Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Ueli Steck: Annapurna 2013 Debrief

So far, our team has worked very well. We have established a basic base camp on 5000 meters. Tenji and Nima always bring us fresh food. The weather was until 3 October 2013, awesome. Just in time for my birthday on the 4th of October 2013 the weather was bad and we had a reason to descend back to the base camp.

We have set up a base camp at 5'000 meters. Tenji and Nima always bring us fresh food. The weather was until 3rd October, awesome. We spent 2 nights at 6'100 meters. I climbed alone over the first rock. Here Lafaille and Beghin had mounted a fixed rope. Now here is the rock covered with a thin layer of snow and ice, I can easily climb up and down again. On 6'700 meters I have seen enough, up to the rock bar it looks easy. I get off again to Don and we spend a second night on our eaglehorst and then we went back to Basecamp. I feel very good.

A few days later, on the 7th of October, we are back on the ABC, the base camp. Don comes later, he has waited until something clears up, he had no desire to rise in the rain. It snowed and we decided to wait the next day. We wanted to look at what happened in the wall. One day we spend all together in the best weather in ABC. The sun works all day and the snow can solidify. It gets really hot. We are sitting in the T-shirt on 5'000 meters.

On the 8th of October at 5:30 am we set off, it is bitter cold in the morning. Dan Patitucci and Jonah Matthewson, Don Bowie and myself. We are on the way to the wall foot. Dan Patitucci and Jonah are responsible for the pictures.

The weather is nice, but there was a strong wind blowing. Don Bowie, my partner, decided not to go to Bergschrund. He said it was technically too demanding for him to climb rope-free. This is the basic prerequisite for such a route. Since my trip to 6'700 meters it is clear to me that you can easily climb up to the rock bolt without rope. If you start to secure in this area, you need days until you get to the beginning of the rock bar. We're at Bergschrund, Don's decision is pretty clear. I am conscious of a sudden, he will not come. No way. What do I do now? I think about 2 options. I make another acclimatization trip and wait for Yanick and Stephan. I can go with them safely. Or I just try how high I come. If it does not work out, I can still work with the two Frenchmen. I'm not saying much about Bergschrund. I just go. Don, Dan and Jonah I say, I'll go look! I just need to get away from here. I leave my friends in uncertainty. I have to climb now, or I will not go. I know that, I know myself. I have to get rid of myself immediately. I have to say goodbye to this world - I go my way. I can not do anything else from now on. I know this from previous all-in-one, if I do not manage to dive into my own world is not. Without great words I go.

In the first moment it is difficult to switch to soloing. But the good conditions help me focus on the climbing fairly quickly. I climb over the Bergschrund into the endless slopes of the Annapurna south wall. I go relatively cozy, I need time to think. What am I doing. It is only now that I begin to think about it properly. I have acted on the Bergschrund relatively briefly. Before, I just had to go, I just went. It is nice weather, the snow conditions are ideal. Beautiful tread. It is also significantly colder than the last time. The snow is not soft. I'll make a plan during the ascent. I analyze: The weather is awesome, I have today and tomorrow to evening certainly no rainfall. The conditions are sensational, at least here. Only at the moment a very strong wind blows to the summit. At 6'100 meters we had deposited material. We had acclimatized in the weeks before in the wall and had a rope, tent and cooker with some food and gas dumped up there. I put the tent and the stove in my backpack. The rope I have not taken, since I have a 6 mm Reepschnur with me, which I had taken from the ABC. The sleeping bag I have for weight reasons unpacked and with extra gas, food and the existing rope deposited on a hook. I have an idea. I only take a tent and a stove. Try to keep moving as much as possible. I have the tent to have the opportunity to wait, if the wind is too strong. I have no more weight in the backpack. That feels good. I get after repackaging.

