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Annapurna Update: More Rope Helo’d to 7,000m

About 35 climbers set off from Camp 4 last night between 9 pm and midnight, hoping to reach the summit this morning. The morning had been windy with some brief snow flurries and lightning in the evening, but conditions were better after night fell.

Clients with Seven Summit Treks and Imagine Nepal, most of them on oxygen and with personal Sherpas, followed the rope fixers.

At 7,400m, they ran out of rope and with the route ahead slick with blue ice, everyone turned around back to Camp 4.

Meanwhile, in Camp 3, the small Giripremi Indian team prepared to head for Camp 4 in the early morning today and continue toward the summit tonight. Once aware of the situation, “Giripremi expedition leader Umesh Zirpe coordinated with Kathmandu for additional supply of rope, oxygen cylinders, and food,” they reported. “It will be transported (by helicopter) to Camp 3 and from there, the Sherpas will carry it to Camp 4.”

Both the Pakistani team and SST’s expedition leader Chhang Dawa Sherpa confirmed that the helicopter has managed to resupply Camp 4 and to drop 800m more rope at “lower” Camp 4.

“Tonight, all teams, including Giripremi, will go for the final dash to the summit while route-opener Sherpas will go 1-2 hours ahead,” the Indian climbers confirmed.

After an exceptionally dry winter, it is not surprising that passages on Annapurna that are usually loaded with fresh snow — relatively easy trudging, no ropes needed — may instead feature hard, slippery glacier ice.

With many clients poorly acclimatized, dependent on oxygen, and perhaps relatively inexperienced technically, it is not unlikely that they need as much rope as possible.

Annapurna is a dangerous peak that demands speed to cross the hazardous sections and strength to surmount the nearly vertical sections. The route includes some technical passages that require skilled use of crampons and ice ax, and full attention.

It is also a very big day from Camp 4 to the summit: There is not only the vertical 1,100m but a long way horizontally to the highest point and back.

Traditionally, fixed ropes on Annapurna were confined to the steepest passages and exposed sections, such as the technical climb on the way to C3. But not above Camp 4: According to Juanito Oiarzabal, the only point above Camp 4 that typically needs fixed ropes is a 300 to 400m couloir right before the summit.

Of course, where and how much rope was fixed has varied according to conditions and to a team’s skills. Recently, fixed ropes have become more common in more sections.

This is not the first time that an Annapurna expedition ran out of rope on summit day. In 2016, Chris Burke wrote a detailed diary of her own summit push, where she mentioned the lack of ropes and how climbers usually bring their own rope to belay themselves:

“As can happen, planned fixed ropes ran out en route to the summit. Most climbers climbed in either roped teams or in pairs about 40 mins from below the start of the couloir. Lakpa and I always carry rope. Another Sherpa asked Lakpa and me to hand over our rope once the fixed rope ran out, with the intention to join any remaining personal ropes together for fixing…Lakpa and I handed over our rope. Soon, it was cut Then it disappeared up the mountain attached to other climbers in an apparent mix-up…Lakpa and I used our safeties as a “rope” for the remaining traverse…Once we approached the couloir, Lakpa acted quickly to recover some rope from a Sherpa for the two of us to use in the couloir.”

Therefore, it’s up to the climbers and the expedition operators to answer whether conditions were unexpectedly hard or if bad planning was at fault.

Another issue is the remarkably fast pace in which the expedition has proceeded. Virtually all climbers arrived, made a rotation to Camp 2, and jumped for the summit within two weeks.

All are currently marching right behind the rope-fixing team, which has no time to correct issues or shortfalls in equipment.

The reason for such a rush? Possibly, because some climbers want to hurry directly from Annapurna to Dhaulagiri. On Dhaulagiri, interestingly, the fixing has not begun.

Source: Angela Benavides – Explorersweb

Header: Camp 4 on Annapurna, as seen from the helicopter today. Photo: Chhang Dawa Sherpa