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Author: Viktor Koval, St. Petersburg

Mizhirgi. Northern ridge. January 2009

When I was in Bezengi for the first time, on the approach to Warm Corner I noticed a severe and in the same time very elegant ridge, leading to the top of a huge ice-and-rock massif, rising above 5000 meters. It seemed to be so unreal and so attractive. It was so called Northern ridge on The Eastern Mizhirgi Peak.

The route along the ridge was passed for the first time by the team under the leadership of the Honored Master of Sports of USSR in alpinism Vasiliy Pelevin. The team consisted of Alexander Borovikov, Vladimir Kizelya, Ivan Leonov and Vadim Rubanov. This ascent took place in August 1952, and won 1-2 places in ascents of high-grade class.

Northern massif and Pelevin’s ridge

Pelevin’s ridge in winter

Nowadays the route along the Northern ridge is considered to be a strong 5Б, but it isn’t a special sports achievement itself. In recent years it is rarely visited because of rockslide danger in its lower part. But such situation takes place in summer. In winter this route and Mizhirgi at all, as far as I know, hasn’t been visited.
We decided to start the season 2009 with this beautiful and attractive route. Observations of the past years and several days in the camp before the New Year showed that the route is solid, virgin clean and safe.

On January 02 2009 our friendly team consisting of Sasha Gukov, Sergey Kondrashkin, Alik Izotov and me, Viktor Koval, left the alpinist camp «Bezengi». After the first step of Mizhirgi glacier icefall, we stopped on the middle moraine of the glacier and providently made a path to the beginning of the route.

Beginning of the ascent on the ridge

Gendarmes on the ridge

In the morning, after the bergschrund, we started to ascend the ridge. Unexpectednesses began just in several pitches. Suddenly a river of snow began to flow from the top of overhanging rock. For several seconds it was a small streamlet, then it turned into a real full-flowing river. We clung fast to the slope, trying to seek shelter behind the relief (stones, rocks). When the stream was over, we continued to move by the ice-covered slope. Within 15 minutes everything repeated. We clung fast to the slope again… And all day long like this. Sasha looks at Serega and me with disapproval. We didn’t understand at all where was that snow from.

Second gendarme

Ice part of the ridge

Last summer we had to descend along the North-Western buttress of Pobeda (Victory) Peak (Juravlev’s route) three days long in bad weather because of one of the members had edema of the lungs. It seemed that we couldn't be surprised with snow and avalanche any more. But we were wrong:)

In the night we ascended the ridge and installed a tent before the first rock level.

In the morning of the second day the weather became much worse: the sky was cloudy, view was restricted, and it was snow and wind. Sasha leaded all day long. We passed the rocky gendarmes of our ridge. There were no special problems, except the cold weather and the fact that summed deion didn’t agree with the real state of the route. Darkness stole up and we installed camp.

Until the third day of the ascent we thought that it was very bad weather. But it became really bad on the third day. The wind blew stronger, the snowstorm rose. Visibility was very low, only several meters. Wind and snow sticked up our faces, blowing out the remains of warmth from our clothes. This day I worked first. We passed all the ice part of the ridge and reach the base of the pre-peak wall of the Eastern Mizhirgi.

Two hours of work with ice axes, and we had a place for tent. All our clothes was covered with snow on the outside and on the inside as well.

In the night the snowfall became stronger, the tent began to be buried and just pressed out of its area. We spent the night in the sitting position, every hour someone of us went outside to clear the snow and try to save place for the tent. It was difficult.

Viktor Koval

Sergey Kondrashkin

In the morning the temperature fell again. We put on everything we had but it wasn’t enough. Morning connection told us that even those few groups that were in the Warm Corner and had sport plans, this day decided not to go because of the weather. More than 30 degrees of frost and strong wind.

We traversed to the right to the beginning of the ice coiloir, going through the pre-top wall. This day Alik was a leader. The place was unpleasant: boulges, covered with ice. Slope was about 70 degrees. He left the belay, went upwards, placed a drill and continued to ascend. Then he fell. Ice with the drill dashed out easily. Alik flew about 20 meters more, stopping on the belay. We were lucky that there were no rocks below, only icy slope. We changed Alik to Serega and continued to work.
The crux section of the route was “the ice room” – a vertical 40-m crack with ice. Serega passed a half of the “room” and made a belay on a small ledge in its middle part. I changed Serega. The snowfall and wind became stronger. A snow river flew into the gorge mouth, And visibility was very low. When snow and wind stopped for a while, and the holds became well seen. Climbing was quite difficult, we had to work without mittens, in thin Polar gloves. Fingers became frozen at once. The darkness came, and I finished my pitch in twilight, making belay somewhere on the boulges behind the “ice room”. The guys made a ledge in the middle of the crack filled with ice. The night was again in the half-sitting position.

