Annapurna Base Camp,
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
With my best wishes, hoping
you had rested and enjoyed the 1st of May, I greet you again from my BC at the
bottom of Annapurna.
The good news is that we have
faced and solved the most difficult and dangerous passage of the ascent to
this precious mountain. I attach a short summary of the job we’ve done and
also a chronicle where I share my feelings of fear and anguish at the
beginning, and my happiness and relief after we have solved the difficult
climb of the famous Ice Cone.
With all my love from
Annapurna Base Camp.
SUMMARY OF THE EXPEDITION
Thursday, April 26:
Al the team, Sherpas
included, went up to sleep at Camp 1.
Friday, April 27:
We unmounted Camp 1 and we
moved to the location of Camp 2. We installed our mega-tent in a place
sheltered by a serac (a block of ice) at 5,500m. This is C2.
Saturday, April 28 (first key
We faced the Ice Cone, we
climbed it and we fixed the first three hundred meters of rope. We returned
happily to C2.
Sunday, April 29 (second key
We continued working on the
Cone. At ten in the morning we were in the point we have reached the day
before, and we fixed two hundred more meters of rope over some very steep icy
parts which were very dangerous. At 13h10 we reached 6,150m, we left a depot
of rope and we went back down. We are absolutely happy, we have solved the
most difficult and dangerous part. We rest at BC.
ZWEIG, ANNAPURNA AND MY FEARS
Being here is a real luxury
Besides a lot of discomfort
we have to live to do our business at such high altitudes, there is also the
inconvenience of the reduced space inside the tents: just three square meters
to hardly live. There we protect our climbing equipment, we rest, we cook, we
eat, do the dishes and, when possible, we sleep. That means that this little
pig pen (this fits me wonderfully because I am an Earth Pig according to the
Chinese calendar) turns suddenly from a warehouse into a divan, from a divan
into a kitchen, and from a kitchen into a bedroom. But now we have brought to
Camp 2, with the help of the Sherpas, of course, a mega tent of five meters in
diameter and a little more than two meters of height; when it is all set up it
takes the form of a half sphere that we have called the “cupola of love”,
after all, what more can we expect from a dive and four hunks like us, right?
You can imagine the pirouettes and contortions we have to make to move and
get dressed in the mice holes we usually have for tents. In this one, for a
change, we can dress standing up, it is possible to cook with two stoves and
with big pots.
To be able to do this at
5,500m is a real luxury.
A fraternal act under the
Dinner was not bad: precooked
rice with a lot of olive oil, Northern bonito fish and a lot of salt. Yes, I
know that excess of salt is bad for a lot of things; but, are you able to eat
something with no taste? No, right? Me either.
For dessert I would have
liked a nice Milo with milk but we had forgotten it in Camp 1 (that is really
bad for my taste), I choose to replace it with a Cola Cao and I dip my cookies
We have forgotten a lot of
things this time, Fercho has collaborated leaving a bottle to piss in at BC,
which we share in the high altitude camps. With this absence (which is more
important than Milo) we just have to ask our bladders, although uncomfortable,
to make a final effort and to leave us in peace until tomorrow; outside the
Cupola of Love, Fercho, Ferran and I go piss under the stars. Despite the
cold we have time to look for Orion and find the belt, the sword, the arms and
legs; further away, Ursa Major shining with its seven stars. I remember then
to have read that the most fraternal act of Pablo Neruda to Oswaldo Guayasamin
in Quito was to invite him to piss in the street, under the stars.
