Puryear and Gottliebs Jobo Rinjang debrief: First ascent on the wild side of Khumbu

Posted: May 12, 2009 02:46 pm EDT

(MountEverest.net) It is with great happiness that David and I report the first ascent of Jobo Rinjang (6,778 meters) via the direct south face, in the Khumbu Region of Nepal, climbing alpine style over 6 days (from April 20 to April 25), summiting on April 22, Joe Puryear reported.

They came to climb a mountain and found a virgin massif, not far from the infamous Nangpa La (1*) pass between Nepal and Tibet. Americans Joe Puryear and David Gottlieb bagged a first ascent on a highly difficult 6,778 m mountain face in alpine style, and compiled a complete list of surrounding peaks for those who will follow.

Apparently there might have been some confusion over which summit we made though, Puryear noted. Since our expedition was exploratory as much as anything, I'd like to share our findings and many images from around the peak."

"As it turns out, it seems that this mountain is too complex to have a single name. So after our climbing exploits, and further research and discussion with locals and experts, we came up with a naming scheme for the massif, which hopefully will clear up any misunderstandings.

Here goes Joes full description of the Massif they explored.

Background: the Lunag massif

At approaching BC, we eventually realized was that we were indeed looking at more of a complex series of peaks and not just one mountain, like we originally projected. There was a line of summits on the Nepal-Tibet border that formed a north-south ridge crest, culminating in a southern high point of 6,895 meters. Then jutting out of this to the east was a long sharp ridge which led over two kilometers to a huge pyramidal peak of 6,778 meters.

Since there is not a single super-prominent summit to the massif(and the actual highest point of the massif is visible from very few places in Nepal), I think the entire set of peaks should be called the Lunag Massif, with each distinct summit give a number. The highest point would be Lunag I, then each peak to the north given an increasing number. (One other peak to note is "Little Lunag" - a small sub-peak of 6,492 meters, adjacent to Lunag I to the south.)

The only main summit not along this south-north trending ridge line is Jobo Rinjang. Jobo Rinjang is by far the most prominent point from most view points in Nepal and perhaps the most aesthetic due to its pyramidal appearance. It also marks the confluence of two huge glaciers, the Nangpa La coming down north from Nangpa La (pass), and the Lunag Glacier, splitting these two like a massive ship's prow.

The elevations of the peaks go as following:

Lunag I - 6,895 meters (6,907 on some maps)
Lunag II - 6,891 meters (6,903 on some maps)
Lunag III - 6,795 meters (6,821 on some maps)
Lunag IV - 6,781 meters (6,797 on some maps)
Lunag V - 6,550 meters (6,590 on some maps)
Little Lunag - 6,492 meters (6,507 on some maps)
Jobo Rinjang - 6,778 meters (6,777 on some maps)

Jobo Rinjangs first ascent debrief

After a week's worth of scouting and further acclimatizing, we settled on what we determined to be possibly the only "safe" line that we could foresee doing alpine style on the entire Lunag Massif (see the last post for a full description and images of the massif). We were amazed at the near impenetrability of this group of peaks. The entire south side of the massif was a nearly all shear cliff. Added to this was a constant barrage of rock fall as it seemed there was no decent quality stone anywhere. The north and east sides were completely rimmed in hanging glaciers and careful studying revealed absolutely no safe routes. The west side of the massif sits entirely in Tibet - this might be a viable option for climbing the Lunag's, but inaccessible to us.

Amidst all this chaos, the south face of Jobo Rinjang seemed to maybe hold something for us. A swath of ice led directly up the 1,700-meter face, snaking between rock bands and two ice cliffs high on the face. This was to be our route. It was difficult to access the objective danger initially. It appeared that perhaps the right-hand and larger of the two ice cliffs drained mostly right of the ice line, while the left and smaller one would perhaps spill left. What we didn't count on as much, and which took us by surprise, was the rock fall danger from multiple rock bands across the entire face.

Sights set on Jobo Rinjangs South face

We packed up our kit and left base camp in Lunag (5,050 meters) on April 20th. The first part of our journey was to cross the great confluence of the Nangpa La and Lunag Glaciers, then make our way west up the Lunag Glacier to the base of the face. The total distance was over 4km of very tedious (and perhaps dangerous) rubble-filled, boulder-shifting, ice and rock maze. After many close call (and fun rides with tent-sized boulders threatening to kill us) we arrived safely at the base of the face, not that much higher than base camp (5,100 meters). Much of the sides of the glaciers are steep debris walls that have not yet reached the angle of repose, but luckily here was an easy way to get off the glacier and access the mountain.

