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Annapurna avalanches: team retreats to BC
image story



May 11, 2004 16: 15 EST
Only minutes ago the Annapurna team sent ExWeb their latest from the mountain. In yesterday’s story on the team we caution readers to remember that “every single day of progress and survival is a blessing on this dangerous, avalanche-prone mountain.” Those words became even more apt today; while fixing ropes to Camp 3 they encountered a minor avalanche; a small version of what makes Anna so treacherous. Here is their dispatch.

“Hi,

This is mBank Era Annapurna South Face Expedition. Today we were fixing ropes on the way to the Camp III, but the weather deteriorated rapidly. Without warning a small avalanche fell on us; we quickly made the decision to return to Camp 2.

Tomorrow we will go down to Base Camp where we will rest and prepare our equipment. When conditions get better we will go up as one team, in order to settle Camp 3.

Piotr Pustelnik”

Piotr Pustelnik is on Annapurna this spring and might also be going for Broad peak. After his ascent of Manaslu last spring, Annapurna and Broad are the only two he has left in his quest to complete all 14 8000m peaks.

Annapurna (8,091 m) is statistically the most dangerous peak of all the eight thousanders. The overall summit/fatality rate is 41% (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 tragically 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 130 climbers have summited Annapurna.

Piotr's team is going to climb Annapurna South Face via the classic Bonnington route. "We want to establish ABC near the wall and three camps up above. We need to put fix ropes in the most dangerous places on the wall." Serguey Bogomolov, 43, is joining the team. For Serguey this will be his 12th 8,000er. In July 2002 he climbed Shisha Pangma by a new route, crossing to the formerly unclimbed North-East ridge. Serguey is a member of the Kazakhstan National team’s Mountain Peaks project, who are climbing Makalu this spring.

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.) In autumn 2002, an International Expedition team including Carlos Pauner and Silvio Mondinelli called off their attempt after heavy snows rendered the route too dangerous to continue.

Avalanche risk also prevented Ed Viesturs from summiting the peak in spring that year, his second attempt in two years. For Viesturs, whose own climbing career was inspired by reading Herzog’s book when he was 16, Annapurna remains his final 8,000m summit in his Endeavor 8000 quest to scale the fourteen 8,000m peaks. Ed is returning to Annapurna this year, and is currently on Everest.

Other climbers this year are the Italian/Kazakh combo of Simone Moro and Denis Urubko, who first attempted the North Wall on Baruntse, 7129m. They reached the Kali Himal (Black Summit), also known as the North Summit at 7014m via a new route up the North Face. The new line is named "Ciao Patrick" as a tribute to Patrick Berhault, lost to Dom this month. Simone and Denis will now move to Annapurna’s North Face, attempting a new line on it, possibly in alpine style.

The most recent addition to the who’s who on Annapurna is the trio of Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, Ralf Dujmovits of Amical Alpin, and Hirotaka Takeuchi. The trio were all on Kangchenjunga together last year, but were thwarted by poor weather.

Japanese climber Hirotaka has summited Makalu, Everest, K2, and most recently Nanga Parbat in 2001. He summited Everest and K2 back to back in 1996 and became the youngest ever to summit the world's two highest mountains at the age of 25. Ralf Dujmovits is the owner of Amical Alpin and has summited Dhaulagiri, Everest, K2, Cho Oyu twice, Shisha Pangma, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum II, and most recently Nanga Parbat in 2001.

Gerlinde, an Austrian woman, has summited Cho Oyu, Makalu, Manaslu, and most recently Nanga Parbat this past summer. Before Annapurna, the trio will got their feet wet on Xifeng Peak and are currently on Shisha Pangma’s South Face.

Image of team on the run from powder avalanches, courtesy of Piotr.

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