American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Annapurna IV, Central Rib of the North Face

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1988

Annapurna IV, Central Rib of the North Face. Our climbing team consisted of John Collett, Doug Kosty, Tim Schinhofen and me as leader, with Sherpas Pemba Norbu, sirdar, Dawa Onchu, Ang Dorje and Lhakpa Temba. In support were Dan Bridges, Bill Dailey and Karl Herrmann. Base Camp at 15,500 feet was reached on September 16 after an eight-day approach up the lush and beautiful Marsyandi valley, into the lower Manang valley with the route following the Subje Khola from Ombre. The route we had planned was on the prominent rib nearest Annapurna II. However, almost continuous avalanches convinced us to concentrate on the central rib, which leads to the upper snowfields just west of our original route. After two days of acclimatizing, we started load carries across a mile of moraine into the lower section of the central icefall, where we established a dump at 16,500 feet. On October 1, Schinhofen, Pemba, Dawa and I occupied Camp I amidst many crevasses at 17,300 feet. The main difficulties started between Camps I and II at 18,000 feet. The route snaked around, across and into crevasses. Several séracs had to be ascended on the way to the rock wall at the base of the central rib. We fixed line up the steep rock wall to a point where it joined a long steep snowfield. The search for a location for Camp II was even more challenging, as the route was on sheer faces of granite or narrow ledges of loose rock. Finally, after pushing the route to 19,500 feet, the advance team spotted a site for Camp II. On October 3, we all went down to Base Camp for a rest, returning on the 5th. Schinhofen, Pemba and Dawa resumed developing the route and on October 6 occupied Camp II on a narrow ledge at the base of a large granite wall. Kosty, who was not feeling well, went back to Base, accompanied by Herrmann, while I stayed on at Camp I, moving up to Camp II on the 8th. As I arrived, Schinhofen, Pemba and Dawa rappelled the last pitch into camp. During the night, I showed signs of altitude problems but with my condition better the next day, Schinhofen and Pemba started up to occupy Camp III. Pemba led some bold sections, fixing line along a zig-zag route atop the rib crest which took them to a 100-foot vertical ice wall. This was the last barrier to the upper snowfields and the summit plateau. After ascending two steep snowfields, they placed Camp III at 22,800 feet. On October 10, I was feeling better and with Dawa Onchu moved up to Camp III. The incredibly exposed route clung to the side of a narrow crest that dropped away, in places, 5000 feet nearly vertically to the icefall below. We arrived at 3:30 to a completely deserted camp. Tim Schinhofen and Pemba Norbu had set out to place Camp IV higher up. At dark, there was no sign of the climbers. We called Base Camp by radio to find that they had spotted the duo just below the summit at 2:30. At 7:30 we heard voices and within seconds our friends were standing in front of the tent, totally exhausted. In hoarse voices, they told us of the climb. At 3:15, with Pemba Norbu, Tim Schinhofen became the first American to ascend to the summit of Annapurna IV (7525 meters, 24,688 feet). This was also by a new route. During the night, I had difficulty with a fluid build-up in my lungs and realized I could not proceed to the summit. We four started down toward Base Camp. Tim and I spent the night in Camp II while the Sherpas continued down to Base. A second summit team of John Collett and Doug Kosty moved to Camp I, but there was no route through the now much changed icefall.

Steven Brimmer

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