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Asia, Nepal, Western Nepal, Janak Himal, Annapurna, North Face, Reconnaissance

Annapurna, North Face, Reconnaissance. Four expeditions went to the north face of

Annapurna I last spring and encountered constant and sometimes terrible avalanches; all of them abandoned their attempts after climbing no higher than 6750 meters. This autumn the face was again avalanching dangerously. A team of French mountaineers believed they found the solution to this problem: go up the eastern side of the face to the east summit and traverse westward along—or very close to—the ridge that leads to the increasingly higher central and west summits. This, they said, was very safe. But they did not complete the route.

The eight Frenchmen were led by Nicolas Terray, son of the noted alpinist Lionel Terray, who was active in the Nepalese Himalaya in the 1950s-1960s. They arrived at the North Face Base Camp and, after seeing the enormous seracs threatening the face, quickly decided it was much too dangerous. But two members were very interested in attempting a longer line than the original French route of 1950. Christophe Profit and Jean Blanchard liked the idea of staying on the east side of the face, part of which was exposed to avalanching from a peak known as Roc Noir (just east of Annapurna’s east-west ridge) only when there was recent heavy snowfall. The French had quite good weather, and this line near the 1974 Spanish route to the east summit attracted them.

Profit and one Sherpa, Dorje, climbed from the team’s last fixed camp (6500m) slightly farther east than the Spanish line, and bivouacked on October 27 at 7200 meters. The next day, they intended to go to the east summit and see from there whether it would be feasible to traverse slightly down on the south face. But Dorje’s feet had gotten very cold and he could not continue on to the top; they therefore bivouacked at 7400 meters, planning to start their push for the east summit on October 29 at 10 a.m., when the sun would warm Dorje’s feet.

However, that night a cyclone blew in from Bangladesh, east of Nepal, forcing them to sleep in their boots. When they left their tent in the morning, the terrible wind blew it away. They descended in this wind to base camp. Meanwhile, on October 25, Blanchard and Frederic Gentet, intending to acclimatize, had climbed closer to the Spanish route to an altitude about the same as Profit’s highest point.

During the night of the 29th, the wind stopped blowing, and, Profit commented, this was “the best condition to go to the summit.” But when he reached base camp, there was little time left to go again before the departure date of the team, which had been fixed for November 1, and Profit found “no motivation from the members to go again—except me.” The people in base camp had taken the decision on the 28th that when he and Dorje Sherpa came back, the climb would be over; they had no desire to change the fixed departure date, and they could not agree to one member’s staying longer.

Elizabeth Hawley