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The north face of Chatyn (4368m), Central Caucasus, Russia-Georgia. Sergey Nilov, Evgeny Korol and Sergey Doronin likely made the mountain’s second winter ascent on January 25, after twenty-three years of failed winter activity, via Rhombus (6A, Myshlyaev), a demanding couloir that transitions onto a steep ridge. [Photo] Courtesy of

An unlikely group of strong Russians, collected extempore–Sergey Nilov, Evgeny Korol and Sergey Doronin–has made a winter ascent of Chatyn (4368m), Central Caucasus, Russia-Georgia. This ascent is potentially the mountain’s second during the winter season. Their climb via Rhombus (6A, Myshlyaev), which lies on Chatyn’s north face, marks a significant hike in commitment since the first, and only recorded, winter ascent in 1984, via Peak Trud (5B, Barulin-Basmakov-Glushkovsky-Moshnikov). The Central Caucasus is the tallest range in Europe (Mt. Elbrus, to Chatyn’s west, is Europe’s highest peak at 5642m) and is known for its snow slopes, home to excellent skiing terrain. Attempted less frequently are the steep faces that offer severe winter climbing challenges.

Rhombus, a 600-meter granite couloir on Chatyn’s north face, has a long-standing history of denying success. A Russian team from Rostov died in the winter of 1994 trying the route, and a number of attempts since have failed within the first half of the climb, some before even reaching its base. The wall again rejected its suitors in 2006, including Nilov, twice, of any terrain above the first few pitches. After being forced back on his third Rhombus attempt in early 2007 by a partner’s illness, Nilov remained in the tourist town of Elbrus hoping to recruit capable climbers, as his teammates were forced to return to other obligations. Nilov convinced Korol and Doronin to cancel their own tickets home for an attempt on Chatyn. The impromptu three-man team set out for Rhombus on January 17, even though Korol now admits that “everybody who learnt our plans said we were crazy.”

The team ascends Chatyn’s summit ridge on January 25. A scramble for the bottom ensued, as supplies of food and fuel were paltry by summit day. [Photo] Courtesy of

They reached the wall’s base after fourteen hours and spent the next week battling up the icy couloir, fixing and refixing ropes. Staying warm enough through temperatures of -30 degrees C at night, Nilov, Korol and Doronin overcame the crux roof on January 23, and ascended the steep summit ridge to the top on January 25. Almost out of provisions, the team raced down. Two mornings later at the base, a snowstorm nearly asphyxiated the team by blocking their snowcave entrance. They braved dangerous avalanche conditions to reach Elbrus safely on the night of January 27.