Members of the expedition:
1. Vadim Sviridenko, the head of the expedition.
2. Alexandr Vlasenko
3. Vladislav Terzyul.
The story about how I sold my tracks in the snow and became
a friend of the Korean people.
In the summer of 1996, a Ukrainian expedition was going to Pakistan.
Our goal was Gasherbrum 2, 8035m. There were three of us: Vadim
Sviridenko, the head of our team and a Master of Sport, and two
climbers: Sasha Vlasenko, 55 years old, physician and experienced
mountaineer, and me - your humble servant, Vladislav Terzyul. We
were strong partners. Behind Sasha’s back were many peaks higher
than seven thousand meters and he had made a recent ascent of Broad
Peak. We were
all in excellent condition.
We arrived at the scene of action—the Baltoro glacier in the Karakoram
mountain range. Two of the highest peaks, G2 and G1 (Hidden Peak),
are located in the same massif. It was June, the peak of the climbing
season. There were a lot of people from all over the world: big
expeditions from the USA, Japan, South Korea and Spain were working
there as well as many small and mixed ones. Both peaks are popular
among the world mountaineering community, especially G2, which is
said to be a commercial mountain; prestigious, like any peak over
eight thousand meters high, it is comparatively accessible by ice-
and snow-covered routes that have no particular technical problems.
Therefore, every season professional guides bring multitudes of
not very strong climbers to G2, who are nevertheless considered
able to climb—of course, for a good price.
Base Camp is located at 5100m on a white plain that is dominated
by the two colossi, G2 and Hidden Peak. Virgin snow was shining
in this cleanest region, protected from all sides.
G2 from C1.
The plateau was overcrowded like a popular resort. There were a
lot of multicolored tents against the shining white background.
An exceptionally beautiful place, good weather, but the situation
in BC was tense. Climbs had started in May but there had been no
success. The first expeditions worked there and left. They failed
despite the fact that their teams included strong climbers. The
route is not difficult but eight thousand meters remain eight thousand
meters. It is always difficult to climb first in a season. It is
especially difficult to succeed after a series of failures by your
predecessors. The firsts climbers to break down this barrier have
a difficult task. When someone leaves their steps there, everything
that follows will be easier. But that is psychology…
The situation on the mountain was dominated by a strong American
expedition. They were making their second attempt to climb G2 that
season. The first one had been made in May. That team did not reach
the summit but set fixed ropes up to C3, approximately 6900m. The
second team of Americans considered themselves to be “heirs-at-law”
of their predecessors and they wanted all the other teams to obey
their dictates. Each team was nervous; there were rumors and intrigue.
Without going deeply into these local matters, Sasha Vlasenko and
I started to work. We went to the route, climbed it to C1 and worked
to reach C2, Snow was up to one’s neck, but weather was good, we
felt fine and were working easily. We came back to BC in good spirits,
had a rest and prepared to go out on the second ascent. If everything
continued to go as it was going it looked like we would climb to
the top. But looking ahead is idle talk when you are attempting
eight thousand meters. I watched as Sasha did his training runs
to the glacier in shorts only. I looked at that big sunburned fifty
five year old man and I was happy that he was my partner.
While having a rest in BC we took a look around, seeking familiar
faces. There were many well-known climbers in BC. The French guide
Jean-Christophe Lafaille, mountaineering school instructor from
Chamonix, Spaniards Roman Portilla Blanco and Jose Carlos Tomayo,
Englishman Alan Hinkes - strong teams were going to the summit,
working hard on the route, but in vain. Tension was growing in BC.
Out of the blue, the head of the American expedition held a general
meeting. The Americans invited leaders of the other expeditions
into their big luxurious tent and raised an absolutely commercial
question. He said “We are continuing the race of our colleagues
and countrymen who have gone. They set the fixed ropes and we have
done something to extend that route as well. We are all ascending
by the same route, so please make your contribution with money or
ropes to compensate us and our previous expedition’s expenses and
efforts.” The Spaniards just slipped out, avoiding the issue. “Well,
we don’t understand English, we can’t discuss the matter, and we
are leaving the meeting.” But the Koreans agreed at once. “Yes we
will play that game, we will pay and give ropes, we’ll settle the
matter.” They have plenty of resources, people, money and gear.
