Young Slovenians Nejc Marcic and Luka Strazar, who earlier this year were awarded a Piolet d'Or for their fast and minimalist first ascent of the west face of K7 West in 2011, have made the second ascent of Janak (7,041m) via a new route up the 1,400m west face.
After setting up base camp in Lonak on the normal trekking route to north Kangchenjunga base camp in remote Far East Nepal, they subsequently made a lengthy journey north to establish an advanced base on the rarely visited Chijima Glacier, west of the peak.
From here they first attempted the unclimbed Lashar II (6,803m), gaining valuable acclimatization but unable to summit due to poor conditions.
They then set off for Janak's unclimbed west face. The pair originally planned a line up the centre but because of poor snow conditions were forced further right, joining the upper section of the southwest pillar after ca1,150m. From here they followed the last 350m of the Stremfelj-Zalokar route to the summit.
They made one bivouac high on the mountain after joining the southwest pillar, reached the summit next day at around 2pm, and were back at advanced base by 11pm the same day.
Their route involved much hard ice, though the main difficulties were not the climbing technicalities, which were relatively reasonable, but low temperatures and strong winds on the second day.
The ca 1,400m route was named Modri Dirkac (Blue Racer) and had difficulties to 80° and M4.
In 1998, after an unsuccessful attempt on nearby Drohmo (6,855m), a small British-Sherpa party managed to penetrate the gorge above Lonak and work up valley to reach the upper Broken Glacier below the south face of Janak.
They were almost certainly the first climbers to reach this location since 1910, when the Scottish explorer Dr Alexander Kellas arrived on the upper glacier from the east, over a small col.
Although the 1998 party were able to traverse a 6,095m summit opposite Janak, which they named the Wave, they were unable to make a significant attempt on the main mountain. However, they did discover a feasible route on the right side of the south face, and noted the superb southwest pillar.
One of Slovenia's accomplished Himalayan climbers, Andrej Stremfelj, reached the upper Broken Glacier in 2005, hoping to climb the southwest pillar. During acclimatization from base camp at Lonak, Stremfelj and Miha Habjan reached the Chijima Glacier west of Janak and made the first ascent of Lashar I (6,842m), no doubt having good views of Janak's west face and upper southwest pillar.
Later, they decided against the southwest pillar and attempted the line on the right side of the south face, retreating in a storm from 6,650m.
Stremfelj returned the following year with Rok Zalokar and climbed the elegant southwest pillar, finding it only slightly easier than the Croz Spur in winter. This was the first ascent of Janak.
Subsequently, a few parties have attempted the south face but with no success.
Marcic and Strazar were part of a strong Slovenian team (that included Habjan), which also attempted the south face of Janak, and lines on Lashar I and II. These failed due to poor conditions, strong winds and low temperatures.
Nepal this autumn has been dry and unusually cold, making conditions on primarily sunless faces either too bare or badly unconsolidated (British alpinists Jack Geldard and Rob Greenwood were unable to complete their proposed new route on the north face of 6,654m Peak 41 for these very reasons).
The Slovenians also felt there had been much glacial recession since Stremfelj's last visit. The initial couloir on his route up Lashar I could not be entered.
The distinguished mountaineer Marko Prezelj, who mentors young alpinists in Slovenia, was very happy to see that Marcic and Strazar's ascent of K7 West was not a one-off, and that they were not interested in the "public" fame generated by popular areas and objectives, but went for lines that really inspired them, irrespective of location.
Thanks to Zdenka Mihelic for help with this report.