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  ANNAPURNA, THE FIRST EIGHT-THOUSAND: Ivan Vallejo Ricaurte


ANNAPURNA, THE FIRST EIGHT-THOUSAND 

On my way to Nepal, April 3, 2007 

That part of the Himalayas located in Nepal shelters eight of the highest peaks of the world, which are higher than eight thousand meters of altitude.  Those mountains are along a string of granite and silver which has its eastern and western ends in Kangchenjunga (8,568m) and Annapurna (8,091m).  Curiously, the last eight-thousand I achieved as part of my CHALLENGE 14 project was the summit of Kangchenjunga last May 22,2006 and now, while I am writing this chronicle, I am well above eight-thousand, comfortable, relaxed, with no suffering and with a lot of oxygen; sitting on seat 26J of flight QR68 of Qatar Air Ways, on my way to Nepal, God willing, after the summit of Annapurna.  From this altitude and this seat y write the first chronicle to tell and share with you one of the most important and valuable stories about the conquest of the higher mountains of the world.  Enjoy.

HERZOG AND ANNAPURNA

Annapurna, with its 8,091m has the historical label of the being the first summit of more than eight-thousand meters to be reached by man (June 3, 1950).  Without a doubt this fact, along with the difficult situation the first conquerors had to suffer during the descent, make this mountain be part of the most important chapters in the history of the Himalayas.

The expedition was then made by a lot of French climbers who, as such, had become the reference for climbers in the post-war.  Leaded by Maurice Herzog, there were Louis Lachenal, Gaston Rebufat, Leonel Terray, Marcel Ichac, Jean Couzy and physician Jacques Oudot.  In those days, as you know, there was very little information, which more than scarce it was not trustful.  Only the great desire of adventure and the illusion of getting to the highest point of a summit that had never been reached by any human being made them resist those days of disappointment, when they couldn’t even find the flattest trail to get to the bottom of Annapurna.  On April 21, 1950 they finally settled their base camp on the northern part of the mountain at 4,300m of altitude, with the absolute decision to go back to France only after having reached the summit.  Since then, they entered to the process of adaptation to the lack of oxygen and the installation of high altitude camps, but it is well known that on the big mountains schedules can hardly be followed because of the weather.

Days went by and time flew.  Just on May 31, which is very late because the rain of the monsoon was about to knock on the door, Herzog and Lachenal set up their backpacks for the definitive attempt to the summit.  On June 2, the French couple has reached and installed the last camp, camp V (7,200m), while their partners, who came a day behind, were doing the same with camp IV, five hundred meters below.  For Herzog and Lachenal the night previous to the summit was as all the nights that happen at that altitude: long, heavy and with anguish because of the narrow room inside the tent, the headache and the lack of oxygen; to top all that, a snow would come later and with it the fear of being swept away wrapped in the nylon of the minuscule tent.  Their partners at camp IV were also in the same situation; anyway, all of them could make it through the night.  Finally on the next morning, the storm gave up on June 3, the wind stopped blowing and they decided to advance, some to the summit, the others to camp V.  “At six in the morning we begin to march, happy to finally leave this terrible place.  The weather is good, but it is also very cold” said Herzog in his climbing diary.  Since then, the couple of French pioneers enter that thick world of lack of effectiveness due to the lack of oxygen. 

They climb together but alone, each one with his own cold, with his own doubts and particular anguish, moving in this world where the physical disobeys and revolts constantly, in this terrain where it is only possible to find a tiny bit of support in the mind, which although clumsy and slow is the last refuge for will and strength.  While they climbed up, each one had gone to his own universe, each one was climbing on his own.   Herzog looked at Lachenal and he thought he was looking at a ghost.  This one, thought he recognized dementia in Herzog because he wanted to get to the summit.  The hours flew and this couple of obstinate people, fighting against the lack of oxygen, felt how the slope to the summit got longer and longer.  Lachenal feared for his feet and for the descent, it was getting too late and they were weaker by the minute.  One moment he stopped and asked: “if I turn around, what are you going to do then?”.  “I will continue alone” he said, without a doubt, sure that Lachenal would not abandon him.  “If you want, you can go, but I am going to climb to the summit”.  “Then I will go with you!”, said Lachenal.  The solidarity in the answer was due to the clarity with which he saw, because of instinct, the imminent danger that the obsession with the summit meant to the chief of the expedition.  So, Herzog, with altitude sickness, obsessed with the mountain and blinded with ambition, kept on advancing.  “We climb one after the other, and after each step we stop.  Supported by our piolets we try to recover our breath and to calm our pulse, because our hearts beat to rapidly and hard that it looks as if they are going to explode”.

All these anguish and sensations were a first for them, there was no previous story to be told.  When they reached the final edge, Herzog and Lachenal could feel they could really reach the summit.  “A little detour to the left, a few more steps and… the summit edge was closer and closer.  We only have to sort out some blocks of rock”.  Finally, at two in the afternoon, they get up there and they reach the highest point of Annapurna, at 8,091m of altitude.  “An immense happiness fills our hearts.  Mission accomplished.  A huge abyss separates me from the world.  I am in another kingdom, desolated, deserted, where there is no life, everything is frozen, covered with ice, in a fantastic kingdom where there is not room for men…  A smile comes from inside of me, when I think of our painful effort.  At the same time, I am watching all my movements as if from outside, but they are not so painful anymore, it is as if gravity was suspended”. 

Next chronicle: “The tragic descent from the summit”.

Edited by: Doris Arroba 

Iván Vallejo Ricaurte EXPEDITIONEER 

Translated from Spanish by Jorge Rivera

 

 
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