AAC Publications - http://publications.americanalpineclub.org

Asia, Nepal, Annapurna South Face Tragedy

Annapurna South Face Tragedy. One of France’s foremost climbers, Pierre Beghin, and I had hoped to climb a new, difficult route on the south face of Annapurna between the 1970 British route and the 1981 Japanese one. Starting on September 29, we first made an acclimatization climb on our route to 6500 meters and the next day fixed rope 150 meters higher before descending. Pierre was suffering from a bad sore throat. On October 7, we left Base Camp at one A.M. for Advance Base at 5300 meters, where we spent the daylight hours. Rockfall forced us to climb primarily in the dark. The next day, we again made a pre-dawn start and climbed the lower part of the wall to bivouac in a safe and comfortable spot at 6500 meters. On October 9, we made a third night start and climbed to bivouac at 7000 meters. It was obvious that the next section was of extreme technical difficulty and so we climbed the next day only in the daylight, reaching 7300 meters, where we had a miserable hanging bivouac carved from the 70° ice. The weather began to be unsettled. However, on October 11, we set out in poor weather and reached 7500 meters at nine A.M. before deciding to descend. At 7200 meters, Beghin rigged a rappel from a Friend and urged me to remove the back-up piton, since we would need them all lower down. We exchanged packs; he took the one with the technical gear and I put on the bulkier one with the tent, stove and a bit of food. He also handed me his ice axe. The pack and the axe doubtless later saved my life. He had descended 25 meters when the anchor pulled out and he plunged to his death. I sat stunned for half an hour, not able to convince myself that he had not been able to catch himself below the overhang. I had to descend terribly difficult 75° to 80° terrain, unable to give myself any protection or to rappel. Not until nine P.M. did I reach the 7000-meter bivouac. The next day I did not move. Finally, on October 13,I started down, having found there 20 meters of 6mm rope. Tent pegs had to serve as anchors. I descended ice slopes and mixed terrain averaging 55° to 60°. Rockfall continued and avalanches of very heavy new snow sloughed off. I dropped one crampon and found it lower down two hours later. At four P.M., as I was approaching the tent luckily on the rope we had fixed, a stone crashed down on me and broke my right arm. (I am right-handed.) On October 14, it took me half an hour to light the stove. I hoped to have help, having shouted to Slovenes on the British route the day before. Having splinted my arm, I finally started on down, rigging 10-meter rappels with my sound arm and my teeth. It was not until early on the morning of October 15 that I got to Advance Base. The tent there was so covered with snow that I could extract nothing. There was no one in the Slovene Advance Base. I staggered down to the Slovene Base Camp, where two Slovene doctors tended to my compound fracture and medicated me. They had a radio and a helicopter was summoned to evacuate me to Kathmandu.

Jean-Christophe Lafaille, Fédération Française de la Montagne et de l’Escalade