Lafaille: Annapurna 2002
the words then the pictures...
Ascent of Annapurna (8,091metres) by the East Ridge on
Annapurna’s Base Camp, May 16th 2002,
10.00 am… I can hear over the radio Jean Christophe
; he shouted for joy at Annapurna’s summit!!! The
emotion is so deep that we both cry…
At the age of 27, Jean-Christophe departs with Pierre
Beghin for the South Face of Annapurna. It is his
first Himalayan experience.
7,500 meters, Pierre and Jean-Christophe decide to
descend in a storm that busted (broke) the previous night,
which has not abated. Just as they are about to begin
their descent by rappel, the rock upon which Pierre is
suspended gives away and he plunges into the abyss of
the South Face right in front of a terrified Jean-Christophe who is
suddenly lost in this vastness lonely place.
descent towards the bottom (and survival) was five
days long. He had a broken arm caused by a stone's
fall and no gear on the descent
of this sheer 2,000-metre face.
Jean-Christophe decides to return, in solo trip to the south
face of Annapurna by the Bonnington Spur. He turns
back 300 vertical meters from the summit due to
adverse weather conditions.
Jean-Christophe goes back to the South Face of
Annapurna, again by the Bonnington Spur, but this time
with 3 companions. The mountain is very snowy and an
accident occurs below Camp 1 at 5,700 meters. 4
Sherpas are trapped in an avalanche, one loses his
Jean-Christophe said never again to Annapurna, never again
to this darn mountain. Too many deaths, too
many accidents, too many memories. After 1998, he
climbed Manaslu (8,163 meters) in the spring of 2000.
In 2001, he reached the summit of the mountain of all
mountains, K2 (8,611), the 2nd highest peak in the
A chance to share a permit for the south face of
Annapurna arises. The American, Ed Viesturs, is
the expedition leader. Jean
Christophe and Ed get in contact via email and over the
Internet. Jean Christophe has a good feeling about the
team and he feels ready to return to this mountain for
the 4th time.
years have passed since his first attempt on Annapurna
and today... he wanted to climb the south face solo, by a
new route. The conditions on the south face not being very good, he
changes his plans and joins the others on
an attempt by the big East Ridge. 7.5 km of ridge
from 7,500 meters to the summit, at 8,091 meters.
first and only ascent of this route was made in 1984
by the Swiss climbers Erhard Loretan and Norbert Joos.
They descended from the summit by the historic
route on the North Face.
the 8th April, Jean-Christophe arrives at Annapurna's base camp at
4,200 meters. He discovers the South Face and notices
immediately that the route on the South Face is out of
the question. Too much ice, and too dry in some places.
It does not mater, as the East Ridge is a very, very
nice route; not too technical, but very pleasing to
One the ascent permit, there
are 3 Basques, an American, Ed Viesturs and his Finnish climbing
partner Veikka Gustafsson and Jean-Christophe. Three
camps are used on this route. Camp 1 at 5,400 meters,
Camp 2 at 6,400 meters and Camp 3 at 7,000 meters.
Five weeks later, Jean-Christophe will have only
managed to get to 7,300 thanks to a nasty wind. It has
not calmed since their arrival at base camp and has
been between 100 and 160 km/h at 8,000 meters. Below
7,000 meters he was protected from it, but once he
arrived on the ridge at about 7,300 meters, it was
impossible to progress any further.
was in contact with a meteorologist who gave me a daily
bulletin. He too was worried about the wind which was blowing for some weeks
without stopping. But then there was a
break in the weather. The wind finally drops and there
is good weather above 7,000 meters.
Jean-Christophe developed a climbing strategy for these
windless three days so he could best take advantage of
the break in the weather.
days. Jean-Christophe makes a quick calculation to
figure out how much time he would need to get to the
summit and back to base camp. About 8 days. It is
absolutely imperative to make the way on the East
ridge during those 3 windless days, otherwise the trap
close in on him.
East Ridge on round trip is 15km. 15km in the
so-called Death Zone, between 7,500 and 8,091 meters.
It is unbelievably long and extremely difficult. There
is no escape if the wind gets up. He becomes the
decision is made. With the other members of the
expedition he leaves Base Camp on the 11th May so that
they can reach Camp 1 at 5,400 meters. On the 12th
they arrive at Camp 2 and at Camp 3 on the 13th. This
same day, I arrive at base camp so I can be closer to
Jean-Christophe during the ascent.
the 14th he embarks on the ridge with one of the
Basques, Alberto Inurrategi, who only needs to climb
Annapurna to complete the 14 8,000-metre summits. The
other members of the expedition choose to abandon the
climb and return to Base Camp. The length of the
ridge, its difficulty and the dangerous snow
conditions at the Roc Noir passage lead them to take this difficult decision.
Thus, just two
climbers left on this vastness..... We manage to talk
over the radio
with Jean-Christophe. It’s marvelous, but at the
same time strange to be so near yet so far. He is
finding that the route is magnificent, but long. Very
the 14th May, in the evening, they bivouac on the
ridge at about 7,400 meters. On the 15th May they
continue their ascent without too many technical
difficulties. It is already 5 days since they left
base camp, they are tired and mood is quite low on
this seemingly interminable ridge. In the evening,
they bivouac at 7,900 meters, below the East Summit.
talk over the radio. Jean-Christophe is near to the
summit, but he has doubts. The weather forecast
predicts little wind, yet they experienced regular
50/60 km/h winds all day during the day. I give him the latest
bulletin that predicts, no wind for the 16th May
and a progressively stronger wind during the day on
Jean-Christophe is not
sure whether he should leave the
ridge on the 17th. He is hesitant and doubtful. An
hour later they decide to carry on up to the summit
that they can almost touch from where they are.
May – fatigue is a major factor but they concentrate
and are very vigilant. According to Erhard Loretan's
account, there is still a technical section with an
abseil at 8,000 meters. Conditions aren’t so good:
no snow and poor quality rocks. Jean-Christophe is a
great technician, thankfully, and gets on with
‘Dry-tooling’ amongst the chaos of crumbling
rocks, with traction ice axes, he finds an alternative route that rejoins the
straight couloir at 7,900 meters, under the Summit of
summit is there, 200 meters above his head. One step,
another step. He continues and arrives on the summit
at 10am. There is a sea of clouds beneath their feet.
10am on the 16th May, the radio crackles into life at
Base Camp. I hear Jean-Christophe, shouting for joy on
the summit! Emotions run high and we both cry.
Jean-Christophe this has been his most difficult
Himalayan climb. He has never felt so far from life [isolated] than
during those 3 days on the ridge. He achieved a first
which won’t, I don’t think, be repeated for a long
time. What’s more, he is the first Frenchman on the
summit of Annapurna since Benoit Chamoux in 1988, 14
well as achieving a personal goal on Annapurna, Jean-Christophe made an ascent that will leave its mark on
the history of alpine and international Himalayan
climbing. Jean-Christophe is a part of the
unchallengeables, he is a great Mountain Man.
Katia he is a great Mountain Man! (We
hope to post descriptions of the pictures in the
coming days...) Enjoy !
Lafaille: Annapurna 2002
11 great pictures