The last face closing the Annapurna Sanctuary is the South Face of Annapurna I, 8091m. This truly marvelous place, which beckons trekkers from all over the world to contemplation, is also a singular challenge for climbers.
In 1984, Nils Bohigas and Enric Lucas, two Catalan climbers, did one of the greatest Himalayan ascents of all times. They opened the first route in alpine style on Annapurna I, central section, 8051m, in 7 days total. The face is 2400m high. They were young, and not too experienced yet. Mark Twain would have said that: “they did not know it was impossible so they did it.”
However, it is somewhat a strange idea to wish to get to grips with such a monster! Before and after the Catalans, some of the best alpinists died there. To cite but the most famous, Alex Mac Intyre in 1982, Pierre Béghin in 1992, or Anatoli Boukreev in 1997. Nobody doubts that the Goddess of harvest and abundance is merciless.
In addition, in that part of the Himalayas, close to the jungle, the weather patterns are not the easiest to deal with. In general, the face disappears behind the clouds between 10am and 2pm, and it snows until nightfall. Those elements tend to show that you need to be really lucky, and reasonable people will rightly add: “and mostly that you must be quite reckless too”! Yes, one would be tempted to believe that a suicidal tendency is what drives a few abnormal people like us, who attack that face.
I sincerely believe that that is no so. Who can say they love life more than Yannick and I do? This type of adventure is not to be put into the category of reason, of what is reasonable or not, but rather on the side of action, heart and guts. Paulo Coelho, a great Brazilian novelist, said: “If you think adventure is dangerous, I suggest you try routine…that’s what is deadly”!
It’s the primordial need to make that dream come true, and also probably the fear of getting old and not having done it, which was a higher motivation for us than the fear of failing, or worse, of not coming back. We were on the other side of the bergschrund on October 17th around 8am. The ascent per se…I hope to find the inspiration one day to describe it precisely!
Our actions have consequences…there was the price to pay. I dug too far into my vital resources, and without my noticing at all, my immune system was weakened, letting pneumonia in. The descent from the summit, which is always tricky after this type of ascent became a real ordeal. We struggled to get off the face and to go back to advanced base camp (5000m) on the 26th. Thanks to the satellite phone, Yannick called for rescue. On Monday, October 28th at dawn, a helicopter flew us away from the clutches of Annapurna.
History and statistics :
The famous ascent by Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal on June 3rd 1950 was on the North face.
It was the only expedition that succeeded in the first attempt, and therefore a feat which became a landmark in the history of Himalayism. Who would have thought that, 63 years later, this summit would be so little frequented. If one counts all ascents on all sides, only about 200 people have reached the top of the 10th highest mountain in the world. Finally, the first 8000m summit climbed by man also became the least frequented of all!