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Denis Urubko: Sportive mountaineering is not a Supermarket where you can buy elements of survival

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Denis Urubko is one of the legends of alpine mountaineering. He became the 15-th person, who climbed all 8k peaks and was the 8th who did it without supplementary oxygen.

The Russian is known with his unique attacks. He decided to call it a day last year after unsuccessful winter summit attempt on Broad Peak. During a solo attack he fell from 50 m, but managed to survive.

Urubko was approached by “Bulgaria Today” daily newspaper for his opinion regarding the full of events 2020-21 winter season on K-2.


– Would you put the successful winter climb of K-2 by the Nepal team among the top achievements in alpine history?

– I am not counting it as one of the greatest achievements in mountaineering. On the positive side Nepalese were working very well, hard, coordinated and looking for success. Every member joined efforts. It is a good example of team-work. Well realized project that was made step by step. They started in winter 2019-2020, arrived in season 2020-2021 with (Ali) Sadpara’s group and cooperate with the other expeditions.
There is no doubt that the conquest became historical. It’s first winter ascent on K2. Similar with my winter ascents to G2 and Makalu. I can’t say that all winter ascents are among the greatest. If you check the details without emotions, you can see that most of them happened on classical routes, using pre-fixed ropes. Some of them are with supplementary oxygen by huge expeditions in normal style. The term greatest should be used for something exceptional, unusual, non-typical in order to be put among other excellent achievements. In my humble opinion exclusive winter ascents could be graduated to Everest 1980 by Polish team, as the first winter successful exploration over 8000 m. And Cho Oyu 1985 by Polish team via new route.

With all respects to many other winter expeditions, I am not able to announce K-2 winter on the same level as the solo fight of Ueli Steck on Annapurna and the battle of the big USSR team on the South face of Lhotse.

Despite the non-sportive ascent Nepalese climbers were incredibly well related towards dedication of all strengths by every single participant in the name of the final goal. I applaud them. I applaud them for the success. Compliments. It’s rarity to see such a brotherhood in the current times. K2 was captured in winter.

– What kind of conclusions the alpine community should get from tragic events on K2, where 5 climbers died?

– Should? No one should, because everyone is having freedom and rights. It is important to remember that a guarantee in risky conditions is possible only by self-control, self-preparation, responsibility and 100% full partnership. In the Death zone you don’t have prepaid service. Sportive mountaineering is not a Supermarket where you can buy elements of survival.

Sometimes accidents happen just from bad fortune, from unlucky circumstances. I have my thoughts… but prefer to keep silence. Because I don’t want to give “meal” for “specialists-on-sofa”. They are constructing reality in our epoch through Internet. What is the reason to demonstrate my realism? People like to exploit emotions and imaginations, fantasy and egoism without responsibility. Tragic lessons of Karakorum’s 2020-2021 Winter are logical. Everyone can learn on personal level.

– You also were part in the past of K2 Winter attempt. I know that you retired last year after Broad Peak attempt, but is there any chance that you could return in order to try attempt on K2 Winter without supplementary oxygen?

– Currently I can’t tell exactly. I have no good sensation about K2. My age is setting limits. I am not well related to the most ambitious personal efforts now. The hardest challenge in mountaineering is the new routes in alpine style on over 8000 m peaks. If you count them, there are less than 10 successful ascents in such category in history. This is the real freedom of the soul. If you take a different look, not the standard and public one, you will discover that just few routes were opened in clear pure sportive style. Without preparations in advance and fixed ropes for the attitude over 8000 m. For now I stopped my sportive mountaineering. I am doing commercial trips for clients, free classes for youth, sportive rock-climbing for my-self-satisfaction, presentations, photo exhibitions, publishing my books. In future I could try to collect the record of 8000 m peaks without oxygen – to beat the 26 ascents of Juanito Oiarzabal (Urubko has 23). Probably to try an attempt for new route over 8000 m in alpine style with a lady…

It is necessary to have a real parthner like Boris Dedeshko or some other my previous friends for Winter K2. Right now I have no one who is capable to follow all the rules. Perhaps it’s better that way so I won’t do any unpredictable steps. My kids and family need me here, in normal life. I am open for correct relation with all good people, just in case you need me.

Photos copywrites: Maria Cardell and Denis Urubko


I am not a poet, but one thing is for sure – The spring is the time of new beginning. When I was a child in Bulgaria the winters lasted three full mounts. There were a lot of snow and we went every day to sledge down from the hills.
I am not sure if the global warm is the problem, but currently we have very short winters. In my city Sofia the snow lasts not more than a total of month now. That’s why I enjoyed very much to go to our nice mountain Vitosha, which is right to the biggest settlement in our country.
The highest peak is Cherni vrah (translated as Black peak). Its height is 2290 m. If you start climbing from some of the city points, you may go up for around 4 and a half hours in good tempo.
Here is the gallery of one spring climb of the Cherni Vrah few years ago, when I still wasn’t father of my sweet daughter Valeria.

On the lowest slopes there isn’t snow


Mixed zone


Always love B&W photo


The snow is standing


The beauty of the hills


We are very high


Cherni Vrah’s tea house


Time for some rest


The spring is so nice


The Sky is very close


Abandoned land


This is how the night Sofia is looking


So happy with my girl Ralitza