Emails From the Edge: Yannick and Stephane at Annapurna BC

Annapurna, south face. Photo: Wolfgang Beyer

Last Friday the Insider received word that despite unusually heavy monsoon rains Chamonix hellmen Yannick Graziani and Stéphane Benoist have sloshed their way  up to Annapurna South base camp and are now acclimatizing and scoping the face. Find the translation of their phone calls to François Carrel below.

As you are no doubt aware, the south face of Annapurna is a particularly difficult wall with an unforgiving reputation.

27 May 1970 – British Route. First climbed by Chris Bonington, Don Whillans and Dougal Haston. Ian Clough is killed during the descent. The most difficult Himalayan wall climbed to date.

23 May 1981 – Polish Route or John Paul II Route. Maciej Berbeka, Boguslaw Probulski summit. Leader: Ryszard Szafirski. No supplemental oxygen and no Sherpas were used.

29 October 1981 – Japanese Route. Hiroshi Aota and Yukihiro Yanagisawa summit. Two days later Yasuji Kato falls to his death in a second attempt.

3 October 1984 – Spanish Route. Nil Bohigas and Enric Lucas summit in alpine style.

October 1991 – Pierre Béghin and Jean-Christophe Lafaille climb a new route to 7400m before bad weather forces their descent. While carrying most of their gear including the ropes Beghin falls to his death. In one of the great self-rescue stories in climbing history, Lafaille manages to make it down alive despite being stranded alone on the face with no ropes, no gear, no help and a broken arm sustained from rock fall.

Friday, 24 September, 14:00 Nepal time – “Here we are. We’ve set up base camp at the foot of the south face of Annapurna at 4330 meters. Everything’s good and we’re doing well. We weren’t sure about where to place our camp. We briefly considered moving higher to an altitude of 4700m, which was truly beneath the face but there was a slight threat from the seracs. In any case, the porters weren’t having any of it and totally refused to go.

“The face is amazing. Last night the weather was clear with a full moon and I left the tent to take photos. It was fantastic. One wonders how a wall like this can exist. The vertical relief is enormous. Pokhara, at an altitude of 500m is only 25 km from here as the crow flies! Within a day’s walk from here we can be in the jungle and 30˚C heat. We go directly from the grassy forest straight up to 5300m and after that it’s straight onto the glacier.

“To get from Katmandu to Pokhara we had to walk 10 kms and change vehicles once because the road had been washed out. Nepal, eh? Then, from Pokhara, we walked for three days before arriving at the last lodge where we waited for two days for our porters. We never even saw our liaison officer. In my opinion, he took the money and ran.

“We did the whole trek in the rain and the locals told us it had been raining all month. Today it is a bit drier and it’s almost beautiful. I think the monsoon is about to finish. We’ll be here into October when it will be cold and dry. Right now, the face is in the clouds but last night, under the full moon, it seemed to be in good condition.

“Today, Stéphane is carrying a load to altitude, he’ll return tomorrow morning and we’ll leave to acclimatize for three or four days. We’ll climb to 6000m probably to the foot of the Bonington Pillar [British Route]. We want to see how it looks. We’ll get to see what’s up with the face, see the route, and how the avalanches fall. It’s still a bit far

“We really need to see this face, to feel it, to see how the avalanches fall. From here we’re still a bit far, we will for sure get closer. It will be the first time for me. I haven’t touched the face except from the Roc Noir side and that was 10 years ago. I will call again from higher up!”

British Route. Photo: from "Annapurna South" by Chris Bonington.

Monday, 27 September. 14:15 Nepal time – “Hi. Everything is going great! We just arrived an hour ago at a little col at 6100m at the foot of the Bonington Pillar. Yesterday we slept at 5600m, the day before that at 5000m. The face is not as exposed as we thought. There’s not a lot falling and there are fewer seracs and they’re more isolated than we thought. But she’s been plastered by the monsoon and is well covered. That said, she’s been covered by clouds all afternoon and we’ll get a better look in the morning. We’re starting to get used to seeing her and we’re beginning to be less afraid than when we were looking at the pictures. [Stéphane says something unintelligible in the background]. Stéphane says, ‘Bof!'”

François: “Is it steeper than Nuptse?”

Yannick: “Stéphane thinks that the Beghin-Lafaille is not steeper than Nuptse. The Bonnington is a bit of a spur, a route less steep and exposed. Nevertheless there are mega snow mushrooms on this route.”

François: “Can you see the whole face to the summit?”

Yannick: “No, we can see only to the rock band.”

François: “What’s your plan?”

Yannick: “We’re going to stop here. We’re going to sleep one night and then go down tomorrow. We only have one bottle of gas left and after that is finished it’s not worth the pain. It was complicated to get here, we’ve done well. We climbed rocky ridges and crossed snow couloirs. But it’s super beautiful here!”

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