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Valeri Babanov. Nuptse. Polemics
In reply to Steve House's letter (read Alpinist ¹7)
Thank you very much for forwarding Steve's comments to me and for giving me this opportunity to respond. I well understand that our Nuptse ascent has sparked a lot of discussions about our tactics and style.
Opinions vary from cheerings and approvals to complete disappointment.
doubt that Steve's quite "colorful" letter falls into the latter category and probably is the most radical I heard so far. He sounds like "I'm sorry that Nuptse had to lose her cherry to those Russian barbarians who tied her with fixed ropes and nailed with their bolts!". Unfortunately, my English leaves a lot to be desired and doesn't allow me to keep up with Steve on this conversation. Nevertheless, let me offer you some explanations, I hope you will be able to make them more understandable for your readers.
Alpine style is my favorite, too. Back in 80s, when we climbed our first high-altitude mountains (6500-7000 m) in the USSR, nobody named our style "alpine" (nor ever heard of this catchword of modern days) - but it was what we all call alpine style now. We had been using this style most of the time, climbing on high mountains in Pamir and Tien-Shan.
Now this word has become a fashion. Many people say: "We climb in alpine style". Many alpinists talk about climbing Hymalayan mountains in alpine style, but not so many do that and just a few succeed. Me... I prefer to do climbing first and then talking.
In my opinion, the art of mountaineering is in choosing of right tactics and style. Alpine style is great but sometimes you need to be more flexible.
Back to Nuptse, I have a lot of experience with the high altitude mountains
(8 expeditions to Himalayas and more then 10 expeditions to various 7000 m peaks in former USSR) and I'm certain that we chosen the right style and right tactics for this route on the South-East pillar of Nuptse.
If I was climbing any other route on this face I would use alpine-style. But for the South-East pillar - no, I don't think so!
Climbing in Alpine style, you have one and only one attempt. You get very tired anyway and if you fail to reach the summit, you don't have the strength for one more try.
Before going to Nuptze for my first attempt in the fall 2002 I analysed all previous attempts and frankly, I was thinking about Alpine style, too. But when I got there and started my first climb on the South Pillar I soon realized that the chances for reaching the summit in Alpine style are very small. Then I decided to use a combination of styles:
fixed rope in the bottom (which is the most technically difficult part of the Pillar) and continue in Alpine style from 6,400 m to the top.
The problem with Himalaya is not only the high altitudes but also a very unstable weather. Usually good weather would stay for no more then 3-4 days in a row while you need 6-8 days (or even more) to pass the South Pillar. In many attempts no one has ever spent less then a week on it.
Technically, the South Pillar is quite complicated: rock, ice, snow. And besides, there were only two of us on that pillar which made the things even more difficult.
I'm not pretending that our Nuptse ascent is the most ideal ascent ever in the world but I'm sure that our choice of tactics and style was the most appropriate for the circumstances.
Everybody chooses his own way in this world of the climbing.
Everything we are doing there, we are doing it just for ourselves. If the way you go by is right you feel it by your heart. I feel it that way, I'm sure I was and I am on the right way.
Steve is certainly entitled to his opinion. The mountain is still there. He shouldn't worry much about the bolts: I didn't put any on my second and third attempt. There are some old ones (used by my predecessors) and there are just 2 bolts I used at baleys on my first attempt, I was soloing and these bolts were absolutely necessary for my safety.
So, the mountain is waiting, you just need to go there and climb it!
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