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Notice: Undefined variable: top_comments in /usr/local/www/mountainru/data/article/mainarticle.php on line 486 Author: Valeri Babanov, Chamonix

Jannu. West pillar.
To surpass oneself

With passage of time, you begin to understand that there are no limits.
All limits that exist are only in our minds.
The choice is ours, always,
And only this choice, and nothing else, defines our entire future.

Valeri Babanov
Altitude 6400 metres...
October 16th
A powerful gust of wind hits me in the spine, and everything that follows, occurs in one instant. I cannot believe my eyes. Transformed from a cozy little shelter into a huge paraglide, our tiny tent, lifted by a mighty gust of wind, is torn from my hands. Then it soars high into the air, and rushes towards the place where, a couple of hundred metres away, the mountain face is broken by a kilometer-high -off that we had just ascended. Savage horror, mixed with the despair that this may now become the end of our climb, releases into my blood a huge dose of adrenaline, which is immediately turned into a whirlwind of energy.
Without even thinking, sinking up to my knees in deep snow, in a superhuman surge to halt the disappearing hopes at any price, I throw myself in the direction of the abyss. Everything happens like in a movie. In a few seconds I cover a distance of a good hundred metres and, thanks to a miracle that has momentarily halted the flight of our house, I dive onto the tent, drained of all strength.
Breathing heavily, with my pulse racing, I slowly come back to my normal self.
What was this? Was it a Warning against some unknown danger, or a Blessing from Above to continue the upward journey? Time will tell
Half an hour later, the night embraced us, while the gusts of wind twirled the flying snow in a crazy dance. The weather had turned bad. Thunderclaps could be heard, emanating from God knows where. Nature toyed with us until morning.

Now, after some time has passed, I cannot understand where I got the strength for that surge, for only a second before that, my entire body had been weak with fatigue, and my only desire was to sit down in the snow and to lose myself in a desert of do-nothingness. At such high altitude, even the thoughts become viscous, and the world seems to turn still.


Mount Jannu is a beauty 7710 metres high.
In Nepalese, her name is known as Kumbhakarna, but the climbers prefer to call her Jannu.
This is one of the most beautiful mountains in the world. Bizarre and proud, the ridges of rock and ice rise to the sky, forming the stately shoulders reminiscent of the wings of a giant bird. And above all this, like a head of this bird, towers the summit pinnacle.

French alpinists under the leadership of Lionel Terray accomplished the first ascent of Jannu in the spring of 1962. Done in the siege style, with intermediate camps and fixed ropes, this ascent had been made from the south. At the time, it was considered to be one of the most technically difficult ascents in the Himalayas.
In those years, this victory had been viewed as an act of heroism.

Without getting into the details of the conquest of this uniquely beautiful peak, it may be mentioned that in the entire world, there are only a very few lucky ones to have managed to scale this Himalayan pearl. The reason is that, there are no easy routes to the summit, and Jannu is deservedly considered to be one of the hardest seven-thousanders of the Himalaya.

Any route to this summit is a challenge, a test of ones capabilities. It is a conquest of oneself. An ascent of Jannu is a leap into the unknown, where the unpredictability of the result rises exponentially with the increased complexity of the chosen route.

Technical difficulties of the ascent are exacerbated by the hardships, associated with very unstable weather, hurricane-force winds, thin air, and very low temperatures. All of these factors are common to high altitudes.
Altitude 6700 metres
October 17th
The weather has finally deteriorated. The visibility has fallen to a few dozen metres, sometimes to nothing. I dont know what motivates us to go up, but we are definitely crazy .
Gradually the slope gets steeper and, in places, bare ice appears. We are climbing tied together with a thin, five-millimetre static rope. I understand perfectly well that this is silly the static rope will never withstand a hard pull if either of us falls, but we dont want to change anything. Anyway, it seems easier with the knowledge that you are tied to your partner. And what about the bad things? Here, its better not to think about them. There goes an intense battle of two exhausted bodies with the nature gone mad.

