled a sigh and went up along the route toward the summit.
In the feeble illumination of my headlamp, I identified the track.
Firmly I stepped ahead, metallic crampons underfoot scratching the
snow and ice. Above my head the stars were as big as a fist and
frozen gusts of wind blew into my face. The rarefied air forced
my lungs to work wide open and rhythmically. I doubled my hands
into fists several times. This practice increased my self-reliance
at once; at that moment I was much stronger and three meters tall.
On my shoulders was a light backpack with a liter of hot drink,
socks and gloves, camera, first-aid kit and skis. Yes, skis exactly…
After 25 years of mountain climbing it would have been boring
just to climb to the summit of Cho-Oyu (8201m). Therefore
I introduced a special adventure into my efforts: to climb an eight-thousander
in two days and ski down.
Certainly, I was prepared. I am an instructor on alpine skis. Several
seasons I worked in the Caucasus, and I have skied down from Elbrus
and Peak Lenina. A week before I had been on the top of eight-thousander
Shishapangma and skied down from the summit camp (7400m). But I
was not alone there… My thoughts were interrupted by my suddenly
extinct flashlight. Abrupt darkness cut me down to size: once again
I am 1.78 meters tall, or even smaller. I tried to drive the ice-axe
into the slope, but the icy surface prevented that. I took a dozen
diffident steps, driving the ice-axe into the snow between my legs,
anchoring myself safely. I knelt and tried to do something with
the head lamp. Without gloves my hands were at once bitten with
frost. Several minutes of useless activity in the darkness passed.
What to do? It was around two-three hours until sunrise. To move
downward or upward was dangerous; if I stood, in an hour I would
turn into an ice statue. I came to a decision that to go upward
was less dangerous than trying to avoid cracks in the glacier below
me. Moving very cautiously, the stars tarnished in the haze - there
was no hope. Suddenly the beam of the headlamp flashed for a moment
and then died again. I realized that one of the wires was disconnected.
Again I drove my axe into the snow, found the point of damage while
freezing my hands, cut and cleaned the wire with my teeth, then
twisted the copper ends together - the flashlight worked again.
But my hands were frostbitten. Again, I started moving, trying to
warm myself, but I had no energy. Suddenly I found myself gasping,
I lost self-control and fell deeply into oxygen starvation. I concentrated
all my internal efforts and slowly came out of this critical condition.
I was like a fish without water. And I felt that my feet were already
frostbitten. “I estimated that I could still recreate a normal balance
in my body. Slowly and rhythmically, I continued upward. In an hour
it proved to be true. At last came the dawn and I saw the tents
of the camp at 7500m. I barged into a tent - it was empty, only
gas canisters and stoves inside. I lit three stoves together and
in a moment it got warm. I took off my boots and massaged my blue
toes. In half an hour I was moving again. I climbed the 30m rocky
wall that was equipped with fixed ropes (while skiing down I would
turn to the north about three km and go around it). Next I saw a
snow dome, intersected several times by one meter high rocky belts,
I thought on my way down it would be possible to jump over them
as well as turn around from the north. Everything was OK, I was
concentrated and strong. I felt my face and ears burning, took off
my hood, and 40° frost centigrade refreshed my face while the lobes
of my ears sharply prickled. My hands and body were warm, but I
was aware that I had lost sensitivity in my feet. I tried to push
my resinous blood down into my legs, it is difficult, but my heart
was working strongly and rhythmically. I held myself as if inside
a shell. I went to the side of snow peak to my left. No tracks were
revealed, only hard snowy waveforms stretching away in the distance.
Having climbed the snowy peak I understood that the real summit
was much farther away, somewhere on the huge snow dome. It was getting
more difficult to go, I stopped every five minutes to recover breath;
this process was endless. But at 1 pm Everest appeared in my view
on the horizon, and I saw Nepalese prayer flags. Yes! That’s the
summit at 8201m. While my body was hot it was necessary to eat something
and take a photo.
Vladislav Terzyul on the summit of Cho-Oyu.
A few attempts to force chocolate into my stomach failed; I could
drink some compote only. I set my camera on automatic and tried
to insert myself with tags of sponsors and friends into the frame
(some of the photos are good). The mandatory details completed,
I was free to take a look around. Of course, it was a very nice
picture: the wide open upland plateau of Tibet spreading away for
hundreds of kilometers. All the mountains to the south were covered
with clouds. I stood on a tremendous snowy plateau flowing into
a dense white field. Above that field rose the summit of Everest.
It seemed an easy hour of skiing across the clouds to reach the
highest peak. Above me was the dark blue space of the sky and the
sun. The bright sun had very distinct edges but it was absolutely
cold. I wanted to shout. But a shout would have been vague or indistinct
in all that space. Finally, after a prayer for my loved ones and
close friends, I put on my skis and started down. The slope was
still gentle but tough snowy waves slowed the pace of descent. I
tried to move on the plain snowy slabs on the south side of the
plateau. I did it! I felt the pleasure of resolution, and got ready
to jump the two rocky belts of one meter height. I’d never paid
attention to an obstacle of this size down below but there I was
at the height of 8000m. A wonderful jump landed in the waves of
hard snow and broke the rhythm. I jumped the second belt and desperately
tried to maintain my balance by pressing the skis dynamically into
the unevenness of the snow. I slowed but the effort was causing
a vagueness in my consciousness. I stopped. My eyes could not see,
consciousness was softly sinking into a fog. I was trapped in a
state of oxygen deprivation. Slowly I caught the scraps of consciousness
and came back to the material world. Good skiing, but for ten minutes
I had to recover thinking and the ability to breathe. I felt a hopeless
sickness in my legs. I felt my heart’s pulsation in my temples but
my hands and legs grew numb. I did a few wide moves in order to
increase the blood flow and eliminate constraint to my extremities.
I doubled my hands into fists strongly, arched my back, stretched
out my neck, and was ready to move. But for how long? This was not
a show to impress girls on the beach, there was only one
onlooker - myself. I decided on no further experiments
and passed to the north face where there was no rock belt; this
is several kilometers further. It was not bad going. I skied down
one hundred meters, then after a long level traverse, relaxed a
little and again turned downward. Ahead of me was the rocky belt
again, I felt strong and decided to jump. After several meters flight,
I landed, struggling for balance, and fell. I tumbled down the slope,
the skis got unbound and randomly beat my body. I tried to take
the ice axe from my harness, but this is an easy maneuver only while
training. Occasionally I got stuck in the snow. Again I was oxygen-starved,
again it was difficult to return to reality. I saw two ski traces
far away to the north (a week before two Czechs skied down from
the summit). It made me optimistic, but as before
I felt loneliness and despair - I was alone in that endless silence,
should I crash and fail no one would have known the circumstances.
(I was not aware that numbers of binoculars were watching me and
everyone in Base Camp was worried about me). Then more cautiously,
keeping closer to the tracks on the slope, without experiments,
I continued skiing to C2. The last two hundred meters I began a
dashing, spectacular ski slalom. I saw the Americans watching me
with enthusiasm. They asked
- Did you summit?
- Yes I did.
- How long did it take you to ski down?
- 1 hour and 20 minutes.
- Strong man!
Again I arched my back and become three meters tall. The next day
made my way down to BC with the memory of these joys and disasters.
it was then I had the perception that I had done something.
After me no one reached the summit. I closed the season…”
(February, 2004 )
V.Terzyul is skiing.