Annapurna East, First Solo Ascent
Nepal, Upper Dolpo, Annapurna Himal
One of the main events of autumn was the solo ascent, by Slovenian mountaineer Tomaz Humar, of Annapurna East via the south face to the east ridge. Humar selected the far eastern end of the face because there are not as many falling stones as elsewhere. After arriving in the Annapurna Sanctuary, Humar first acclimatized by climbing the popular trekking peak Tharpa Chuli (a.k.a. Tent Peak, 5,663m) via the northwest face. After this his first major problem was to find a feasible way to get to Annapurna’s south face among confusing rock towers and wide crevasses. It took him five days to find the key, a small hidden plateau near the foot of the face. He then rested at base camp and waited for a snowstorm to end before going for his climb.
On October 24, with a Sherpa companion, Jagat Limbu, he crossed the South Annapurna Glacier and climbed up to a glacial terrace below the east rib of Annapurna, where the pair camped for the night at 5,800m. To this point the route followed the line taken by previous attempts and ascents of Annapurna’s long east ridge and features a section of complex ground, including a tricky rock buttress through the icefall. Prior to this, Humar had not slept above 5,300m and decided to spend the next day furthering his acclimatization by staying put in camp. He spent three hours looking for a way to cross the plateau to access the face and during that day a fierce wind moved his tent 20m while he was inside, but no damage was done. On the 26th he set off at 6 a.m. Jagat Limbu would wait at this camp until Humar returned.
The Slovenian began climbing the south face of Kangsar Kang (a.k.a. Roc Noir, 7,485m) to the right of Annapurna’s east rib. He took food for five days, a stove and two gas cylinders, a bivouac sac, a small sleeping bag, two ice screws, two Prussiks, and an ice axe, but no helmet nor oxygen. At first the face was bare rock, then covered with snow, then rock, again snow, and his second bivouac at 7,200m was in a snow hole he dug out of deep snow. He stayed there for two nights while rocks fell beside his snug hole; he was not hit.
On the 28th he resumed his climb. He left his snow hole with the “absolute minimum” of gear. He started up at 6 a.m. despite strong wind and his not having slept, while pondering what to do. It was very cold. After two hours he had gained the east ridge and began to move along the ridge to the east summit; most of the way he traversed a few meters below the crest on the north face, moving carefully, conscious of the danger of cornices breaking under his weight. Furthermore, he had strong wind to contend with, and often had to lie down on the snow and crawl on hands and knees between gusts.
He had expected to reach the east summit at noon, but it was 3 p.m. when he got to the 8,026m top. (The main summit of Annapurna had been Humar’s first 8,000m peak, which he climbed via the north face in 1995.) He soon began his descent, Radioing to Jagat Limbu that he was on his way down the way he had come up. But this also was not easy. The wind had obliterated his tracks, and after it became dark, the light from his headlamp lasted only briefly. He had to wait for the moon to rise at about 7 p.m. to give him sufficient light to climb over the mini-peaks on the ridge. At 8:25 p.m. he was back at his second bivouac, in the snow hole. He brewed hot drinks and slept until 2–3 a.m. on the 29th before completing his descent. His toes had become slightly frostbitten, but he had scaled the face and next day descended to Limbu in four hours. The piar then continued down to base camp, reaching it that night.
Elizabeth Hawley, AAC Honorary Member, Nepal, and Lindsay Griffin, Mountain INFO