"The northernmost peak seven thousand metres high"
The Pobeda Peak has been discovered in 1943 by military topographic expedition lead by P.N. Rapasov. The expedition was involved in topographical survey in the remote and poorly known area.
Up to that time the 6,995m-high Khan-Tengri Peak was considered the highest point of Central Tian Shan. Although to the south of Khan-Tengri mountaineers would observe vast massif crowned with peak of not less height than that of the “King of Spirits”. Here is a quotation from the diary of Y.M. Abalakov who was leading the 1936 expedition to Khan-Tengri: “Wind violently blows the snow away and freezes us down to bones. A sea of clouds is around us. And only to the south we can see a summit, a huge mountain ridge to be more precise…”
Computations made by the Rapasov’s expedition based on multiple geodesic intersections show the peak is 7,439.3m high. Indeed, can it really be a mistake? Again and again all new measurements and calculations testify to the same figure - 7,439.3m. That is a discovery! The peak was given a name – the Pobeda Peak. People involved with such outstanding geographical discovery were conferred upon with the Semionov-Tianshansky Grand Golden Medal.
The Pobeda Peak – the world’s northernmost peak over 7,000m-high is enigmatic and has extremely special character. The history of its exploration and mastering is full with heroism, joy of victory and bitterness of defeats.
It is paradoxical that the summit was originally conquered in 1938 by three members of Komsomol (young people political organization preparing cadres for Communist Party of SU): L.Gutman, Y.Ivanov and A.Sidorenko who had no idea that they have conquered the northernmost 7,000m-high peak of the planet. The mountaineers have named the summit as “The Komsomol’s XX Anniversary Peak” registering it as a peak 6,930m-high.
It was only in 1956, after successful conquering of the summit by the expedition headed by V.Abalakov, that people came to knowledge that the Pobeda Peak and the The Komsomol’s XX Anniversary Peak is the same mountain. We have only to admiringly bow before the three courageous ascenders who managed to achieve a victory over such harsh peak using the gear of 1930s and having not enough experience of high-altitude mountaineering.
The discovery of the Pobeda Peak as a new “seventhousander” and determination of its exact height made the USSR possessing a peak second highest to Communizm Peak. That has resulted in growing interest to the new summit, which top, it was believed, nobody’s foot yet stepped upon.
Kazakhstan mountaineers led by the conqueror of Khan-Tengri Y. Kolokolnikov were first who set off to storm the summit of Pobeda Peak. But their luck was not with them at that time. They did not even reach the height of 6,000 being thrown down by avalanche. Fortunately, nobody died.
In 1955 two teams simultaneously were camping at the foot of the Pobeda Peak – the Kazakhstan and the Uzbekistan ones. Without proper acclimatization, on their separate routes they rushed up in the race in which a prize-winner would be the one who first got to the top. Uzbek team members were taking their way on the northern ridge while Kazakhs were storming the peak from the Chon-Teren Pass over the Eastern Pobeda (7,003m).
Lack of acclimatization adversely affected the pace of the ascent. Both teams were gaining altitude extremely slowly. 70 meters short of the top of the Estern Pobeda the Kazakh team led by V.Shapilov got into blizzard. The exhausted people were entrapped and could not withstand the rush of Nature. Tents were collapsing under the heavy snowfall. To avoid suffocation the mountaineers had to slit the tent sides open with knives. All 12 team members gathered together in one last tent. Shapilov has decided to send four of them down for a help as the group was unable to downhill on its own.
Out of those four (as well as of the entire team) the only one survived was U.Usenov. Two of the four participants got frozen to death on the mountain slope and the third one fell down from the sheer wall. U.Usenov fell into crevasse where he was found by rescue team two days later. Those ones staying in the upper camp made a desperate attempt to save their lives by climbing downwards the northern wall on the rope. They were just falling down one by one, down the 1,800m-high wall to the Zvezdochka glacier.
The Uzbek team led by V.Ratzek was called back from their route in order to take part in the rescue operation. But all the participants were so exhausted that they could hardly even get to the Chon-Teren Pass.
Urgently, other rescue team of VTSSPS mountaineers was transferred by plane to help the Pobeda climbers out. The rescuers have managed to reach the Kazakh team’s last camp site only to find bodies of the two died participants, tents thorn out by the storm and participants’ personal belongings and gear scattered around. It became clear that the expedition ended up with catastrophe.
In 1956, having taken into account the last year’s bad experience, other team led by V.M.Abalakov sets off to storm the Pobeda Peak. The team pushes up as hard and steadily as a train. Tirelessly, they commute between the BC and interim camps taking up pack-loads of foodstuff and gear, digging out series of snow caves along the way. They eventually gain perfect acclimatization by repeatedly ascending to higher and higher altitude and by descending to the BC for a good rest - using so called “saw teeth” tactics. At last, on 30th August 1956 the group leaves the bivouac 7,000m and soon reaches the top of the massif. It has been second ever successful ascent, 18 years past the first one. At the same time it has been first ever ascent to the peak bearing the name of Pobeda.
In 1958 the Pobeda Peak was being stormed by a large expedition under the leadership of I.Yerokhin. The expedition was grandiose. After substantial acclimatization 44 mountaineers (3 out them being women) set off to the Eastern Pobeda. In two days all participants were standing on the top of the peak (7,003m). Then 13 most strong ones carried on to the main summit. As two participants felt not very well the group decided to split: 6 men went downhill, the other 7 led by Yerokhin carried on and they have reached the top. Then they descended on the northern slope thus completing historically significant event: first ever traverse of the Pobeda massif.