I know that we will never win this battle, but something still pushes us forward, does not let us stop. Probably it is stubbornness, or perhaps a love of life? Because what we are doing right now it is real life, a life that reveals its treasures on a razor edge of struggle. Everyone has his or her own ideas about life. Some people are satisfied to remain down below, within their narrow horizons, without a possibility to look around. While others like us are constantly in need to prove our very existence and our right to lead a full, adventurous, and unpredictable life. Each of us has a choice.
Sometimes I get an impression that we are climbing inside an enormous, mountain-sized, vertical aerodynamic tunnel. The wind accelerates the snow grains with such a force that they become like pellets of lead shot, whose impacts I can feel even through the thick layer of my down jacket.
We climb almost blindly through the rising storm, taking the elevation metre by metre away from the mountain.
I notice a huge, looming serac to the right of us. Having quickly weighed pros and cons, I suggest to Sergey that we begin traversing towards it in order to hide from the raging storm, at least for a while. He agrees.
In any other situation, it would have never occurred to me to seek shelter beneath this overhanging mass of ice, but now the tired body begs for a respite.

West pillar

Man is a strange creature
Having sat for two hours in our retreat, we gradually convince ourselves that this place is safe enough, so safe that we can set up the tent here. Especially because we dont have much choice the storm is continuing, soon it will start to get darkAnd what will we find above? God only knows
Altitude 7000 metres
October 18th
Twenty minutes have passed already, but I am still standing in one spot without knowing what to do. Sergey, my rope-partner, is motionless on belay somewhere far below me. He cannot see me because of a bulge in the cliff. Maybe it is better that way. Right now, I am better off alone, as I struggle to correctly evaluate the situation and to overcome the wave of doubt that is rushing through me.
The present situation is terminally simple: I find myself in the middle of a steep ice gulley, and the way up is blocked by a band of yellow, almost vertical granite. From here, it looks impassable.
That would have been fine under most circumstances, but now, the entire wall is being continually swept by a torrent of snow. Not the kind of a snow that falls when everything is enveloped in heavy clouds and there is not a clearing in the sky: right now, it is very cold, and the sun is shining. But the wind
Right now, the ridge is being whipped by a raging wind that is picking up tons of snow, and then throwing it all downwards. Fortunately, we do not yet feel all of the winds power, as we find ourselves slightly below the ridge. But even these ruminations are enough to start doubting the possibility of gaining a victory in this match, while preserving the motivation to keep moving upwards.

At this moment, two sides of my personality are struggling inside me. One of them is always in doubt. It is the careful one. It always whispers to me: Stop, look around. You have already reached the Limit. Impassable cliffs are ahead, and what lies after that? There lies The Unknown, and there are only two of you. You have no backup whatsoever. Isnt it better to descend now, and to choose something easier? Think about it! Maybe you will never return from here alive The second one is the optimist. It always cheers me on, gives me energy and guides me trough life. It says: Dont worry, everything will be fine! You call these difficulties!? This is nothing but a game. Play, and you will win. But, if you make a decision to descend now, you will never come back here again. Dont stop at what you have already reached. The one who believes in something, will attain it

At some point it appears to me that the snow torrent has weakened a little. It is even possible to lift my head and to look around. I peer at the folds of granite high above me and notice that, in several places, they are smeared with thin streaks of surface ice, barely visible from here. This can be the solution to the problem. I get a hold of myself, and silence the pessimist inside me. I begin moving up. Right away, there comes a feeling of relief. The perception that I have passed some difficult, insurmountable barrier, lifts my mood. I climb higher, the entire length of the rope, and come up to the cliff. Yes indeed, the problem is complicated, but it is possible to get through.
I build a station with two ice-screws and pull on the rope three times a signal for Sergey to ascend. Yelling is of no use the wind and the distance between us muffle all sound.
Sergey comes up, and I climb further on his belay. I am ascending on thin surface ice. In some places I come across bare rock, which forces me to move over to another ice streak. But that is simply a matter of mastery and of technique. Somewhere in my head, a thought flashes about how the experience of so many winter ascents is helping me now.

