Asia, Nepal, Annapurna South or Moditse

Publication Year: 1980.

Annapurna South or Moditse. The expedition of 15 climbers was led by Jerzy Pietkiewicz. They were very keen and determined but sadly lacking in high-mountain experience. On April 15 the main party arrived at Base Camp, which had been set up by an advance party at the foot of Annapurna South. They found out there that their original objective, the southwest face, had already fallen to a Japanese expedition. After an all-night debate they became even more ambitious and decided to try the west face, a much more difficult but new route, with the northeast face as an alternative. Two groups set off on reconnaissance. The north- east-face party, Marian Piekutowski, Józef Koniak and Krzysztof Wielicki, found the route promising and was heading back toward Base Camp along a not-too-steep ridge. Piekutowski was coiling rope on a ledge when he received a powerful blow on the shoulders from a rock. He plunged some 35 feet but stopped, his feet fouled in the rope. When he managed to climb back to the ledge, he found Koniak, who had previously fallen onto him, still hanging on belay just above the ledge, badly hurt. His face purple and spitting blood, he soon expired. Leaving the body hanging, Piekutowski and Wielicki descended to Base Camp. While the leader was in Kathmandu to attend to formalities, the expedition members decided on carrying out an alpine-style push right away. On April 25 Kazimierz Smieszko, Zbigniew Czyzewski, Piekutowski and Wielicki left Base Camp for the west face. While still on the approach Piekutowski felt sharp abdominal pains and had to return. The leader Pietkiewicz arrived back that same day and radioed to the trio in their bivouac at the foot of the face to take the north face on the descent. The following morning he and three others set off without a radio to meet the sum- miters at the foot of the north face. The summit trio made rapid progress up a steep but easy 5000-foot-high couloir to bivouac in a saddle at 19,700 feet. The next day they worked up heavily crevassed icefields to an upper saddle at 21,000 feet. On the third day they continued up very steep mixed ice and rock until darkness stopped them halfway up a sheer ice slope at 22,000 feet, where they bivouacked half hanging off a shelf chipped out of the ice. The fourth day produced more difficult rock climbing. Zbigniew Czyzewski began to suffer strange pains. They managed to continue on to the top of the southwest buttress at 23,000 feet, where they spent a crowded night in a snow cave. Czyzewski was vomiting and could not keep his balance. Smieszko and Wielicki pressed on to the summit (23,921 feet) in only two hours on May 2. They radioed to Base Camp from the top that they would have to change their plans and descend their ascent route. After a second night in the cave, they started slowly belaying Czyzewski down. The descent was difficult and required many rappels. It took two days with an uncomfortable bivouac at 21,500 feet. Czyzewski recovered as they lost altitude. The support party reached the foot of the north face the day before the pair had got to the summit. Pietkiewicz announced that the following morning his team would attempt the north face. Jerzy Woznica objected strongly and refused to go. They lacked equipment and food. On May 2 Pietkiewicz, Jerzy Pietrowicz and Julian Ryznar set out. During the same day Pietrowicz had to descend and rejoin Woznica because of a strained tendon in his leg. This pair was back in Base Camp on May 5. As the weather deteriorated, all began to worry about the north-face pair. Search parties failed to show any signs of the climbers. By May 15 it was obvious that they could not have survived. The last report of them came from a Japanese expedition which had seen with binoculars two tiny black spots at about 21,325 feet still moving upwards on May 4.

Marek Brniak, Klub Wysokogórski, Kraków, Poland