Everest 8848 m
summited 08.05.1999 along the North-East ridge via the North Col, Ukrainian National Expedition
“From the beginning everything went well. We were full of strength and energy and hurried to reach the summit. No one imagined that everything could change completely…”

Ukrainian National Expedition Team Members:
1. Valentin Simonenko, Master of Sport, expedition leader
2. Mstislav Gorbenko, Honored Master of Sport, expedition deputy leader, chief coach, Odessa
3. Vladimir Lebedenko, Doctor, MD, city of Odessa
4. Sergey Bershov, Honored Master of Sport, city of Kharkov
5. Vladimir Gorbach, International Master of Sport, city of Kiev
6. Nikolay Goryunov, Candidate of Master of Sport, city of Kiev
7. Sergey Kovalev, International Master of Sport, city of Donetsk
8. Roman Koval, Candidate of Master of Sport, city of Odessa
9. Vasiliy Kopytko, Candidate of Master of Sport, city of Odessa
10. Vadim Leontyev, Master of Sport, city of Odessa
11. Igor Svergun, International Master of Sport, city of Kharkov
12. Vladislav Terzyul, Candidate for Master of Sport, city of Odessa

Expedition account by M. Gorbenko:

"... The day before our arrival a big American expedition had arrived. We were the second expedition to situate ourselves on the Rongbuk glacier at Base Camp. With Everest in the background in fine weather, on 31March the flag of Ukraine quivered in the air. The flag was raised by Valentin Simonenko and the youngest expedition member, Nikolay Goryunov.

We laid siege to Everest for many days. Acclimatization and preparation of the North-East ridge route progressed. We cooperated with the American climbers, though all interim camps were settled by our members. There was no competition; we were fulfilling the goals of our tactical plan. Besides the summit, the Americans planned to search for one of the first Everest climbers, George Mallory, who went missing 75 years before. His body was found in the end as is known.

Fixing the camps which included setting tents, supplying food, ropes, irons, gas bottles, gas rings etc was fulfilled on the following dates:
4 April - ABC 6,350m
7 April - Camp 4 (North Col) 7,050m
18 April - Camp 5 7,800m
27 April - Camp 6 (summit camp) 8,300m

International Camp 4, North Col.

The summit participants were arranged in the following groups and worked in that order:
I group: Kovalev S. - leader, Kopytko V., Svergun I.
II group: Leontyev V. - leader, Gorbach V., Koval R.
III group: Terzyul V. - leader, Bershov S. - coordinator, Goryunov N.
Due to circumstances, some changes took place in the groups. At the beginning of the first acclimatization ascent, I. Svergun fell ill and therefore he was transfered into group III so he could have three extra days for treatment. The first group expanded to include V. Terzyul. S. Bershov had to play two roles - coordinator and leader of group III. Then S. Kovalev fell ill and the council of coaches transferred him into group II, and V. Gorbach was included in group I. Because of the severe conditions on Everest all these insignificant sicknesses are normal.
Doctor Vladimir Lebedenko managed to stabilize the condition of the members during the acclimatization climbs and this allowed everyone to attempt the summit of Everest. Vladislav Terzyul constructed a so-called “rehabilitation center” or sauna inside a tent, which helped a lot in maintaining the members’ health conditions. The sauna was our pride and distraction. There we could get rid of our fatigue and raise our spirits. All this was arranged at the altitude of 5,150m. Americans, Belgians, Russians, Georgians and Chinese visited us and asked to sweat in our sauna.

So before the final summit bid, which was our fourth ascent, all the members were well acclimatized - each had 2 nights at 7,800m. Everyone had ascended to an altitude of more than 8,000m. Only two members, S. Kovalev and S. Bershov, did not reach 8,300m during the previous acclimatization climbs. The chief coach and the doctor allowed every member the chance to get to the top.
The weather that season was surprisingly stable and comparatively warm. The tactical plan for the preparation of the route was fulfilled completely and everything seemed ready for a successful summit bid. We did not pay much attention to the 10° C below zero inside the tent or the infrequent snow storms. We invited the Lama and monks from the nearby hill monastery at Rongbuk to visit. They prayed to Dzhomolungma (Tibetan name of Everest) to allow the Ukrainian climbers to pass up the mountain.

The route from the North Col.

