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And the Piolet d'Or goes to: Jannu North Face!
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Feb 28, 2005 10: 39 EST
The Russian team that opened the first direct line on the North Face of Jannu was awarded the international Piolet d’Or last Friday night in Grenoble (France). The prestigious prize was awarded to the most outstanding climbing feat accomplished in 2004. Awarded by French Montagnes Magazine according to the decision of an international jury, its importance makes the Piolet d’Or (The Golden Ice Axe) something like the Oscars of Alpinism.

The criteria generally sticks to “alpine” parameters: The candidates are most often small teams opening new routes on isolated mountains. Alpine style, new lines and solo climbs score high.

Russian style

A week before the prize was given, Montagnes magazine introduced the Jury, presided by Polish ace Krzysztof Wielicki, and explained the values of the six nominated climbs.

As for the Jannu climb, they declared; “Since the early 80's, the first ascent of the direct line up the north face of Jannu has represented a challenge to the best mountaineers in the world. While the Russian's tactics (capsule style, relay teams on the wall, fixed ropes) were not the most aesthetic, alpinists who know the wall say that, at present, this is the only conceivable style of ascent...”

Also awarded by Explorersweb

The Russians fought meter by meter up the huge wall for weeks. ExplorersWeb awarded their feat as well, as one of the top 2 expeditions of 2004, remarking the climber’s “incredible courage, determination and persistence.” ExWeb's other award went to K2's Magic Line, who received the Spanish version of the Golden Ice-Axe by The Spanish Federation of Climbing and Mountaineering (this annual award had perviously been witheld for 2 years due to "lack of good enough climbing").

The Jury

Piolet d'Or, a dream for the best climbers in the world, is already well known by many of the Russian team-members, who have been awarded the Golden Ice axe on previous occasions. Sadly, the prize came too late for one of the 2004 winners: Serguey Borissov died in a car crash last month.

The Piolet d’Or Jury consisted of Krzysztof Wielicki 14, 8000m peaks climbed and premier authority on Winter climbing; Leslie Fucsko president GHM; Guy Chaumereuil, founder of the Piolet d’or Award; Valeri Babanov and Yuri Koshelenko, winners of the Piolet d’or 2003; Stéphane Benoist, nominated for the Piolet d’or in 2003 and a member of GHM; Yvette Vaucher, member of the GHM; and Montagnes Magazine’s editors.

The other candidates were:

‘Linea di Eleganza’, the Line of Elegance, a new route opened last February by Italians Elio Orlandi, Luca Fava and Horacio Codo on the NE face of Fitz Roy (Patagonia).

'Johan's route', the new route on the impressive South Face of Aconcagua, opened by Slovenian climber Tomaz Humar and Ales Kozelj.

'Arctic Rage', a partially new route, opened by Americans Kevin Mahoney and Ben Gilmore on the East face of Moose’s Tooth (3150m) in the Alaska Range.

French Jean Christophe Lafaille's solo ascent of Shisha Pangma's South Face in Tibet Himalaya.
American Steve House and his speed climb of a new route on the SW face of K7, in the Karakorum.

Facts on the Jannu North Face climb:

Climb: First ascent of the direct line up the N Face of Jannu (7710 m), Nepal (Alexander Odintsov, Alexander Ruchkin, Nikolay Totmyanin, Sergey Borisov, Kirievsky Gennady, Alexey Bolotov, Mikhail Pershin, Dmitry Pavlenko, Mikhail Mihailov, Ivan Samoylenko, Mikhail Bakin )
Date: April 5 - May 28, 2004.
Route length: 2100m
Grade: VI, 6c, A3+, ice 4, M6.
Time: 50 days
Style of ascent: Mostly aid climbing, fixed ropes along the route. The various teams alternated leads, bivying on the rock face. Capsule style from 6900m to 7710m.

The Russian Big Wall project team, led by Alexarder Oditsov summited Jannu Noth Face on their second try. 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 was 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 route, bathed in sweat, the other standing frozen to the wall, while securing his mate.

They climbed 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.

Their home and a place to restore strength was a portaledge at 7000 m.

Alexander Ruchkin and Dmitry Pavlenko summited the nearly unclimbable North Face of Jannu on May 26th. A day later teammates Nick Totmyanin, Sergey Borisov and Gena Kirievsky followed.

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 been completed.

Top image of S.Borisov (who passed away recently in a car crash) and G.Kirievsky at the summit, mages: 2004 Jannu expedition, Mountain.ru, Russianclimb.com.

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