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The Communist Peak, Pamir The Communist Peak, Pamir

3 September

On September 3, 1933, Soviet alpinist Evgeny Abalakov first ascended the highest point of the Soviet Union – the Communist Peak. Situated in the northwest part of the Pamir mountain range in Tajikistan, its height is 7,495 meters above sea level.

The expedition to Pamir was organized by the Soviet Academy of Science and Sovnarkom (the Council of the People's Commissars) with the intent of conquering its highest point both for scientific purposes and for sport. The mountain was originally called Garmo Peak, but then became Stalin Peak in 1932, and then Peak Communism in 1962. Today, it is called Ismail Samani Peak in honor of the founder of the ancient Tajik state.

The 26th detachment of the Tajik-Pamir expedition, headed by Nikolay Gorbunov, went to make an ascent to the summit in August 1933. It proved to be extremely difficult and tragic for some of its members. Two of them perished on the sheer cliffs. Many others fell ill, unable to bear the strain, and abandoned the mission and made their way down. At the altitude of 6,900 meters, only three members of the group remained on the route: Nikolay Gorbunov, Evgeny Abalakov and Aleksandr Gete.

An alpine blizzard broke out on the tenth day of the expedition. The temperature fell to -49 Fahrenheit. Towards morning the tents of the mountaineers collapsed under a strong gust of wind. All were buried alive under meters-deep layers of ice and snow. Abalakov was able to dig himself out and reach the neighboring tent to save his friends from an inevitable death.

On September 3 the snow storm finally settled, but the situation for the three alpinists remained critical. They had just a can of fish and a bar of chocolate left to share between them. For three days already Gete was afflicted with heart seizures and bilious vomiting. He now lay motionless in the tent unable to go any further. The peak was not far now, only 600 meters of dangerous track remained.

Mustering courage for this last decisive leg of the expedition Abalakov and Gorbunov put on their ice-coated suits. However, a few hours later, Gorbunov completely lost his strength as well as suffering from hallucinations, oxygen starvation and altitude pressure, and he stopped.

Abalakov continued to ascend alone. Holding out against gushing winds and risking his life every minute of the track, Abalakov reached the top five hours later, crawling on his hands and knees the last few meters. Having reached the top, Abalakov quickly made some drawing of the outlines of the mountains, noted the reading on the altimeter and the surveying compass. The height: 7,495 meters above sea level. He fastened a container recording the ascent securely in the stones and raised a Soviet flag.

The descent was not any less difficult. At the altitude of 6,900 meters Abalakov fixed a weather station and reached Gorbunov and then Gete. He found them both exhausted and unable to move; he himself at that point had flash blindness and was at risk of breaking the limits of his own body. Gorbunov feet were frostbitten, and Abalakov rubbed them for three hours.

With no portable radio communication in those years, Abalakov had no way of calling for help. Half blind, he saved his friends by carrying them both down to point 6400, where the auxiliary group’s camp was located. While recovering in hospital, Gete lay in his bed motionless. Although still unable to take in food, nurses recalled him mumbling only the words “Abalakov…a phenomenon…a man of iron…a machine...”

The conquest and heroism of Evgeny Abalakov has forever put his name into history books. For those years it was the greatest achievement in the world of alpinism. He was hailed a hero back home and named the number one mountaineer in the country.