On 4 May at 09.00 hrs in the morning group I consisting of V. Terzyul leading, V. Kopytko and V. Gorbach started out for summit. Every day the group moved up from one camp to another and on 8 May at 04.00 hrs they left the summit camp heading for the top of the mountain. On the same day the group of Vadim Leontyev reached 7,800m, and group III of Sergey Bershov reached 7,050m. At 08.00 hrs “Ukraine I” (name of group I) was in the region of first step (8,600m). After 11.00 hrs the telescope showed that all three members passed the second step (8,700m). At 12.00 hrs when the guys had crossed the snow slope and were very close to the top, we arranged a direct telephone line with Kiev for the expedition leader, Valentin Simonenko.
At 14.07 hrs Vladislav Terzyul reached the top. In four minutes Vasiliy Kopytko joined him.

Vasiliy Kopytko on the summit, photo by V.Terzyul.

They described the summit in detail. They were looking at the meeting place of three ridges and they reported that there was no way up any more. They unfurled the Ukrainian flag on the top of the world and made some videos. It was not easy; the weather was getting worse. They waited for 45 minutes for Gorbach to arrive. He did not contact them via radio (the group had two Motorola radio stations). Then the team started to descend.
At 15.15 hrs they ran into Gorbach sitting on the ridge near the top of the mountain. Vasiliy reported via VHF that Vladimir could attempt to reach the top, which was very close. The rest of the members of the group decided to go down a little where it was not so windy. I wondered about Gorbach’s condition. Vasiliy answered that it was satisfactory. He also reported that the weather was getting worse, but that it was possible to reach the summit in a short time. The tracks were noticeable and visibility was normal. They set a limit of 35 minutes for Gorbach: he could climb until 16.00 hrs. At that time he had to start descending. At 16.11 hrs Gorbach contacted me. I urgently asked him to start going down. Kopytko and Terzyul were instructed to wait for Gorbach. They fixed three ropes for speeding up his descent. At 17.25 hrs Vasiliy met Volodya and they started descending. Vladimir’s nose was frost-bitten, he was sluggish, but he moved without help. I proposed that Vasiliy give the relevant injection to Gorbach, but Vasiliy considered that it was not necessary at that moment. Lebedenko consulted Gorbach. Terzyul had gone first to find the ropes which were buried in the snow. Vladislav left his radio with Vasiliy so he could stay in contact with Gorbach. That is why he could only watch Vasiliy and Vladimir descending. For two hours we were in constant contact with Vasiliy and we corrected his way of descent by radio.
At 20.15 hrs Gorbach contacted us and advised that he felt bad and could not see Vasiliy anywhere. It was getting dark. I proposed that he stay where he was. “There is no alternative, I have to struggle for life” answered Vladimir. The last radio contact took place at 21.00 hrs. Vladimir advised us that he met Vasiliy in the region of the first step and saw the long-expected fixed rope. Further contacts failed. It was there that Terzyul lost the sight of the guys, so he waited for them at the fixed rope on the way to the tent. After 30 minutes Vladislav started searching for them, thinking they lost the upper fixed rope, but after an hour he did not see them and decided that they had passed him and made it down ahead of him. So he descended to the tent. But there was no one inside...
The Base Camp called “Ukraine 1” every 15 minutes till 01.00 hrs. At 22.40 it started to snow. I asked “Ukraine 2” and “Ukraine 3” to be ready to go up to 8,600m if “Ukraine 1” did not contact me. At 03.00 hrs on 09 May I ordered the Kovalev - Leontyev group to start out from 7,800m and the group of Svergun - Goryunov to go from 7,050 at 05.00 hrs. Koval and Bershov, who felt bad, were to stay in the tents. At 04.30 hrs it stopped snowing and the moon and stars appeared above Base Camp. The outline of Everest was not clearly seen due to thick clouds hanging on the mountain.
At 05.45 hrs I fixed the fire in the mortar - there was nothing I could do but to pray that the guys were alive.
At 07.30 hrs I heard a short radio message “Base Camp, I am Gorbach.” At that moment I thought that I heard it. And that was all. At 08.00 hrs I saw via the telescope a man in the region of 8,400m. He was going up! As Sergey Kovalev, who was first to reach Camp 6 at 8,300m later informed us, it was Terzyul! At 11.30 hrs Kovalev met Terzyul who was going down using the fixed rope from 8,500m. He brought an oxygen appliance with redactor and mask, but he saw no one there. Terzyul did not use the oxygen for himself in this situation - he saved it for our friends. He was deadly tired and his voice was lost, but he could go down and started descending to Camp 5 without assistance to meet Svergun and Goryunov. Roman Koval started out and met Terzyul at 8,000m.
At 15.00 hrs Sergey Kovalev finished his impetuous ascent to 8,600m, where he found Gorbach sitting blind. He addressed him in English: “I am Ukrainian climber, Everest climber…” For four hours Sergey alone carried Vladimir until they were met by Igor Svergun and Nikolay Goryunov. Nikolay advised that Gorbach was very bad, his nose, hands and legs were frost-bitten and he could not move without help. After 10 hours of the hardest descent they reached the tent at 8,300m. Thus, it was a twist of fate that Kovalev who was substituted by Gorbach in group 1 was the first who found him and saved his life. That was the first stage of the fight for Vladimir’s life. At that altitude in different years about 20 climbers who could not escape from the death zone and whose friends could not help them stayed there for good.

