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Best of ExplorersWeb 2004 Awards: Jannu
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Dec 30, 2004 21: 08 EST

ExplorersWeb has been awarded best of adventure by National Geographic and best of the web by Forbes magazine. What is then the Best of ExplorersWeb?

We have covered hundreds of expeditions in 2004. It's difficult to choose the best, as they all contributed in their own way, sharing their story - their very soul in fact - with us and the world.

And yet, there are those who continue to linger in our minds long after their final debrief. We have chosen 8 expeditions who have contributed in an extraordinary way to the Spirit of Adventure in the year of 2004.

Today number 2: Jannu

"The way I see it, our progress hangs, as a drop on a nose. And where this drop will fall, depends on many circumstances," dispatched the doctor from BC; "But the guys struggle as fabled Mtsyri (Russian poetry hero - ed.note). Perhaps, God will reward for heroism and courage. Each day is critical to us."

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. Exhausted, whipped by hurricane winds, the 2004 Jannu climbers stuck to the wall like starved leeches to human flesh.

"La face Nord du Jannu est l'un des plus grand challenge actuel de l'Himalaya"

- The North Face of Jannu is the present greatest challenge of the Himalaya, said Erhard Loretan who tried it in 2002 and 2003. He should know, Loretan was only the 3rd person in the world to scale all the 14, 8000ers.

Think, my head, please...

The 2004 Jannu 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 face, bathed in sweat, the other standing frozen to the wall, while securing his mate.

On Everest, climbers routinely begin to take supplementary oxygen above 7000 meters. At this altitude, there's no rest when sleeping, and putting on climbing boots takes up to 15 minutes as the brain struggles to focus on the task.

For the Jannu climbers, a free hanging portaledge at 7000 m was their home, a place to restore strength for continuous work in an altitude close to 8000 m: "You cut your body from the portaledge with all this equipment and climb - inch by inch in that thin air. You have to solve the problem of climbing through the cornice. You climb on the crack, but then it ends, where to go now - you have to go further - think, my head, please..." they recalled.

Il Capitan in Millet boots

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. This would be a highly technical climb at sea level, climbing grade above 7000 m was about 6B - on Jannu it was made in "Millet" footwear, warm multilayered clothes and Polartec gloves. Including the weight of their clothes, footwear and crampons - the lead climber was carrying around 15 kg/40 lbs.

Overhanging right to the top, Jannu's giant face of 3000 m is divided into three parts: A rock pillar of 1000 m, followed by a section of rock and ice, and then a sheer, big wall of 1000 meters starting at 6700 meters of altitude! To compare; Il Capitan is 1000 meters.

"Everyone who can hold the gun is going up now"

In their final week, bivouacking in a portaledge at 7000 meters, gaining only 30m per day climbing, the men were on the limits of human endurance. Exhausted by the altitude, dehydration and the sleepless nights, they went out day after day, getting on the ropes, straight up a highly technical route without oxygen at an altitude of 7600 m.

The original expedition plan went out the door: "Everyone who can hold the gun is going up now" they announced in the end. "We had to fight for every meter," they reported in their debrief: "We began to feel like we were losing the war."

Coming off the wall like wounded soldiers

The climbers were now coming off the wall like wounded soldiers; bloody heads and broken ribs, everywhere danger lay in waiting. They began to lose their nerve, ascending only five meters a day, they couldn't imagine how many days would be needed to climb the last 700 meters of the wall.

Above 7000m they were hammering chocks into quartz holes on a completely hanging wall, using sky-hooks at 7400m. 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: "Our crampon's teeth were rubbed out - we looked like cows on the ice."

Fell seven times

A pitch’s bolt pulled out: "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."

The team climbed a hanging chimney with a block in immense snowfall. In the whiteout loomed further corners with shelves and vertical walls. Avalanches were coming down. The weather began to spoil above 6700m, and then it completely deteriorated: "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."

Thoughts of those who did not believe in us forced us to continue

"But 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, into late darkness."

Their faces were bloated from the hard work in thin air. Above 7200 m, in four days of climbing their ropes didn't touch the rock, they were hanging freely in the air. "You can't touch the rock; you have to begin to ascend on jumars immediately."

Killed with weariness

They planned the summit push for May 25th and got up at 3.00 am: "We couldn't sleep. Snow rustled with small avalanches on the portaledge's tarp. 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!’

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 followed. The climb is a symbol of the highest climbing achievement, a combination of brilliant techniques, hard work and high altitudes.

The climbers stay in our memory for incredible courage, determination and persistence.

By their performance, the awarded expeditions have proved themselves outstanding in all or most of the following:

- Courage
- Determination
- Persistence
- Self reliance
- Ingenuity
- Pioneering
- Idealism
- Comradeship
- Compassion
- Respect towards competition
- Honesty

8 expeditions have been chosen best in the world of adventure in 2004.

Previous in the countdown:

3. Microlight over Everest for courage, ingenuity and a Great Spirit of Adventure.
4. Dominick Arduin (North Pole) for her refusal to compromise her goals.
5. The SpaceShipOne team for their self reliance, pioneering and ingenuity.
6. The Russian North Wall team (Mount Everest) for persistence, pioneering, courage and comradeship.
7. The Russian Extreme Project (Amin Brakk BASE jump) for pioneering, ingenuity and courage.
8. Fiona and Rosie (South Pole) for their record-breaking performance and respect for each other.

An additional 4 expeditions received a special mention award:

Edurne Pasaban and Juanito Oiarzabal (K2) - for their courage and honesty.
Henk De Velde (NW Passage) - for his battle to the bitter end.
Pavel Rezvoy (Ocean rowing) - for his power of will and refusal to retire.
Nawang Sherpa (Mount Everest) - for his determination and ground-breaking performance.

More on Jannu

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. Last fall they attempted Jannu for the first time, but the weather was just too rough.

About Jannu:

The Jannu Japanese Route

1973 New Zealand attempt reaches 7300m
1976 May, Masatsugu Knoishi 16-man team
1987 October, Dutch 3 persons – two die on descent
1987 October, Beghin & Erik Decamp
1989 Tomo Cesen – Disputed solo going to the left
2000 May, Lindblade and Whimp

Note: Slovenian Tomo Cesen claimed to have climbed a direct route on the Wall of Shadows in 1989, but Reinhold Messner and other high-profile skeptics dismiss his account, citing inaccuracies in his story and his lack of photographic proof.

Images: 2004 Jannu Expedition, Mountain.ru, RussianClimb.com.

Feature Stories Latest News more news

1. Magic Line   
2. Russian Jannu Exp.   
Jannu North Face
3. Over Everest - Richard
      Over Everest - Angelo   
Everest Ultra light
4. Dominick Arduin   
North Pole
5. Spaceship One   
6. Central North Wall   
Mount Everest
7. Russian Extreme Pr.    
Amin Brakk BASE jump
8. Fiona & Rosie    
South Pole

Special mention:

Edurne Pasaban
Juanito Oiarzabal

Henk De Velde
North West Passage

Pavel Rezvoy

Nawang Sherpa

The Spirit of Adventure

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