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Jannu - The Wall of Shadows - The worlds most awesome big wall has been climbed
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May 26, 2004 22: 34 EST

"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.

"To date the wall counts two routes on its left part, but most beautiful line is the opening of a direct way in the center of the wall - overhanging right to the top. It's a giant face of 3000 m 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.

"This is what climbing is about," - Greg Child

French climbing ace Pierre Béghin attempted a route up the center of the north face in 1982. "It was the most moving experience I had ever had in the Himalaya because of the harshness of the wall," he later wrote. "None of us had ever seen such a cold, steep face."

"This is what climbing is about," insists Greg Child, well known for his climb of Gasherbrum IV in 1986, in which he pushed himself for two days, without water, to the summit. "It's not about the 5,000th ascent of Everest."

"It's 2800 meter long and 90 degrees" - Mark Synnott

Other climbers have attempted the wall before. Mark Synnott said: “the unrelentingly steep 10,000 foot north face had remained a true last great problem in the Himalayas. There isn't much out there that is harder or more committing than the North Face of Jannu." He tried it with Jared Ogden and Kevin Thaw September 9 to October 15, 2000. "It's 2800 meter long and 90 degrees."

“Without talking we both felt violence was approaching rapidly" - Lindblade/Whimp

Climbers like Damian and Willie Benegas have tried.

Andrew Lindblade and Athol Whimp from Melbourne made the fourth ascent of the Japanese route on the north face of Jannu (7710m) in May 2000. They first tried the central line but before reaching 7000 meters they had to deviate to the Japanese route:

“Without talking we both felt violence was approaching rapidly… Total helplessness overwhelmed us as the rocks and ice tore through the ’ledge’s storm-fly and exited the other side near the floor. There was nothing we could do. We hunched into ourselves as the onslaught continued, an incredible vortex of spinning snow, rocks and ice, blue and hard. Black and grey rocks streaked through like a shark's shadow underwater.”

Jannu 2004: Like starved leeches clinging to human flesh

The North Face begins above the upper glacier basin at 5,500 meter. Just to get to BC is a technical challenge. In the past days, bivoucing in a portaledge at 7000 meters, gaining only 30m per day climbing, the men have been 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 weather was shit, the wall was horrible. In the autumn, the sun never touch its face. But the climbers stuck to it like starved leeches to human flesh.

A tribute to endurance, courage and hard work

No, this was not a lightweight, fast alpine ascent. Today's remarkable climb of Jannu's North Face was a tribute to the relentless hard work and courage of old fashioned, assault mountaineering.

image storyThe original expedition plan went out the door: "Everyone who can hold the gun is going up now" they announced.

Not even the thinnest hooks could be installed

"Our ice screws and stations melted off from the ice. There were frozen waterfalls at 6000 m, and we found our ropes frozen inches under the ice. Our crampon's teeth were rubbed out.

The route from 7000 m is a vertical granite wall, with cornices that are a problem even at sea level - let alone at 7000 m. There were cracks at the absolutely smooth wall, but not even the thinnest hooks could be installed into them. We have had to use the smallest nuts, and stoppers, testing their durability on the second of us.

The mountain gets worse by every meter above 7200

Then in the wide cracks, there were stones, wedged or frozen in ice - so we used Camelot's or friends, in case of a fall. At all times the rock was hanging over us. We had to give it all we had, at the end of the climb falling into the portaledge, tired, and unable to move. It took three days to 7000 m, then two nights at 7000, then two nights at 7200 m. Our faces were bloated from the hard work in thin air above 7200 m."

Three members were injured. The climb continued:

"The mountain gets worse by every meter above 7200. In four days of climbing above 7200 our ropes didn't touch the rock, they were hanging freely in the air. You have to assemble all your abilities to climb only 50 meters per day. You can't touch the rock, you have to begin to ascend on jumars immediately. We climbed with all our equipment arsenal. There's hang rock, we couldn't see our route ahead because of cornices, and above them there were next cornices... We couldn't imagine that there're hanging monoliths at such altitude. But that's the reality - you have to climb with all your iron, because everything will be needed.

Think, think!

image storyYou 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..."

In the whiteout, the team climbers couldn't see where the route ended. But then, all of a sudden, there was no place left to go. Alexander Ruchkin and Dmitry Pavlenko stunned the world with the news that they had reached the summit of Jannu.

"Perhaps, God will reward for heroism and courage," said the team Doctor yesterday. Today, God was listening.

The cred goes to them all

Borisov and Kirievsky are next up tomorrow, coming up from below: "After the snowfall, there's a very difficult part of the route above camp 5600. They had to build a high trench in the snow." The ascent of the other members of the team is dependent on weather conditions. But it doesn't matter. This if anything was a true team effort, and the cred goes to them all.

In the autumn of the last year the Russian climbers managed to reach the record altitude - 7200 meters. 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, bathing 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.

About Jannu:

The Jannu Japanese Route

1973 New Zealand attempt reaches 7300m
1976 May, Masatsuka 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.

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