Zweig and my fears
The five of us laying flat on
the floor of the tent, deep in our sleeping bags. Ferran reads a novel in
French, La prochaine fois, Asier and Edurne try to sleep quietly, Fercho
listens to music in my MP3 and I, in my feather cave with Stefan Zweig in my
hands. It is true that Zweig is dead, he commited suicide in Brasil, but what
left us in writing is formidable; these biographies that are kind of
psychological treaties or these psychological analysis that are kind of
biographies. Because of him I felt so much heartache when Mary Antoinette was
taken to the guillotine, or I felt repulsion for Fouche who, as a smart
politician, was always faithful… for most. Zweig also took me by the hand to
discover the stars of the most important moments of humanity. Today at 5,500m
in Annapurna I try to read Times and World but I can’t concentrate. He is
trying to describe the beauty of Vienna, tries to explain to me why the
English men are so phlegmatic, but I don’t understand, or maybe I don’t pay
attention? I force myself to concentrate in Zweig’s words and ideas but I
can’t, I just have to accept the anguish that comes to me when I think about
what we have to solve tomorrow, the most dangerous and difficult part of the
ascent of Annapurna. I feel bad for Zweig but I leave it aside. I have to
chew and metabolize my anguish.
About the few times I have
Herzog and Lachenal climbed
for the first time by the North Face in 1950; logically, they called their
route French. Back then, I suppose because of the abundant amount of snow
there was, there was no danger of avalanches there is today. With the years
that slope has become nude from the snow and now there are here and there some
gigantic seracs (blocks of ice) that imperceptibly advance, crawl down, but
since they are not subtle or know how to do it, they suddenly crack in pieces,
they fall to the emptiness with a lot of noise and they sweep everything on
their way. Thousands of tons of powder snow and blocks of ice in a disorderly
way, that is chaos, the fear, and if you are there, there is death. For
obvious reasons we are not going to climb there.
To the left of the French
route there is a kind of funnel with its vertice pointing to the valley, way
down. In its top there is a huge serac hanging in the emptiness, with its
face of ice polished as a diamond trying to jump down, tired of struggling
against the implacable law of gravity. The other face of the funnel is a
steep wall of rock and ice that proudly rises until some hills of ice which
are more human, more earthly. We will climb by that wall. If, unfortunately,
the exhaustion of that serac comes to its limit, all the structure, broken in
thousands of pieces, will go down against the vertice of the cone. That’s the
place where disorder will escape, with thunder, chaos and possibly death: by
this point, the most logical point. At the end, nature can be so cruel but it
is also intelligent.
To climb by the left side of
the funnel where we have to climb, we have to pass first under the French
route and then, to finish it, we must get inside the very same vertice, with
such a building of ice above our heads until we reach the other side of the
cone. And then we will be safe.
Zweig to my side, a
flashlight turned on, I am deep in my thoughts and my anguish. The only
relief I find is to know that this sensation is among all of us, the four of
us, Edurne, Asier, Fernando and I. Ferran keeps on reading his French novel.
He has climbed Annapurna before, he reached the summit on April 29, 1999 by
this very same route. When I asked him what he felt the times he had to pass
by the cone, the laconically said: I have prayed very few times in my life,
that was one of them.
I turn off my flashlight, I
roll inside my sleeping bag and try to go through Orion, to the other side of
I will face the Cone
Editor: Doris Arroba
Ivan Vallejo Ricaurte
Translated from Spanish by
EXPEDITION REPORT (April 25)
Camp: Dear friends of Ecuador and the world.
As you know,
last Tuesday we were backing BC after having installed Camp 1 and found an way
of access to Camp 2. We were obviously happy because we had used the good
weather that Annapurna gave us in a good way. The plan was then to rest on
Wednesday 18 and Thursday 19 to be back to work on Friday 20, but since
Wednesday, right on time as the Swiss way, it has snowed every afternoon,
sometimes abundantly, like that same Wednesday or last Sunday, and other times
less, but the truth is that the weather has totally changed our plans and here
we are at Base, without being able to continue with the plan.
mountain, and particularly in Annapurna, the accumulation of fresh snow is the
main cause of avalanches. Taking in consideration that we have to fix lines
on the most delicate part of the way that goes from Camp 2 to Camp 3, we have
taken the decision of waiting until the snow consolidates and we can go back
to work with the smallest risk possible. I have got the new weather forecast
a few hours ago and it says that from the 25th, it will snow less
by the afternoons; that is why we have planned to leave on Thursday 26 to
continue with our work.