Gradually, metre by metre, we are immersed ever deeper in the unknown territory of the Himalayan giant whose name is Jannu. Where we are climbing now, no person has ever gone before. Ahead lays the uncharted Earth. The awareness of that fact makes me stronger. I begin to feel a gradual upward tide of energy I start to get wound up. Despite all my doubts and inner torments, I am happy here now, in this upturned world.

Sometimes I ask myself: What do I need all this for? And the answer is: I simply like it, and I do not want to stop at what has been achieved. At the end of the day, this is my way of life, and I dont want to change it.
I like the answer given by Reinhold Messner in reply to a question, asked by one journalist about his lifestyle.
Reinhold said: All people are alike, but at the same time entirely different from one another. Everyone has his own way of life. One who finds his own proper way and who has enough courage to follow it cannot be wrong. It is simply that as a rule, people are discouraged from remaining who they are.

It seems to be that I have found my way, although it cannot be called an easy one.
Several times, in extremely tough situations, when I was at the limit of all my capabilities both physical and psychological, the ascent itself had lost all meaning. But at the same time I knew that, if I managed to survive, I would hardly stop going to the mountains. Therefore, I never gave myself any empty promises to quit. Mountains and mountain climbing have always occupied too large of a place in my heart to just take them and throw them away. And the core of the matter is not the adrenalin that, supposedly, is released during risky ascents. The real reason is that mountains live inside me. They are a part of me. I cannot remove and cast away a part of myself. Then, there would be nothing left.
The mountains change us we become different. And the more time we spend among the peaks, the stronger and the more irreversible this process becomes. The success of one ascent leads us to try another, often a more difficult one. We invent our own rules and put up own barriers for us to conquer. This is the Way that has no end. It is hard and it is magnificent, and I would never trade it for anything.

Altitude 7300 metres
October 19th
We are moving, alternating each other, along the narrow, knife-sharp ridge. It is already almost dark, yet we still havent found a suitable place for a tent. The icy wind, so common to these altitudes, is howling. All of this makes us kind of tense.
Associations with a tightrope artist, walking on an endless rope stretched high above the abyss, flash through my head, which is a bit foggy from effort and altitude.
In one spot, I move slightly to the right in order to avoid stepping on a snow cornice which is hanging over the north wall. A huge slab of firn slips out from beneath my feet. Silently, it falls away to the south, dissolving in the darkness of the chasm. The awareness that I have managed to jump off the slab just in time, forces me to awaken and to shake off the grogginess induced by the altitude. I gather myself, understanding all too well that this is not the time to relax. Here, every upward step is a battle. Any slightest mistake or negligence on our part, and thats it only memories of us shall remain.

At some point in time I realize that continued climbing in the darkness is becoming too risky. We need to find a tent site now, right where we are standing. To be truthful, on a ridge of snow and ice with steep -offs to either side, the choices are not many.
Sergey and I exchange a couple of phrases lamenting the situation, and we begin, slowly as we are quite tired by now, to chop out a tent pad using our ice-axes.
Each of us lasts for only a few minutes of this work before having to take a long rest. In order to save the effort, I chop the ice while standing on my knees. Time seems to stand still but, at the same time, it rushes forward mercilessly. At one instant it seems to me, that we have been building this pad for an eternity. It has turned dark long ago, the cold has enshrouded our exhausted bodies, and the whole world seems to have shrunk to the size of our tiny tent, lost somewhere high in the Himalayas.
In such moments, I feel myself infinitesimally small and helpless in this frozen world of the highest and most beautiful mountains on Earth.
This is our sixth night on the mountain, and we have had to chop out a tent pad every time, except once.

