American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Kangchenjunga Region, Kumbhakarna Himal, Jannu, North Face, New Route Summary

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2005

Jannu, north face, new route summary. The historic climb in the Nepalese Himalaya during the pre-monsoon season was the successful ascent and descent by a direct route via the north face of Jannu by aRussian team (with one Kyrgyzstani member) led by Alexander Odinstov. This was the first ascent of the north face direct. A Yugoslavian (now Slovenian), Tomo Cesen, claimed to have accomplished this solo in one continuous push from base camp in the spring of 1989, but after his account in the following year of having summited the south face of Lhotse solo was discredited, there has been grave doubt about his Jannu success. In any case, by his own account, he did not descend the face but came down the less difficult northeast ridge instead.

Since 1975, nine expeditions had been on this extremely steep (80°-90° in places) face of 7,710m Jannu, which is officially known as Khumbhakarna, in addition to Cesen’s one-man effort. The ninth was led by Odinstov himself last autumn, when his eight-member team reached 7,200m and then abandoned the attempt because of snowfall, strong wind, and the low temperatures found on the north sides of Nepalese Himalaya peaks in autumn.

This spring Odinstov returned with 11 members besides himself. Six of these men had been with him in 2003, and they now had more experience of the route, knew a better site for their base camp, and understood which places were especially exposed to falling rocks and ice.

Without using any bottled oxygen or Sherpa help, they moved slowly upwards, Odinstov reported, using a total of about 75 ice screws and 300 rock pitons to fix about 3,375 meters of rope; in some sections the rock was bad enough to require two and even three pitons at a single place. To make a place for camp 3 at 7,000m, they had to work in shifts of three members for eights hours per shift, working in relays cutting ice and removing stone, for four or five days. Their slow progress was also due to the impossibility of climbing this face with mittens on their hands, but going without them meant their fingers became very cold, so every two meters— or sometimes even less—they had to pause and rub their fingers to get them warm again.

They had arrived at their base camp on the Jannu Glacier at 4,700m on April 3. They pitched their highest camp, a second camp 4, at 7,400m on May 14. Now for a rest and then the summit push. But then Jannu was hit by a prolonged period of snowfall and strong winds, so it was not until the 26th of May that their first members reached the top.

Two members, Dmitri Pavlenko and Alexander Ruchkin, left the 7,400m camp at 5:00 a.m. on the 26th, finally gained the summit at 3:00 p.m. and returned to camp at 6:00 p.m. The final 70 meters was rock covered with dangerous powder snow, and the top itself was a difficult snow cornice.

Three more Russians, Sergei Borisov, Gennady Kirievskiy, and Nikolai Totmyanin, followed them on the 28th, and were able to move much faster since the way had been opened by the first two summiters. Next day, as they descended all the way to base camp, they cleared the mountain of all their tents and contents, plus as much fixed rope as they could recover— a lot of it was stuck in snow that had melted and then refrozen. [For a complete account, see “The North Face of Jannu,” by Alexander Ruchkin, earlier in this Journal.]

Elizabeth Hawley, AAC Honorary Member, Nepal

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