Subsequent to the victories of 1956 and 1958 the tragedies of 1959 and 1960 have come. In 1959 back to the foot of Pobeda Peak is the Uzbekistan mountaineering team led by V.Ratzek. Despite the tragedy of 1955, the team’s tactics has seen little change. A decision has been made to deploy a large contingent of climbers. Those less strong team members should have been delivering loads for those most strong ones until the former naturally winnowed out in the course of ascent. Such tactics has resulted in the next catastrophe. Having reached the camp C-7100 from where the main party had to storm the summit the supporting group got so exhausted that the people were unable to downhill on their own. The storming party had to help the others on the downhill. Three participants died of emaciation. Great efforts were put to mobilize a rescue team consisted of Kazakh and Georgian mountaineers and to get the exhausted climbers down.
The 1960 expedition was conceived on a large scale. The goal was to fully traverse the entire massif from west to east. The enterprise was conducted as a joint action of two teams – VTSSPS (trade unions) mountaineers and TurkVO (military) mountaineers. K.Kuzmin was heading the expedition. In order to get acclimatization the mountaineers decided to climb on the northern rib of Pobeda and to take down bodies of the Uzbek climbers who died a year before. On the way up at the plateau 5,600m the party of 33 sportsmen got into avalanche. 10 of them were buried with snow and died.
The expedition of 1961 was not as big as the previous one was but its goal was ambitious. They adventured to traverse the entire Pobeda massif west to east. Georgian mountaineering club has funded the expedition. Best climbers of Georgia have been gathered together under the leadership of D.Medzmariashvilli. The team has obtained good acclimatization and all necessary gear has been brought up to the Dikiy Pass and the Chon-Teren Pass.
18th August, the team sets off. Keeping on the good pace, they reach the western shoulder (the 6,918m-high summit) as early as on 23rd August. The peak is given the name of Vazhah Pshavella. On 24th August, having passed the western ridge, the team approaches the last rise before the main summit. On 25th August due to strong wind the team had to leave later in the afternoon and has reached 7,300m. 26th August, the weather is fine and the climbers set off for summit. Short of sub-apical ridge, the tandem of Hergiani brothers turns back because of the younger brother who feels bad. The rest of the team carries on with uphill. At 17:00 the team is on the top of Pobeda. On the descent the weather worsens. The tandem Kuzmin-Medzmariashvilli falls down. It was sheer miracle that they stayed alive. On the descent the mountaineers are caught by darkness and have to have cold overnight in the open. Next morning they carry on with downhill. On the way down one of them – I.Gobliani - dies. His mates are exhausted and cannot transport his body down on the ragged western ridge. They burry the body and carry on. During the rappelling from Vazha Pshavella Peak, T.Kuhianidze falls down along with the rope. Hoping that their team mate has stopped his falling somewhere on the slope D. Medzmariashvilli and K.Kuzmin start traversing the slope. On the traverse D. Medzmariashvilli falls down and dies. K.Kuzmin alone, without belay, gets to the Dikiy Pass where he is met by rescuers who saw the mountaineers falling through binocular. That is how the 1961 expedition ended.
After the events of 1961 for long time mountaineers of Georgia have not been seen on the slopes of Pobeda Peak. In 1966 Georgians organize expedition aiming at rescuing and repatriating of the body of I. Gabliani. But the rescue team could only reach as far as to Vazha Pshavella Peak (6,918m).
In 1967 the Cheljabinsk (town in Siberia) team led by A.Riabuhin succeeded in completing the full traverse of the Pobeda massif from west to east. That route was then repeatedly fulfilled in 1969 by the Ukrainian team of Donetsk. The same year the northern-ridge ascent was successfully repeated for the first time since 1956.
1969 has become a turning-point year. By that time number of those who reached the top was equal to number of those who died on the mountain. Only since 1969 the sad balance has turned positively to the ascended ones.
In 1970 Pobeda Peak has seen mountaineers from Moscow, Leningrad, Dnepropetrovsk, Alma-Ata, Cheljabinsk, Frunze, Kurgan Karakul and from Kamchatka. For the first time helicopter was deployed for transportation of people and loads. That year for the first time the entire Pobeda massif has been traversed east to west. Also the traverse from D. Nehru Peak to Chon-Teren Pass has been fulfilled. Two women first to reach the top of Pobeda Peak were L.Agranovskaya and G.Rozhalskaya. Totally, in 1970, 63 sportsmen climbing on their different routes have reached the summit while participants were totalling 114.
Nowadays Pobeda did not become any easier peak to climb. Practically every season in the Pobeda - Khan-Tengri region number of fatal accidents happen. Mostly they happen due to wrong chosen tactics or poor trained participants. That means the ascent to Pobeda requires extremely serious preparation.
Being the planet’s northernmost 7,000-odd metres high peak, the Pobeda Peak is as difficult mountain to climb as many of Himalayan peaks 8,000-plus metres high are, and Pobeda even supersedes some of them in difficulty.
In 1983 well-known American mountaineer David Brashers by name that earlier for two times conquered Mount Everest was standing on the top of Pobeda. Being asked on the radio on “how he was doing there” he replied: “Oh, that was not Everest”.
What makes the ascent more difficult is unstable weather: sudden snowfalls and stormy winds. It was not by chance that the area was nicknamed as “Wobbly (Tricky, Treacherous) Corner”.
Nowadays the route through Vazha Pshavella Peak (6,918m) and further up on the western ridge is regarded as most popular one. Though being relatively lengthy, the route is less dangerous in terms of avalanches. The distance between the Vazha Pshavella Peak and the point from which the rise to the main summit begins is 3.5km, and it never goes down below the altitude 6,900m.
We wish all the future climbers a good luck and a good weather for the ascent to that extraordinary summit!
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