Altitude 7500 metres
October 20th
We find ourselves in the middle of that summit pinnacle, the very thing that makes Jannu appear so attractive and coveted. It is the seventh day of the ascent. This morning, we have made the decision to leave almost all of our provisions and a part of our equipment including the sleeping bag, on the ridge at 7300 metres. With us, we took only the tent and the gas stove with one cartouche. Of the food only several energy bars and tea. We consciously went to such extreme measures in order to shed maximum weight, knowing full well that everything would depend on today. It sounded literally like this: either today or never.
With heavy packs, we would not have been able to maintain the necessary tempo for the final push. We were now betting everything except perhaps our very lives, and even that was now at the mercy of the Higher Being.
As we approached the base of the pinnacle, I grew tenser and tenser at the forbidding sight of it. The cliffs soared upward steeply and without compromise. Their appearance made our hearts beat faster, and would be enough to give anyone pause. Our only hope to get through this part was the steep ice ramps, which cut through the summit pinnacle in several places. But even those did not look easy.
Of course, had I been faced with similar sections of climbing somewhere at lower elevation, for example in the Alps, they would have seemed routine. I would have made quick work of them without as much as paying attention. But here, at an altitude of nearly eight thousand metres the air contains three times less oxygen than on the plain. The reserves of strength that we possessed down below are now practically gone and therefore, all of this seemed insurmountable. We had to surpass ourselves.

I climb on. Sergey belays me. I descend a couple of metres on surface ice and carefully begin traversing to the right, while balancing on the front points of my crampons. I am climbing underneath an overhanging rock roof, while almost butting my head against it. What appeared at first to be secure ice, turns out to be just snow plastered onto the cliffs. I have no choice. As softly and smoothly as possible at this altitude and while wearing high, double boots, I place my foot where, according to the laws of physics, it should not even hold. I transfer my body weight onto that foot. Hmm. It holds. I am utterly concentrating on every movement. In order to keep my balance, and for greater confidence, I hook the uneven features of the cliff with my ice axes, even though I understand perfectly well that, should I lose my foothold, the ice-axes will hardly be of any help. Nevertheless, I am experiencing no fear of falling whatsoever. Maybe, all feelings within me have died stifled by the altitude. Maybe its better that way?
For intermediate protection, I use two stoppers and a friend, which I put into a crack under the roof as I move along. Underneath my feet, the wall s away steeply. Far below, we can see a huge snow-covered plateau bearing a pretty name, The Throne. Likely, it was so named by the French during their first ascent of Jannu. They are great masters at this, giving places beautiful names.
With every metre that we wrest from the mountain, we become ensconced ever deeper in a different reality one where man ceases to exist as a physical entity into a state where our actions are based on inner voice and intuition. We are entering a different world

Altitude 7600 metres
October 21st
It looks as though we have survived this cold, endless night. It seemed that the unearthly cold had managed to stop even Time itself - thats how slowly the hours dragged on in our anticipation of the morning. Obviously, there was no chance to sleep. Instead, we had to light the gas stove every 10 to 15 minutes for a short time, in order to maintain what little warmth remained in our cold and tired bodies.
It had just turned light, and the watch now shows six oclock in the morning. We are ready to start moving. After a night like this, it would be a nice time for a resort, a vacation, but here Sergey leads a horizontal traverse to the right, the length of an entire rope. Perhaps the route is located further in that direction, because the ground directly above us looks completely impassable.
I come up to Sergey, take over the lead, and climb on. I traverse the remaining distance to the cliff on snow, and then enter a rock chimney that grades into a steep dihedral a bit higher up. I ascend it for another 10 metres or so. Where I am standing right now, there is virtually no ice left. Even the small patches of centimetre-thin surface ice that I have used to climb up here have all petered out below. An overhang with a small roof looms above me. From here on up, it is pure dry-tooling, and of a very difficult kind
My experience tells me that I will likely be unable to free-climb this section without falling, yet I begin to climb. At one point I look down, and my completely emotionless gaze pauses at an intermediate piece of protection somewhere far below. The elevation and the fatigue are at work: I am completely indifferent as to whether I will fall, or not.

