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Asia, Nepal, Annapurna III

Annapurna III, Southeast Pillar Attempt and Tragedy. Our team of Jon Tinker, Rob Uttley, Trevor Pilling and me reached Base Camp on September 5. The walk-in to the upper Seti Khola was awkward and in places dangerous. We were only the second expedition to venture so far. Base Camp was at 10,500 feet near the Seti Glacier. From September 6 to 12 we carried loads to Advance Base at 13,775 feet on the plateau just below the southeast pillar. Monsoon conditions prevailed until September 27. On the 28th we made our first acclimatization climb on the east ridge of Annapurna III. We made a snow hole at 20,000 feet and the next day continued to make a gear dump halfway along the lower part of the ridge. The weather deteriorated. On October 6 we returned to the dump and continued along the almost Peruvian-type corniced ridge to make another snow hole at 20,175 feet at the foot of the 3500-foot-high face of the east ridge. In view of the shortage of time, Pilling and Uttley decided to make an attempt on the summit via the east ridge, much less technical but more dangerous than the southeast pillar. On October 8 Tinker and I descended to prepare for an attempt on the pillar. As the weather turned worse that evening, Pilling and Uttley continued on to a bivouac at 20,675 feet. It started snowing and strong winds picked up. It continued thus without relenting for five days. Tinker and I retreated to Base Camp, calling off our attempt. On October 10 the east-ridge pair attempted to retreat and managed to descend 350 feet, finding a natural ice cave. It was obvious to Pilling that Uttley was not well and had chest pains and a bad cough, possibly oedema. His condition rapidly deteriorated. On October 12 Pilling tried in vain to prepare Uttley for descent, but the latter was too weak and at times delirious. Again on the 13th he tried to no avail. Pilling realized that the only way to get Uttley down was with the aid of other people. He descended to Advance Base on the 14th in very dangerous conditions and had to spend another night out before he met us. He was too fatigued to take part in the rescue. Tinker and I tried to climb a direct line to Uttley. It was a dangerous route but meant that Uttley could be lowered more easily. The weather continued bad and many avalanches swept the proposed line of ascent. On October 18 we realized that the situation was hopeless and returned to Base Camp.

Nikola Kekus, Alpine Climbing Group