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
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!
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.
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!
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.
Droites north face hosts some of the longest pure ice routes in the Mont Blanc massif. I have never been very keen to get on to those, because route finding is easy, climbing straightforwad and similar all the way up. NE face in turn is a diffirent game with it´s much more challenging mixed lines. Escpecially the Chezc route incited us.
We tried the Chezc route, but got shut down by the storm top of the mixed crux, only one pitch away joining the Tournier Spur. Only option was to rappel down with heavy hearts.
Two weeks later high presure returned. We aimed back to Droites, but this time Juha suggested that we should climb the rarely done Barnoud-Marsingy on the N face proper. It follows ice runnels on the right hand side of the face and eventually joins the upper Tournier Spur, very close to a true summit. We didn`t find any previous trip reports or other info about the route. It suited well.
Weather and conditions looked good, so on the 7th of April we set up a tent onto the Argentier glacier and prepared to wake up early.
Schrund was passed easily at 03:00 AM and I begun a long lead up an Alaskan like ice runnel, which covered the first rock sheet. Occassionally I was able to get a screw in, but most of the time axes hit the rock behind. No chance for a belay. Simul-climbing this 200 meters long, max 80 degree section was exciting as a first thing in the morning.
Juha took a next simul lead block. Terrain was mellow angled, but suprisingly fun. The “crux” mixed pitch of the route appeared just below the sloping icefield halfway up the face. Climbing turned a bit of a boring romping fiesta. We slowly drifted towards Ginat and at one point Juha shouted that we are off the route. Eventually that proved to be a good thing as we reached the last rock band below the summit via Messner´s route, and avoided nasty sugar snow ridge climbing on the Tournier.
I soloed to the summit and back, because Juha wasn´t so keen to climb last 60 meters or so. In my opinion the route ends always to the summit, but of course, remaining meters didn´t add anything new or phenomenal.
And the worst part was still to come – 1000 meters of rappelling down the Lagarde couloir to our skis. Very bad tactics! A snow pollar, no ice and eternity. It took so long that once we´ve reached the glacier, we met people coming up to climb Lagarde.
Barnoud-Marsigny is more varied then Ginat, about the same difficulty and it tops to the true summit. When Ginat is crowded think about this one. Descent via Droites normal route!
Can alpine climbing be pleasant and relaxed? I have a bad habbit to aim big every time I go to alpine. Reason for that might be the place where I live. In the land of single pitch routes: Finland.
Anyway Juha had just arrived to Chamonix and we decided to start with something easy. Charlet-Ghillini and Madness tres mince were supposed to be in good condition, so we skied to the Argentiere refuge in a super strong winds a day earlier.
Next morning saw us skinning up to the far end of the glacier. Pointe de Pre de Bar seemed to be a lot wilder place than I expected. It reminded peaks in Alaska or something.
Couple of hours later we stood at the Brecche, just having climbed the Madness Trec Mince. Five hundred meters of moderate mixed climbing. Very enjoyable. Dark shadow visited us briefly during the abseils as other team dropped some big rocks down the narrow couloir. Another reminder why we don`t want to climb routes with other people. When you see climbers ahead of you, on a narrow route, change your plans and pick a diffirent route.
I reccomend to do MTM or Charlet-Ghillini if you want a relaxed day, full of good goulotte-climbing. Both of them are doable from the first GM lift.
What`s the best way to acclimatise around Mont Blanc massif? One of my favourites is to climb Aiguille du Midi`s north face. Short approach combined with a cable-car descent couldn´t be easier.
Col du Plan N face
At the begining of March I´d just arrived to the village the previous night and deciced to climb Fil a Plomb as a warm up. Eventually I choose Col du Plans N face, because one other team was just behind me, and I knew their plan was to do the Fil a Plomb. When soloing, at least I, want to enjoy solitude, peace and movement.
I was carrying approach skis, two half ropes and a light bivi kit, due to my plan to solo something on Tacul`s East face the following day. Too much gear I can say now.
Recent storm had bring lot of fresh snow and it clearly slowed my progres. First couloir steepens after couple hundred meters and the line exits via a mixed ramp on the right hand side.
Final romp up to the col was miserable wading in a deep snow. The day got even worse when Midi`s staff forced all climbers back to valley. Free ride down, but I`d carried all the gear up for nothing.
