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  ANNAPURNA, THE FIRST EIGHT-THOUSAND: Ivan Vallejo Ricaurte Part two


ANNAPURNA, THE FIRST EIGHT-THOUSAND (Part two)

THE TRAGIC DESCENT

"The goal is the summit but the real victory is to reach Base Camp.",

Hans Kamerlander

Normally, summit happiness dampens mountain climbers in a kind of emotion drunkenness, a state which many times lasts just a few minutes because we know that we are only halfway.  Hezog and Lachenal took a picture, one, nothing more, the one strictly necessary to immortalize this unrepeatable moment in the history of Himalayas mountain climbing.  They saved away the camera and Lachenal, as if chased by the devil, flew down looking for camp V, it was late and he was very afraid for his feet.  Herzog was behind, but a diminished and exhausted Herzon who had used, if not all, a good part of his strength in his effort of reaching the summit of Annapurna.  His teammate quickly crossed the immense slope after the summit, Herzog was doing the same thinking that his rhythm was similar to Lachenal’s, but the truth is that he was going very slow, stopping frequently for air and because of the great effort he was doing. In one of those stops he pulled off his mittens and childishly he dropped them, he lost them, looking impassibly how they rolled downhill.  This was just the beginning of the suffering to come in the following days.

Herzon had also lost the notion of time.  He thought he was going fast and that he would soon to a safe place.  But he was going down very slowly, tumbling in a trance while his limbs were freezing.

The mountain was cloudy, everything was gray and it was difficult to get orientation in those conditions, not Lachenal nor Herzog knew exactly where the desired Camp V was.  But Providence was generous and blindly, without knowing exactly how, very late in the afternoon, they arrived to the two tents of the camp where their teammates Terray and Rebuffat were waiting for them. They attended them looking at the calamitous state they presented: Herzog, with apathy, with glassy and swelled feet because of frostbite, Lachenal with the same luck.  The storm had started again, the wind outside shook the tents and threatened to pluck them from the place where they were.  From time to time, the wounded screamed because of fear or thirst.  That night was hell for Herzog and was eternal, he only talked about death.

 

Caption: Herzog with his frostbite after the summit, in Camp II on June 5.  Although descent was dramatic, they could get safe to tell that “… they made it to the top”.

On the next day, June 4, the storm kept going.  The four climbers, despite such a bitter night, had to climb down and to do it they had to get into the blizzard; they were four blind men in the middle of those twirls, and two of them even more, looking desperately for the trail that would take them to Camp IV.  The hours went by with indifference, contemplating that unequal fight between the crude mountain elements and four impotent climbers struggling for their lives.  Night took them by surprise and they hadn’t found the camp tents, they would have to spend the night in a bivouac in such conditions; that meant a sure death because they would end being swept by an avalanche or frostbitten before they saw the light of the next day.  They decided to dig a cave and that would be their safe move.  While Terray dug a hole with his piolet, Lachenal suddenly disappeared, a few steps away, swallowed by an abyss.  It was evident that he had fallen into a crevasse.  Contrary to the tragedy they could imagine, once more Providence remembered them, because by chance they found that crevasse and in it a shelter where they would spend the night.  But despite the protection, the place was a freezer; it was also narrow, wet with snow and dark.  All these elements were only useful to make Herzog’s hands and feet even more frostbitten.  He describes that pathetic night this way: “I am not suffering and that surprises me.  My heart seems to be getting frozen.  There is nothing inside of me but a breath of life and, as hours pass by, it gets weaker… It is not difficult to accept the idea that I am going to die, I am not sad, au contraire, I am resigned and I smile”.

On the next day, when they were slowly starting to stretch they useless bodies inside the crevasse which had been they precarious shelter, they were hit by an expansive wave that flooded everything with powder snow which damped all their bodies.  Outside, a few meters above them, a huge avalanche was coming down.  However life gave them another chance.

After the scare, when they were about to leave, they noted that Terray and Rebuffat, who were guiding the other two, had become blind because of conjunctivitis.  So, these troop of useless men, two crippled and two blind, went tumbling down the slopes of Annapurna thinking of the slight chance of getting away alive of this terrible adventure. 

Finally, on June 5, Sherpas Sarki, Aila, Ang-Tharkey and Panza found the disoriented men that marched lost in the snow.  A little while after they got together, rescuers and rescued were surprised again by an avalanche of power snow in which Herzog was about to be buried again but got away safe.  When they saw the tents of Camp II they felt that life was going to give them this opportunity they were asking for.  Herzog went down was almost crawling in all fours, sometimes walking, sometimes tumbling down.

When they finally arrived to Camp II, Herzog ran over to the rest of their teammates to tell them the news of victory: “We come from the summit of Annapurna.  Day before yesterday, Lachenal and I made it to the top”.

Editor: Doris Arroba

Iván Vallejo Ricaurte EXPEDITIONEER 

Translated from Spanish by Jorge Rivera

 

 
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