Tengkangpoche North Pillar attempt

Last Autumn I traveled to the Himalayas for the first time. Quentin Roberts (Canada), Tim Banfield (Canada) and I spent six weeks in Khumbu area of Nepal acclimaziting and trying to unlock one of the last big unclimbed lines in Nepal – the North Pillar of Tengkangpoche. We got very close of success on this magical line, but after six days on the wall blank slab stopped us. We reached a new highpoint at 5930m, but still we were 550m short of the summit. I´m not sure if I ever will attempt something as proud and beautiful again.

There has been so many blogs and articles about the climb that I just link them here and won´t write more.

Blog post in Finnish at Camu`s website: https://www.camu.fi/blog/tengkangpoche-pohjoispilari/

Story in English at Planetmountain: https://www.planetmountain.com/en/news/alpinism/tengkangpoche-north-pillar-unclimbed-attempt-juho-knuuttila-quentin-roberts.html

Cutting Edge podcast: https://soundcloud.com/american-alpine-journal/a-proud-failure-quentin-roberts-on-tengkangpoche-in-nepal

I´m feel happy and privileged about the whole experience, even though the line was much different from our first and second objectives, which crashed down due to politics and other climbers climbing planned faces before us. Luckily Quentin is a boss climbing that kind of a terrain that fast! I hope I can reach the same level, though I might prefer a terrain where you can move slightly faster. 😉 Best of luck for his next attempt!

Line of our attempt and bivouacs numbered.
Mixed terrain on day two.
Headwall was steep!
Quentin on the headwall.
Our last bivy at 5880m.
Everest and Lhotse seen from our wall.
I and Quentin after the attempt. Picture by Tim Banfield.



Alaska 2017: Mt. Hunter´s Grison-Tedeschi and Denali

I´ve just returned to Finland after spending 40 days in the Central Alaska Range with Juha Sillanpää. We got really lucky with the weather during our first weeks in the range and we managed to do the 6th ascent of the Grison-Tedeschi (aka French route) on the North Buttress of the Mt. Hunter (4442m). Our luck turned on Denali though. I summited “the great one” in 7h 50 min round-trip from the Basin Camp (4300m) via the West Buttress on the 4th of June, but bronchitis stopped Juha. His high point on the West Buttress was 5800m. Plans for the Slovak Direct, which was our main objective, failed that´s why. Weather didn´t co-operate either. I´d say we had 50 percent success which is pretty good for the first trip in the area. Anyway, I´m going back for the Slovak for sure!

Juha at Kahiltna BC and Mt. Hunter´s N buttress looming in the background.



Mt. Hunter, Grison-Tedeschi

Mt. Hunter´s N buttress stands silently near the Kahiltna BC in middle of the Alaska Range. Face looks brilliant mixed-and ice climbing wise and it´s no wonder that it still attracts several teams per year. It has many famous routes on it like Bibler-Klewin, Wall of Shadows and Deprivation, but for many, Grison-Tedeschi is the most logical and committing line. Yves Tedeschi and Benois Grison did the FA in 1984 and it remained unrepeated 23 years until Andy Houseman and Jon Bracey did the second ascent in 2007. Two Slovaks did the third ascent and Colin Haley and Bjorn Eivind-Årtun did the forth in 2009. Kurt Ross and J.D. Merritt did the fifth in 2015. We wanted to try the Grison-Tedeschi because there were too many teams on the Bibler-Klewin. We had come to Alaska to get a bigger adventure and experience than in the Alps and following others tracks wasn´t in plans.

Lower part of the Grison-Tedeschi.
Upper part of the Grison-Tedeschi.


Very few teams whom try a route on the N buttress manage to stand on the true summit. Usually teams rappel down from the Cornice bivy, which marks the end of the technical terrain. But Mt. Hunter is not located in the Alps where such a thing as claiming a route climbed without a summit excits. I continue to say again that in alpinism route isn´t finished until you reach the summit. For many it´s hard to understand. Of course there is no “rules”, but come on!

