Regrouping on Jannu
14:28 p.m. EDT Oct 10, 2003
The unconfirmed word out there is that the Jannu crew has all backed down to Base Camp to regroup and figure out what to do. So far they have reached a little above 7000m, but the slopes look too loaded and the avalanche danger is too high.
They have not given up, and are looking for other ways up Jannu’s massive wall. The expedition has every right to be scared of avalanches – check out the picture to the left. That red circle with the tail is climbers and the fixed line, and that big white cloud next to them is an avalanche.
The team camera man, Ivan Samoylenko, have returned to Russia and gave Mountain.Ru an emotional, first direct interview from the team:
"After I checked our web sites I must say that we have been too chirpy in the information we sent from the slopes of Jannu. The Mountain has been presented like a little girl named Jannu - instead we have found a terrible demon by name Kumbakarna.
None of us have ever seen such continously bad weather before. All our plans and schedules were broken. Instead of climbing on the rocks we had to swim through fresh snow and play Russian Roulette with avalanches. When reaching the Topmost Tower we expected it would be blown clear of snow. Well, it was not.
Have I managed to shoot a film, as I wanted? Certainly, not! It seems to me it just couldn’t be. My original idea was to ascend to 7000m, and shoot different views; the route, the high altitude, but… The state of the mountain proved us to be not such as we expected.
We planned to climb rocks, but we had to swim through snow! The expedition lead by Shabalin and Tukhvatullin had reached the Wall after 10 days - our team instead "killed" three weeks to get there and each day was like a battle!
The weather was against us, and then the tech: Our satellite phone died without explanation. And then the accidents with Mikhaylov and Odintsov got us out of time and changed our entire schedule.
We all agreed unanimously: No one of us has ever experienced such a moving, active icefall. At first the daring plan of Alexander Odintsov was to rush by this dangerous part of the route (approximately 1200m on the vertical line) in one day. We thought, that it would be easier to go on the ice, than to climb on the rocks. But the icefall is changing very rapidly and radically - the part easily passed by Uzbek’s team several years ago had probably just fell down.
We spent three days in this icefall – climbing between swinging ice pinnacles 5-8m high.
Soon we realized the rocks would be easier after all and fixed rope there for a few days.
We consider the ice fall accident that happened with Mike Mikhailov to be just the result of simple statistics. For three days seven people were going up and down the extremely dangerous place, and there was an accumulated level of an accident risk.
When the accident occurred, Totmyanin was next to Mike: he had time to flatten somehow against the wall and to rescue, and then he dug up Mikhailov.
A huge ice-fall section, which was fixed with rope, fell down. Mike, who went on the rope fell. And several enormous ice lumps collapsed from the top. Chunks of icy two-meter "cubes" were wedged between themselves and that is why they didn’t squash him.
For two days we prepared to descend him on the ropes, and waited for a helicopter, without any hope: They told us straight off that all civil helicopters were immobilized. By sheer luck the pilot of one helicopter was Russian: Only he could help us in such bad weather conditions. The Nepalians simply did not fly.
The state of the mountain was horrible. We didn’t have any rest day. Each day we had to work hard. The weather was just disgusting. And all those accidents just came on the top of it all.
The accident with Odintsov happened on 25 or 26 September. A stone flew off, bounced off his helmet, and struck his hand - at about 4500m. I just was going to ascend up to 5400m to shoot the work on the route. At first we couldn’t determine how bad his hand was. I bandaged and fixed it to a stick, and went upward to work, as Alexander began to descend.
All team members endured the high altitude normally, but they are very tired. It takes 7 hours to trek from below up to 5600m. You have to trek hard for another day to reach 6400m. After that, you have to work for 2 days to move forward through that heavy snow.
It is always snowing up high, snowy streams are flowing along all couloirs. From time to time large avalanches are descending.
Under such conditions a good climbing suit is so important. (storm suit from Dermizax made by BASK) - snow is flowing, but you are completely closed in and feel warm all the time.
But generally, when it comes to the clothing, everyone love what they are used to: Ruchkin and Pershin, for example, prefer wind-blockers. Totmyanin, after climbing up to 6400m, used feather (it's good also as a pillow in Base Camp), and soon Bolotov wanted the same. Now, probably all climbers wear the feather. It became chilly.
When I was going down, an intermediate snow cave was dug out at 7000m. Every day we awaited the Wall to be cleaned from the snow. Our wishes did not come true. When I was descending on 28 September, the Wall was just as white as before.
But our 'soldiers' still have got a reserve of time and power."
The Big Walls - Russian Routes team has its sights set on twelve of the world's biggest walls. They've currently accomplished six of the twelve and will be going for Jannu's unclimbed wall - 7710m. For a warm-up, the team traveled to Tien Shan where they successfully summited Khan Tengri.
Image of a close call with an avalanche and the route courtesy of Mountain.ru.