On the other
hand, three Georgian teammates arrived to Base Camp on Thursday 19, with whom
we will share the ascent to Annapurna. The members are Gia Torsladle, Sergey
and Emil (I will have the last names next time). I had the opportunity of
knowing Gia on the spring of 1999, on the north side of Everest, and she has
eight eight-thousands on her account. I have just met Sergey just now but I
already knew about him because of the statistics that are published on the
specialized mountain magazines: Sergey and yours truly are the only two people
in the world with twelve eight-thousands in the list. Sergey still has to
reach Annapurna and K2, and me, as you know, the same Annapurna and slick
Dhaulagiri. I don’t know anything about Emil except that he is a young boy
whose age is around 26 years old. Gia and Sergey should be around fifty.
Thus, we are
just seven climbers and two Sherpas for the immensity of mountain.
For a touch of
color to this report I share a couple of pictures. The first one I send is so
that you will have an idea of how precious our Base Camp is after the generous
snowfall of Sunday night, if you can please compare the landscape with the
picture I sent last time. Very different, right?
And the second
one… I just wanted to find a caption that would describe what I felt when I
saw through the viewfinder and at the end I came up with a little story I have
titled: Though the window. Enjoy.
Annapurna disappeared, suddenly it was covered by the fog, light at the
beginning, thick afterwards. Then came darkness, which came before the
thunderstorm, those deaf noises that irreverently broke the silence of our
valley, our tents were shaken and the sky began to fall in snowflakes. Then
silence came again, quiet again, peace again. I imagined that the day He
invented snow, He also invented silence, and the day He invented rain, He also
For hours there
was a lot of silence while the snowflakes came down to visit us, then they got
tired of doing it, they opened their arms wide, huddled and made an immense
and immaculate blanket with no dimensions that covered the entire valley.
There was no up or down. There was no right or left, everything was the
same: a giant white blanket that was not wide or long, that surrounded us like
There was more
silence, almost absolute, nothing fell down anymore, nothing was moving
In that deep
gorge that is at the entrance of our valley there is a kind of gate, from
there, Eolo’s breath began to come slowly. There was sensuality in its
breath, it was not insolent, it was tender and kind; with the first blow it
caressed, with the second blow it touched and just with the third it
undressed. So, with that paused sequence it undressed Annapurna of that thick
clothing that covered it.
When I could
see the summit, the first thing I felt is that I thought that Annapurna was
very cold, its granite walls, yellow other times, were white as marble, like
polished glass. Yes,
I had no doubt, Annapurna was cold.
There was a new
blow that ripped what was still close to the summit, then I discovered a
window that looked to the sky, I with up in my imagination to the edge of the
frame, I looked to the other side and I could see you. There you were, at the
other side of the world, waking up, with a dreamy precious face slightly
marked by the wrinkle of the pillow that had slept with you.
have a beautiful day.
Spanish by Jorge Rivera
Monday, April 23, 2007
Dear friends of Ecuador and the World.
Greetings from the foot of Annapurna. Unfortunately, I had problems with my
e-mail account last week so it was impossible to send the Status of the
Expedition and the Chronicle which I had written for you. That’s why you get
today what I had prepared for Wednesday 18. I will send a new report tomorrow
to catch up with my reports.
send you my love and affect.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
write to inform you about the development of the expedition and to share a
chronicle that I have titled “An exercise of three verbs”, which I hope you
For now we will rest until Friday 20, because we have a forecast saying that
the weather will not be good until that day. From Saturday we will get to
work again and this time it will be the most delicate and dangerous part, to
search for the path of access to Camp 3. Back from work, God willing, I will
be with you again to tell you how it all went.
long and a big hug.
