Success on Jannu North Face

By Dougald MacDonald ,

Russian climbers Dmitry Pavlenko and Alexander Ruchkin reached the summit of Jannu (7,710 meters) today via the north face, completing one of the most difficult high-altitude big walls ever attempted. At least two other team members are hoping to summit on the 27th. This was the Russians’ second attempt on the intimidating north wall, a nearly vertical 700-meter cliff atop 50-plus pitches of snow and mixed climbing. Last fall, a Russian expedition reached 7,200 meters in extremely snowy conditions. At least a dozen other teams from around the world have tried the north face of Jannu, starting in 1975.

This year, the Russians began work on the climb in early April and made steady progress, establishing a portaledge camp at 7,400 meters, more than halfway up the cliff, on May 14. But over the last couple of weeks progress slowed to a crawl in the face of repeated storms and difficult climbing. Working in rotating teams of two to three climbers, the Russians could manage only half a rope length of new climbing on many days. Just to reach the high camp required days of jumaring, and on the upper wall the ropes hung freely over roofs for the majority of pitches — climbing them was exhausting work at over 24,000 feet. On May 15, one climber was hit in the head by a falling rock, and another broke a rib in a fall from a roof; one of the two had to leave the expedition. Last weekend, with time running out, “everyone who can still hold a gun” went back up the wall and, despite awful weather, Pavlenko and Ruchkin began climbing up to the left toward the final summit ridge. The angle had eased somewhat, but new snow filled every crack. By Monday the ropes were fixed nearly to the top, but yesterday storms kept the entire team in their high camps all day. Early this morning, however, Pavlenko and Ruchkin were able to tag the summit.

The north face of Jannu (7,710 meters).

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