It probably would have been difficult for me to get through so many events and ascents that I have experienced during my long years of climbing and to survive thus far, had it not been for a deep-seated intuitive sense of caution. This sense has pointed the way out of many dangerous situations, intuitively leading me in the right direction in my struggle to survive.
And so it happens this time. A barely discernible warning comes from the deep subconscious and reaches my brain, foggy from the effects of altitude. Something tells me that I must search for another way up in a different place. As slowly and carefully as possible at this altitude, I begin to descend. Intuitively I feel that the solution to the problem at hand is a few dozen metres to the right.
My hunch is confirmed the route over there looks a bit easier, and in mere half an hour I am standing at the top of the pitch and hammering two pitons into an ice-filled crack.
I yell down that the belay is ready.

Altitude 7650 metres
The rock band, which had taken us so much time to get through, is now below us. Slowly, as our remaining strength allows, we ascend a steep snow slope. We are climbing simultaneously.
Somewhere up ahead, high above us, we can see the coveted ridge leading to the summit of Jannu the place we have been striving to reach for so many days already. The summit itself is not visible from here the bulges of the slope that we are ascending obscure it from view. Even though we have been under the spell of this huge and powerful mountain for many days, only here, near the summit, we can fully sense the energy that it radiates. And that energy gives us the strength to keep moving.
Altitude 7710 metres
The summit is right in front of me. The final steps towards it are made through an effort of sheer willpower. A few more metres, and the shockingly huge massif of Kanchenjanga, the worlds third highest peak, comes into view, filling the entire expanse to my left. It seems as though it is very near.
Leaning with my ice axes against the ridge, which is thankfully devoid of a cornice, I throw my leg over it. Momentarily, I am sitting astride the ridge. This is the actual summit of Jannu. It is truly the moment of realization of my dreams. How many days, maybe years, have I waited for this moment, and now it is reality. I know from experience that I would need a long time to fully understand and absorb the enormity of what we had managed to accomplish, but right at the moment we simply do not have the strength or the energy to comprehend it.

I take a look around. The carpet of snow-white peaks stretches all the way to the horizon. In the distance, Everest, Lhotse, and Makalu are in plain sight. The landscape is spellbinding it expresses eternity itself.
I take in the rope, and Sergey comes up towards me. I can see that the last steps to the summit are also costing him a lot of willpower. We are both happy, but we restrain the outpouring of emotions, because we know that the long and dangerous descent is ahead of us.

7350 metres
October 22
Seven oclock in the morning. The cold is unearthly. I am trying to fold the tent, but the crazy wind wants to rip it out of my hands. My entire morning procedure of heating my boots and rubbing my feet has been for naught. Five minutes after climbing out of the tent, I have already lost the feeling in my toes. My frozen hands also refuse to obey me. This has nothing to do with boots and mittens quite simply, the internal energy that has been keeping us warm all these days is quickly starting to dissipate.
I am fully aware of the seriousness of the developing situation, especially when I begin to comprehend the height that we are at, and the amount of vertical space beneath our feet. It is almost unbelievable that we still have to cover all that. Sometimes it seems to me, that we have become the prisoners of this Mountain, and that it no longer wants to release us at least, not alive.
We come out onto the ridge. The wind speed is incredible. Had yesterday been as windy as today, we never would have reached the summit.