Sunday, April 15
left as planned on Sunday at ten in the morning.
With the advantage of marching over known ground and using the lines we have
already fixed, it took us three hours to make it to C1 (5,080m). We planted
the tents in the same spot where we made a depot last time. Edurne and Asier
in the first tent, Ferrán and his Arriflex (his video camera) in the other,
Fercho and I in the third.
Monday, April 16
Transporting four hundred of meters of rope, we went looking for the access
path from Camp 1 to Camp 2. We fixed lines in two parts of the trail. We
found a sheltered site around 5,500m and we left a depot with ropes, stakes
for the snow and screws for ice. Edurne, Asier and Ferrán went back to BC.
Fercho and I stayed in C1.
Tuesday, April 17
Fercho and I went down to BC.
EXERCISE OF THREE VERBS
left from C1 at nine in the morning with the objective of finding the access
to what our Camp 2 will be. We crossed a flat of snow which was longer that
it was wide, which crosses all the foot of Annapurna. Ferran films Edurne,
Asier and me, Fercho works as sound technician instead.
carry a roll of rope of 200 meters which weights a lot but it goes nicely in a
backpack. Asier travels light opening the trail in the slope that rises just
after the plateau, with lose snow that gets flattened by Ferch’s boots, which
leave a deep hole. Lose snow, intense heat, heavy backpack, beating heart, a
lot of will, huge enthusiasm. With the repetition of step after step I think
that this thing of climbing mountains is a pretty exercise whose first verb is
to ascend, ascend and only ascend; then step for a while on a certain place,
breath, enjoy, sometimes cry. Then comes the second verb which is to descend,
descend and only descend, which move us to the third verb: to arrive. Arrive
to the place from where you left. But if possible, to arrive being better
than when you left, because that means that you learned something, that you
listened, you felt, you were a pupil and every step you gave to ascend was
definitely used to elevate yourself.
one in the afternoon the cameraman, the sound technician and the stars, diva
included, arrived to a flat sheltered by a serac (a kind of ice tower) and we
put down our loads.
So far we have
conjugated the first verb.
this place we will plant out Camp 2, just at 5,500m of altitude.
What an immense mountain.
Caption: Annapurna from the location of our Camp 1 at
What an immense mountain!
Sitting on our backpacks some drink water, others tea and I drink water with
Isostar (hydrating salt) which according to Fercho, he scornfully calls it
“gut stainer”. But curiously he ask for a little of my “gut stainer” after he
finishes his water and, of course, I explain that part of my duty in this
expedition is to take care of him, his health and his integrity, reason why I
absolutely can’t share even a drop of my lemon Isostar which, according to
him, it is used only to stain my guts.
Edurne opens a pack of Spanish ham for all of us, I take a slice, I delicately
put is on a toast, I take it to my mouth and zassss, I make crush it with my
teeth, and my palate and them thank this taste at 5,500m. While we eat and
drink (in this point I as my readers to please note that when I say “eat and
drink” I don’t mean a roman orgy, or else. No.
is the most frugal “eat and drink” you can imagine: a piece of toast, a slice
of ham and a sip of “gut stainer”, of course). I was saying that while we eat
and drink we celebrate the results of the journey: we found a way of access to
Camp 2 fixing lines where necessary. We transported four hundred meters of
rope, snow stacks, ice screws and Ferran filmed everything along the ascent.
Edurne, Asier and Ferrán turn back to BC. They will now conjugate the second
verb. Fercho and I stay a while longer. Personally, if possible, I prefer to
elongate this time between the first and second verb. It takes so much effort
to ascend and ascend that I find it right to take a time to breath, enjoy, to
be a part of this borrowed universe that when you get to Base Camp… bam, it
Fercho proposes me to climb a little more, with no backpacks of course, to see
how is the route to enter the enormous ice Spur that will be the key passage
of our adventure. We gather ropes and we start to ascend again. I go ahead
enjoying this exercise of discovering, printing my signature with my crampons
over virgin snow, hitting the snow with the piolet and seeing how a deep and
dark hole opens at my feet, I breathe, gather impulse, jump over the crevasse
and continue climbing. It gets cloudy, it gets clear, it gets cloudy again.