At last we are the next to speak. It is easy to guess that our team
hasn’t any superfluous ropes or money. But I don’t feel like telling
the Americans how poor we are. I said, “Gentlemen, look, we use
a different style to climb, we rope together and don’t need fixed
ropes - they hinder us in principle. ”The Americans replied, “Well,
go roped, it is your business, but don’t touch our ropes.” It irritated
me a little and I said, “In case of necessity or difficult circumstances
or rescue it could happen that we’ll touch your ropes.” In general,
the talks and our efforts at mutual understanding failed.
On the second ascent, like the first one, we climbed roped in alpine
style. Sasha’s and my background is from the Soviet mountaineering
school, it is worth while mentioning that it was the strongest in
the world. Rapidly we got to C2 and went on working to reach C3.
At that point we had surpassed the altitude achieved by the other
teams. The weather was getting worse. We made a level spot for a
tent and went further up over the steep icy-snowy slope, pulling
old ropes left by the Americans from a spring expedition up out
of the snow. We arrived on the 7000m shoulder, found a spot for
C4, the summit camp, set up a tent and spent the night there. In
the morning, we saw the rocks of the pre-summit eminence straight
ahead. The weather proceeded to get worse and the wind force increased.
But we decided to go to the summit anyway. Shortly, Sasha told me
that he felt bad. I glanced at his face attentively and asked a
couple of questions. But even he knew the answer: the symptoms were
obvious. It was altitude sickness. In the past day we had ascended
more than two kilometers. It was urgently necessary to go down,
and we turned back to BC. Every minute Sasha felt worse and somewhere
on the dangerous pitches we clipped onto the American ropes.
During the descent Vadim Sviridenko told me by radio, “Look, here
the Americans are watching you use their ropes with a telescope.”
So a big quarrel arises! At the moment I did not take his worries
to heart. The slopes between C2 and C1 are steep, Sasha was semi-unconscious
and I was rather anxious about his safety, not the Americans and
their concern about their ropes.
At last back at BC, I was sitting dressed in working overalls in
our tent and drinking tea. I had not recovered from the descent.
Suddenly a grand delegation came into our tent. Service officers
and representatives of many expeditions - a good dozen people -
arranged a trial for me. The main polemics were delivered by the
American officer. “You refused to make a contribution and at the
same time used our ropes.” I was not ready to talk. I was drinking
tea and listened silently. At last when they started to shout and
I had finally slaked my thirst, I began to ask some counter questions.
“How far are the ropes set that you want to be paid for?”
“Good. OK. The second question. How far did we climb?”
“Yes,” they replied, “We saw you made it to C3, climbed to C4 and
even tried to summit, but you came back.”
I said, “I see. So let the Americans buy the tracks that I made
from C2 to C4. Then I’ll be ready to discuss the matter of payment
for ropes that were fixed to C2.”
With a blast of indignation, the international delegation swept
out of our tent. The Americans tried again to press upon me with
their claims. I again proposed they buy my trail. They flatly refused
and did not disturb me with that problem again. Rumors spread over
the camp that some usurpers from Ukraine abused the Americans and
jumped ahead of everyone on the route. I took it easy, all that
emotion, that’s normal.
The situation developed further: In the contest the mountain was
slowly pulling ahead with bad weather. Some climbers were in BC,
some were on the route, but no one could step past C2 - bad weather
prevented this. We were unique in BC, having reached C4. We should
have gone up, but we had problems. Sasha was frostbitten and the
way up was closed for him.
