Annapurna III Attempt
Edward H. Connor III
WE FINALLY departed Pokhara on August 25. Our planned eight-day trek went well until we reached Machapuchare Camp at 11,500 feet on September 1. From here the going was a bit sticky, requiring two crossings of the icy, raging Modi Khola, plus a third of a tributary river. Only ten of the original 88 porters could cope with the rigors of the last three miles. Consequently we did not get to Base Camp until September 8.
On September 17 our team physician, Dr. Dennis Coffee, was bitten by an exotic centipede at Base Camp and had to call for a chopper rescue as the bite became gangrenous. This seriously set back his acclimatization, though he did get back to Base Camp on October 6. He had an emergency skin graft in Kathmandu performed by a trekking American surgeon just passing through the city.
On October 6 Rick Moser got word from Base Camp that his wife was ill. He made the hard decision and they were flown out by helicopter on October 8 from the Hinko cave. Two strong members were now out of it.
Storms were our constant companion for the next several weeks. Not much wind, just drizzle and a bit of snow nearly every afternoon. Camp I was sited on September 28 at 15,300 feet. After two days of scouting our original southwest buttress, we concluded that avalanches seemed to bar every feasible approach except the far right side, and this was threatened by a menacing hanging glacier. We saw why the Italians had given up on it the previous year. Our next objective was to locate a route of some safety while pioneering new ground. We wished to avoid the Japanese and Italian routes, both of which went through a long tottering icefall of unstable séracs and converged below the 22,500-foot saddle between Gangapurna and Annapurna III. Werner Landry spotted a line up a prominent rock buttress jutting out of the icefall which seemed to offer access to the west face proper. Our California rock-climbing experience encouraged us onto a familiar medium. A few pitches of technical rock in tennis shoes brought us to the top of the buttress and a site for Camp II, which we established on October 7 at 18,000 feet. We fixed 3700 feet of rope on this section. Tom McCullough, Greg Sapp and Steve Van Meter took over the leading to establish Camp III, fixing another 2000 feet of rope.
On October 9 Werner Landry and I returned to Base Camp to rest before returning for the summit push. We cut our rest to two days and headed up to Camp I. Time was of the essence now. One storm and we would be stopped in our tracks. A large crevasse, a sérac wall or even one sprained ankle and our effort would just be another nice try. We made critical decisions; first Camp IV would have to be eliminated and we would push up from Camp III for the summit.
On October 17 Camp III was sited by Tom McCullough, Greg Sapp and Steve Van Meter at the base of a steep mixed couloir at 20,320 feet. On October 18 Werner Landry and I arrived there. We hoped to climb the gully that night to reach the summit and return by dark the next evening. We planned to go light and fast. It turned out that we went only light. After setting out at seven P.M., we ended up 1000 feet up the couloir at 11:30. When we returned to Camp III at 2:30 A.M., we radioed for fixed line in the couloir for the descent. Steve Van Meter and Guy Andrews, already tired from efforts of the previous day, gallantly trudged back up on the afternoon of the 19th and fixed 1000 feet of rope for us above Camp III.
That night Werner Landry and I departed at seven P.M., followed an hour later by Greg Sapp and Tom McCullough. Using headlamps until the moon hit us, we reached a knife-edged snow arête of about 40° at three A.M. and started up the west face itself. Tom suddenly and violently contracted altitude sickness at the top of the couloir at 22,000 feet and returned to Camp III. We three plodded up the 40° face for an eternity before reaching the summit ridge at 24,000 feet at noon on October 20. Now we had to decide whether to go on or not. Werner’s feet were numb and a cold wind swept from the north over the ridge. The summit was only five non-technical hours away, on a ridge which had been climbed twice before. Our expenditure of energy was beginning to show. We jointly decided that the last 800 feet were not worth losing toes and fingers for and headed down. No debate, no emotion, just as Tom Frost once described after his solo summit push on Annapurna I in 1970, a great sense of relief at having given your best shot and knowing you could now go down for good.
Summary of Statistics:
Area: Annapurna Himal, Nepal.
New Route: West Face of Annapurna III, 24,787 feet, to 24,000 feet where the route joined the non-technical summit ridge, 800 feet below the summit.
Personnel: Steven Van Meter, leader, Edward H. Connor III, Werner Landry, Gregory Sapp, Thomas McCullough, Dr. Dennis Coffee, Richard Mosher, Guy Andrews.