The search for Vasiliy Kopytko organized by Leontyev did not produce any results. His tracks were not found by the other members of the search group either. I asked Bershov to approach the Sherpas at the North Col to arrange transportation of Gorbach from 8,000m to ABC (6,350m). Leontyev and Kovalev stayed at 8,300m searching for Vasiliy. Goryunov and Svergun had the strength to carry Gorbach only for a few hours.
Vladimir Lebedenko together with the American climbers arranged a real hospital at ABC to recieve Gorbach. He also advised that it was the idea of Russel Brice (leader of the international expedition) and Eric Simonson (leader of the American expedition) to organize a voluntary group of high class climber/rescuers, Americans and Italians, who could go up and carry the injured climber quickly and safely from the steep walls of the North Col. Great assistance in arranging the descent was rendered also by Vyacheslav Skripko (Russia), Boris Dimitrov (Bulgaria), Silvio (Italy), Fabrizio, Jack Norton, Tad Richards, Conrad Anker and Andy Polits (USA).

On 10 May after consultation with the expedition doctor, Gorbach was provided first aid. With this assistance Vladimir came to life and talked to me via VHF. I had only one question for him, “Where is Vasiliy?”
Gorbach said, “I parted with Vasiliy at the point where I was found by Kovalev. He went with the torch to the ridge to look for the fixed rope. Thanks to everyone for coming for me, I would not have endured one more night.”
After 12.00 hrs Gorbach tried to move with a little help from Svergun and Goryunov. Unfortunately the Sherpas let us down; they started up with the cargo to 8,300m, so they appeared at 8,000m only at 17.00 hrs in the evening. Moreover they refused to help in the transportation. And only under the pressure of Russel’s Nepalese Sirdar and my promise to pay USD 800 did they agree to transport Gorbach to the North Col.
At 7,800m Svergun and Goryunov were replaced by Terzyul and Koval.

V.Terzyul and S.Bershov, meeting on the way down.

At midnight Gorbach was brought to the Col and the rescuers brought him further to ABC at 05.00 hrs, where professional medical help was provided by Vladimir Lebedenko. The doctor had to halt the development of lung edema and give anti-shock therapy. For the first time we used the portable altitude chamber, in which the patient could be “lowered” from 6,400m to 3,000m for some minutes.
On that day when Gorbach was between death and life (blood pressure 60/10), Kovalev and Leontyev continued searching the snowy slope for Vasiliy Kopytko. I proposed that Bershov and Koval go up to 8,300m to relieve them, but then I understood that their condition was too bad so I asked Sergey and Roman to start liquidating the interim camps.
At 08.00 and 12.00 hrs I had radio contact with the search group and it became clear to me that they urgently needed to descend from that altitude, which had affected their condition. They had to descend to the camp at 7,800m and continue visual monitoring of the North-East slopes of Everest. We left our summit tent at 8,300m, but our hopes of finding Vasiliy safe and sound were feeble.
Two days later, on 12 May, when Gorbach’s condition became better and Doctor Lebedenko allowed the patient to be carried lower, nine Sherpas escorted by two doctors brought him rather quickly to Base Camp. At 05.00 hrs Gorbach and Roman Koval drove to Jangma, crossing the border between China and Nepal. There they were met by a car that had been ordered by satellite telephone. The car took them to the hospital in Katmandu.
On 14 May Lebedenko and I ascended to the foot of the North wall of Everest to look further for Vasiliy. Due to bad weather we were unable to examine the wall, but we marked the path along the Main Rongbuk glacier with flags. We were relieved by Terzyul and Kovalev. In good weather they managed to examine the region with the telescope, but no one was found. On 17 May everyone returned to the Base Camp, the interim camps were shut down and the decision to stop searching and finish the expedition was made...”