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Adventure : Climbing

Everest Veteran Alan Arnette on the Death of Climber Alexey Bolotov

Russian alpinist Alexey Bolotov died Tuesday, May 14 while attempting a new route on the Southwest Face of Everest. 

While details are still emerging, early reports have Bolotov and his partner Denis Urubko flying to the base of the Lhotse Face to begin their summit push. They had planned on six days to climb the new route and two for the descent.

Initial reports by Urubko said Bolotov was rappelling when his rope was cut by sharp rocks and fell 300 meters down a rock filled ravine. Later the Nepal Mountaineering Association said he was killed by a falling boulder on the Lhotse Face.

His body was found by their Sherpa who was at camp with them. He reportedly left camp at 3:00AM

The two highly experienced and respected climbers had spent several weeks preparing for their summit bid including climbing the Lhotse Face to establish their camp at 7000 meters. 

They were climbing in alpine style meaning they carried all their gear on the entire summit push. They were not using Sherpas or supplemental oxygen and were fixing their own ropes as they determined the new route.

In an earlier interview, they had said the new route would start at 6650 meters on a slope of 55 degrees. His body was found at 5600 meters.

The Southwest Face of Everest has only been climbed a few times. The first successful climb was led by Chris Bonington in 1975. In 1982 a Soviet expedition climbed the Face, and the last successful climb was by the late South Korean climber Park Young-Seok in 2009. 

Bolotov, 50, won mountaineering most coveted award, the Piolets d’Or in 1998 for his climb of Makulu’s West Face and again in 2004 for the first traverse of Jannu’s North Face. He had climbed Everest in 1998 and again in 2002 without supplemental oxygen. He was born in Dvurechensk village (Sverdlovsk region), Ural, and lived in Russia. He is survived by his wife and two children.

Stick with Outside for updates from climbers on the mountain.

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Taking Diversity to the Peaks

This spring marks two big anniversaries in the mountaineering world: 50 years since the first American team climbed Mount Everest, and 100 years since the first summit of Alaska’s Mount McKinley. As you’d expect, there are the usual commemorative expeditions hitting the ridgelines, among them Denali 2013, which aims to put five bloodline descendants of the mountain’s first climbers atop the 20,320-foot peak. But the one that could have the greatest impact will be looking forward, not back. This June, Expedition Denali, a collection of 12 teachers, wilderness instructors, and students, hopes to become the first African-American team to summit North America’s highest mountain. Their larger goal: to draw attention to the persistent lack of diversity in the outdoors—and to give rise to a new generation of wilderness advocates.

Efforts to improve minority participation outside are nothing new, but Expedition Denali’s focus on minting heroes is a first. As team member and veteran climber Stephen Shobe, 51, puts it, “It’s hard to get inspired about the outdoors when the population doesn’t look like you.”

Seventy-eight percent of Americans who participated in outdoor activities last year were white, with African-American kids at the bottom of the demographic heap—just 37 percent between the ages of 6 and 12 went hiking, biking, or fishing. It’s something Expedition Denali’s primary backer, the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), has been working hard to improve. In 1994, the Lander, Wyoming, nonprofit devised a diversity program that has since doled out more than $1.5 million in scholarships to help get minority youth into its courses, which teach wilderness and leadership skills through extended adventure trips. “We work hard to recruit young people of color, but we still struggle,” says Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin, who manages NOLS’s diversity program. “There are many barriers, including the lack of role models.” That’s where Expedition Denali comes in, and NOLS has budgeted nearly $250,000 for the group’s efforts.

“People are encouraged to participate in the outdoors through men­torship,” says Frank Hugel­meyer, president of the Outdoor Industry Association. “Those mentor chains are well established among America’s white population, but less so with minorities.”

For NOLS and other wilderness organizations, this isn’t just altruism; it’s part of a long-term strategy. In the next three decades, demographics experts estimate, people of color will make up the majority of the U.S. population. If NOLS wants to continue to thrive as a source of environmental and business leaders, it needs to attract more nonwhite participants—and staff. Currently, only two of NOLS’s 800 instructors are African-American.

Whether they summit or not, the members of Expedition Denali plan to embark on two-week speaking tours of historically black colleges, churches, and public schools. Team members will also lead kids on hiking, backpacking, and bouldering adventures, from California’s Sierras to Washington’s Cascade Mountains.

It’s easy to be skeptical about how much impact a climb like this can achieve, but Shobe insists that topping out on Denali is just the first step. “If the only suggestion of how to get more diversity outdoors is to summit a mountain, then I’d agree: What is one climb really going to do?” he says. “But our goal is more far reaching. Nothing like this is ever accomplished in a day.”

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A Turkish New Yorker Quietly Summits After Everest Brawl

Late last night I received an email from from Aydin Irmak, asking me to call him at a Nepalese cell number. "I summited May 10 with the fixing Sherpas," he said when I reached him. This was more than a little surprising.

You may recall that Irmak is better known as the Turkish New Yorker who last year attempted to climb Everest while hauling his touring bicycle with a porter's tumpline. Sagarmatha National Park officials ultimately scuttled that plan, but he did summit and was discovered "sleeping" on May 19 near the feature known as the Balcony by Thamserku Trekking Sherpa Pemba and his Israeli client Nadav Ben Yehuda. Irmak was widely criticized for attempting Everest with literally no mountaineering experience, and he suffered moderate frostbite that required months of treatment.

I had no idea he'd returned to the mountain, this time with Seven Summit Treks. Not only that, he claimed he'd befriended the fixing team which had been involved in the widely publicized skirmish at Camp II on May 1 and that they'd invited him to climb with them to the Summit. "I am a kind of a white Sherpa," explained Irmak.

Though Irmak gives the first impression of being a fabulist—the sort of wild-eyed guy you try to avoid making eye contact with on the street—his claims have more or less checked out in the past.

He said he was at Camp I during the Everest brawl and saw Simone Moro, Jon Griffith, and Ueli Steck come into camp on their way down—Steck bloodied after being hit with a rock. A short time later came the Sherpa team that was involved in the fight. They were worried that the government would send soldiers to arrest the three instigators.

"I said, look, if the government comes here, I'll tell them I fought with Simone, and I will fight again," says Irmak. "But everything is OK because Simone came out and said I apologize for this."

For more on the fight at the roof of the world, read our interview with Ueli Steck.

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