We guess that the trail to enter the ice Spur is clear. It will be no more
than 5,680m for today. Now we go for the second verb.
There are not footprints where we descend, is just a thick thing that sticks
to our boots and makes us uncomfortable. Descend, descend, unmarch what we
three and a half in the afternoon we return to Camp 1. I am thirsty but I
don’t wan “gut stainer”. I collect water in my canteen from a little stream
of water falling from a wall near my tent, I add powder milk, two spoonfuls of
Milo, four blocks of sugar and I shake, shake a lot, as if I was a blender. I
open the bottle and I find bubbles bumping into each other, they explode
immediately and they die, other get away, still alive, dancing and jumping
above the chocolate. I take my canteen to my mouth, I start drinking and I
kill all those little bubbles.
Back in C1 from where we left this morning, I am sitting in the door of my
tent looking to long footprints which cut in two the snow slate that was so
pristine before. These footprints that don’t talk but that are witnesses that
this morning I ascended, just ascended, and then as descended, just descended
and now sitting in the door of my tent I have arrived. I hope I arrived being
better than when I left this morning.
Caption: At the foot of the West Wall of
Iván Vallejo Ricaurte
Translated form Spanish by Jorge Rivera
ANNAPURNA EXPEDITION REPORT: Annapurna Base Camp,
Dear friends of Ecuador and the world.
Today, Saturday, April 14, I write this report to
keep you up to date with out expedition.
THURSDAY, APRIL 12
A little after nine in the morning we started the
celebration of our Puja, the Buddhist ceremony where we ask, in this case,
Annapurna, the Goddess of abundance, that she accepts us in her kingdom and
lets us get to its highest point. The ceremony was simple around an altar that
had been prepared the day before by Santa, the expedition cook, Ringi, his aid
and the two Sherpas that come with us: Lakpa and Nurbu.
Since this place doesn’t have a monk or a Buddhist
novice, there were no proper psalmodies or mantras for this celebration, which
was limited to the blessing of the food and the materials we will use while
climbing, then the personal prayers that were followed by the act of throwing
raw rice grains to the air, asking for benevolence to the Goddess Annapurna.
We concluded the ceremony with a toast, mutually wishing ourselves good luck.
After the Puja we took very light backpacks and we went out to recognize the
road that enters the north glacier of Annapurna.
We were back at BC at three thirty in the
FRIDAY, APRIL 13
Day was used to recognize the road that goes from
the beginning of the north glacier to the location of Camp 1.
At nine in the afternoon, Edurne, Asier, Fercho,
Lakpa, Sete and I left BC, as the climbing team, and we had the company of
Ferrán Latorre (camera) and Ringi (his aid) as the filming team for the Al
Filo de lo Imposible show for Televisión Española. Ferrán made plans up to
the entrance to the glacier and from there we continued with the job of
locating the route of access to where our Camp 1 will be.
To avoid an ice corridor, which looked more
logical and fast to get on top of the glacier, we ascended by a wide rock
spur, so we left that other way that looks more to be a natural bed for any
avalanche that comes from the top part of the icefall.
Asier and I patiently fixed a line on the more
difficult parts of the rock, Edurne and Fercho came behind fixing the safety
pins and correct the distance of rope that we have installed.
After the delicate part of the rocky spur, there
are some snowy parts with a good slope that present no complication, we climb
there carrying on our backs all the equipment we will leave in the location of
C1: tents, ropes, stoves, gas, etc.
At 13h56 I finish one of the pronounced slopes of
snow that end to a rocky flat, from there I can finally see the North Face of
Annapurna with all its magnitude and beauty. I freeze, leaning on my two ski
canes, with my head high, looking at the route we will follow to the summit.