I knew I should go alone, and I also knew that it was impossible
to cross Gasherbrum glacier to C1 on my own. There were many covered
crevasses and it is necessary go roped across such a glacier. I
joined a Japanese group and they helped me to cross the glacier
and get to C1. I was the only one of our team on this huge mountain.
I got along up to C2 alone. There I saw a gathering of Korean and
French climbers, who being in ambivalent moods, wanted to make the
next move slowly. “But I am OK, I feel fine,” I thought. I was keen
to go upward. I knew for me it was necessary to join together, to
agree about how to work together. Just intending to say something
about that possibility, I encountered my Korean friend Choi. He
was smiling cheerfully from ear to ear, embraced me with a hug and
shouted loudly into the frosty air, “Slavik! I am Choi! Do you remember
Peak Kommunizma?” I scrutinized his oriental face, their faces for
us, you know, are similar, like ours for them. But I recognized
him at once. Our history was not to be forgotten for a moment.
In 1990 our team climbed Peak Kommunizma via the normal route.
We were on our way down. At the elevation of 6100m we met a Korean
team; one of their members was physically exhausted. He was practically
dying. And the Koreans asked me to help take him down. This conversation
occurred at 6100m. In order to get to that point going up one had
to surmount a small plateau that was 6400m high: it’s a remarkable
place on Peak Kommunizma, called “skovorodka” ( the frying pan).
So to take somebody down it is necessary to carry him up to 6400m
and then the real way down starts. It is difficult to realize what
it means to carry a sick man via a serious route. And before we
encountered the Koreans, we had trouble of our own - one member
had an abrupt fall, and I was assisting this friend who was suffering,
helping him to get down. That is the condition I was in at 6100m.
I needed a nap, but the Koreans had their request,in such a situation
it was a request that I couldn’t refuse. It was my luck that the
Korean guy was not big. I grabbed him and literally dragged him
to 6400m. “Well,” I tell the Koreans, “You do the work further.”
But the Korean technical leader asked me with tears in his eyes,
“Slavik, don’t leave us, help to take him down.” The leader’s name
was Choi, a strong young man about thirty years old, an experienced
climber, physically and technically well skilled. But they were
exhausted, extremely exhausted, at that time on Kommunizma and had
no power for the descent. I saw that my Korean victim was bad off.
Any delay in his descent would lower his chance to survive.
So I took the disabled man and carried him down further. He was
suffering from acute altitude sickness, he lost consciousness often,
and he did not walk with his own strength. When I could not carry
him myself, I found a way to transport him: I laid him on the snow,
went down the distance of the rope length, then pulled him down.
The Korean guy slipped down 40 meters to me then 40 meters more
beneath me. I belayed him, halting his descent, then went to him
and repeated the action again. I was impressed - every time after
that flight I asked him, ”How are you?” He was hardly alive, but
through his dozing consciousness he coughed out only, “Good”. He
was striving to hold on to life a lot. Little by little I got him
to the glacier…
Of course after that, I at once became a “national hero of South
Korea.” This was the Soviet period, our countries had absolutely
poor relations. Each of the Koreans came to me, thanked me and foisted
handfuls of lights or some other trifle as mementos of thanks. They
clothed me in Polartec, which no one in our country had at that
time, excellent mountain clothes…
And six years later, I meet the same Choi on G2. Indeed, he was
again the technical leader of the South Korean expedition. Choi
knew me immediately and expressively he told his friends the story
of Peak Kommunizma in 1990. After that the Koreans followed me everywhere
and said that they wanted me to be the leader of their advanced
group. I did not keep them waiting and agreed on the leadership
There we formed a mixed international team: Koreans, French and
me. We were working between C2 and C3, hard work. Bad weather smashed
most of trail that was tracked before. I needed a good partner and
I proposed a cooperation with Jean-Christophe Lafaille, a climber
of the highest reputation. He is an excellent mountaineer but shortly
it was clear that at that moment, I was stronger. Therefore he gave
me his wonderful ice gear, two ice axes, and I led. Koreans delivered
gear and ropes to us. We set fixed ropes and were moving quickly
to C3. I was in a hurry, Lafaille and I had no tent and as soon
as we reached C3, we had to turn back to C2 to overnight.
