Mount Jannu: Why is it So Hard?

Mount Jannu.

“A beauty, bizarre and proud, ridges … forming stately shoulders like the wings of a giant bird,” wrote double Piolet d’Or winner Valery Babanov in the 2008 Alpine Journal, about Nepal’s 7,710m Mount Jannu. “Above all this, like a head of this bird, towers the summit pinnacle.”

Because of its technical difficulty and unstable weather, Jannu is rarely climbed. The great Lionel Terray and a group of French alpinists made the first ascent in 1962, from the south side. But as we reported yesterday, two Russians, Sergey Nilov and Dmitry Golovchenko are currently taking on the unclimbed South East face, which has been attempted only once, a decade ago. A third member, Marcin Tomaszewski of Poland, backed out near the start of the climb, because he felt the terrain was too uncertain and dangerous.

Tucked away in a remote area near Kangchenjunga, the trio faced full winter conditions at the start of their trek in and had to take a lower route into Base Camp. Along the way, they had a few interesting encounters with the local wildlife. Tomaszewski told ExWeb: “Three cases of bedbug infestation, one invasion of chickens, one tick bite which makes Dracula’s gnaw feel totally toothless and hours spent wading through crotch-deep snow.”

Five of their porters, carrying loads up to 60kg, suffered from snowblindness and had to turn back. Finally, as soon as they reached Base Camp at 4,700m, the chain on their toilet broke and it overflowed. Then someone filled the generator with the wrong type of fuel, cutting off their electricity, and horror of horrors, their internet connection. Not all climbing problems are heroic.

Jannu Base Camp. Toilet not visible. Wifi not working.

The major technical difficulties on Jannu lie above 6,800m. With warm temperatures lower down and high winds forecast higher up, Tomaszewski decided on March 16 to pull out. “Dimitry and Sergey are highly experienced climbers and decided to continue with all the risks involved. Everyone knows that climbing at this world-class level is about managing risk and … I believe that they will prove successful.”

Perhaps the recent death of his friend and former climbing partner, Tom Ballard, also played on Tomaszewski’s mind. On social media, he paid tribute to a “wonderful and quiet man” with whom he had put up new routes in the Dolomites and on the Eiger. The pair had also planned to climb together in India later this year.

Meanwhile, Nilov and Golovchenko press on, trying to crack this hard nut of the Himalaya.

Before Tomaszewski’s withdrawal, the trio established fixed ropes up a 300m rock wall over nine pitches. The climbing involved an indirect route with many traverses on fragile rock. Photo: Marcin Tomaszewski

After the exploratory rock pitches, the trio reached a plateau and icefall. The South East face starts beyond the icefall. Photo: Marcin Tomaszewski

Related story:

Himalayan Spring Roundup

About the Author

Ash Routen

Ash Routen

Ash Routen is an outdoor and adventure writer from the UK specialising in adventurous travel and expeditions, such as mountaineering, polar travel, and ocean crossings. Ash juggles a day job as a public health scientist with this second career in outdoor writing.

His words have featured in national newspapers, national and international outdoor and adventure magazines, and various websites. Bylines include Financial Times, Daily Telegraph, Outside Magazine, Rock and Ice, and Red Bull.

Alongside writing, Ash also spends some time undertaking his own adventures, and completed a 640 km foot crossing of a frozen Lake Baikal in 2018. His next arctic journey is a 700 km trek along the coast of Baffin Island in Canada.


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3 Comments on "Mount Jannu: Why is it So Hard?"

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Good luck to the guys. Jannu looks spectacular. So hard to get even to the base camp. Do you know how many of them in there? On the pic there are atleast 7 tents i can see, isnt it too many for just 2 climbers?


Highest praise for Marcin Tomaszewski for appreciating the value of his life!