The difference is already enormous, before I had something more in the backpack and now I only have the tent, line cord, stove, gas and a bottle, down jacket and gloves. The rock climb is much better snow-covered, perfect, hard-frozen snow. The sun hardly soaks the snow. Last time, the snow was still soft at this time, today it remains hard-frozen. Actually, exactly as one would like it to be. I climb slowly to avoid acidification. It is never allowed to accumulate lactate, you will never get rid of these heights and you will be extremely slowly higher up over 7'000 meters. I must steadily slow down. I do not perceive anything, I just climb. Finally, once again easy mountaineering, I care only about myself and nothing else.

The ascent under the rocky mountain range is easy, everything is fine. From 6'600 meters I have some wind and spindrifts. I climbed to a height of 7'050 meters. Here I will build up the tent and wait for the wind to ease. I have several options: Either the wind lets go and I can climb further or I just leave the next morning. But a night sitting in the tent without sleeping bag is horrifying. I can not find a suitable place, I decide to descend again. Before I go down I want to take a picture of the rock. So that if I go up in the night possibly, I have an overview on my camera.

I hit my two ice machines deep in the Firn. With the crampons I try to make a bigger kick. So I'm more comfortable. I'm 1'300 meters above the Bergschrund, stand on a kick. I take off my right down glove and hang it on one of my ice machines. The camera is on my harness. The cord on which I have secured it is too short, I hang out the camera and take a picture. Before I reprint a second time, snow falls on me. I just grab my two ice machines and try to hold on and wait. Hope it stops. I notice how the pressure builds up between me and the wall. He is getting stronger and after a while he takes off again. My body is shaking. That was close! My glove is gone and also my photo camera. I'm annoyed. The glove, now I only have my climbing gloves. This can be a problem. But I've climbed all day without down gloves. Therefore, when it gets too cold, I just have to descend. Now find a shelter! I change completely, it is like a switch of the upset. From now on, I'm only thinking about how I can survive in this wall, but I've also accepted that I'm extremely exposed. Either you're fit enough or you're not coming back. For the first time, I decide radically when climbing. Just like in everyday life - black or white. I am very bad with half-hearted stuff.

100 meters further down I find a gap. It turned out to be a perfect bivouac spot and I can build my tent protected from the wind and the spindle drift in this gap. Food and drink are now announced. I try to take as much liquid as possible to me. Meanwhile, the sun goes away. Everything calmed down on the mountain, as I had noticed the evening before from ABC. And it's exactly the same as a day before. It set the dawn and it became quiet. This is my chance. I have to try.

I'm sure the wind will turn up again in the morning. Therefore, the only option during the night is to climb further as high as possible, and it makes sense, just like Loretan and Troillet at Everest. In the night climb, yes, I also have no sleeping bag, so it is significantly warmer to move during the cold hours and not to rest. I'm out again after a short break. I have certainly drunk 1 ½ liters and eaten, liquid food and a power bar. The bottle in my jacket warms me nicely. Now I have nothing more. Only the cord on the back tied. 1 liter of drink in the down jacket. A pair of latches stowed in the jacket. I leave my backpack, my tent, the stove, everything back. I start climbing again quite calmly. I have completely resolved myself from the other world. Just climb, nothing else. There is nothing at the moment except for me and this wall, I turned off the lamp.

The headwall is crossed with a continuous firn / ice line. Thus, it is possible to find the way at night. I just try, when I get lost, I climb back again. With my Tikka RXP with reactivLightning you have a good view, it just switches to headlights, when I look in the distance, so I should have 10 hours of light in this mode, usually it is only very weak in front of me - about 2 meters far. In the Firn I switch off the lamp, so I can save battery and it is also easier to have an overview, the snow and the ice stand out well from the dark. I like to climb it at night. It's kind of easier to concentrate. Only the next step, the next movement, is what is decisive. I can hardly believe it, the conditions are awesome! A hard snow layer covers everything. It is like in the Eigerordwand in the winter with top conditions.
Ideal solo terrain. As long as I can climb, I'm extremely efficient, I know. From now on, I push much more than the day. I'm traveling faster. I am now over 7'000 meters, at this height one can move still quite well forward. Only the cold is a bit painful, I'm afraid that my hands are getting too cold. I'm pretty far right in the wall, the last maybe 70 meters were quite steep, challenging, here I must safely abseil in descent. Something like a ramp pulls right, I follow her. I reach a broad snow band. Here I climb left again until I can climb again over a steeper passage. I have to find the transition to the left, I know somewhere I have left to get to the upper part. I must not climb too high. I find a passage, now everything should be clear, the wall is not so steep. The varnish layer is thin. I must be back here before the sun soaks this layer. That would be fatal. To descend here without this glued snow would be impossible. This thought makes me nervous. But I'm ready to take that risk. The exit from the rock bar is once again challenging, not necessarily steep, but the firn and the ice layer are thin. Again and again I hit the rock.

