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The north face of Jannu (Kumbhakarna, 7710m), showing (1) Japanese Route (ED+, ca. 3200m, Akiyma- Jofu- Katahir- Kawakami- Kawamura- Konishi- Konno- Kukada- Ogawa- Sakano- Sakashita- Samba- Sherpa- Sherpa- Sherpa- Suzuki, 1976). (2) Russian Route (ABO, ca. 3200m, Borisov-Kiriyevsky-Pavlenko-Ruchkin-Totmyanin, 2004). [Photo] Jared Ogden

The “Big Wall–Russian Way” project involves climbing new routes on the most famous walls in the world. In the autumn of 2003 a Russian team led by Alexander Odintsov, originator of the project, climbed to a record altitude of 7200 meters on the north face of Jannu (7710m). Many of the world’s best climbers have tried to subdue the face, but this wall of the twenty-first century remained unclimbed.

In the spring of 2004, Odintsov led another trip to the face. The team consisted of Alexander Ruchkin, Nikolay Totmyanin, Sergey Borisov, Gennady Kirievsky, Alexey Bolotov, Mikhail Pershin, Dmitry Pavlenko, Mikhail Mikhailov, Ivan Samoylenko and Mikhail Bakin. We reached base camp on April 5. The wall was much cleaner than it had been in the autumn. On April 7 the first group–Bolotov, Borisov and Kirievsky–went to work on the wall. In two days the first camp was set up at 5600 meters.
The weather was very unstable, as it had been in the autumn. On April 21 Bolotov, Borisov and Kirievsky succeeded in climbing to 7000 meters, to the foot of the wall. The weather deteriorated sharply, bringing snow and hurricane-force winds. It was impossible to retreat due to the wind and avalanches. Only after two days of constant snowfall was it possible to descend to the lower camps. The climbers, exhausted almost beyond limits, were replaced by the group of Mikhail Mikhailov, Alexander Ruchkin and Dmitry Pavlenko. Finally, work on the face had begun.
Among the team were two recipients of the Piolet d’Or prize and five men who had been on Everest, two of whom had climbed it without oxygen. Still, in general, everyone found the difficulties greater than expected. The cold was cosmic. The most experienced alpinists managed to climb twenty to forty meters a day. Groups worked for four- or five-day stints. Doubts began to creep in: Was this even doable?

Movement upward proceeded slowly. On May 14 an altitude of 7500 meters was reached, and a portaledge was set up at 7400 meters. The advance group fought to gain every meter. No other wall demands such effort. The geographical relief is such that the whole face is visible from the beginning at 7000 meters to the summit at 7710 meters. Each day brought more doubt that we wouldn’t climb it. We had never seen or heard of such terrain anywhere. Losses were palpable, as in a war. And the fighters flew from the clip like fired ammunition: a head was bruised, a rib was broken, an eye refused to look at such horrors. Dangers lay in wait everywhere.

On May 22, Mikhailov had signs of pulmonary edema and immediately descended to base camp. Ruchkin and Pavlenko reached 7600 meters. The rock was very shattered. Protection was hard to find.

On May 26, early in the morning, Ruchkin and Pavlenko set out for the summit, with two pitches of difficult climbing ahead of them, followed by a simpler path along the snow ridge to the summit. We watched them through a telescope until 1 p.m., when clouds hid the mountain. Uncertainty descended. They didn’t answer our radio calls. Finally at 5 p.m., Borisov and Kirievsky, who had climbed toward the last portaledge that morning, informed us that Ruchkin and Pavlenko had reached the summit at 3:30 p.m., completing an ascent up the center of the north face.

On May 28, Totmyanin, Kirievsky and Borisov reached the summit. That same day they descended to camp at 7000 meters. The expedition had done its work.

– Compiled from expedition member reports

— Compiled from expedition member reports