American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Annapurna South Face

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1989

Annapurna South Face. An international climbing team with French sponsorship, L’Esprit d’Equipe, has been assembled for six expeditions to seven 8000-meter peaks for a three-year period, 1988 to 1990. Several of the climbers were previously members of another international group, called Quota 8000. The goal for spring of 1988 was the south face of Annapurna with the team of French climbers Benoît Chamoux, leader, Nicolas Campredon and Yves Detry, Italians Agostino da Polenza, expedition manager, and Soro Dorotei, Czech Josef Rakoncaj and me, expedition doctor. We had four Tamang high-altitude porters: Tek, Tirtha, Saila and Dawa. We set up Base Camp at 4000 meters on the east moraine of the Annapurna Glacier on April 10 and Camp I on the rognon at 4800 meters on the 12th. On April 14, Dorotei and I reached the site of the British Camp III and set up Camp II at 6100 meters on a small col below the ice ridge. On the descent we fixed line in the two gullies below the col. Bad weather prevented progress until April 23 and 24, when the three French and Rakoncaj traversed far to the left to avoid an enormous leaning sérac; they fixed rope in a steep ice couloir to about 6500 meters. The next day Dorotei and I fixed line to the séracs at 6750 meters and set up Camp III in a large cave, the coldest spot on the mountain where temperatures descended to –25°C. The French-Czech team worked on the rock band on the 30th and on May 1 reached 7150 meters before bad weather halted progress. On May 6, with the French team a day behind, Dorotei, Rakoncaj and I returned to Camp II and the next day reached Camp III; the entrance of the cave had been filled by a small avalanche. The French team was a day behind. On the 8th, we finished fixing the rock band and snow ridge to Camp IV at 7350 meters. Having forgotten to bring a cook pot, we had to melt water in a fuel cannister. By evening we were terribly dehydrated and if I stood for several minutes, I became disoriented. In gale winds we had to tie all the vents and the door of the tent shut and we slept badly, lacking oxygen. With the weather not good enough for a summit attempt in the morning, we decided that one of us should descend to Camp III and the other two should fix line in the gully and sleep again at Camp IV. I descended to Camp III and late morning found me rehydrating with the French in the cave. After sleeping four hours, I started back up that same day at 10:30 RM. The French left the cave at midnight. Breaking trail in new snow wherever ice ridges penetrated the rock band and jümaring occasional vertical rock in the dark, I reached the base of the ice ridge below Camp IV at two A.M. in time to see Dorotei and Rakoncaj starting off for the summit. On the 9th, they had fixed most of the snow-and-rock gully to 7500 feet but now had to rebreak trail. Only two hours behind them, I also rebroke trail. After the other two had reached the summit plateau at 7600 meters, Dorotei broke trail for the last 500 meters and got to the top at 9:30. Rakoncaj arrived at ten o’clock, I at eleven and Chamoux and Campredon half an hour later. We met Detry at 7800 meters on his way up, but with storm clouds moving in, he decided to descend with us. We all reached Camp II by eight RM. and Base Camp the next day. The 1970 British route on Annapurna was challenging with an average slope of 55°. The almost daily snowstorms contributed to the difficulty. Our work was made easier by the 1987 Japanese reconnaissance and occasional pieces of their fixed line and anchors. We used no supplementary oxygen.

Steve Boyer, M.D.

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