DHAULAGIRI (8167 m), 1996.

A. Moshnikov and S. Shibaev

Foto by A. Moshnikov

The expedition was organized by CET Neva high venture travel agency (Center of Extreme Tourism), St. Petersburg, Russia

Sponsors: Petrospek, St. Petersburg, Russia, and Gallina Blanca, Spain

Expedition members: A.Moshnikov, CET Neva Director, expedition leader;
A. and N. Shustrovs, CET Neva guides;
K.Astanin, M.Gavrilov, E.Maiorov, N.Pimkin, D.Sergeev, G.Chunovkin, D.Shevelev - all ten are from St.Petersburg;
Ruta Kripaitite, Lithuania;
V.Ivanov and V.Stepanov, Novgorod.
Brothers A. and N. Shustrovs were CET Neva people at the time of the expedition. In December 1996 they left CET to set up their own tourist agency - Top Sport Travel, St. Petersburg, Russia.

The summit was reached on October 21, 1996 by A.Moshnikov (alone).

No artificial oxygen was used in the expedition.

Dhaulagiri from the North.


Dhaulagiri. Base Camp. On September 13, 1996, 13 people left the Moscow Railway Station in St.Petersburg for a long journey. 10 days later they were at the foot of Dhaulagiri, where they made their base camp at an altitude of 4700m (see the figure). The Japanese, Swiss, Austrian fellow- mountaineers cheerfully greeted the arrived "rivals". Only Bart Vos, a Dutch, looked with suspicion. This was his third attempt to climb the peak. He was robbed here during his last climbing in 1995. He blamed the theft on Bulgarian climbers, and certainly he did not see much difference between Bulgarians and Russians. The Petersburg's team climbing was agreed to follow the classic Swiss route over the north-east ridge (on the figure it is on the left, on the sky background).

In Sanskrit, Dhaulagiri means "White Mount", and early in the 19th century it was considered to be the world's highest peak. It happened somehow that, while attempts to conquer Everest or Nanga Parbat were undertaken as early as the 1890s, it was not until the early 1950s that Dhaulagiri caught the eye of climbers. Offended by such an indifference, Dhaulagiri aborted for a full decade all attempts to devirginate her, and it was the eighth expedition that succeeded at last.

Annapurna seen from Dhaulagiri. The famous French expedition led by Maurice Herzog was the first to get near Dhaulagiri in 1950. However, Dhaulagiri looked unassailable to the French, and Herzog took the group away 30 kilometres eastward, to Annapurna, which was to become the first mountain over 8000m high conquered by man (on the figure Annapurna's group is seen from the west, from the altitude of 6600m on the Dhaulagiri slope, sunset). Dhaulagiri could have fallen as early as 1954 when an Argentine team, only 170 m away from the summit, had to pull out because of extremely raging weather. It was only in 1960 that a Swiss expedition led by proficient Max Eiselin achieved the success.

As time went by, the relatively low Dhaulagiri (ranking only sixth among mountains over 8000m high) proved to be hard to crack, even by the modern alpine standards. In 1969, an American expedition lost seven people at the south-east side. Japanese alpinists were able to master the route over the northern face only in 1982, 20 years (!) after the first attempt to climb this route. 47 expeditions to Dhaulagiri were organized in the period from 1980 to 1988. It was only in 21 of these that Nepalese communication officer registrated reaching the summit.

Soviet/Russian climbers first appeared here in the late 1980s. In 1988, Yu.Moiseev and K.Valiev in cooperation with a Slovak Z.Demjan succeeded in getting over the south-west buttress. In the alpine context, this ascent with a 3000m altitude difference and passage of the VI+A2 sections at altitudes of 6800-7300m, was acknowledged as the year's best achievement at the UIAA Expedition Commission Conference. In 1991, success was scored by E.Ilyinsky-led Kazakh expedition, all members of which climbed up the summit via a new route over the western wall. 10 Russians mastered this peak in 1992-1993. A record-breaking ascent, within 17 hours from the start from the base camp, was made by "our man from Kazakhstan" Anatoly Bukreev (December 25, 1997 Bukreev, the outstanding climber, died on Annapurna).

Among other events occurred on the Dhaulagiri mountainsides, noteworthy is the extraordinary "solo" by a Pole K.Vieliki over the diretissima of the eastern wall triangle in 1991.