Fil a Plomb
A few days later I went for the Fil a Plomb, carrying skis again. Foehn wind was excpected to start around noon, but luckily the route is in a corner and it´s climbable in a bad weather. Lower slopes are easy and I quickly reached the crux: 40 meters of steep ice. Start of it looked really technical and some locking moves were required to get on to the ice. Hollow, airy and exciting pitch to free solo. Once on the top, I rappelled down to pick up my pack and top-rope soloed the pitch up.
Rest of route was easy, except annoying mushroom traverse. At the col wind howled like a crazy. There were no chance to climb up to Midi, so remaining option was to ski down to the Montevers. Whiteout conditions forced to spend one night at the Requin hut though.
Not very often you can enjoy the peace on a popular classics.
North face of the Grandes Jorasses represents dreams, ambitions, tragedy and mystique. Alpinists through the decades have become addicted to the face. Once in a while they return back to the shadow and climb out to the light again.
Nick Colton and Alex MacIntyre invented or, at least strengthened light and fast alpinism with a brilliant first ascent of the central couloir of the north face in 1976. Nowadays their route is one of the most popular on the face. Thanks to Ueli`s speed climb and quality of the line.
In October 2014, having just bailed from the Supercouloir, we took Montenvers train up to Mer de Glace and hiked straight to the schrund. We knew the Leschaux refugio would be full – three other teams also bivied under the face. We consirided to change to Croz, but conclusion was that we just have to start earlier than others.
It was a warm evening top of the serac. Climbers on No Siesta seemed to have no siesta as their moved slowly upwards, headlamps flashing around all night. At 03:00AM we set off and just barely got the pole position.
We simul-climbed everything else, but the hollow and steep ice crux at mid-height of the face, which was quite out there lead from Juha. Wouldn`t want to do that in thin conditions. Climbing was again straighforward until the last six mixed pitches through the headwall. Juha led first three and I did the remaining job. Some delicate and careful foot work were needed, but nothing was harder than M4+.
Descent from Point Walker to the Boccalatte hut in Italy wasn´t a simple task. There were tracks to follow, but down climbing one axe in a sugar snow and the other in a Whymper´s serac required full concentration. It took ages. Just before 01:00 am we finally found the hut. Heaven of safety!
Dent Blanche`s north face caught my attention imediately when I stood on the summit of Weisshorn, after a quick solo via classic east ridge route. Moderate snowfield climbing seemed to end to the impressive mixed headwall. I wanted to get to that face as soon as possible.
Three months later me and Juha Sillanpää setled in for the night at Col de la Dent Blanche bivouac hut, while foehn wind hammered mountain tops. We had arrived straight from the Malpensa airport. At Ferpecle parking lot, where the hut hike begins, we met an French UIAGM-guide whom had soloed the face in 4 hours. We expected to double the time with a longer, direct start. There was only one thing we frogot. We didn`t have acclimatisation.
Another very windy day and night later spent in the hut doing nothing, we did three ”committing” abseils into the Grand Cornier glacier. Loose rock couloir would be nasty to climb up in case of a retreat. Short traverse led us over the schrund.
We had found very little info about the route, but the most logic line looked obvious. Low angled ice runnel and one steeper step of uncolisated snow brought us to the big nevefield. No chance for any protection, we romped up that thing. Slow pace would cause problems, but we kept going up. Clouds covered the summit again.
Hollow ice bulge guarded the headwall. It was already 5pm. We had two hours of daylight left. Due to traversing nature of the earlier section, it would take us longer to climb down than up. ”Should we continue? Yeah!”
It got dark top of the ice crux. One pitch of WI4 had been the best climbing so far. Juha suggested bivi. I agreed. One hour later we had a small ledge to sit on. We didn`t have any food left due to extra day spent in the hut. Luckily, night wasn`t too cold. Juha`s decision to carry a sleeping bag and a mattres saved us from a freezing night.
It snowed all night. At 7:00 am we continued climbing over some very loose ground. Rock quality in Valais isn`t always that good, but this was horrible. We summited soon after and begun downclimb via razor sharp south ridge.
Quick Coke stop at Dent Blanche hut, which was under renovation, and long`ish walk back to Ferpecle finished our adventurous two days on the mountain.