In order to lose altitude as quickly as possible, we make the decision to go unroped, at least here, on the ridge. This is a very risky move, but it gives us an edge in speed, and right now this is very important. We both understand that in this wind and cold, neither of us will last very long. Every additional minute spent here, at this terrible altitude, saps more and more of our strength.
We descend facing the ridge, with utmost concentration, because if we make one wrong move, there will be no way to stop. Two days ago we were ascending here roped together and, in many places, swinging leads.
Finally we reach that place on the ridge, where we must begin descending to the west, towards the pillar where we came up. From here, we will be doing double rappels. The wall s away steeply. I look in that direction and see only the cold emptiness. An abyss two and a half kilometers deep is before us. The sun will not arrive there soon.
I hammer in two snow stakes, thread the rope through them, and start descending. When you take the first steps into the void, the feeling is not the most pleasant one. Somewhere in the back of my mind is the fear that this whole dubious anchor system may fail under the weight of my body, and thenbrrr, its better not to think about it.
I have lost count of rappels and of holes, drilled in the ice. At some point, time simply ceases to exist, and we become like two abandoned dinghies, lost on the waves of eternity.
4700 metres
October 23
One oclock in the morning I have a feeling that I am watching myself from outside, and that I see two exhausted and tortured creatures, barely moving their feet like two nocturnal ghosts, shuffling along the glacier. They are walking towards the base camp. The distance that had previously taken about an hour to walk, now seems to stretch on forever. Sometimes I have a vision that the base camp does not exist at all, that it is merely a figment of our sick, altitude-inflamed imagination.
The stony chaos of the enormous glacier is weakly illuminated by moonlight. I am watching my shadow on the rocks and it seems to me, that this shadow is all that remains of me. There are no feelings only great fatigue and resignation. I have an impression that the world has fragmented into a multitude of separate, disconnected worlds, and that I am lost somewhere among them, a wanderer in search of something, but unable to find it.
Music has been playing in my head for several hours. I dont even attempt to stop it or analyze it. I know the cause of it, but it just does not matter anymore. There are no thoughts in my brain only emptiness.
I ask Sergey whether he is hearing anything. He answers negatively, but tells me that sometimes he perceives a presence of a third person along with us.
We have the sense that we are gradually beginning to lose our minds. And that is not surprising we have been on our feet for nineteen hours already, and during the last three days we have eaten only a couple of energy bars each. The altitude kills the hunger, and with it our strength, leaving behind only the thirst.
In order to leave the glacier, gain the lateral moraine, and then the site of our base camp, it is necessary to overcome a huge rise. Even back when we were fresh, this had taken a massive amount of our strength and energy. But now, it seems completely impossible to climb up to the place where we are awaited.
I notice a weak light somewhere high above. This is my wife Olgas headlamp. She has been waiting for us since that very first day, when we left the camp to start our ascent. How long ago has that been it feels as if it happened in another life long ago.
The perception of time disappears completely. I crawl upwards slowly, like a snail. I presume that I am getting closer, only because Olgas headlamp is getting brighter. Just a little bit left.
I know that only in a few moments, as soon as I take another step forward our world, and the internal perception of our surroundings, will change irreversibly. That world which we lived in for nine days, but which contains several years worth of intense events and experiences will dissolve deep inside of us, to be replaced by another world, temporarily forgotten, but always close to us the world of warmth, of people, of those we hold dear.
One more step and I am standing on the grass, in Olgas embrace. We are looking at one another, she is telling me something, and I see how the tears are rolling down her cheeks. A second later, her words make their way through to my tired brain. She says, You are both crazy, and then adds Congratulations, youve conquered the Mountain! In these words, I sense so much love and warmth that, in an instant, I feel good and calm peace comes over me. I understand that there is no need to go further this is it, I am already home.

Summary of Statistics:

  • Area: Himalaya. Nepal.
  • Mt. Jannu (7710m) Kumbhakarna
  • The West Pillar (3000m/VI, WI+4, 80 degrees, M5 )
  • October 14 23, 2007
  • Valery Babanov & Sergey Kofanov
  • Alpine-style First ascent.
  • Descent via the route
  • Sponsors this expedition: Scarpa, Grivel, Bask, Beal, Julbo.

    10.12.2007. Translated from the Russian by Yuri Lipkov

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