Shingu Charpa (5600m), Karakoram, Pakistan, with the ca. 1550-meter North Ridge route marked in red. In August 2006, Igor Chaplynsky claimed that he and his teammates Andrey Rodiontsev and Orest Verbitsky climbed the line all free at 5.11d to the main summit, but Verbitsky announced on March 22 that the Ukrainians had stopped at roughly the same place that the American team of Kelly Cordes and Josh Wharton had ended their attempt, some 100 meters below the top. [Photo] Kelly Cordes
On September 11, 2006, Alpinist published a NewsWire on the first ascent of Shingu Charpa’s north ridge by a Ukrainian team led by Igor Chaplinsky. In Issue 18, Chaplinsky wrote a first-person note on the ascent, which he claimed had been executed by Andrey Rodiontse, Orest Verbitsky and himself. The Ukrainians, it appeared, had snagged a much-coveted first ascent, all free, of Shingu Charpa’s 1550-meter north ridge, just as a pair of American climbers, Kelly Cordes and Josh Wharton, arrived for a crack at the same objective. Now it appears Chaplinsky lied about his team’s ascent, perhaps in a bid to compete for Montagne Magazine‘s Piolet d’Or.
It is Alpinist’s rule of thumb to abide by an established climbing tradition: a climber’s word is generally accepted as the truth unless compelling evidence suggests otherwise. Alpinist publishes first-hand accounts on climbs and expeditions whenever possible to present the words of the climbers themselves. This retains the original source of the information (information tends to lose accuracy each generation it is removed from its original source). Furthermore, when authors sign their names to their reports, they certify the information’s authenticity.
The “shortcut” to the North Ridge route that Andrey Rodiontse, Orest Verbitsky and Igor Chaplinsky took, according to Cordes, and later admitted by Chaplinsky in an email to Alpinist. “[Wharton and I] watched them [take this route] the whole way with our binoculars,” Cordes said. [Photo] Kelly Cordes
When the NewsWire report first appeared on alpinist.com, Cordes suggested that Alpinist clarify a couple of details before publishing Chaplinsky’s first-hand account in the magazine. The first detail was whether the Ukrainians had managed an integral ascent of the north ridge, or whether–as Cordes and Wharton observed from camp–they had actually made their final ascent via a gully at one-third height on the ridge that cut off a significant percentage of the climb. The second was whether the Ukrainians had indeed gone to the main summit. In an August 31, 2006 email, Wharton noted that “at first Kelly and I assumed they had been to the main summit, but many locals who can clearly see the peak from their homes farther down the valley told us the[y] had not summited.”
In an effort to clarify Chaplinsky’s account, on August 31 Alpinist emailed requested details on whether the Ukrainians reached the main summit and whether they used the alternative start to do so. On September 5, Chaplinsky wrote back: “First of all I would like to ask you what have caused your uncertainty that me and my team have made it to the top. I want to assure you that we have climbed Shingu Charpa to the main peak.
“With regard to the second question: there is an alternative rout [sic] to the height of 4650m. It is possible to make an accent [sic] on the eastern wall on the left hand side from the ridge. On the first day of our accent one member of our team injured his eye, so we decided to go back to the base camp. On our way to the camp we found this alternative path. So when his eye got better we chose the sam [sic] path to go up. This is all I have to say about the alternative routs [sic].”
Additionally, Chaplinsky wrote, “I have received an e-mail from Kelly that they have not made it to the top. I think it could happen due to the fact that there is one technically very difficult and dangerous mix [sic] a couple of hundred meters to the top. Furthermore there are very unstable weather/snow conditions. After 5400 rock climbing gives way to ice and mix [sic] and high-altitude climbing. On our way down we saw that the snow hat, under which we climbed this difficult mix [sic], has fallen down. We were lucky enough to avoid this.”
The climb was nominated for the 2007 Piolet d’Or, held in January 2007 in Grenoble, France. According to a post published on March 22, 2007, on the website mountain.ru, Orest Verbitsky had written Montagnes Magazine (the sole organizers of the Piolet d’Or now that the other founding member, the Groupe de Haute Montagne, has pulled out; see the January 5 NewsWire for more about the controversy), that he could not visit Grenoble for the Piolet d’Or proceedings “for no other reason than that [the Ukrainian team]… had not reached the summit and [he] had no moral right to be among the nominees.” “We have not climbed 100 meters up to the summit as we had not enough ice gear,” Orest is quoted as saying–the same conditions that turned the Americans back on their quest.
The mountain.ru report continues, “Igor Chaplinsky insists that he was at the Shingu Charpa summit, but he does not show his proofs [sic] and does not get in touch with [Montagnes Magazine] any more.”
Like the Ukrainians, the American team attempted the route twice, but unlike them they tried the north ridge in its entirety both times. On their second push, “We spent four days on the Ridge–three up and another to get down,” wrote Wharton in his email of August 31. “We climbed all free to .11+ and M5. The climbing was mostly bad with a tasty mix of grass, dirt, and loose blocks. There are worse climbs out there (I’ve done a few in the Black), but for a 45 pitch line, it was pretty phenomenal that there weren’t at least a few good pitches.”
The above photo was published alongside a Shingu Charpa trip report, written by Chaplinsky on mountain.ru, and shows the leader aiding. Chaplinsky claimed numerous times that the Ukrainian team had freed the entirety of Shingu Charpa’s north ridge to the summit. [Photo] Courtesy of mountain.ru
On the third day the two Americans reached the sub-summit of the Tower atop the ridge. They had climbed almost 1500 meters along the new route only to back down some sixty vertical meters from the main summit. “We expected the summit snowfields to be soft,” Wharton said, “but instead they were mostly black ice covered by just a thin layer of snow–sketchy stuff in the light boots, sneakers, and dull aluminum crampons we were running.” Now it appears these same conditions thwarted the Ukrainians as well–and that Shingu Charpa’s spectacular north ridge remains unclimbed.
Even the Ukrainians’ claim of free climbing is now in doubt. Wrote Cordes in a March 30 email, “in b.c. when we came over to congratulate them, Igor [said] ‘and all free!’… but then Andre [Rodiontsev] interrupted and said, ‘no, no, some aid, maybe 50 or 100m.'” Furthermore, a photo published with an article by Chaplinsky on mountain.ru (visible here) clearly shows the lead climber aiding through a section that Wharton subsequently freed.