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Annapurna South: Bad luck, rough weather, and hidden depots
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Apr 18, 2005 11: 53 EST
“I am very glad to say that yesterday we set up the Camp I,” Piotr reports. “It consists of one tent with some of our equipment. We also fixed the ropes all the way to camp. The conditions have changed a lot since last year, so we couldn’t establish this place earlier.”

During Piotr´s previous attempt last year, finding a place to set C1 was a cinch. But this year, weather conditions have made it impossible for the climbers to find where they stashed their depots.

The wrong couloir

Last week we saw the climbers repeatedly cursing their bad luck. “Two days ago we went up with a plan to establish Camp I, but we couldn’t find the deposit that we had left earlier,” reported the team on Friday. “We had to call the Sherpas to bring us another two tents. When they showed up it was too late to do anything, so we camped for the night. Yesterday (Thursday) we spent about twelve hours trying to find a place for Camp I. First we made a mistake and we went up to the wrong couloir which almost led us to the Bonington Route. After that, we found a proper couloir, we fixed some rope, but it was too dark to continue the work, so we returned to camp for another night. Today we are in ABC while the Sherpas have gone up. They have reached the end of the fixed ropes, but it is too foggy to continue the work.”

Luckily conditions improved enough on Saturday to allow the Sherpas to continue working. “We’re close to the place where we were a few days ago,” explained Pustelnik. “Today we are resting, and our Sherpas are bringing some of the equipment to the ABC. After that we will go up, and we are going to work there as long as possible.”

Piotr now has 12 of the 14, 8000ers completed. Only Anna and Broad Peak remain on his quest to summit the world's tallest mountains. He has climbed Gasherbrum II twice (1990 and 1997), Nanga Parbat in 1992, Cho Oyu and Shisha Pangma Main in 1993, Dhaulagiri in 1994, Everest in 1995, K2 from the North in 1996, Gasherbrum I in 1997, Lhotse in 2000, Kangchenjunga in 2001, Makalu in 2002 and Manaslu in 2003.

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.

Image of the 2005 Annapurna South Face expedition, courtesy of the expedition members

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