As we progressed along the way, it appeared necessary to change
the route a little. Exactly above us a huge amount of snow had accumulated
that could fall down, so I turned a little bit to the right from
the trail tracked earlier. This option was more difficult but safer.
When the distance to C3 was short, Lafaille began to ask, “Slavik,
give me just once the opportunity to work first.” I reply categorically,
“Lafaille, we have no time, you’ll be slow.” Then I was confused
about that. I learned that he is a master, a real instructor of
climbing at his academy in Chamonix. But this dialogue did not influence
our relationship. After this climb we became good friends, and I
am proud of our friendship.
When one pitch remained, Jean-Christophe asked pleading. I let
him pass first and fix the last rope to C3. Along the fixed ropes
the Korean group came and began to set up tents. Joyful, with the
work done, Jean-Christophe and I went down to C2 for overnight.
Awakening in the morning Lafaille said, “Slavik, I am not ready
to climb, the pace is too fast, I can’t go up yet, so you go alone.”
I relied on Lafaille, we worked well together, he was a good partner.
Now to go further I had to take one of the Koreans as my partner.
That day we should reach C4, and I worried about our tent, the one
which Sasha Vlasenko and I left there during our first ascent. The
weather had been bad and if it was torn when we arrived, it would
force me to turn around resolutely and run back to C2...
I went to C3. The Koreans were still in their tents. The weather
was bad. I made a brave face and said, “Look boys, would you like
go to the summit?” With a burst of enthusiasm, they answered “Yes!
Slavik, we are with you!” They jumped up quickly and I saw that
they had a good rest. My humor got better.
I started working along with Choi. It proved that there was no
need to set fixed ropes. I remembered where the ropes of the American
spring expedition were. Again we pulled them out of the snow and
followed them to C4. There I had a surprise. There it was, our tent,
“Wild country” Goretex, it had cost about 750 bucks. Wonderfully
it stood, beautiful, nothing had happened to it. Choi and I sat
drinking tea, waiting for the second two Korean guys. They arrived
and I helped them set up camp. Then I instructed them, “Well boys,
in the morning get up at four o’clock, come out at five, we go to
the summit, understand?” -“Understand!” In the same manner I proceeded,
“In the morning, please, breakfast.” They obeyed me like good solders
and I used that opportunity.
G2 summit from the assault camp.
Early in the morning they came out to climb. Again I went roped
with Choi; he is a pretty strong mountaineer. The second two roped
climbers were far behind us. The route was scattered with snow in
some places, a strong wind blew in gusts. Underfoot it was pure
ice, a winter ice like glass. Although the route was not hard, it
had some specific difficulties.
Around 1 p.m. we climbed to the summit.
There were no problems, we had enough strength. I spent almost
an hour taking photos and videos. I took photos of Choi with all
his dozens of flags and sponsors’ gear. Still the second two guys
had not arrived. We decided that they were not coming and we began
to go down. Suddenly the second group appeared on the ridge. We
went back and I was forced to repeat the trial of taking photos
in fresh air at 8035 meters. Once more I had to push buttons on
all three or four cameras and take photos of all three dozen tags
of the sponsors, each one separately. It seemed more tiresome than
the climbing itself...
At last we began the descent. The weather was getting worse, flocks
of clouds rushed up around us. I was told later that all the quarrels
in camp stopped at that moment. The mountain had not surrendered.
And there was some hahol (Ukrainian) with Koreans assaulting the
summit. Everyone took telescopes and observed our situation through
the breaks in the clouds. Everyone was anxious about us and all
the intrigues stopped.
On the way down I overloaded the Koreans with my gear. And I took
some American gear that had been abandoned in the spring. The Koreans
obeyed me without complaint. They left their own stuff and took
mine. They were so grateful to me.