Albert Izotov

Gukov Alexander

In the morning Sasha worked first. Several mixed pitches, some winter ice – and we were on the peak ridge. It was no visibility, Snow and strong wind. At last we found a mould where we could hide. Altitude was already over 4900. We placed our tent. In that evening Sasha’s dream to use his ticket from Moscow to Kenya flew away, But we continued to dream about warm countries. Alik frozen fingers, Sasha frozen toes. We drank tea and relaxed.

Bivy ledge in «the ice room»

Exit from «the ice room» (view upwards)

At last the day with good weather came. All the Central Caucasus was seen. But it was strong wind and frost as a compensation for the marvelous panorama. On the Eastern Mizhirgi Peak we made photos, took a note of Balitckiy Yu. S. group. Instead of our own note we placed a photo of our mountain from the northern side because all our writing materials didn’t work for us.

Moving to the Western peak, we discovered that two last pitches of the ridge are like a sharp snow saw, resembling the ridge in the Eastern Shara region. We moved by the southern side of the ridge, shifting our bodies on the northern side. There were no other variants of moving and belaying. We tried to control each other’s location: in case of break, his partner had to jump in other side. From the northern side it was nearly a hurricane wind, covering the face with ice and snow. Glasses didn’t save: nothing was seen through them.

We reached the bridge between the Western Mizhirgi and the Southern ridge. Here descent of 5a route starts. By destroyed rocks, inclined slabs and ledges we reached Stankevich’s wall. We began to descent to the direction of Cella glacier. We expected to find a bivy ledge, but unsuccessful search left us in January night. We decided to descend in the night. Unfortunately, we found only few stationary loops. But the apseil was made automatically. Our bodies were asleep, only a part of mind which is responsible for the rope and 8-figure maneuver was alive. I hardly remembered how we occurred on Cella glacier about 3 AM. We placed the tent and fell asleep.

In 2 hours I tried to say it was time for getting up. No one supported this idea. Under the pressure of my persuasions we were sitting and drinking tea when a strong gust of wind throws our tent with 4 ice axes and us about 5 meters below on the slope. In several seconds next gust breaks out Marmot, tent and inner tent. Like two ballistic rockets, rucksacks of Serega and Sasha disappeared in space. We lied on the remaining gear to wait for the next gust.

On the descent from Cella glacier visibility was 2-3 meters. Wind gusts reduced, but the snowstorm began. But the area was well known, and we went on automatic pilot. Just near Jangi-Kosh cabin, on the right side a silent avalanche appeared, slightly touching Sasha who went the last. He was knee-deep in snow, and free himself only with ice axe.

Summit ridge.
The Eastern (in the foreground)
and Western Mizhirgi

Last meters to the summit.
On the background it is Duh-Tau

We tasted goods left by different groups in summer, every one found something tasty.

In the morning the weather was good at last, sunny and calm. The last distance was left: from Jangi-Kosh to the camp. We passed about 300 m, nearly reached “Dinosaur” – a rocky ridge crossing the moraine, after which our descent way lied. Suddenly all the right slope above us began to stir, bringing Sergey who went first to the glacier. We threw our rucksacks and ran to the stopped snow mass. A telescopic stick was seen in the snow, here we began to work with ice axes. It was good that Serega was in the border of the avalanche buried only on half a meter. We dug out our friend and looked at the break line. Thickness of the fresh snow was about more than a meter. That was a reason for the avalanche in so safe place.

Rejecting the possibility to move, as in past years, by the moraine till the turn to Bezengi glacier because of avalanche danger, we went along the moraine ridge as in summer. With one difference- waist-deep in snow.

Every twenty steps we changed each other. Only in 3 hours we could reach the end of moraine near the glacier turn. Descent here was too dangerous. Like evidence of our thoughts a huge avalanche fell from the slope of Semenovsky Peak about half a kilometer high. It breaks all the classical descent way from the moraine to the glacier. We decided to go to the left as far as we could and to descend along the lip of the ice-fall. After a while we found ourselves on the glacier.

We had no more strength to make path, but provident Adelbiy beforehand had asked three guys from Nizhniy Novgorod to meet us with snowshoes, and they met us, Gave tea to drink, discharged. I have no idea how long could we go to the camp without their help!

On the summit

View on the ridge to the direction of Koshtan-Tau

In the night we came to the camp. There we met our friends Adelbiy and Alim, made a half an hour feast and went to Nalchik.

We expected that the activity won’t be easy for us. But the Mountain turned to be unexpectedly severe, showing us its difficult nature. But stronger was the feeling of satisfaction. Isn’t it the reason for all of us to return to the beloved mountains more and more?

Start of the descent by the Southern ridge


Once more words of gratitude to our friends in Bezengi Timbulat, Adelbiy and Alim for hospitality, to director of «Bezengi» Anaev Aliy Husaevich for his assistance and cordial welcome, to guys from Nizhny Novgorod for help.

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