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

Asia, Nepal, Dhaulagiri Ascents and Tragedy

Dhaulagiri Ascents and Tragedy. Our international team consisted of Italian Marco Berti, leader, Italian Marco Bianchi, Italian (South Tirolean) Christian Kuntner, Poles Piotr Pustelnik and Józef Gozdzik, Portuguese João García and me from the United States. We left the trailhead at Baglung on August 29. On September 5, after trekking up the Kali Gandaki and over the French Pass, we were the third expedition to arrive in Base Camp. A Japanese team had already worked a route through the upper and lower icefalls. Unfortunately, Berti received an emergency note from Italy on the 7th and left to fly home. We regrouped, essentially dividing into two teams: Bianchi, Kuntner and Garcia, and the two Poles and me. On September 9, we together established Camp I at 5800 meters. On the 16th, with some skepticism because of the weather, we made Camp II at 6850 meters. The next day, the weather worsened and the Italians headed down. Swiss Olivier Roduit and Pierrot Boven also arrived at Camp II that day. On the 18th, the storm got worse and we fought our way down in full storm conditions, surviving avalanche danger below Camp II, in the upper icefall below Camp I and on the Eiger traverse. After a few days in Base Camp, Bianchi and Kuntner left a day ahead of us others and kept a day ahead of us throughout. On September 23, our group arrived at Camp I in an easy five hours. This shows the effect of acclimatization, for it had taken me a miserable twelve hours on the first trip up. On September 24 and 25, we went to Camp II and III. At four P.M. on the 25th, Bianchi and Kuntner, along with Swiss François Perraudin and Paul-Victor Amaudruz returned from the summit. We four left on the 26th at four A.M. with Swiss Stéphane Albasini and Robert Baehler. Baehler turned back, but Albasini summited ahead of us. At 12:30, Pustelnik, Gozdzik, García and I reached the top. Our euphoria ended 600 meters lower down. As Gozdzik and I crossed a steep snow bowl which connects the summit traverse to the northeast ridge proper, to our horror we watched Baehler, who had stayed below, slip and fall over a steep rock cliff 1500 meters to his death. Roduit and Boven later went up and found his ice axe where he had fallen. It was a grim reminder of the effect of oxygen lack. Baehler had been a guide for 24 years and knew how to use his axe. At a lower altitude, he would doubtless have self-arrested. We were all back in Base Camp on September 28 and left on the 30th.

R.D. Caughron