A couple of kilometers before reaching BC, on the glacier in a
place as far out from camp as it was safe, a crowd of people had
come out to meet us: all the other Koreans and representatives of
many expeditions. It was a real celebration! Tea, food… They welcomed
us like heroes, especially me. I have my photo in wreaths…
At once after our success began successful climbs for many expeditions.
There were no encumbrances, it was like a burst dam. As I said,
it is always difficult to be the first.
One more moment was worth mentioning. To get to our tents in BC
it was necessary to cross through the American camp. When we were
descending Vadim told me by radio, “Terrible things are going on
here in BC. The Americans are walking around rapping with stones
and saying, Slavik the monster used our ropes, let him come back
and we’ll show him, we’ll show everyone.” And then we were walking
through BC, me in wreaths. The frightened leader of our expedition
said, “Look, let’s go around the American camp.” “I can’t.” “We
will get into a row…” For sure I had a different frame of mind.
I was walking about three meters tall, straight ahead to the American
camp. “Now I’ll make it clear how much and to whom I owe, “I thought.
The Americans came out. And the youngest and cheekiest one from
the entire American expedition, Fabrizio (Zangrilli), an Italian,
said right away, “Slavik, I never saw such fine work!” It killed
me at once. Later our ways crossed many times, and he helped me.
We became capital friends. The others joined in, “Good, great, wonderful!”
greeting me with taps on my shoulders. So in this way the Ukrainian-American
conflict on Gasherbrum 2 came to an end.
Just then the leader of the South Korean expedition appeared. Our
group numbered around 20 people and he said, “Boys, tonight we’ll
make a party, I invited the cooks of each the expeditions to prepare,
we will set the table for dinner, and I will treat you all. We have
alcohol and a lot of dishes, it will be a wonderful party, we’ll
That evening really happened to be exceptional. The table was 30
meters long, set up right on the glacier. There was everything,
cooks of many expeditions did their best… Korean cuisine prevailed:
spicy and sweet. They brought out their Korean vodka, it’s unique,
and there was plenty of it...
When everyone had taken a seat, the head of the Korean expedition,
a grey-haired man about fifty stood up, raised his cap and began
to sing loudly. Their interpreter told us that the chief was singing
about Gasherbrum 2, this beautiful mountain, climbed by Korean sportsmen,
thanks to the Ukrainian mountaineer Slavik. He did his best for
that, we were happy, we were delighted, we wished to the others
such a victory…
All the above was mentioned and more was reflected in this song,
which lasted around five minutes (if not ten). We heard, toasted
with a drink, sat down and the Korean leader said, “You sing now,”
and he motioned to the head of our group, Vadim Sviridenko. Vadim
panicked, “What do I sing about?” - “What about, about Gasherbrum
2!” Vadim refused flatly, “I can’t, I have not made up a song… no…”
Then I got up, took my cup with alcohol and sang the first thing
that came to my mind, “From the island to the stream to the freedom
of river flowing…” ( it’s a famous Russian folk song). To the question:
What are you singing about, I answered, “About Gasherbrum 2.” I
finished with everyone’s admiration, and everyone drank bottoms
Then they asked Lafaille, “Come on sing, as French team leader.”
Lafaille did not know what to sing about and complained that he
was not a singer. I advised him: let’s sing Marseliesa! Lafaille
quickly jumped in and sang a couplet of Marseliesa. - Success, all
of us were happy. Then the Spaniards sang their national song too
and so on. The party turned into a wonderful outdoor festival on
the glacier under the stars, under a Moon as tremendous as a house.
There were dances and heart-to-heart talks… No one fell asleep till
the morning, and that rest was splendid…
Shortly after, we left the camp for home. The expedition was over,
we felt a great warmth for everyone. I think we will have those
feelings forever. Although this word forever is not appropriate
for human life. Forever can only apply to the mountains.
(November, 2003 )