My first encounter with this relatively small, yet formidable, peak of 21,133 feet was back in 1969 when I first arrived in Nepal. Peter Cross had participated in a trek to the Annapurna Sanctuary during the fall of 1968 and had become intrigued by this peak. Through his reports and from my own nearness to the mountain in Ghandrung, where I was posted for my third year as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I also became fascinated by it. The peak's difficulty stemmed from its protection by sheer cliffs looming up along the Chomro and Modi Kholas; from inside the Sanctuary, by the long precipitous Eastern Arete and the sheer North Face. It was first thought that the only possible route was to gain the ridge running between Annapurna South and the Eastern Outlier which would involve climbing a very broken up glacier and then negotiating the knife-edge ridge. However, during breaks from school, Anne Chlebeck, my fiancee, and I trekked up the ridge above Land- rung. From there, we could clearly see the East Face and felt that it definitely looked climbable.
In June of 1971, Anne, Ted Pugh and I went into the Annapurna Sanctuary and during this time, we climbed a 1,500 foot couloir leading up to the Eastern Arete. Through the monsoon clouds, we peered down a narrow, nearly vertical couloir to what appeared to be a very broken up glacier 600 feet below. It did not look good, but I felt that it could be done if one had enough fixed rope. Up to two weeks before the climb, I was still uncertain about the route. The East Face was the key, but how to get there?
In 1968, when Peter came out of the Sanctuary, he met a Gurung shikari who had shot a Himalayan tar on the cliffs, possibly directly above the Hinko Cave. The thought came that maybe there was a way up those cliffs. However, it was only when Anne and I had gone to Chomro to buy potatoes, a week before the climb, that we learned from the hunters that there indeed was a route up through the cliffs above Hinko!
Camp I (5,200 m.) on the south face of Annapurna south peak, The route progress to the right of the central gully
View from the face of Annapurna south peak looking east. Hiunchuli (6,441 m.) in the foreground with Machhapuchhare And Annapurna III in the background
The soutn face of Annapurna south peak the route
Maurice Gicquel on the summit of Annapurna south peak, Looking west Dhaulagiri I (8,172 m.) and Tukche peak (6,195 m. in the bachground
View from the summit of Annapurna south peak, looking Northwards. On the left is the fang (7,650 m.) and in the centre the south face of Annapurna I (8,078 m.)
Photo: Craig Anderson
Jim Rchard (sitting) and john skow on the summit. Fang and Annapurna I behind
Photo: Craig Anderson
The eastern outlier’ east face, showing our route. Annapurna I behind on the right
Photo: Craig Anderson
Upper part of the Eastren outlier from camp II. Above camp IV our route lies behind skyline ridge
In Chomro, two Gurung shikaris, Min Bahadur and Dal Bahadur, agreed to show us the way. On 18 September, Anne and I came with nine porters to Chomro from Ghandrung. We left the equipment there and went with the shikaris to reconnoitre the route. About a mile north of Hinko, we left the mam trail angling back and up on a brushy, steep shelf. After negotiating this, our guides led us out on to grassy slopes that angled steeply up to our mountain. We made camp at 13,000 feet. The next day, Dal Bahadur and I scrambled across the snout of two glaciers lying adjacent to each other and up along lateral cliffs to about 15,000 feet. I was very impressed with this man's climbing ability! There were several class IV pitches which he easily negotiated in his bare feet using rock-climbing techniques I had learned in basic mountaineering.
Across the more southern of these two glaciers rose a formidable rock wall ranging from 400 feet to 1,500 feet in height. Since it looked better than the Eastern Arete, I decided this would be our route.
On 22 September, we went down to Hinko to meet the rest of our party. Our nine Gurung porters from Chomro agreed to carry full loads up the steep trail in one day for double pay. Base Camp was established on 23 September.
At that time, our party consisted of Lane Smith, Dave Trowbridge, John Skow, all Peace Corps Volunteers, Peter Cross, a USAID Science Specialist, Anne and myself. In a few days, Jim Richards and Stephanie Forrest, also PCVs, were expected to arrive at Hinko, Anne and Stephanie came up to manage Base Camp and Camp I, and if the situation availed itself, to climb even higher. Their biggest contribution to the climb came in the most important, and in mountaineering history, the most controversial of matters, cuisine. They did a tremendous job in concocting delicious meals from our stock of rice, flour, potatoes, dried meat and beans.
Peter, John and I occupied Camp I on 27 September. It was located along the lateral moraine of what we called the 'South glacier' at about 15,000 feet. Between Base Camp and Camp I we had to place two fixed ropes. Often, the rock was wet making the climbing difficult with our heavy loads. After three or four carries by each member, all personnel and equipment occupied Camp I on 29 September.
In the morning, we all moved out on to the South glacier and worked on the Bilgeri method of crevasse rescue. We also put in a route across that glacier. The next day, Jim and I crossed the glacier and attempted to climb the rock wall at its lowest point. The rock was fairly solid and we climbed to within 50 feet of the top. Jim classified many of the pitches as 5-4 climbing. It was obviously too difficult for ferrying loads'.
On 2 October, I sent Dave, Lane and Peter to investigate an ominous looking couloir angling steeply up to the right. On closer examination, it proved to be a fault line between two rock masses. I did not have much hope for it because it was long and appeared to lead to nothing but more vertical cliffs.
About four o'clock, I began to worry since they had not returned. At last we heard shouts, and an hour later they came triumphantly back to camp. They had climbed the 600 foot couloir and had been able to traverse out of it and into another series of chutes. Eventually, they reached the upper snow fields. Finally, we had a route on to the East Face and could establish Camp II.