Talkeetna Air Taxi`s talented bush pilot dropped us to the Kahiltna Base Camp (2200m) on 4th of May. We used the next day building “Camp Finland” and on the 6th we climbed the Mini Moonflower to the ridge as first acclimatization climb. Ice was bullet hard and climbing quite boring I have to say. Just 600 meters of basic axe swinging. Views from the upper ridge were great though, but cold wind made us rappel the route without visiting the “summit”.

TAT knows how to do it! @Juha Sillanpää
Juho leading the crux of the Mini Moonflower. @Juha Sillanpää
Juho ski touring at Kahiltna glacier. @Juha Sillanpää

Few snowy days later we did our first attempt on the Grison-Tedeschi, but our going was too slow to go further than 300 meters from the schrund. On the 12th we stood under the face again. Big spindrift avalanche came down the couloir as we racked. Morning sun releases snow from the upper snowfields straight down the route, but we were sure that we are able to climb the couloir before day warms it up too much.  Schrund was easier this time and I led it much quicker. First 300 meters went fast simul-climbing to the start of the couloir proper.

Juho in the couloir. @Juha Sillanpää


Conditions in the couloir were okey. Ice wasn´t too fat but it allowed us to move in steady pace. Usually we did 80 meter pitches, but last two steeper ones we pitched properly. Nice to get pumped on ice after two months break from ice climbing. Backpacks weren´t super light either because we carried light sleeping bags and pads. Occasionally spindrift slushes came down covering our clothes with snow.

Brew stop top of the corniced snow arete, which is the best place to keep a break on the route, went quickly. Spirits were high still due to solid pace. Next ice runnel gave some idea what to expect. Climbing was slow and annoying due to hard ice. Juha led the steep ice pitch through the Black Band and did run out of screws top of it. I finished the pitch climbing glassy thin ice which ended to a next traverse.

Juho leading a steeper pitch in the couloir. @Juha Sillanpää
Juha following around corniced snow arete.

Icefields felt eternal and we reached the headwall at 10pm. Clouds swarmed around us in colors of yellow and orange. Alaskan night was on it´s way. Headwall is a maze of compact rock, thin ice smears and snow mushrooms. The hardest climbing of the route is right there, in the end. I led three tricky mixed pitches through the night. First one was amazing and steep, second one horrible with powder snow top of rock and third one with more rotten ice and steeper climbing. Route finding wasn´t easy but you just have to trust your feelings.

Juha gunning through the Black Band.
Juha enjoys bullet hard ice.
Last picture I took. No photos from the Headwall.


In the morning Juha led two pitches full of mixed boulder problems and then we were out of the maze. After more than 24 hours of climbing we were in need of food and water. We did find a sheltered spot between two blocks where to brew. Wind picked up and it started snowing heavily. Rest of the day Juha dig a snow cave and I stood on a ledge trying to keep my eyes open which wasn´t an easy task.

Next morning we begun climbing at 10am. Without bivy gear and snow cave we wouldn´t have a change to go up, but now, after 24 hours of resting we felt okey again. Day was calm and warm. Just a perfect summit day. We followed Colin´s tracks to the summit. At late afternoon we were top of the Mt. Hunter enjoying views in every direction as far as eye can see. We had two options: to rappel the N buttress via the Bibler-Klewin or descent the West ridge. We went for the later.

Snow cave ready to use!
No tent means snow cave action.

First 1000 meters went without problems. Conditions were good enough for fast walking and we admired the beauty of the range. Alpenglow made the evening one of the most beautiful ever. At the begining of the Ramen couloir things started go in wrong direction. I launched an slab avalanche while seeking for ice for the rappels. Luckily Juha belayed from the ridge, but it was too close this time. Night was just horrible because we couldn´t find ice from the lower couloir. Ages of down-soloing brought us to the NE basin.

It wasn´t over yet.  Next task was to find a shortcut to avoid the lower icefall. Rappeling a vertical and very wet couloir brought us to the glacier which was full of crevasses, scree and boulders. It looked almost undoable at first. Terrain was messy and quite nasty to navigate. Finally we did find a suitable way through. Once on the safe zone of the Kahiltna glacier Juha said: “Don’t say you like this shit”. I answered with a grin.