Dhaulagiri from Kali Gandaki valley. The northern sides seem to be the easiest to climb. On the south, there looms a ghastly wall of about 2500m high - one of the formidable problems of the Himalayan alpinism. Nor should the classical Eiselin's route from the north-east (on the figure the NE rib is shown from the east, from the Kali-Ghandaki valley) be considered an easy one. It was here that Dainyus Makauskas, one of the most famous and experienced Lithuanian alpinists (a friend of V.Shataev) was lost in descent of the summit in the fall of 1990. The celebrated Reinhold Messner had to pull out twice here, in 1977 and 1984, and only succeeded in 1985 at a third try.

The expedition from St. Petersburg did very well for the first few days. In a week, camps were made at altitudes of 5800 and 6600 m. Nor did a heavy four-day snowfall (see on the figure: Japanese camp at 5800m after the snowfall) shake the assurance of success. On October 6, the group resumed the ascent. At the "7200" mark, a platform was improvised out of snow, and a couple of tents were squeezed thereon. Then began perhaps the most arduous part of the route, up to an altitude of 7400m: a steep (50-degree) slope covered with hard snow and ice. And the strongest wind everywhere (see on the figure: snowflags on the east ridge at 6200m), pushing one flat onto the mountainside... Periodically it was snowing. To recover any of the camps, one had to remove a snow cover 1-1.5m thick. Climbing became digging trenches waist-deep in snow. Still, all this was not the point - man on the mountain is supposed to face the music. The point was time.
Japaneese camp covered with snow.
Snow flags on the eastern ridge.

According to plan, the assault of the peak was scheduled at October, 12. The onset of the weather postponed it for a week. Part of the group left the base camp on October 20 to catch the plane for Kathmandu. The group was six- strong now: Ruta Kripaitite, Alexei and Nikolai Shustrovs, Kostantin Astanin, Eugene Maiorov, and Anatoly Moshnikov. They gave themselves three more days for the final try. Preparatory work done, the path to the top done, now - the final spurt.

The 21st October was the last of the three days allotted. At 7-30 in the morning, three (Astanin, Maiorov, and Moshnikov) left the assault camp at the "7400" mark. They carried no oxygen. The gap between the leading Moshnikov and the two other alpinists gradually increased. Anatoly headed to the north-east ridge. When he reached it, he got a severe wind blow on the face that made him to change his mind and continue on the unfamiliar, but sheltered, northern side. When, in the vicinity of the summit, he tried once more to climb up the ridge, he was held off by a huge cornice. No sinews, no time left to get it over. Got to descend a little, loosing the precious metres of altitude, retreat a little, and then climb again. At 15-30, there was nowhere to go up. 8167 metres...

That evening, Moshnikov put down in his diary:

The Mountain... Capitalized. It is only for a while that she will receive you if you became part of her, learnt her ways, and live in peace with her. The summit is not just a pile of stones, snow and gusty winds, and all the world underneath. There is more to it: yourself and your solitude. You did it in defiance of everything and everybody, but once again you just overcame... yourself. It is impossible to overcome the Mountain.

The air, which is always in short supply... The wind that presses its icy palm tight to your mouth. The wind does not know that your are human... The frozen snow is resounding under your weight, and your nerve tips seem to be bared, and you are listening to the moans, whispers, raps. The extinguishing senses drive you up, where there is nothing at all.

But, lo, there is nowhere to climb up any more... Don't believe it! This is just the beginning. Descent... Fog has rolled suddenly, like a bolt from the blue as usual. Where to go? Where is the road that leads home, and where are the falls awaiting you? All got mixed up... Familiar places you passed just a couple of hours before have changed beyond recognition and look hostile. It is at these times that you feel a nobody...

By 18 o'clock they descended to the assault camp. The two Anatoly met in descent had opted not to take risk: the lit hours would certainly have been not long enough for them to return to the tent. The next day, having dismantled the tents on the way, they reached the base camp by 10 o'clock in the night. Now, it will take them a day to get to Jamsong, then a flight to Kathmandu, a flight to Moscow, and "Motherland, welcome your heroes!"

Leaving the camp, they took just enough packet soups and tea to last a day. The had no way of knowing that there will be a trap on the way that will hold them for five days.

Snow had started last night, and they watched the blanket of snow grow up beginning from 20cm to 1.5m. The cosy green terraces became avalanche-threatening hillsides. They only managed 1-1.5km a day. On day three, when, after two mountain passes, their route came to run along a canyon edge, they had to stop altogether. They were lucky they had overtaken Bart Vos on their day-two march, and the Dutch who had, after his third (and again vain) attempt, to retire from Dhaulagiri, hesitatingly joined them. Bart had a primus and fuel, and they had tea and packet soups.

