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Annapurna North: Climbers forced back to BC
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Apr 25, 2005 10: 33 EST
Tons of snow and poor weather conditions have forced the Italian team back to BC. “We could have reached the summit if the weather hadn't turned so bad,” reported Gnaro minutes ago. “However we have overcome all the difficulties and the route is fixed. We will rest for three or four days and wait for the snow to settle before launching a second bid.”

The Italian team set Camp 4 yesterday at 6900m, slightly lower than expected due to large amounts of fresh snow slowing down their pace . However, the team was able to overcome one of most problematic sections of the climb, known as ‘the scythe’. Although not a very long section – just about 200 vertical meters - it was unknown to the climbers and posed high technical difficulties.

Snow wouldn’t stop but still they tried

The team carried along the two small tents they had used the night before. As they set camp in the shelter of a big serac, snow started falling again. They hoped for the showers to stop at night, as they had in previous days.

Today they set off at one in the morning (local time) in bad weather conditions and deep fresh snow. To make things even worse, the wind picked up. The climbers managed to reach 7100m before turning back. “Going on would have been too dangerous. However, there was just a plateau between us and the summit. Next time we go up, we will have all the challenging sections fixed,” said Silvio.

Right now it is still snowing in BC, but temperatures are relatively high compared to previous days.

Abele and Christian in BC

While Silvio, Mario and the rest of the team were high up on the mountain, Italian Abele Blanc and Tirolean Christian Kuntner reached BC, which they have set lower down the valley. Silvio plans to walk down and greet them today, as both groups have not yet met.

Before Blanc and Kuntner's arrival, the Italians have been alone on the north side of the mountain. Piotr Pustelnik and team are currently climbing their way up Annapurna's south side.

Silvio climbs with his regular climbing mate, Mario Merelli, and also Mario Panzeri, Daniele Bernasconi, and, in his first Himalayan experience; Silvio's friend Christian Gobbi. Year after year, climbers return to Annapurna despite its reputation as a difficult, dangerous mountain (a reputation earned in large part due to the high risk of avalanche.) Annapurna (8,091 m) is statistically the most dangerous peak of all the eight thousanders. The overall summit fatality rate is 40% (although not all climbers summit, of course).

Annapurna was the very first 8,000m peak ever summited. In 1950, French climbers Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal used only a rough map as a guide, and picked their way up an untried route to the summit. Their descent turned into a hellish nightmare, leaving them near death, with their extremities completely deadened by frostbite. Herzog and Lachenal survived their ordeal, but too many others have lost their lives over the years.

On Christmas Day 1997, Anatoli Boukreev was killed in an avalanche, an event that shocked the mountaineering community. In total, only 135 climbers have summited Annapurna - last year Ralf Dujmovits, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, Hirotaka Takeuchi and Denis Urubko summited the mountain from the North side.

Mondinelli was born in Gardone (Italy) in 1958. Since beginning climbing at 18 years old, he has done major climbs all over the world, including nine 8000ers: Manaslu, Cho Oyu, Everest, GI, GII, Dhaulagiri, Makalu, Kangchenjunga and K2, plus Shisha Pangma’s central summit.

Image of the team on Annapurna, courtesy of Mario Merelli/Italian expedition.
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