Later we all gather, we hug and we celebrate how well the journey went.
Between Sherpas and westerners we share the food we have brought here: pop
corn, oranges, bread, cookies, chocolates. We leave all the material we have
carried in a safe place, which will be used on the next trip to install Camp
The altimeter reads 5,080m and I think of how low
we are, we still have three thousand meters to get to the summit.
We are back to BC at four thirty in the afternoon.
SATURDAY, APRIL 14
Day of rest, to take a shower, have abundant
breakfast and a long talk over the table afterwards. Around noon Ferrán
decides to teach Asier and me how to play golf, with a swing and everything.
I must confess that I enjoyed the first class a lot: how to hold the stick,
how to move the wrist, how to let go with the inertia of the movement and to
always remember that the philosophy of golf is to approach first and score
I finish my report sharing the comment that Ferrán,
my golf instructor in Annapurna, has made with relation to my first class:
There a future for me.
Not bad, ha?
Tomorrow, Sunday, we leave to spend the night on
We will fix a line on Monday and we will search
for an access route to where our Camp 2 will be, we will return to C1 again to
sleep a night at that altitude. We will go down to rest in BC on Tuesday
A hug from Base Camp in Annapurna. Until next
Iván Vallejo Ricaurte
Translated from Spanish by Jorge Rivera
Earlier: Dear friends of Ecuador and the World:
A warm hug from our Base Camp, at the foot of
Annapurna, at 4,250m of altitude.
Today, Tuesday, we have flown by helicopter
directly from Katmandu to this place. In just an hour we have abbreviated the
seven days of approach trek that, even if it is one of the most beautiful
trails of the Himalayas, the main objective is to reach, God willing, the
summit of Annapurna, so we have left it for the return. On the personal side,
whenever possible, I prefer the approach trek to a chopper flight and to get
to the foot of the mountain as soon as possible to start with the objective.
If a sports analogy can be made, an approach trek would be like going by foot
to the stadium track where the competition would take place; or as if the
national soccer team would march from the concentration place to the game
field. I don’t want to say that it is bad to walk. No, absolutely, but the
main objective is competition, the soccer match, or in our case, climbing the
The flight was beautiful. Traveling through Nepal
and admire it from the air is always a bliss of beauty and grandiosity. Just
after takeoff from Katmandu I saw the shadow of the helicopter that licks,
jumps and caresses this tapestry of terraces and the green of the rice fields
that are on both sides of the Bagmati River; then, the wave of deep canyons,
tight one after another with abundant curls of pines and rhododendrons; then,
above all, the great Himalayas. The helicopter, facing those immense walls of
granite and ice, is just a pinhead. Through the window, one by one we all get
surprised by this architecture; the Machapuchare shows up, 7,000m of altitude,
perfectly sculpted in rock, seeming like an immense tail of a fish which is
precisely what Machapuchare means. Macha: fish, Puchare: tail. On these
abrupt walls the snow of the glaciers hangs precariously and from there a lot
of waterfalls commit suicide by dropping to the void. Death can also wait.
With a new twist of the immense bladed bug, which
carries on the air around a thousand kilos of weight, we enter the west wall
of Annapurna, a huge and enormous wall, almost five thousand meters of
altitude difference from the foot of the slope at 3,600 m, up to 8,091m on the
What a beautiful mountain. What a big mountain. Then we cross a very narrow gorge that, as a kind of gate, takes us
to a clear of rocks and snow where the chopper smoothly lands. We land at
In the middle of the roar of the turbines and the
wind whirls we unload the packages one by one, the wind hits us on the face
and the cold bites our hands. The helicopter belly is empty now, Yostakov,
the pilot, lifts his thumb and flies again on the air.
We have reached the foot of Annapurna.
Iván Vallejo Ricaurte EXPEDITIONEER
Translated from Spanish by Jorge Rivera
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