23.10. It's hard to rise in the morning; all is aching, convulsions, completely exhausted. Got to straighten gradually and, avoiding sharp motions, to crawl out of the tent. A grey morning, no slightest hope for a sunshine. Austrians... hardly can be expected to start early. It is drizzling. What will happen to our belongings? Will they come down? The retreat of the French over Berezina... I wonder, why there is no "feeling of victory"?

Dragged ourselves to the pass. Thought we couldn't: the stomach gnawing all the time, moving with difficulty, feeling bad. Perhaps overstrained myself leading all the time, but the old rule "lead until someone else comes to the fore" still holds. Just below the pass I felt I couldn't manage any more and proposed to halt for the night. Another came to the fore. Made the pass, descended a little, and stopped. Snowing was becoming increasingly heavier. Drunk some spirit. A little better.

24.10. In the morning - fog and snow again. Got trapped. A faint hope still lingered... then died.

Started at 8-00 without breakfast. Distressed, nothing visible around, located the path as the blind do. It is only the feeling of no return that drives us forward. 4 exhausting hours and... there was a tent! Bud? Right. Cold greetings, but... hot coffee, some noodles, and life starts glimmering again. Now Bud is with us, Bud knows the way. Winged, we climbed the pass, and lo, no visibility farther, heavy snowing again. The mountainsides imperceptibly become steeper and steeper, the surroundings inexorably turn grey, wind blew, we got scared. Fog, snow-storm, we got completely lost. 4 o'clock. This is the final curtain.

25.10. Did not rise up since morning. All is quite clear. Planes, like boats, wait no men, and we have missed our train to get to the airport in time. There is a hope still: supposing it clears, but... the thick opaque milk of the fog is becoming something beating against the tent and, and, here you are, got to dig ourselves up again. We are at the edge (thanks God, not in the center) of an avalanche collector and hear the "first trains" of avalanches go down from the steep slopes. Luckily, at a certain distance from us, though not too far away; they say, one will never hear one's avalanche, as well as one's stone.

Drunk the remaining spirit. A little better, but of course not for very long.

26.10. Still lying. Silence. The snow rustles. Nothing to eat for quite a while. Ransacked everything in search of a couple of mislaid candies: nothing, except medicine. Tried to play cards and, strangely enough, the foolish game helped divert.

27.10. Saw a clearance in the morning, and crawled out. All but powerless to pick up the rucksack. Something happened to your constitution, and you reach the bound, beyond which there is a threshold of indifference to your fate - only an idiot is going to climb these slopes...

Bud promises a plateau soon, and seems to doubt his own words..., but still tramples. Got to fight in earnest now, all joking aside, for the lives, for... many more things.

The night is coming. Bud, glad, declared again that the plateau is already soon but I do not recognize the surroundings. Halted.

28.10. Snowing from the morning, powerless to get up, though it is quite close to Marfa village. Bud stimulates his primus already starting since 6 o'clock, burning the fuel down: filled up the thermos, that was all. Today is a decisive day: "to be or not to be"... Feebleness, it is that to humiliate.

Last night Kostya was bad: he had eaten 6 tablets of codein to suppress feeling of hunger and seems to be suppressed himself a little. Were giving him tea having burnt down the last remains of canned gas. The night was hard...

Started nevertheless. Bud proposed to unload Kostya: to carry his belongings is easier than to carry himself.

The beginning was very hard... It is cold though the sun is seen through the clouds and there is a visibility. Bud is leading and trampling like the steam train, but the slopes are dangerous. The crest is very close but... we are crawling like snails waist-deep in snow. Twice I changed the socks because the toes got frozen. There nothing exists in the organism...

For all that reached the crest, it's easier to go down. Not far to forest, will make. Made... At last, after the deathly silence of the Snow Queen's world, we hear sounds of yaks' bells and birds' cries. The forest smell, the village... This time escaped...

By the end of the sixth day they got to the first village then a day later were in Jamsong. Not less than three hundred tourist groups caught by the same snowfall were accumulated in the village to wait for flights for Katmandu. Our heroes could spend there more a couple of weeks waiting, but fortunately, the Dutch, who knew everything and everybody here and during the journey together changed to better his opinion about the Slavonic nationalities, found out a "local authority" and they got to start with almost the first flight.

P.S. That fall nobody had conquered Mt.Dhaulagiri except for the Petersburg expedition. In spite of that the path was made and the ropes were fixed...

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