The headwall turned out to be shorter than I thought. It is difficult to say how many rounds it would be, since I do not use a rope. But I felt relatively quickly at the upper end. This is the first time I know where I am and what that means. I know that from now on, it is just a race against the wind and I should not turn around too late, because the sun is softening the ice and the ice layer and that would be my end. In addition, I am in a south wall, which means the sun comes very early in the morning. Now it slowly begins to load me, I know how exposed I am! I do not have anything. It is unrealistic with 60 meters of rope, 5 hoes and two ice screws here abseeilen! I'm going to survive. I calm down again. It's dark night. The Firn is still crunching.

I got my rhythm again. Everything in my head calmed down. Again, I am with myself. Step by step. I have accepted that I am up here. I like it, there is no more for me. The terrain slowly rises again, the last meters on the ridge are again somewhat steeper, about 60. I traverse on the ridge to the left. It's flat up here. The ridge rises, I go on and reach a guard. I turn on the headlamp. Far ahead of me is another guard. I already traded one. I can not see a higher point. It is night, the sky full of stars as before me the ridge goes down again.

Is this the highest point? A comical summit, a flat ridge with 3 elevations, I stand on the 2nd elevation.
I do not spend 2 minutes up there before I start to descend. I want to get away from here as fast as I can. Now my situation in my head has changed, I want to go down again, immediately! I long for the Bergschrund. I do not think it's good to be up here, how do I get down? It is not easy to see the tracks. The Firn is hard. The exit channel I climb backwards. I turned off the lamp, it is dark. Now I can go forward again. The small rocky line, which separates the large snow surface, I have to climb backwards. Now I have to go down pretty straight. It feels controlled, I've done a lot. Descending in challenging terrain, but I would be glad if I was already down. I need to concentrate. As much as it goes abklettern.8 times I ropes off hourglasses. The rest I climb off. I pull the reep cord straight through the holes so I do not need snares. The best thing is to make the hourglasses vertical, so you can pull the rope relatively easily.

Still in the dark, I am at my tent at 6'850 meters. I creep back into the glacier and without taking my crampons into my tent, I do not care if I make holes in the ground. I cooked water and drank. From here I should be relatively fast down. From here I certainly no longer abseilen. I still fill my bottle and start climbing a bit later. My calves are as hard as stone and pain. But I am still focused, consciously every step can be my last. I am still in the middle of the Annapurna south wall. In the east, the new day is slowly drawing off. At last, it will be bright again. Hopefully the wind will still be a little bit behind. I am in this steady state, focused on every step. Every sound - everything - is registered. The Bergschrund is a relief. I searched the glacier to see if my friends were ascending. You must have seen that I descend. But I saw no one. I already traversed the glacier when I met Tenji, Don and Dan. My first words were: We can go home!

The tension drops slightly. Tenji gives me Coca Cola, bread and an apple. Eat something. I can hardly put it into words - I do not know exactly what to say! I was alone for 28 hours. Exposed, exposed, every action had to be perfect, completely placed on my own, I concentrated only on myself and climbing. Now everything is over. What can I say? I feel like I'm from another planet. I can not explain it, I will probably never be able to. They are personal impressions, something you have to experience yourself to understand. I was just lucky with the conditions. Such a snowstorm is very rare. Perfectly glued, a sunny day more and the edition would perhaps already be gone again and the wall in a completely different condition.

At 9:40 am on October 9, 2013 we are all together again in the advanced base camp.

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