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Asia, Nepal, Annapurna, South Face Ascent and Tragedy

Annapurna, South Face Ascent and Tragedy. The 13th ill-fated climber in Nepal in the post-monsoon season was a Belgian, who died in the season’s most dramatic death, having disappeared with no final trace. Gabriel Denamur was a member of one of two international expeditions led by Poles on the Bonington route on the south face of Annapurna. His team was led by Mieczyslaw Jarosz. Denamur and a Polish teammate, Kazimierz Stepien who climbed without Sherpas or artificial oxygen, planned to go to the summit together from the last camp, Camp III at 7300 meters and made an abortive attempt on October 19. The next morning, Denamur started up alone, and he was never seen again. Stepien began his own ascent at noon on the 20th and did not see Denamur at any time. He lost the trail, darkness fell and he bivouacked at 7700 meters in the hope of climbing the rest of the way on the 21st. However, he had to descend because he was beginning to suffer from high-altitude sickness. He was met that morning by the leader of the other expedition, Krzysztof Wielicki, who was on his way to the summit. Wielicki found a line of fresh footprints on the snow ahead of him leading all the way to the top—and down the other side, the north face. He saw no other trace of Denamur, nor did members of his team who followed him to the summit on October 22 and 23. Jarosz hoped that other climbers on the north face would help Denamur and did not send out a search team. His expedition’s food supplies were running low and they mounted no further summit attempts. Some of the members had already left Base Camp on the 20th. They hoped Denamur would make his way to Kathmandu. But he did not. A Russian expedition was still on the north face when Denamur disappeared on the 20th, and two of their number went to the summit on the 24th. They saw absolutely no signs that anyone had descended their route. He might have plunged into some area where the Russians did not go. This possibility is perhaps supported by some footprints raised above the surface of the snow by wind scouring the snow around them. These were found by Sveticic west of the normal north-face route during his traverse from the west face on November 2. Without bivouac gear, Denamur could not have long survived.

Elizabeth Hawley