Joao Garcia on his ultimate 8000er summit: Annapurna, which he topped-out April 17, right behind Edurne Pasaban & team.
Image by Joao Garcia courtesy Joao Garcia, SOURCE
Piotr Pustelnik on Anna summit in high winds.
Image by Kinga Baranowska courtesy Kinga Baranowska, SOURCE
T-shirt commemorating Joao's 14x8000er challenge.
courtesy Kukuxumusu /Bocart.com, SOURCE
Best of ExplorersWeb 2010 Awards: Himalayan Knights

Posted: Dec 26, 2010 02:42 am EST
Spring of 2010 was the spring of Annapurna. The most lethal of all 8000ers coped headlines as pages of mountaineering history were written on her slopes - such as the ultimate triumphs of Portuguese Joao García and Piotr Pustelnik in their 14x8000ers quest.

If facts such as statistics, time and obituaries count for anything, then one human quest stands in a league of its own: the challenge to climb all the tallest mountains on Earth -- the fourteen 8000ers.

Much taller than six of the Seven Summits, or the US fourteeners; the 8000ers all exceed 24000 feet, or 8000 meters. There are 14 of them, thus the name in mountaineering terminology: the 14, 8000ers.

The score

In 2005 Ed Viesturs became only the fifth man in the world to summit all 14, 8000ers without oxygen. In 2007, Silvio 'Gnaro' Mondinelli became number 6, followed by Ivan Vallejo in 2008 as number 7, and number 14 overall (with or w/o O2) on the list. Last year we had a jackpot with no less than four climbers entering, and two without supplementary oxygen: Denis Urubko and Veikka Gustafsson. Ralf Dujmovits and Andrew Lock had both used oxygen albeit only on Everest. We ended the year with 18 victories, and 9 without gas.

This year three names were added, one without oxygen - Joao García; one with oxygen - Piotr Pustelnik; and a woman entering the list; with oxygen - Edurne Pasaban.

The score reaching 21 overall including 10 without aid; the number of people who have stood on top of all the highest mountains on earth would still not fill a room.

The most dangerous siren: Annapurna

The number of mountaineers perished on the 8000ers while hoping for this success are staggering. The toll on those lucky to survive is major. Gnaro's quest took 14 hard years, Veikka's 17, Ed's took 20. Done after only 11 years, Vallejo was fast. Faster even was Urubko, still requiring 9 years.

Ed and Christian Kuntner received a joint ExWeb award for the achievement - the latter post mortem: Christian died on his peak no 14, Annapurna.

Usually left last on the wish-list; the most lethal of them all, "Anna" was the most visited 8000er after Everest this spring as pages of mountaineering history were written on her slopes.

Sixty years after becoming the first 8000er ever summited, the peak witnessed two climbers finishing their 14x8000 quest on its summit: Portuguese Joao Garcia and Piotr Pustelnik of Poland. Their achievement sadly shadowed by a somber turn of events: a major controversy, the highest chopper rescue ever performed, and yet another climber lost.

Joao's risky bet

Born 1967 in Lisbon, Joao's first 8000er was Cho Oyu, where he climbed a new route as member in a team led by Krysztof Wielicki. Then came Everest without O2 but a high toll: Joao lost a friend and was severely frostbitten. Usually climbing independently, sharing forces with other teams after reaching BC, Joao has not used supplementary O2 or personal porters on any of his climbs. His final mountain would prove no different.

On April 17, hooking up with the first summit team of the season, Joao Garcia summited Annapurna in beautiful conditions. While the Spanish team had been working on the route for quite some time, Joao had reached BC only a week before. His acclimatization weak but the chance too good to pass; Joao took the risk.

Skipping from BC to C2 in one day, and all the way to C4 on the following - the Portuguese climber caught up with the Al Filo team on their final summit push. In spite of his fast ascent, Joao reached the top only about 30 minutes after Edurne's group, thus becoming the first Portuguese and the 10th climber in the world to complete the 14x8000er quest without O2.

Exhausted after the fast push and poor acclimatization, Joao had to stop for the night in C2 on descent but made it to BC on the following day.

Piotr's day of lights and shadows

At age 58 and in his fifth attempt on the mountain, on April 27th Piotr Pustelnik reached the top with usual mate Peter Hamor. Their success was part of a second, massive summit wave which also included Oh Eun-Sun, Juan Oiarzabal, Jorge Egocheaga, and others. 17 climbers summited in rough conditions.

Sadly, Spanish Tolo Calafat would die of exposure on the way back and his mates had to be airlifted from C4 in an epic rescue that deserves a story of its own.

All the drama was not new to the veteran Pustelnik. "I must have some serious mental illnessI want to go back to Annapurna next spring, Piotr had told ExplorersWeb some months before. He had attempted Annapurna four times already, mostly from its difficult south side.

In 2006, together with Slovak Peter Hamor and fellow Polish Piotr Morawski, Pustelnik launched the Himalayan trilogy which led to a number of major Himalayan firsts. But in spring 2009 the Three Peters suffered a tragedy when Piotr Morawski fell to his death in a crevasse on Dhaulagiri.

I still get emotional thinking about him and that stupid accident, Piotr told ExplorersWeb. However, Peter Hamor and I must get out of the shadow after Piotreks death. Maybe this trip should be a tribute to him. Four failed attempts and several broken "this is it" promises later, Piotr thus announced his return to Annapurna.

This time the comeback paid off. With Peter Hamor by his side, and perhaps Piotrek above; after Jerzy Kukuczka and Krzysztof Wielicki -- Piotr became the third Polish climber to complete the 14x8000ers.

The quest, begun on GII in 1990, had taken exactly 20 years.

Previous Awards in 2010

7. Himalayan Knights, Joao García and Piotr Pustelnik
8. North Pole circumnavigation, Peter 1st and Northern Passage

Special mentions:
Dan Darley and Amelia Russell; North Pole unsupported
Ed Stafford (and Cho); Amazon from source to sea
Valery Rozov; Antarctica BASE jump
Jean-Louis Etienne; North Pole crossing in a rozière balloon.
Special climbs: Denis Urubko's Lhotse, Basque traverse on Broad Peak, Ukraine nMakalu, Ralf and Gerlinde's Everest, Eric Larsen's Everest, Chad Kellogg on Aconcagua.

We have covered hundreds of expeditions in 2010. It's difficult to choose the best, as they all contributed in their own way, sharing their story - their very soul in fact - with us and the world.

And yet, there are those who continue to linger in our minds long after their final debrief. We have chosen 8 expeditions who have contributed in an extraordinary way to the Spirit of Adventure in 2010.

By their performance, these expeditions have proved themselves outstanding in all or most of the following:

- Courage
- Determination
- Persistence
- Self reliance
- Ingenuity
- Pioneering
- Idealism
- Comradeship
- Compassion
- Respect towards competition
- Honesty


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