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Jannu The Terrible mountain - Summit PUSH SPECIAL
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May 23, 2004 22: 12 EST

As everyone has been caught up in the Everest summits/fatalities/survivors stories this past week -another battle of an entirely different kind has been ongoing on the Jannu Face.

Hanging in a portaledge, gaining 30m per day

For four days now, the climbers have been hanging in a portaledge on the wall, on the limits of human endurance. They are exhausted by the altitude, dehydration and the sleepless nights in the hanging camp. They have only managed to ascend 30 vertical meters on the mountain per day - meters of highly technical climbing at an altitude of about 7600 m. This is one of the toughest climbs in modern mountaineering.

Today, according to the latest 8 PM report, Alexander Ruchkin and Dmitry Pavlenko has continued to work the wall. They climbed about 80 meters. Mikhail Mikhailov felt not well, and remained in the portaledge. The wall appeared less steep in the last pitch, but the continuous snowfall nullifies this advantage, as snow fill the cracks.

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

The team deviated its direction from vertical slightly to the left, alongside a ridge. And now, "Everyone who can hold the gun" goes upward.

S.Borisov and G.Kirievsky have gone up from camp 1 (5600) to camp 2 (6700). After the snowfall, there's a very difficult part of the route above camp 5600. Gennady Kirievsky said they had to build a high trench in the snow. A.Odintsov and N.Totmjanin ascended to camp 1. The weather is still bad.

"The way I see it, our process hangs, as a drop on a nose

In a later report just a few hours ago, at 10 PM (Moscow time), Doctor Bakin called to say that the altitude reached today was about 7700 m and Mikhail Mikhailov is now going down. In the past days, the expedition has had more than it's share of everything:

The team climbed a hanging chimney with a block in immense snowfall. In the whiteout loomed further corners with shelves and vertical walls.

"The way I see it, our process hangs, as a drop on a nose. And where this drop will fall, depends on many circumstances," says the doctor in 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. We wait for the wall to turn slightly less steep."

The climb

Bolotov's three-man team climbed up to the last summit cornice, but they did not overcome it completely because of injuries to the climbers (Alexey Bolotov, Sergey Borisov, and Michael Pershin).

"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. Only after we had freed them, could we descend. It's as if the mountain doesn't want to let free uninvited guests who have disturbed her rest. We descended this way extremely tired, our crampon's teeth were rubbed out - we looked like cows on the ice."

Climbing grade above 7000 m is about 6B - if closer to the sea and using rock-climbing shoes instead of Millets.

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. The climbing grade above 7000 m is about 6B (Russian Grade) or A3 (that is if you transmit the wall closer to the sea and use rock-climbing shoes instead of Millets).

"There were cracks at the absolutely smooth wall, but not even the thinnest hooks could be installed into them, and what could I say about our fingers? We have had to use the smallest nuts, and stoppers, testing their durability on the second of us. 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."

"She's like the forbidding woman - she allows us to approach to the definite point, and no further"

It took three days to 7000 m, then two nights at 7000, then two nights at 7200 m. Our faces are bloated from the hard work in thin air above 7200 m. Jannu is playing with us - She's like the forbidding woman - she allows us to approach to the definite point, and no further.

We can't recall anything even close to this route. 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

And your morning begins in the portaledge at 5-6 a.m. You melt the ice, boil the water, cook the breakfast, and prepare the water, water, water...

When you have had enough to drink, (which is impossible, really) you begin to prepare for the climb. It takes about an hour only to dress. The portaledge is hanging in the air, you can't touch the rock, you have to begin to ascend on jumars immediately.

Think my head, think...

We climbed with all our equipment arsenal. There's hang rock, we can't see our route ahead because of cornices, and above them there are 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.

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....

The final stage

The three-man team led by Ruchkin (Ruchkin-Mikhailov-Pavlenko) went up to climb the cornice and three last pitches left after it, and to replace the leading group. According to Ivan Samoilenko the monsoon is coming early this year. That's uncommon. But before its arrival the team should have some days of good weather and be able to make the last pitches, summit and descend before the bad weather begins.

The expedition should be completed June, 1.”

God bless us."

Comments by a veteran

Graeme Dingle, who was the leader of the New Zealand team that made the first attempt on Jannu North Face in 1975, says:

"The route the team is attempting is indeed audacious. We climbed the wall further to the left and reached the summit ridge but not the summit due to hurricane force winds. It was post monsoon and the wall was plastered in ice with extreme avalanche danger. For 1975 it was technically difficult – possibly one of the hardest climbs in the Himalaya at that time. The very best of luck to the climbers."

In the autumn of the last year the Russian climbers managed to reach the record altitude - 7200 meters. Last years team had many problems, including their sat phone. Their doctor turned into a runner, and regularly made the trip to a radio station several hours away, which then communicated to another radio station, who then phoned the trekking agency, who then got the word back to Russia – phew.

It was like the largest game of ‘telephone’ ever, with three different languages switching back and forth – Russian to English, to Nepali, to English, back to Russian, then to English again. So when dispatches came out that said the expedition leader was, “watering his bikini swimsuit,” that was really just a garbled message that meant, “Odinstov is wearing his Bask down suit."

This year, the phone works and the team reached 7000 in two weeks. Now, only a completely laid "Russian" route can satisfy them. They are sure that such an ascent will become a symbol of the highest climbing achievement, a combination of brilliant techniques, hard work and high altitudes.

The team is climbing the equivalent of the walls of Empire State building, in hurricane force winds, at an altitude where American Airline jets fly. One climber works the wall, bathing in sweat, the other stand still frozen to the wall, while securing his mate. The rocks are frozen. They have to climb fixed ropes for three days up to 7000 m before they can continue the work on the wall. The portaledge at 7000 m is their home, a place to restore strength for continuous work on extremely difficult surface in an altitude close to 8000 m.

They have to climb 70-90-degrees rock with blocks of ice and rocky cornices. They use 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 are blocks of firm ice covering the rocks with a thickness from several centimeters up to one meter. For those parts they use ice screws and other ice gear. Including the weight of their clothes, footwear and crampons - the lead climber is carrying around 15 kg.

This highly technical climb is made in "Millet" footwear, warm multilayered clothes and Polartec gloves.

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.

You thought that you had only to traverse that way and to climb the serac, then to rappel from it to a crevasse, climb the next reeling serac and then to rappel again into a crevasse. Then there was another serac and you needed to move to the next serac on fixed rope… It was indescribably terrible.

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.

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. Six of them have been completed already. Last fall they attempted Jannu for the first time, but the weather was just too rough.

Image Jannu above 7250m, courtesy of RussianClimb.com

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