Leonid Sapozhnikov

Meeting with the highest driver.

On September 16, 1999, the white long-wheelbase Niva officially became the world record holder, driving to a height of 5726 meters above sea level. At the wheel was a master of sports in mountaineering from St. Petersburg Georgy Kotov. Climbing - or rather, "climbing" - was provided by a group of climbers, which included fellow countrymen Alexander Kotov, Dubovikov, Sergey Tulpanov and American Jeff Shea. All the way to the record mark the car made its own power.

One can imagine how broadly and loudly the world would have been informed of this achievement, if the car was American and the group, too. Russia, after the change of government and the search for a national idea, clearly underestimated this event in the mountains of Tibet …

We want to fill this gap, especially since the guys will soon give us a new reason to cheer for them … Our guest is the head of the Tibet-99 expedition Georgy Kotov.

- George, you visited in 1995 on top of Everest. After this, there is nowhere higher, it can only be otherwise. Is that why they decided to compete with height in a car?

- Exactly. After all, the most interesting thing is to try to do something for the first time. And without new adventures, life loses its sharpness.

- How did this idea come about?

- In August 97th, while climbing Mount Elbrus, we met a Russian group at an altitude of 4900 meters, which, using a winch, tried to raise the Land Rover to the top. I thought: it would be great to climb a car for six thousand that way, and under its own power! In Europe there are no such mountains, and in Asia, Tibet seemed to be the most suitable, where I have been many times.

- You started from St. Petersburg at the end of July on two VAZ 2131 and a mini-van VAZ 2120 Nadezhda. Why did you choose these cars?

- Firstly, in Siberia or Kazakhstan, through which our route ran, the Niva, unlike the Land Rover, will be repaired at any rural forge. Secondly, spare parts for it are relatively cheap, and we had little money. Thirdly, in long-base "fields" all our equipment could fit. As for the minivan, AvtoVAZ suggested we try it out when we turned there with a request to highlight the “fields”.

- Why did you put together just such a team for your venture?

- Because with Petersburgers - Alexander and Sergey - we have known each other for a long time. I made several ascents with an American, including Everest, and indeed, Jeff is a completely normal man, albeit a millionaire from San Francisco. She loves adventure. By the way, he brought a satellite phone, and IBM gave out portable computers - thanks to this we quickly transferred the expedition diary to our website on the Internet (

There was also a non-climber on our expedition - Pavel Nedorezov, deputy head of the AvtoVAZ press center. He had the hardest time: he was in the company of madmen, for each of which climbing the peaks of the eight-thousanders. But he is a good fellow - without any experience in the mountains he climbed to a height of 5400 meters. An acute mountain sickness did not allow him to go further.

- You traveled 19, 000 kilometers to both ends, of which 9, 000 were on the territory of China, but where did the real adventures that you so longed for began?

- When we crossed the Tien Shan mountain range and drove into the desert. In the heat of 45 degrees a sandstorm arose. Visibility is up to five meters, sand on the teeth, in the eyes … As soon as they escaped from this hell, they replaced the air filters, since there were plenty of them. The Tibetan plateau emerged from the dust haze suddenly, and the road went up. Again a terrible wind blew, but already cold: in just an hour the temperature dropped to 5 degrees.

Cars behaved, in general, with dignity. Almost no high-altitude surprises. Only starting from 4, 500 meters did the brake pedal free play increase sharply and braking became less effective (then, when it was reduced, everything itself “repaired”). Moreover, during a stop, Sergei imprudently unscrewed the radiator cap, forgetting that at this height the “Tosol” was boiling at 80 degrees. There was almost an explosion, hot steam poured over us, but, thank God, there were no burns.

“How long did you drive to the top when all the signs of the road disappeared?”

- About 40 kilometers. At first, winding along a serpentine path along a wide grassy slope. Then a scree began immediately - a mixture of sharp stones the size of a matchbox to the refrigerator, covered in places with snow. At an altitude of 5500, the rear wheel of the second Niva was proportionate and decided that it makes no sense to torment all the cars - only one will go further. We reached this height with three cars, never using a cable, and it was already a huge success.

- So, from the 5500 mark did the white Niva go up?

- Yes. With new Dunlop studded tires set at the foot of the mountain. Blows on the eight-millimeter duralumin crankcase followed on average every ten meters, but she withstood. The guys went up on foot, scouting and showing me the way. We got to the top of the ridge, height 5670 - the Land Rover’s Caucasian record was already exceeded by 50 meters. But everyone is heading for the summit, which means that one has to drive from the slope to a narrow rocky talus ridge. Slowly it will not work, and with acceleration you can easily jump over it and fly away with the car down 300 meters … They decided to insure the car with a 14-mm climbing rope. We have never seen a climber weighing one and a half tons!

- Was there a temptation to use the winch?

- We basically didn’t take her, so that no one could say that our “Niva” was dragged upstairs. True, I had to pay for this with security. I calculated my pulse for interest: 160 per minute! The 1.8-liter engine lost power and began to stall, despite the "high-altitude" carburetor jets. Nevertheless, the Niva, having brought down a hail of stones from under the wheels, jumped to the ridge. For about an hour we climbed it, - the guys cleared the way by dragging hefty stones. When the top was left about 30 meters vertically, our strength was exhausted. A representative of the China Mountain Association, accompanying us, recorded that our Niva was more than a hundred meters above the previous world record. HAC issued us an official certificate of this.

- Did the expedition have a financial sponsor?

- Nobody helped us with money. Spent your own - about 7 thousand dollars per person.

“What happened to those cars after returning?”

- AvtoVAZ promised to consider the issue of their transfer to the expedition members. Soon a year, as considering …

“What will be your next adventure, George?”

- We are going this year on snowmobiles to Elbrus. We are planning a world tour around the cars.

- Good luck to you!