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  ANNAPURNA 2007: Everest and K2 Summiter: Ivan Vallejo Ricaurte Annapurna: Deaths and ...


Good News and Bad News 

Annapurna Base Camp, Monday, May 14, 2007  

Dear friends of Ecuador and the world: 

Warm greetings from Annapurna’s Base Camp. 

I contact you again to update you about our expedition. 

As the title says, today I have good news and bad news. 

I’ll start with the second. 

Yesterday, Sunday, May 13, at nine in the morning, a huge avalanche fell over Camp 2 in Dhaulagiri, at some 6,500m of altitude.  Sadly that immense mass of snow buried and killed two very good friends of mine: Ricardo Valencia (Riki) and Santiago Sagaste (Santi.) 

Riki: Was from Salinas de Ibargoiti, Pamplona.  Our friendship came since the summer of 2003 when we met in Pakistan in the Karakorum mountain system.  He was in Ecuador by the end of that year and we climbed the mountains of my country together.  Then, in the spring of 2004, we climbed to the summit of Makalu, the fifth highest mountain of the world with 8,463m.  Because of him I knew the Sanfermines (the running of the bulls and related activities in Pamplona) in 2004, how much enthusiasm, how much party, how much love.  In the summer of 2005 we met again in the mountains of Asia to climb Nanga Parbat and we reached the summit on July 26; back in Base Camp we celebrated by dancing, drinking red wine and dreaming about more horizons and more summits.  He went back to Ecuador by the end of last year and we greeted the New Year with an orchestra and Champaign, I went along with him once more to the summits of Rucu Pichincha and Chimborazo, they he went to Aconcagua training for the Himalayas, precisely. 

This friend of mine, Ricardo Valencia, has died in Dhaulagiri. 

Santi: He was from Aragon.  I met him in 2004 and he was the perfect partner with whom I climbed the complicated route of the South Face of Shisha Pangma (8,013m).  He was not after eight-thousands, his main goal was just to climb the British route of the South Face of Shisha.  He trained for two years for this, he investigated a lot, tuned up all the details, trained hard and he made it.  On October 10, at one o’clock in the afternoon, we admired together a part of the world from the summit of Shsha Pangma. 

In spring of that year he heard the call of the higher mountains of the world again.  His bet was on Dhaulagiri.   

This friend of mine, Santiago Sagaste, has died in Dhaulagiri. 

The bodies are being rescued right now to send them to Pamplona and Aragon

Peace on their graves.

Now I share the good news.

We have finally arrived, by fixing safety lines, to the location of Camp 3 at 6,400m of altitude.  As I had told you before that part was the most difficult and demanding for us, and we have done it.  This job was made last Thursday 10 and Friday 11 of May.  On Thursday we installed equipment up to 6,250m, working at these altitudes until almost five in the afternoon, there we installed two tents and we spent a beautiful night with a little more than a million starts above our heads.  On the next day we continued with the work in very steep parts, sometimes swimming in the middle of tremendously loose snow that swallowed me up to the hip, and sometimes climbing over ice hard as marble.  Finally, around two in the afternoon we reached the location of Camp 3 at 6,400m at the foot of some gigantic blocks of ice that mark the beginning of the trail that leads to Camp 4. 

After leaving a depot of tents and technical material in that site, at two in the afternoon, just when a snow storm started, with electricity and all, we started to climb down by the lines we had fixed some hours before.  In the middle of the storm and the sparks of the electric charge in our metal piolets we arrived, thank God, to Camp 2.  We rested for a while, we ate a can of octopus in olive oil that was great and we continued to BC.  At seven in the evening, over a white blanket that covered all the valley, we arrived sound and safe to our port. 

WHAT’S NEXT

After securing the route that leads us to Camp 3, the next step is, God willing, reaching the summit of Annapurna.  Now we have to wait for the weather forecast that gives us a sure window of four days of good weather and then we will take off to the highest point of the Goddess of Abundance, Annapurna.  So I will be here by my BC writing the chronicle to share with you the experiences of these unforgettable couple of days, struggling, roaming and working to reach the location of Camp 3. 

A big hug from Annapurna. 

 Thanks for your support, thanks for your time. 

Ivan Vallejo Ricaurte

EXPEDITIONEER 

Translated from Spanish by Jorge Rivera

Earlier: GOOD NEWS 

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 day):

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 day):

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 stars

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 in it.

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 prayed

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 the world. 

I will face the Cone tomorrow. 

Editor: Doris Arroba

Ivan Vallejo Ricaurte

EXPEDITIONNER 

Translated from Spanish by Jorge Rivera

Earlier: EXPEDITION REPORT (April 25) 

Annapurna Base 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.

In any 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.

THROUGH THE WINDOW 

That afternoon 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 invented noise.

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 a bubble.

There was more silence, almost absolute, nothing fell down anymore, nothing was moving anymore.

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. 

Karma dear, have a beautiful day. 

Editor: Doris Arroba 

Iván Vallejo Ricaurte

EXPEDITIONEER 

Translated from Spanish by Jorge Rivera

ANNAPURNA BASE CAMP

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.

I send you my love and affect. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2007 

I 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 enjoy.

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. 

So long and a big hug. 

EXPEDITION STATUS

Sunday, April 15 

We 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. 

CHRONICLE 

AN EXERCISE OF THREE VERBS 

We 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. 

A 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. 

At 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.  In 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 5,800m.

                        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.  Period.

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.  Please.  It 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 disappears.

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 marched. 

At 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 Annapurna.

Iván Vallejo Ricaurte

EXPEDITIONEER 

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 afternoon.

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 1.

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 later.

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?

WHAT’S NEXT

Tomorrow, Sunday, we leave to spend the night on C1.

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 after breakfast.

A hug from Base Camp in Annapurna.  Until next Tuesday.

Iván Vallejo Ricaurte

EXPEDITIONEER

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 mountain. 

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 summit.  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 4,250m.

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.

 Editor: Doris Arroba

Iván Vallejo Ricaurte EXPEDITIONEER 

Translated from Spanish by Jorge Rivera

 

 
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