ExWeb Everest Debrief: Jannu North Face

Posted: Jun 24, 2004 04:00 am EDT

On May 26th Alexander Ruchkin and Dmitry Pavlenko summited the nearly unclimbable North Face of Jannu. A day later teammates Nick Totmyanin, Sergey Borisov and Gena Kirievsky summited as well. This is simply a classic climbing story; inching up a vertical wall in horrendous weather, broken ribs and split heads, falls, fears, and triumph over an impossible task. Here is Alexander Ruchkins almost unreal post expedition report:

This nearly three kilometer high wall did not allow us to pause for breath. It only became increasingly complex as we climbed up. Having made 50 pitches up to 7000 - the third high-altitude camp - you realize that you have no energy left to go any further on the wall. But this is the aim that led us here and the wall is so vertical that you can see the whole of it from 7000m up to the top, 7710m. I was working on the wall and dropped a small bag with a carabiner and something else. It flew over a bend and then I found it directly on our trail just in front of the first rope.

The mountain did not want to surrender. We worked in three rotating groups, but it was impossible to climb any more than 5 meters a day due to the gale-force wind. But what a great five meters those were.

If you were to lift El Capitan to 7000 meters it would be something similar to hanging from the fixed ropes on the North Face of Jannu. Every day brought us more doubts that we would not summit the mountain.

Some of us began to lose the nerve; If we can climb only five meters a day on such a difficult mountain than we will not climb at all, we just cannot imagine how many days we will need to climb up this last 700 meters of wall.

I have never met or even heard about such a walls surface. Above 7000m we had to overcome a lot of cornices with very few cracks. I had to figure out difficult labyrinths of cracks and how to get from one crack to the other, hammering chocks into quartz holes on a completely hanging wall. We used sky-hooks at 7400m. Thats not the way to do it! It seemed like the rock was simply mocking me.

The climbers were coming off the wall like wounded soldiers

We had to fight for every meter of wall and it did not give up without giving us a beating. We began to feel like we were losing the war. The climbers were coming off the wall like wounded soldiers; bloody heads and broken ribs, everywhere danger lay in waiting.

It began to warm up to such a degree that down below, above 5700m, the ice screws began to thaw and the fixed rope became frozen 5 cm up into the ice.

Ascending the first part of the fixed rope, a pitchs bolt pulled out and my heart stopped as I fell 3-5 meters, but due to the ropes being frozen I managed to stop and hung in the air off of a precipice. The next pitch pulled out as well and everything repeated; I fell seven times in this same way. I am lucky to be alive.

Out of spite, the weather began to spoil when we were above 6700m and when we went to work on the wall it completely deteriorated. In such weather we just sat in the portaledge at 7400m and were consumed with resentment for the coming monsoon and that we only had a pair of pitches left to the summit. And the idea that we would have to retreat with nothing to show for our pains, to live up to the expectations of those who did not believe in us, after we spent so much energy, forced us to continue the climb even in heavy snowfall. Several times we finished up under cover of darkness and descended.

Avalanches were coming down the chimney that our route went through. I could only climb 30 meters that day after clearing cracks of snow, warming frozen fingers, selecting snow covered equipment and deciding how to climb further. For three days Mike and I worked through the snowfall. Mikes down suit became wet and frozen and the next day it became clear that if he did not get down on the double his condition would threaten the entire climb.

The wall became less vertical, but not easier. To tell the truth, the weather decided to indulge us a little and gave us two days without snowfall.

We were told from Base Camp that only two to three pitches were left. But we had to climb higher and higher. On the last day Pavlenko and I had only two ropes left, if the climb was any longer we would have to descend without the summit. But Borisov would have climbed it without rope anyway.

We planned the summit push on May 25th and got up at 3.00 a.m. We could not sleep. Snow rustled with small avalanches on the portaledge's tarp. We had hoped that it would have stopped snowing on the day of our departure. We felt killed with weariness which had collected for six days at an altitude above 7400m. Every day it seemed to me that soon my body would fail at the most crucial point.

On the 26th we were all exhausted from the altitude and vertical ropes, we made two pitches more and were not sure that the summit was close to us or not. The power of the Wall oppressed us. I climbed up with the last of my strength, scrambling in snow up to my waist and sliding around in my dull crampons. After having gotten out on a sharp crest and shifting to the south I screamed;

It has come to pass! It has ended!

I bolted, hammered in the ice tools, fixed the rope. Dmitry Pavlenko reached me, we embraced, hugged ourselves - still not believing that we summited Jannu.
After descending to the portaledge, I had no energy at all and I felt exhausted one hundred percent. A day later Nick Totmyanin, Sergey Borisov and Gena Kirievsky summited too.

Unfortunately Alexey Bolotov did not manage to reach the top with his broken rib. He even tried to, but at 7400m he broke his crampon and had to descend.
In my opinion to climb Jannu North Face means to cross the blade.

We wanted to calculate how many total meters we had climbed; Pershin used GPS and got 10 km, but he did not work for 10 days after that. I had at least 15 km.
Alexander Odintsov had said at the press conference in Moscow that despite all this I feel sad. You know why? Because neither me, nor you will ever climb such a mountain again... it is like reaching a dream.

In the autumn of the last year the Russian climbers managed to reach the record altitude - 7200 meters on Jannus North Face. Recalling their trip through the ice-fall last year, Alexander Odintsov, the team leader, said, It was terribly terrible. It is indescribable! Every time, you had to force yourself to move. You reached the safe part on the serac, and there was something to the right and to the left of you. The seracs were really hanging above you, above your head, here - just about ready to fall And the most interesting thing is that they were falling with certain regularity. There were 15 collapses a day as Ivan Samoylenko counted.

This year, the team reached 7000 in two weeks. Only a completely laid "Russian" route could satisfy them, a symbol of the highest climbing achievement, a combination of brilliant techniques, hard work and high altitudes.

The team has been climbing the equivalent of the walls of Empire State building, in hurricane force winds, at an altitude where American Airline jets fly. One climber worked the wall, bathed in sweat, the other standing frozen to the wall, while securing his mate.

The portaledge at 7000 m was their home, a place to restore strength for continuous work on extremely difficult surface in an altitude close to 8000 m.

They had to climb 70-90-degrees rock with blocks of ice and rocky cornices. They used 2-5 mm universal rocky pitons, 3 sizes of bent channels, stoppers, friends and Camelot's for aid climbing. Unscrewed bolts and sky hooks at some places.

There were blocks of firm ice covering the rocks with a thickness from several centimeters up to one meter. For those parts they used ice screws and other ice gear. Including the weight of their clothes, footwear and crampons - the lead climber was carrying around 15 kg. This highly technical climb was made in "Millet" footwear, warm multilayered clothes and Polartec gloves.

The Russian Big Wall project was born 10 years ago. The Russian dream-team lead by Alexandre Odintsov aimed to establish 10 new routes on the hardest Big Walls. Seven of them have now been completed.

Image of 3rd pitch above 7200 m on Jannu North Face, and S.Borisov and G.Kirievsky at the summit, courtesy of the team.

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