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Oh, Annapurna: Piotr's team set and ready to leave in one week
image story

Mar 14, 2005 10: 35 EST
Piotr Pustelnik shot over a message that he's leaving for Annapurna March 20, and his team is set. The lucky fours are Piotr (exp leader) and his Annapurna climbing mate of last year's Slovak Vlado Serba; Polish Piotr Morawski, freshly thawed from his recent first winter ascent of Shisha Pangma (check sep story today for a video of the climb). New kid on the block is Polish Marcin Miotk, and Alek Wasniowski from Poland is joining as a nonclimbing doctor.

The only team at the South Face

The team hopes to complete what Piotr and Vlado started last year; the highly difficult Bonnington route on the South Face of Annapurna. The mountain will have quite a few notable visits this season; several climbers such as Ed Viesturs, Abele Blanc and Christian Kuntner will try to complete their 14, 8000ers finals here this year. But all the other climbing aces are going from the avalanche prone North side - Piotr's little team will be the only ones at the mercy of the technical South face.

"I have a big respect for Annapurna"

"I will climb to the end of my ability to do so. I hope it will come very late in my life," said Piotr to ExplorersWeb last year. He knew what to expect already before he headed out: "Well, it's true I only have Annapurna and Broad Peak left, but 'only' is not a proper word.’Still' is a better description. I have a big respect for Annapurna not only because of statistics but mainly because it's very hard from the South and dangerous from North."

2004 recap

The guys battled hard on the mountain, but bad weather and the highly difficult route forced them down over and over again. After escaping avalanches, being battered by high winds, getting covered by snowstorms, and half the climbers falling ill, the team went up for a last, desperate try: "This is our last attempt, if it is possible we will fix Camp III, and from there we will try to reach the summit. Otherwise we will surrender. There is no third option," dispatched Piotr. But a storm hit the mountain and wrecked camp 2, and the summit push altogether.

The horror of Manaslu

Piotr is used to bad mountain karma. In 2003, he and Krzysztof Tarasewicz reached the summit of Manaslu (8156m) at 2pm local time. But the drama had just started: High winds caused the climbers to fall 300m, nearly knocking them off the mountain on their descent. The pair used a compass to guide them through the blinding snowstorm down to safety, but Pustelnik sustained frostbite on four of his fingers. Having summited twelve 8,000m peaks, he stated, “I found the expedition to Manaslu the hardest compared to my last three climbs. Maybe K2 in 1996 from North was harder." On Manaslu, Piotr said he had been terrified from day one.

Piotr Pustelnik and Krzysztof Tarasewicz were the only two climbers to reach the summit of the mountain that year, and Manaslu has remained unclimbed since.

"Well, you can't always win...,” Piotr said about Annapurna last year. The team made it back to BC to fight another day. And that day has come this spring!

Piotr now has 12 of the 14, 8000ers completed. Only Anna and Broad Peak remains. 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, and Makalu in 2002.

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 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 135 climbers have summited Annapurna - last year Ralf Dujmovits, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, Hirotaka Takeuchi and Denis Urubko summited the mountain from the North side.

Image courtesy of Piotr Pustelnik
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