Juho heading to the summit. @Juha Sillanpää
Juho nearing the summit slopes. @Juha Sillanpää
Juha climbing to the last summit ridge.
On the summit of the Mt. Hunter.
Juho enjoys the alpenglow on the West ridge..
Entering to the Ramen couloir.
Juha on the Kahiltna glacier ready to walk back to BC.


Denali, West Buttress

We spend 5 days in Base Camp resting and packing for the Denali. On the 21st of May we set off towards the highest mountain of the continent. Sleds and backpacks were full of food and gear for 5 weeks on the higher ground. After the first hour of pulling we had used every bad word we could figure out. We are climbers, not polar skiers! It took three whiteout days on skis to reach the Motorcycle Hill Camp at 3300 meters. We single carried everything up to there. Weather was just bad and snow generally deep. Of course weather got even worse and we remained stuck at the camp for three days. Then we did our first carry to Basin Camp, spend another day at Motorcycle Hill Camp as 40 cm of new snow fell and then on the 29th we just pushed through the storm to the Basin Camp (4300m) with rest of our gear. Nine days from BC!!

Denali seen from the Mt. Hunter.
Theme of the first week on Denali.
Stuck at 11.000 feet!
Stormy weather at Basin Camp.
Climbers arriving to Basin Camp.
Daily life at Basin Camp.

Since we had already summited Mt. Hunter and spend almost a month at lower elevations we kept only one rest day before heading up the West Buttress to finish acclimatization. On the 31st of May we walked up to High Camp (5200m) with camping gear in 4 hours. Evening was stunning and warm. We had a small climbing tent for the night which proved to be quite tight with all the down gear. After midnight Juha got enough and decided to sleep outside. I stayed in a tent. It was around -25 degrees at night.

Juho on the West Buttress. @Juha Sillanpää
Juha at High Camp.
Views from the High Camp.

After 10am we geared up and headed towards the summit. Our pace was slow but it all want okey enough to the Denali Pass. After that Juha really battled to move forward. At 5800 meters he felt too weak to continue. I was feeling well, but in that moment only sensible thing was to get Juha down safely. I know that first time at altitude can be awful and you don´t know what to expect.

At Basin Camp we had a discussion that we should try to do single push via the West Buttress to be sure we are ready for the Slovak. I wasn´t too keen to waste energy for another go on normal route but went with Juha anyway. On the 3rd of June we attempted again, but at 5000 meters it was clear that everything wasn´t fine. So down we went again. Weather window was closing and I knew that if we can´t finish acclimatization now, it would be over for the Slovak. For a route that hard you need to be healthy, have 110 percent of focus and motivation to make it. It was time to reconsider the plans. In the end Juha got bronchitis and started eating antibiotics.

Second attempt on the 3rd.

Anyway I wanted to do something, so on the 4th of June I packed warm clothes, some energy bars and gels and 1l of water to my pack and begun walking up the West Buttress once again. Starting time was 6:50am. In 5 hours and 15 minutes I reached the summit of Denali. Day was perfect and I didn´t need any of the down clothes. After mandatory pictures descent waited. At 2:40pm I reached the Basin Camp. Round-trip time was 7h 50min. I could have been faster still, but now I just kept the normal pace. Actually the more I do these trips to higher mountains I notice that I really love breathing thinner air and can preform quite well in the altitude. Rarely even in the Alps your pace is 380m/per hour, but now I was above 4300 meters all the time and had spent less than a week above 4000 meters before the summit day.

Football field near the summit.
Juho on the summit of Denali!

After the summit I was getting slightly anxious as possibility to get to the Slovak was minimal. There were 4 other teams planning to have a go on the Slovak too. All I could do was to ask them if I could join, but again, if you have never climbed with them before, the Slovak hardly is the route where to try a new partnership. In the end all of them said no and I understand that well. Idea of  soloing the Cassin ridge was there too, but conditions weren´t good enough for that. Too much snow fell to make soloing a good option. I can´t do it in a day if there´s 50 cm of new snow.

