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Kongur I 1992

Kongur I 7.719m China 1992

It was June 11, 1992 when we started for our creaziest dreamQ To climb the highest peak of Pamirs, the Kongur 7.719m. in the long and unexploited China that time, in the region of Xinjiang

The first 4 climbers who managed to reach the mountain’s peak, in 2 efforts, one in 1980 and one in 1981.

It was the formidable quartet of the British legends of the world’s climbing, Sir Chris Bonington  chief, Al Rouse, Peter David Boardman, and Joe Tasker, who made history when they managed to stand on the Kongur ‘s peak on July 12, 1981. The next success was from the soputherns slope - Bonington trace - from the Japanese who were trying every year from 1982 and they managed to do it on 1989.

On February 1992 I visited Sir Chris Bonington in his house in Northern England. Hw was a gentle man and a great climber. I real Sir, who among the numerous information that he gave me, he gave me also this photo with his hand writen wishes for good luck ta Kongur. The rope-camarades of the Greek Mission were the veteran but always brave Kostas Zoupis, as chief, always wearing his large and sweet smile under his long,thick moustaches. The wise and always wise and objective Stavrow Nikolaou, the cheerful, optimistic and great climber Giannis Spinos and myself the writer.

We were young and in experienced, though we were dreamers and brave. There a many things to remember from this mission , which was a dream and still remains a dream till today. I remember the communication problems and the problems to get the permission from the Chinese Climbing Association. I remember the efforts to attract sponsors from Greece. The purchase of the equipment from England. I travelled my self to the factory, together with my friend Nikos Kalozoumis with the assistance from a good Greek friend Vasilis Benekos. The goal was to purchase the whole equipment, driving to the factories Berghaus, Mountain Equipment ,Wild Country etc. I also remember our anxiety to arrive first to Beijing, then to Urumqi , then to Kashgar and finaly the lake Karakul, seeing images and situations not only 28 years before today but also an era , maybe close to Mid Ages. From there we loaded the 36 tanks of the mission, to camels, we reached the right base camp after 5 days, having at least 1550 kgs food and climbing equipment with us. It was a mission the kind of which UIIA includes to the alpine style category, which means that there is not assistance from outsiders. There were no porters, fix rope bonds were not existing, not organized tents available…. We were climbing every day 80-150 m. higher, bringing everything with us in our backpacks more that 25 kgs each.

We were climbing the whole day and every evening we were spending 1-2 hours to make plateaux on the frozen slopes, so to put our tents. We were only us , alone on the whole mountain range. The closest assistance was 200 Km away. We were melting snow or ice so we have water to drink, we were cooking only one soup per day for the three of us , saving the soups we had available for the rest of our effort.

I will not forget the big effort every morning to fold my sleeping bag and squeeze it to the lower part of my backpack, then do the same with my tent, the ropes the various material and the fuel. It was a very tiresome and slow procedure due to the altitude and we were starting the daily effort for higher spot, completely alone , without knowing were to go. We opened also a variation of the course of Bonington, believing that ours would be shorter. Unfortunately it was not !

Stavros had left the effort after the 2 day of the final ascent and he had returned to the base camp, considering (correctly) that we were trying to reach the impossible, something meaningless. Later he told us that he was about to leave the base camp together with the Chinese , the cooker and the liaison officer , as he was sure that we were dead, and it was impossible to be alive after 21 days away from the base camp.

No communication at all. Neither with the base camp, nor with Greece… and Stavros was preparing the way to contact our families when he would return to Greece….without us..

After the respective acclimatization, our final ascent lasted 21 days. 21 days we were far and higher from the base camp (4.700 m). Our effort stopped at 7.100 m. We stayed in our tents for 3 days and nights facing a terrible storm.

We could not go higher. We could not go lower. We were stretching our hands and feet, so to keep our tent in position, to keep it from being destroyed by the winds.

We could not go out of the tent, even for toilet needs, being afraid that the wind would tear of tents in our absence. I remember that I was feeling alone , away from my family and bursting to tear from time to time.

In these very difficult moments, I was missing the person who was always by me. The most important person in my life, the one to whom I owe everything I am and what I have achieved in my life. My father John! My late and dear father. Kostas Zoupis had seen my emotions and asked me what was happening. I replied that I miss my father, and he said that he misses his father too. He loves him a lot , but at the moment we were here, in very difficult conditions. We may have different fathers, but we ended to be brothers.

Finally the storm ended and we started the return. Hungry and exhausted we saw in the constant white scene of a slope , some coloured spots. We thought we were under delusion, but as we approached we saw that they were climbers from a East Germany mission consisted by 10 men. They saw us and they hugged us , as if they knew us years ago. Stavros had advised them that we were away from the base camp so many days and they were so happy to see that we were alive. They gave us a can of meat and it was the most tasty food I have ever eaten… I remember it’s taste even today. We slept in the tent with the German team and the next day, around 5.350 m, we saw Stavros coming towards us. We hugged each other and we were crying from relief. Stavros was advised by the Germans, as one of the memebrs of the team was left in the base camp for communication reasons.

We were a very tight team, uniting us the will to reach the peak. We stayed very close till today. Kostas was my mentor on the mountains, he was the one who tought me not to be afraid, he was the one who always said that we could manage everything how much impossible it seemed, after all this was the reason we were there! John Spinos, this so sweet person, a fearless climber of 8th grade (for that era) who alwasy was calling me “budy”. And of course the steady and sensible force, my good friend Stavros Nicolaou

They were the special friends , Costas Zoupis and John Spinos who came to the base camp of Everest in 2017, to live with us and have the experience of our ascent to Everest with Mike Evmorfidis . Once.. Copstas had promised me: “ Antonis , when you will try Everest, I will be in the base camp with you” !!!! And he kept his promise!

Back to the mission, we returned via Pakistan. From there , without having sent any sign of life to Greece , for 57 days, I phoned home. Popi (Kalliopi Koni) was not at home and I left the following message to the answering machine: “ Hi! I am an old friend. Do you remember me ? We are alive, we are in good condition and we return to Greece” All this time , our families did know nothing about us. My daughter was only 2 years old. I wonder how grateful I owe to be for my wife and children withstanding all the difficulties and anxiety I provide, all these years, without any complaint. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for them.

I promised to ourselves to return to Kongur. We did it after 2 years, in 1994, with a bigger team, but again without success. I will speak for this mission another time.

Today, after 28 years, my big projects : 14×8.000m at Himalayas and 82×4.000m on the Alpes, may continue , but Kongur remains in my heart and it is no secret that I want to return with a clearly Greek team of a new generation and this third time maybe we can reach success. Who knows! The dream may become real this time.

After all, everything that seems impossible, may be possible some time.

That’s why we must not give up our dreams, there will be time that they will become real.

Concluding this entry, even today , only 14 climbers have managed to reach the mountain’[s peak and the Bonington trace has been repeated only one time, from the Japanese team on 1989. One third successful try, was made on 2004 from the northern slope, by the Russian team with Jury Hohlov as chief and members of this team the Kagan Vladislav, Kulbachenko Victor, Legkikh Vladimir, Medvedev Andrey, Petrov Andrey

Kagan Vladislav, Kulbachenko Victor, Legkikh Vladimir, Medvedev Andrey, Petrov Andrey

I want to mention also that this mission was made under the sponsorship of SEO ATHINAS . 


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