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The north face of Piramidalni with Russian Roulette indicated. The route terminated at the ridgeline visible in this photograph, a point east of the true summit. [Photo] Irena Mrak

Irena Mrak (Slovenia) and I arrived in the Karavshin on October 1. After a warm-up climb on the Yellow Wall, we turned our attention toward Piramidalni (5509m). Our route on the north face gained the summit ridge to the east of the summit proper. The route started up an ice gully (50-60 degrees) for 250 meters, passing under a network of seracs. As we climbed, we looked at the white fangs hanging above us, searching for our names. We hastened out of the gully as it narrowed at a corner and cut right over the rock wall. As we cut, a cascade of ice came crashing past–too close! In a time-consuming battle we climbed 150 meters of loose, snow-covered rock (5.8).

The first day finished with a bivy at 4600 meters. For the bivy we dug out a small ledge on a slope, only to be continually buried as rising winds blew snow pellets into our home.

Morning dawned clear, cold and windy. The day started with an ugly one-pitch, snow-filled rock couloir, followed by a 120-meter ice gully (70-85 degrees) of hard, black ice that broke into plates with each swing. The wind ripped at us; blowing snow built up and rolled down the route. More snow and ice pitches followed. We finally arrived at the ridge (5200m) at 7 p.m. and began our descent as the sun set.
At the bivy we looked at the frozen sleeping bags, then at each other, then at the moonlit couloir below. No debate was necessary. We began to rappel. A clear sky and cold temperatures gave us hope that there would be minimal avalanche danger. During the descent we had our eye on the ridge as the wind-blown snow came down, flowing like a river at our feet. It was surreal to watch one another rappel into moonlit swirling snow and then wait alone in silence for a tug on the rope.

A few avalanches passed us in the center of the gully. Then one avalanche hit Irena, who was unable to breathe as the snow encased her. The full moon went behind the wall, one headlamp stopped working, the other was knocked off, and we were left in darkness. For the next five rappels until morning’s light, we blindly felt the rock for piton placements, cursing all the way. We took turns losing mental control, only to take turns supporting each other.

At 9 a.m., fifty hours after we started the climb, we reached the base. We named the route Russian Roulette (M4 WI4 50-80 degrees, 1100m). Not every time you climb this route will you live.

— Garth Willis, USA