I´m super motivated on these trips and my focus is totally on climbing, so it´s hard to accept the reality that you can´t even try a objective. That´s the name of the game but it happens way too often. Mt. Hunter was nice, but the dream is to climb the Slovak. Nothing else can fulfill that. If you have to stay one week longer and skip your flights I´ll gladly do that. That´s the motivation you need to succeed on these things. Maybe you need a bit of luck too. This year only Luca Moroni and David Bacci had the stoke and will power to pull it down. My greatest respect to them!

Maybe in the end I learn that 4 week work camp on Denali happened in purpose. At least we were able to spend time in the mountains that we love so much. Alaska Range is a spectacular place!







3x7000m // Khan Tengri, Korzhenevskaya and Pik Lenin

In 2014 and 2015 I spend summer months attempting the legendary “Snow Leopard-peaks challenge” in the heart of Central-Asia. Five mountains reach the altitude of 7000 meters in the area of former Soviet union: Pik Korzhenevskaya (7105m) and Pik Kommunizma (7495m) in Tajikistan and Pik Lenin (7134m), Khan Tengri (7010m) and Pik Pobeda (7439m) in Kyrgyzstan. The person who climbs all five, gets a tittle of “Snow leopard”.

The main idea was to get familiar with high alttitude and climb these amazing mountains as a preparation for the future. In 2014 I partnered with Lauri Hilander as we attempted Tajik giants. The following year my plan was to solo and break Denis Urubko`s record of climbing all five less than 42 days.

This is a long post full of pictures. You can find more detailed trip reports from Relaa.com (in Finnish).


Pik Korzhenevskaya and Pik Kommunizma, Tajikistan, 2014


After a long night flight to Dushanbe, we immediately headed to Gisarssky mountains.
We summited Kulai Javonov (4000m) and spent two nights at 3200 meters. We didn´t want to take a risk of flying straight up to Moskvina BC (4400m). Very wise indeed!
Encounter with Shakram, the Tajik hunter, was pretty nervous as we all remembered Nanga Parbat 2013.
Getting ready
After a short recovery in the weird Dushanbe, we continued to the Djirgital via Pamir highway.
“This is Tajikistan!” – said the BC manager after waiting the MI-8 to arrive a day or so. Pilot`s were partying in Dushanbe as we waited…


MI-8 dropped us to the Moskvina glade BC.
Pik Kommunizma
Pik Kommunizma. The peak is actually giantic!
First days around BC went walking around and getting used to new elevation.
Mother nature showed whose the boss. Big avalanche running down.
We did one acclimatization rotation on Korzhenevskaya, before the summit attempt. Scree slopes below the Camp 1 were torturing.
Lauri at 5500 meters on Korzhenevskaya. Giant Kommunizma in the background.
Weather was stellar the whole time and we were able to start our summit attempt in time. Lauri finding his way through the Moskvina glacier.
On day one we climbed up to C1 (5300m) and the following day up to C3 (6400m).
Czech climbers just below the C3. Korzhenevskaya`s summit is already visible.
Camp 3 (6400m).
Summit day was cold and clear. Lauri on the upper ridge.


We summited Korzheneskaya (7105m) at 9:40 am and returned back to BC on a same day.
Lauri got a minor frost nip to his toes, so I deciced to attempt Kommunizma on my own.


Camp 1 (5300m) on Kommunizma. The route to this camp is extremely dangerous due to hanging seracs. I´ve never been so scared. BC is located between the two glaciers middle of the pic.
On a second day the route follows the Borodkin Spur.


Camp 2 (5800m) on a Big Pamir platteu. Here my bronchitis got worse and I deciced to abandon the attempt.
Very happy to be able to act alone on a big mountain while feeling sick.

We managed to summit our first 7000 meter peak which was pretty awsome. Though, everything felt a bit too easy in the end. Kommunizma is still waiting our second visit!

Tajikistan is a weird country and I recommend to acclimatize elsewhere and do a very quick trip to Moskvina BC. And cook your own BC food! Pamir Peaks is the only operator, but book via Ak Sai-Travels. Their service is better! There´s some other interesting peaks in the region too, like Pik Moskva.


Pik Lenin, Khan Tengri and Pik Pobeda, Kyrgyzstan, 2015

Like I told, the plan was to attempt to climb all five peaks in a summer, but only one day before the departure, Tajik operator cancelled scheduled MI-8 flights. I had no other choice than travel to Kyrgyzstan and try to climb three remaining peaks inside it´s borders. It became an very exciting expedition after all!


