Annapurna III, falls the greatest challenge of the Himalayas | sports

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Annapurna (8,091 m), the first mountain of more than 8,000 meters conquered by man, by Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal in June 1950, hid other Annapurna, none as severe and complex as the southeast ridge of Annapurna III (7,555 m ): This fall has finally been escalated. Designated as the great objective of mountaineering of the last century, this mountain had known the visits of great surnames, appointments with droppers distributed throughout the last 40 years. More than a route that someone would have to climb in an indeterminate future, it seemed to be a half-painted canvas that no botch should make ugly: Conrad Anker almost begged in an article that whoever managed to climb the route should do so in good style, in a clean way and with the fairest means.

This is how the previous attempts were made. In 1981, three renowned British climbers reached 6,500 meters on the now legendary southeast ridge of Annapurna III: Nick Colton, Steve Bell and Tim Leach recognized their limits and had the foresight to resign. They had found the line to follow but the difficulties were so unbearable that their brains looked down even though their eyes searched in the opposite direction. Interviewed in 2012 by Ed Douglas for the magazine Alpinist, the trio recognized that after such an experience, they never managed to climb with so much commitment.

Viacheslav Polezhaiko, Nikita Balabanov and Mikhail Fomin.
Viacheslav Polezhaiko, Nikita Balabanov and Mikhail Fomin.

It has been a fabulous autumn in the mountains of Nepal: many teams eager for adventure and quite good conditions given the ravages of climate change have generated several impressive openings, such as the Northeast Pillar of the Tengkangpoche (6,487 m) or the North of the Chamlang (7,319 m). None has been as admired as the conquest of Annapurna III by three mountain climbers from Ukraine: Nikita Balabanov, Mikhail Fomin and Viacheslav Polezhaiko.

The trio learned in 2019 the necessary strategy to measure themselves to the line. Where the huge figures of Hansjorg Auer and David Lama (who died in 2019 swept away by an avalanche along with Jess Roskelley) crashed in 2016, or where the British Nick Bullock escaped in terror, the trio from Ukraine assures in Explorers web having pulled his patience to achieve his enormous challenge on the Himalayan walls.

The alpine style: strength, technique and autonomy

Nick Bullock wrote in 2010 that in just a few days he understood that the target was not only “incredibly dangerous, but rather suicidal for an alpine-style climb: giant blocks of ice suspended overhead, rotten rock, ephemeral ice …” . The alpine style marries the prayers of Conrad Anker: it consists of leaving base camp as if it were climbing next to home, that is, with everything you need to climb and sleep on the mountain if necessary. Of course, one objective is not the same as another: if Sherpas are still used to carry the loads, mount the high fields and fix ropes to reach the summit, the alpine style dispenses with all this and forces the climber to be as strong as technical and, above all, autonomous.

Loaded with 40 kilos of gear on their adventure on the Annapurna III, the trio from Ukraine calculated that it would take 12 days to climb the route and descend the mountain. This taking into account that they did not have much idea of ​​where they would go down, since descending the ascent line was impossible given its tremendous difficulty. Finally, they spent 18 days in the mountains, eating one and a half energy bars a day for the last six days.

They have named the route as Patience. They have lost an average of 13 kilos per head and only observe a slight frostbite on the fingers of their hands, a toll to pay and after a blind descent that allowed them to stand on the southern slope of the mountain although hit by tremendous gusts of wind. On the brink of collapse and unable to access their base camp, a helicopter took them to Kathmandu.

Neither professionals nor sponsorships

As they declared to various media upon their return, decision-making in situations of enormous risk or uncertainty was decisive to persevere. In these cases, an odd chord simplifies the debates: when two opinions confront each other in a situation of enormous stress, the gaze of the third tip the balance. In this way they have succeeded in deciphering frightening stretches of loose snow, areas of rotten rock that fell apart like a puff pastry, blocks that threatened to fall like bombs on the two that secured the first rope or gusts of wind of up to 70 km / h.

None of the three are professionals, nor do they have sponsors. They only receive certain help from time to time. If they look on the side of commercial expeditions to the eight thousand by their normal routes they conclude that higher is not more difficult, only higher and, above all, something that one day was described as mountaineering and now has changed. But they are tempted to climb an eight thousand by an unprecedented route: technical climbing and extreme altitude. Now that you have scaled the great challenge of the twentieth century into the 21st century, perhaps you can pose the challenge of the next century.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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