Our first big dilemma was that it looked like there was no good place to bivy on the face until above the hanging glaciers. This was nearly 1,500 meters above us. Banking on our prior 4-weeks of acclimatization, we decided to go for it and it proved to be one of the hardest days in the mountains either of us have ever experienced.

Climbing among falling rocks

We awoke in the wee hours of the morning and started heading up the mess of ice, snow, and rock scrambling to gain the initial ice path. Once we hit the blue ice, we started simul-climbing.

Things went smoothly for several hours as we efficiently gained elevation.

Then out of no where we heard the tell-tale rapidly spinning sound of looming death - a rock the size of a microwave went zipping past us - and we were just worried about the hanging glaciers. The rest of the climb, I kept my head back and eyes glued to the terrain above us. Several more rocks careened past us, but we were lucky enough to be spared.

As we got higher, the going got slower, mainly due to altitude and fatigue. We began to wonder if the ice would ever end. As the day wore on, the weather started changing for the worse, but we continued our ascent, and started pitching out some steeper sections. In became dark and started snowing, but finally we made a horizontal traverse right to the top of the right-hand hanger.

Two nights on the summit

The next morning luckily dawned clear again and we had a great day climbing the upper headwall.

Our plan at this point was to maybe get a crack at some of the other summits in the massif. But we were a full 2km from Lunag I and a long Kang Nachugo-like knife edge ridge separated us from the other peaks. We camped on the summit of Jobo Rinjang (the only real flat spot anywhere to be found) and made an attempt on the ridge the next day. I won't go into too many details of the attempt, other than to say the ridge was heavily corniced with unconsolidated snow with warm temperatures during the day, making for risky conditions. We tried some antics for an entire day and got ourselves into some funny hard terrain, but ultimately we were unsuccessful.

We returned back to the summit of Jobo Rinjang for another night on top.

The way back

The next day it was time to head down. The weather was perfect, albeit too very warm, which made us nervous about rockfall on the descent. We downclimbed from the summit several pitches, until able to start V-thread rappelling in solid ice.

We made every rappel by pulling the rope through a V-thread, thus leaving absolutely no tat or garbage and no trace of our ascent on the mountain

We made it down to the glacier by early evening and crashed out in the tent. The next morning we made our way back over the crazy glaciers to base camp in Lunag.

We slowly made our way back with several stops for drinking Chang and Thungba. Eventually arriving back in Lukla for our flights back.

(1*) Nangpa La pass is a wide col separating Nepal from Tibet and thus used by Tibetan pilgrims, refugees, villagers hoping to sell items in Namche Bazaar, Yak herders - and refugees - to cross the border.

The pass hit the news in fall 2006 when border patrol officers shot into a group of unarmed pilgrims. "Hi, my name is Pavle Kozjek, from Slovenia, and I just returned from Cho Oyu. I have some photos from 30.9.," reported an email to Explorersweb on November 2nd. The sender's images showed a nun shot dead before more than a hundred of climbers. The Nangpa La incident would close the 2006 season of world exploration - a moral shakedown of human values above new routes.

Joe and David report that the spot is quiet these days: "Nangpa La is one of the first good spots where Tibetans coming over Nangpa La can graze their yaks, but now with the northern border being closed, it was desolate and lonely."

Americans David Gottlieb and Joe Puryear completed the first ascent of Jobo Rinjang (6,778 meters) in Nepal, near Nangpa La on the border with Tibet. The two climbed a direct route up the 1,700-meter south face. After acclimatizing by trekking and climbing 6,186-meter Kyajo Ri, the two spent several days exploring the Lunag massif, of which Jobo Rinjang is a satellite summit.

See more photos by Joe Puryear at ClimbNepal.Blogspot

The first ascent route on Jobo Rinjang, seen from the SE (click to enlarge).
Getting on the face - falling rocks would prove to be a problem (click to enlarge).
Looking down the initial bit of ice (click to enlarge).
In 2009, David and Joe climbed Lunag Ri SE/Jobo Rinjang Direct Route in alpine style. In image by Joe, David is arriving at 6,500 meters after 21 hours climbing.
Prominent peaks on Lunag Massif, courtesy of Joe Puryear and David Gottlieb (click to enlarge).
Summit morning luckily dawned clear (click to enlarge).
Summit pic (click to enlarge).
The climbers slept for two nights on the summit - the only flat spot in sight (click to enlarge).
The infamous Nangpa La pass, looking South (click to enlarge).
Rapelling down on hard ice. "We made exactly 20 60-meter raps down the face before we started downclimbing again," the climbers stated (click to enlarge).