Travelling from Finland to the Base Camp of Pik Lenin took couple days.
I spent first few days wondering around BC (3600m). Green and lush meadows reminded Elbrus north side BC.
Hike up to C1 or ABC (4400m) was an painful experience with a 40kg load.


ABC offers same kind of a services than BC. Pik Lenin`s avalanche prone N face ahead.


Again. I did only one rotation to get acclimatized – two nights at C2 (5300m) and one night at 5800m.


My lonely 5800 meters camp.
Wasn´t feeling too good on a rotation, but it´s always like that. Hard work pays in the end.
After one rest day at ABC I climbed directly to C3 (6100m). Sunrise over the Kyrgyz plains was beautiful.
C3 at 6100 meters. Lot of people in the camp, but very few continued to the summit.
Endless trail breaking paid off. On the summit of Pik Lenin (7134m). Three other climbers summited that day.
I returned all the way to the ABC the following night. Slept few hour at C2 waiting glacier to freeze.

Succes on Pik Lenin lead to quick change of a mountain range. I flew to Bishkek and continued deep into Tien Shan. MI-8 dropped me to the Southern Inylchek BC (4100m) on the 20th of July. I would attempt Khan Tengri (Southern route) and Pik Pobeda (Normal route) from there.

Spectacular views from BC. Khan Tengri in the distance.
Evening walk to Khan Tengri`s Camp 1 (4300m) on flooding glacier was a pleasant way to start ascent.
I ran up to West Col in 6 six hours through the Valley of Death on 21st of July. Maze of crevasses, seracs and avalanche debris kept my pace up in the dark.


Camp 3 (5800m) under the West col´s schrund is a sheltered place to camp.
I was the only one who started towards the summit that night. Lack of fixed ropes probably scared everyone away. The route was fixed just up to 6400 meters.
West ridge was quick to climb, but getting into couloir was nasty. My pace was really slow due to fact that I had to dig old fixed lines up. Snow was unstable and that was my only option.
I reached the summit of Khan Tengri 10:20 am on 22nd of July as a first person of the season. What a wonderful day! I definately loved every second being alone! I reached BC`s safety on 23rd of July.

Warm and sunny weather turned stormy and windy quickly after my return to BC. Next two weeks everyone waited a weather window to attempt Pik Pobeda, one of the coldest mountains in the World. Pobeda is harder than many 8000 meter peaks they say. At first, I didn`t believe that, but upcoming weeks showed brutal and extremely dangerous mountain. It takes your last breath away very easily!


I found old friends at BC.
Kazakh pilots doing some work!
We did short climbs around BC.
Massive Inylchek glacier and BC.
Climbers waiting…
Nights get colder towards mid August.


Pik Pobeda!
Finally we received optimistic weather forecast and begun a 4 hour walk to C1.
I teamed up with Paul (UK) due to safety reasons.


Camp 1 (4500m) under the mighty N face of Pik Pobeda. Wouldn`t camp here ever again. Serac avalanche danger is obvious.
Route up to Dikiy Pass (5200m) required serac climbing.
Normal route follows the West rib on the right.


Long day from the C1 to C3 (5800m).


Some teams camp at Dikiy Pass. It`s safer, but elevation gain is too small fo the second day. BC´s far away!


We slept in a snow cave at 5800 meters. Warm and the best option to survive on Pik Pobeda.


Day three took us up to C4 (6400m). Plan was to reach C5 on the upper ridge, but snowstorm forced us to camp lower.


That night became a battle against the wind. 100km/h winds hammered our tents. Eventually joined Iranian team. Barely managed to avoid real epic. The whole thing was about to become too dangerous. I returned back to BC next day.


Khan Tengri!

Big national teams of Russia and Ukraine summited Pobeda in hurricane winds, one died and other were half dead. There´s many ways to climb these peaks. I think I have found my own!

Two summers in the Central-Asia teached a lot. I definately will return to climb Kommunizma and Pobeda, but for now, more technically challenging objectives has my interest.