Annapurna thriller: Climbers turned back by high winds on the East ridge

Posted: May 19, 2006 02:06 am EDT

"Hello, Piotr Pustelnik, mBank Lotto Himalaian Triptych 2006. Annapurna, the east ridge. We are on the ridge since yesterday. We have established a camp, we planned to go to the east summit, but ... [the connection interrupts by weather conditions]..."
Heavy winds have forced the team back to camp reports Artur Hajzer (HiMountain Team).

Yesterday, ExWeb published the special story "SMS to hell" (check feature stories) about this ongoing summit push far from the crowds of Mount Everest: On Annapurna - the most dangerous of all the 8000ers, with a summit/fatality rate exceeding 40%. Piotr, 53, is on the final push on his summit number 13 - following the same line opened by legendary Polish climbers Artur and Jerzy in 1988.

Messages from the edge

18 years after his own climb, Artur is coaching the climbers over satellite phone, shooting SMS to them. It's an edgy exchange, the climbers are truly out on a limb:

Artur and Janusz SMS: "You have to go more to the right - the right side of the Glacier Dome up and the left traverse (400) to the col just below Glacier Dome Top Band. We had 300m fixed ropes here. You can go through the top of Glacier Dome as well - Alberto Soncini did it that way."
Piotr SMS: "That was 20 years ago. We have to find our own way."
Artur and Janusz SMS: "Janusz said that there is a plateau between Fluted Peak and Glacier Dome. Camp II was there. Let's go there."
Piotr SMS: "We will see tomorrow."
Artur and Janusz SMS: "Where are you?"
Piotr SMS: "Back on 6200, below Glacier Dome"

At this point, Polish Piotr Pustelnik, Piotr Morawski, Slovak Peter Hamor and Canadian Don Bowie plus two Tibetan climbers have climbed to the ridge edge between the Glacier Dome and Roc Noir and set camp there, to start on the long east ridge up to Main summit of Annapurna as soon as the weather permits. A new attempt is expected tomorrow, with better weather forecasted.

'Forget it. We will give up this time'

Artur says the ridge from Roc Noir to East summit is easy but the part between East Summit and Main Summit will be difficult. Although on a highly difficult climb, the current expedition is actually following Jurek's and Artur's easier line of descent. Artur said about his own ascent:

"Jerzy and I ran out of time to climb it to the main summit. We went in Alpine style and had had too many bivouacs already on the mountain. One more would have been too much. For the first time, I heard Kukuczka saying: 'Forget it. We will give up this time'."

On November 10, 1986 legendary climbers Jerzy Kukuzcka and Artur Hajzer made an early November first ascent of the Manaslu NE face. The two then headed straight for Annapurna - and summited its North Face in freezing winter - on February 3, 1987. Hajzer returned to the mountains with Kukuczka already in September that same year. Thats when they made a first ascent of the West Ridge on Shisha Pangma, on September 18 - right in the monsoon season. The next year, Jurek climbed Annapurna East, after first opening a new line there with Artur.

Janusz Majer is Artur's business partner. His remarkable career includes reaching 8200 m at Lhotse South Face in 1985 and leading hardcore expeditions such as Magic Line K2 1986 (4 summits, one dead), the fateful Everest West Ridge 1989 expedition starting from Nepal side via Khumbutse and Lo Lha (2 summits, 5 deaths) and Broad Peak 1984 (Wielicki 24 hour round trip summit climb).Janusz and Wielicki are coming back to Himalaya this year in June, to climb Gasherbrum II.

Piotr Pustelnik has 12 of the 14, 8000ers completed. Only Annapurna 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. He has two secret dreams; go back to Makalu and climb the West Pillar and a winter expedition on the North side of Everest.

Piotr Morawski achieved the first winter climb on Shisha Pangma on January 14, 2005. Also on the summit was Italian Simone Moro, who describes Morawski as one of the best Polish climbers today.

American Don Bowie attempted Broad Peak in 2005. He also volunteered to help people living in isolated mountain areas of Indian Kashmir who were severely affected after the October 8 earthquake.

Slovak Peter Hámor has summited Everest (1998) and climbed "the Alpine Trilogy" the difficult north faces of Matterhorn, Grandes Jorasses and Eiger.

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 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.

The team led by Piotr Pustelnik is not attempting Loretan's route (in red) as originally planned, instead they'll try the even longer Polish Kukuczka/Hajzer route, following the South Ridge (in blue). Topo courtesy of Artur Hajzer (click to enlarge).


"We are on the east ridge since yesterday. We have established a camp, we planned to go to the east summit, but ... " Annapurna east ridge and south east face topo, courtesy of Artur Hajzer (click to enlarge).
The 2006 climb followed the descent line of the Polish route. The image shows that the Swiss (Loretan-Joos) and Polish (Kukuczka-Hajzer) lines merge from Roc Noir. The 7,5 km (4,4 miles) long east ridge was first climbed by Loretan-Joos in 1984. Topo courtesy of Artur Hajzer (click to enlarge).

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