Sat, Sep 13, 2014

A brutal race.

Pik Lenin, 7134 meters high in Kirgistan (between Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and China). One of the five Snowleopards (peaks over 7000 meters of the Ex-Soviet-Union). The race was an Idea of the Russian Skyrunning Association (www.skyrace.ru). The mission is to get as fast as possible from the advanced Basecamp (ABC, 4400m) to the summit of Pik Lenin 7134m via the normal route on the North West ridge.

The first thing to be done before the race is acclimatizing and getting the body used to the altitude. I thought this would be easy because I'm used to move fast in the altitude. But in the end we (Sebastian Bocquet and myself and from Germany) only had 13 days to acclimatize our body and get ready for racing on 7000m. Normally that takes minimum three weeks. We arrived to Basecamp and I realized again, how hard it is to make the first fast moves above 4000 and 5000 meters. The body is constantly week and is missing power. The metabolism is always on 100% and the pulse rate is doubled all the time.



The plan was to acclimatize with climbing the summit of Pik Lenin and ski the North Face. The timing was very tight, so we summited very early on the 26. and successfully skied down.

Totally exhausted Sebastian and I came to ABC on the evening of 26. and thought we have two days to recover for the race, which was planed on the 29. But in the night the race director told us, that the race will be one day earlier on the 28.. So we only had 30 hours to load our batteries. Certainly not enough. Horror!

So we tried to eat and sleep, but our mind was restless and we also had to prepare logistics. 02.30am of the 28. we got up and tried to awake our tired bodies. Two coffees and some porridge went down in my stomach, but I did not feel great. Vladimir Ivanovich, the race director was shouting already in Russian English: 10 minutes, Start, Lenin Race! F***, I forgot my climbing belt, did not get water and had to fix my start number on leg and back pack. I was still busy with the water bottle when the race started just at 04.00am.



Vitally, the strongest pushed hard right away. We had to cross a crumply and harsh glacier for 30 minutes until we finally got to the uphill route. Many guys slipped and fell. It was funny. Than it got steep and everybody changed to fast hiking and tried to find a pace without choking. It was cold, but not too cold. The field was spreading and I ran together with Peter Gross from Austria. We soon passed camp I, but my intestines were rebelling a little and I had to make a stop. It is not easy with the climbing belt and the all the gear, so I lost some time and had to sacrifice my buff (will not explain why). I had to fight hard to catch Peter again.

After camp II the wind was getting stronger and I realized on camp III on the NW ridge the wind will be hammering (the forecast said 60-70km/h for the summit). So I was sure they would stop the race on camp III on 6100m. So I ran like hell, it got colder and colder, but I did not want to loose time. I wanted to overtake Peter and finish 4. Totally done I reached camp III in a medium snow storm. Two helpers showed us a tent, were we could drink and change clothes. I asked about the status of the finish line. The Russian answer was just: Finish? Summit!!! Ok, I changed my waterproof Vicking runners and put on my ski touring boots. Man, I was so cold, but I saw to guys already moving up the ridge to camp IV. So I put everything I had on my body and left the backpack behind. Light and fast!

I ran across the col from Camp III to the ridge. On the ridge, I realized I lost my right crampon while running, because I fixed it not tight enough. Damn! No chance to find it again, too much wind and snow! I reached camp IV, but it was just a lonesome little tent in the storm. The guy in the tent just told me: no gas, no water!
Fu# it! Ok, let's see how long my body can do without water! Sebastian was smarter than Peter and me, he decided to stop at camp IV, descent to camp II, drink and recover. I caught Peter again (he was faster with changing shoes and gear). He did not look too good anymore and we drank his frozen Fanta behind a rock.
I reached the "knife", the steepest part, a little climb of 60 degrees. Easy, but very exhausting on 6700 meters with a storm that got stronger and stronger. Vitally suddenly appeared, he must have been on the summit already. Unbelievable how fast he was. His face was totally frozen and covered in ice. He did not want to talk and rushed down. I knew that meant, the wind on the summit must have been turbo!



I reached the summit plateau and struggled finding the way. The sight was almost zero due to the storm. Luckily I already knew the way, otherwise I would not have found the summit. 30 meters below the summit, there was a little tent in a bursting storm. Two poor Russians were waiting there for taking the time of athletes reaching the summit.

The storm got even stronger, so the race director stopped the race (in EU or USA, they would have stopped on 6000 meters already, but this is Russia!).
So they packed their tent in panic and only shouted: Down, down, down!!! We rushed down and caught Peter. He was angry because he would have needed only 20 more minutes to the summit, but he also realized the storm gets dangerous. We searched the way and came to the big plateau on 7000 meters. There we were trapped. A total "white out" and the track was gone!

For one hour we searched the way, but could not find it. To the left it would lead to the other side of the mountain and we would never get back on track. Two the right it would lead into the North face. Too dangerous! It was impossible to find the entrance to the ridge. Slowly Peter and me got scared and thought of digging a snow cave to survive the night. Problem was that the weather would stay bad for 2-3 days. Two nights above 7000m could be lethal. The cold would slowly make us fall asleep forever.
So after one hour of searching we just tried to keep the right direction and hope we would find the right gate to the ridge. And we were lucky, we found it! On the ridge navigation was still bad and I had to concentrate with only on crampon not to sleep on the ice. Peter got slower and slower and I realized we don't have enough power left to get down the save ABC. Peter wanted to reach camp III and stay there for the night.



After an eternity we reached camp III and stayed in a tent of a Kirgis guide. It was thundering and lightning. We were totally destroyed and shared some tee (first fluid since many hours) and than it happened. It felt like an electric shock of a fence, they use for animals, but ten times harder!

For a second I lost orientation and asked Peter: what was that!
His answer was: I think, that was a flash!

Now we knew, we mustn't stay on this camp and go down, no matter how tired we are. So again we but on the boots and I put on one crampon and continued our downhill. But the tea helped and we felt better. One hour later we reached camp II, were Sebastian was waiting for us. After chocolate and more fluid we found the strength to further descent to ABC together. The sight got better, but the wind stayed strong.



After 16 hours we came back to ABC totally tired but happy to be save. We slept like babies and did not realize the storm even in ABC at night. The next day I realized, that half of the ABC was gone and people tried to save what is possible. We were lucky. Our tent was still standing.

Up on the mountain the tents were just blown away. Next day we left the destroyed ABC and descended to Basecamp for the winning ceremony and party... What an adventure!!!



We are the lucky guys being able to do these adventures, but they would not be possible without the people behind the scenes. Thanks to UVU Racing and all the people behind this project, working hard every day to make it happen. They all do a fantastic job!

Basti Haag