The weather was bad on 3 October and we were unable to climb. The following day, however, four of us, Peter, Lane, John and I, moved up to establish Camp II. Jim and Dave went over to the rock wall and removed the fixed rope we had put in three days before.
The couloir was obviously an unhealthy place. The rock was very rotten and we were carrying too heavy. About half-way up the couloir, snow and ice added to our difficulties. Still, we continued on up traversing to the right out of the couloir and into the other system of chutes. Again, we encountered difficult pitches, one in which we had to hoist our packs. We finally made it to the upper snow fields and could then look over on to the North glacier and the Eastern Arete.
The North glacier was a broken up mess, huge seracs loomed up everywhere. This is what Pugh and I had glimpsed last June through the monsoon clouds.
Camp II was placed at 17,000 feet on the edge of the North glacier. In the evening, we enjoyed the changing hues of Machhapuchhare, Annapurna II, IV and III, and part of Gangapurna in the light of the setting sun. We were happy because the major obstacle of the mountain had been climbed. Above Camp II, the North glacier fanned out into a large basin. Above the basin, a large hanging glacier stuck out terrifyingly. However, we thought that we could climb through and around it; and so, we returned encouraged to Camp I to carry up loads.
On the way down, we met Jim and Dave coming up the couloir. We could see that they, too, were carrying heavy. We eventually put in 250 feet of fixed rope in the upper part of the couloir for safety.
On 6 October, John, Lane, Peter and I carried our second loads to Camp II, and Jim and Dave came down. As usual, the clouds came rolling in about 9 o'clock and we spent the rest of the day climbing in the clouds, falling sleet and snow.
The next morning, Peter, Lane and I carried loads across the basin to a point close to the foot of the hanging glacier. We decided to put Camp III there, only 1,000 feet above Camp II; so we could tackle the problems ahead from a better starting point. We returned to Camp II for breakfast and prepared to carry another load to Camp III and occupy it.
Before setting out for Camp III, however, we heard faint shouts from the climbers below. We finally deciphered that Dave had been hurt and they wanted help. John Skow, a first- aid instructor, and I quickly repacked our loads and headed down. I wondered if we would ever return to the East Face. In Camp I, we learned that Dave had been hit by a large boulder about half-way up the couloir. He had been knocked out and was disoriented for a while.
It was a difficult decision but it was obvious that Dave should not continue the climb. He wanted to very badly, but if there were any complications above Camp II, it would be difficult to get him down. On 8 October, Jim, John and I moved all the way up to Camp III where we met Peter and Lane. Snow had been melted and hot chocolate was ready.
In the morning, we awoke early to the bright sun coming over Machhapuchhare. It was pleasant getting the sunshine so early. Down at Camp I, Anne, Stephanie and Dave would have to wait another hour for its rays.
Peter and I led out straight up an avalanche chute to the base of the hanging glacier. From there, we traversed left under its huge seracs. It was difficult going in the powdery snow that filtered down from the seracs. I was relieved when we finally climbed up and out of its ominous shadows. It was still clear and we could see way down to the South glacier. Above and below, a beautiful white world spread out before our eyes. Further on, we encountered a serac juxtaposed to a crevasse blocking our way. We tried unsuccessfully to go around, so I led across a narrow shelf above the crevasse, chopping steps in the serac and placing two ice screws. From there, Peter led traversing back to the right and up through deep snow and hidden crevasses.
After lunch, as the wind and clouds swirled around us, we climbed up through steep open snow slopes and scattered crevasses to about 20,000 feet. There, we were stopped by a large crevasse and decided to set up Camp IV. It was enough for one day.
That night we went to bed wondering if we had come this far only to be stopped by such a relatively small obstacle. The morning of 10 October dawned beautifully clear and cold. Since we could not negotiate a route around the crevasse, we tried a precarious looking snow bridge that had partially broken away in the middle. Jim led stepping across the four-foot gap. Using snow pickets, we placed a fixed rope and the rest of us crossed over easily.
We angled slightly left working for the ridge on the skyline. Gaining the ridge, we looked straight across vertical cliffs to Annapurna South, our first view of that mountain in more than two weeks. Higher up the slopes broadened out to the large summit. We climbed on, changing leads frequently. My rope team waited for the others and we all stepped on to the broad, nearly flat summit together.
It was a wonderful feeling to have made it, although we all thought of Dave who should have been there with us. From the summit we could see the tops of all the peaks that form the Annapurna Sanctuary. Through binoculars, we looked carefully over at Annapurna South, hoping to see the Japanese, but to no avail. But on the upper summit ridge of Gangapurna, we thought we could see the black dot of a camp. We wondered how our friend -Girmi Dorje was doing?
The climb had been a success in all respects. The first reconnaissance of the East Face culminated in a first ascent. In the planning stages, I had recalled H. W. Tilman's advice on the versatility of a small party and then decided on six climbers.1 Such a party did indeed prove small enough to facilitate working in rope teams of two or three, yet large enough to avoid paralysation of the climb due to injury or altitude sickness. Since we had to ferry all equipment from Base Camp up the mountain, we were well acclimatized. The Eastern Outlier was climbed very inexpensively. We did not have the added fees for Sherpas and bought most of our food in Nepal. The cost per climber was only $170 which included the $600 fee paid to the Nepali Government, porter fees, all food, and non-personal equipment costs.
For me, a great satisfaction came from leading and working with a very good group of climbers. All worked their hardest for the team's success.