The north face of Jannu (7,710 meters).
In a season in which more than 100 climbers already have summited Mt. Everest by its normal routes, two large, well-orchestrated Russian teams are within striking range of the top on much more daunting Himalayan challenges: the north face of Jannu (7,710 meters) and the direct north face of Everest (8,848 meters). On Jannu, the challenge is a nearly vertical, El Cap-sized wall at over 7,000 meters, rising above 50 pitches of dangerous ice and mixed climbing. Alternating teams of climbers have pushed the route to within 200 meters of the summit, and the Russians have established a portaledge at 7,400 meters (around 24,400 feet) — perhaps the highest ever portaledge camp. Fixed ropes extend to the high point, and the Russians describe jugging up free-hanging lines at this altitude as memorable exercise! Last weekend, one team of three was moving up to the high camp when a climber was hit in the head with a falling rock that wrecked his helmet and left him shaken but not badly injured. The two others continued upward, but then one broke a rib in a fall from a roof guarding the top of the wall, and the whole group retreated to base camp. Another team has now moved up to the high portaledge, hoping to push the route above 7,500 meters, but poor weather may prevent climbing for a day or two. On Everest, meanwhile, the Russians are nearing the top of the 600-meter-high rocky “bastion” that is split by the Hornbein Couloir to their west. Taking a direct line up the rocks, they have fixed ropes about halfway up the Yellow Band, to around 8,400 meters. Camp III is at 7,800 meters, just below the bastion, and Camp IV, a precarious site for a single tent, has been placed amid the rocks at a remarkably high 8,270 meters. Twice, they have had narrow misses when climbers on one of Everest’s easier routes chucked heavy, empty oxygen bottles over the north face — the Russians have pleaded with climbers higher on the mountain to remember that they are working on the face below! If the teams can fix ropes to the top of the bastion around 8,600 meters, a large snowfield and lower-angled terrain above should allow faster progress and a summit push sometime soon, assuming a few climbers can make it to the high camp with both their health and a decent weather window before the spring climbing season comes to an end.