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Annapurna South Face summit PUSH SPECIAL - an interview with Piotr
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May 19, 2004 20: 12 EST
"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 recently.

Tonight, Piotr is on his final push on Annapurna's South Face. "We had a hard day yesterday, with strong winds that covered our tents with snow. We managed to put fixed ropes up to 7200-7300m, where we left all of the equipment and about 400-500m of rope. The prevailing option is to start tonight, setting the fixed ropes on the way. It is risky, because it takes about 1200-1300m of climbing while fixing ropes.

The second option would be to settle another camp and I don’t think we have time for it. We will try to start the final attack from this low camp, keep your fingers crossed for us, for the weather...wish us luck."

Bad weather and a highly difficult route on the Southern Face of Annapurna forced the mBank team down to BC earlier this week. After escaping avalanches, being battered by high winds, getting covered by snowstorms, and half the climbers falling ill, the team is now pushing again. Said Piotr:

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.

This is Piotrs 13th 8000er and then he has only Broad Peak left.

Manaslu Summit last year - the drama had only started

Last year, Piotr Pustelnik and Krzysztof Tarasewicz reached the summit of Manaslu (8156m) at 2pm local time. The summit bid started in the early morning hours and both climbers were reported safely back in C4. Increasing winds hindered the rest of the team Dariusz Załuski, Anna Czerwińska and Barbara Drousek from reaching the summit. 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.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.

The Spanish GMAM expedition attempted Manaslu this year, but aborted their attempt May 7. They said: "We have climbed 7000ers in one week, and two of them in less than 20 days, but on Manaslu we couldn't get past 6300 meters in a months work."

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

Annapurna - the cold facts

But Annapurna is the toughest of them all. Piotrs team will need all luck they can get. Serguey Bogomolov, 43, is also 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. 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.

Interview with Piotr Pustelnik, only 2 away from all the 8000ers

ExplorersWeb caught up with 51 year-old Polish climber Piotr Pustelnik just on the heels of his Manaslu summit. The expedition really stuck it out there this year despite the extraordinary high winds, and the Piotr’s summit was not without consequence. Back in Poland, he was recovering from some frostbite to his fingers.

Piotr now has 12 of the 14, 8000ers completed. 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.

Not only does he want to finish all the 8000ers in 2004, by climbing Annapurna and Broad Peak back to back, but he also has a vision for Everest in the winter!

ExWeb: How was Manaslu compared to your previous climbs, was it harder, easier, and how did the weather affect you?

PP: I found the expedition to Manaslu the hardest compared to my last three climbs. Maybe K2 in 1996 from North was harder. I didn't have such a bad weather even on Kangchenjunga in 2001, and now I understand why even excellent climbers were talking about Manaslu with such a deep respect.

ExWeb: You are now only 2 away from all 14, 8000ers. What are your plans for the future?

PP: Well, it's true only 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. I need more time to organize a good team and to figure out how to get there. Generally, I want to make both peaks in 2004, starting during the springtime in Nepal and then continuing on to the Karakorum in the summer.

ExWeb: How did the climb go this year - did all the members on the expedition get along well?

PP:This year my team was maybe not the strongest from all of my previous expeditions, but they were very consistent. That's why from all climbers left at the end of expedition almost all had a summit bid. Also on summit day, of the four climbers who went for it, two reached the summit. The rest were quite high but stop pushing up for different reasons. So the conclusion is obvious; the team was good enough for Manaslu.

ExWeb: How’s your frostbite doing, and when are you expected to be fully recovered?

PP: My frostbite is on four fingers but only one has it seriously. Doctors are giving me a 50% chance for a full recovery without surgery, but the estimated time to heal is 2-3 months and then another 1-2 months for skin rebuilding. So, I’ve suspended all my plans until next year. Well, maybe fingers are not so important for man's existence and activities, but I love my fingers and want to have them to the end.

ExWeb: From all your climbs, when were you the most scared?

PP: Well, I was scared on my first expedition to GII when coming down from the summit. I had been taken down by an avalanche and stopped nearly at the edge of steep slope that ended on the glacier, but it just boosted my adrenaline and that’s it. Now on Manaslu I was scared from the first day to last.

Believe me, I felt a lot of discomfort.

ExWeb: Is there a climb or project that you really want to do?

PP: I have two secret dreams; first to go back to Makalu and climb the West Pillar and my second is to do winter expedition on the North side of Everest. You think I am crazy?

ExWeb: Not crazy, just very motivated! Now, what does motivate you to climb? Why are you so passionate about it and do you ever plan to stop climbing?

PP: Well, I started climbing 30 years ago. Really! So my motivations have changed many times but one thing is still the same, my fascination of mountains and my drive to feel the thin air. That's why I will climb to the end of my ability to do so. I hope it will come very late in my life. You know, on the top of Everest I said to myself, "It would be great to see the world from all 8000ers." At the time I didn't take it seriously but a couple years later this thought came back to me like a boomerang and I started to race for all the 8000ers. Who knows why? Now I feel that mountains react on me like a magnet.

The closer you are, the stronger their influence is.

Expedition leader: Piotr Pustelnik, Poland
Original Expedition members: Poland: Dariusz Załuski, Paweł Józefowicz. Slovakia: Vlado Strba, Peter Hamor, Martin Gablik, Peter Frankovic. Russia: Sergey Bogomolov. Slovenia: Barbara Drnovsek, Aljosa Markac.

Currently on summit push:
Piotr Pustelni,, Dariusz Zaluski, Sergey Bogomolov and Peter Hamor. Second team: Martin Gablik and Aljosa Markac. Because of his health problems, Vlado Strba has to stay in BC.

Images of the climb, and of Dariusz Zaluski and Pawel Jozefowicz in ABC, Piotr in camp one, and last Sergey, courtesy Piotr Pustelnik.

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