Annapurna Dhaulagiri double-take
The Nepal Himalaya has seen a spurt in expeditions this spring, largely because of the backlog of the past years, and possibly because of the global publicity generated by the ‘traffic jam’ photographs of 2019.
Climbing on Everest, for instance, was affected in 2014 and 2015 due to the Icefall avalanche and earthquakes, 2016 was slow because of the lingering impact of the blockade. And 2020 was a wipeout because of the pandemic.
There are a record-breaking 42 expeditions with nearly 400 foreign climbers on Everest this spring. But while Everest gets all the attention, there have also been 44 climbers on four expeditions on the north face of Annapurna I, and many of them are doing it in tandem with Dhaulagiri which has five expeditions with 35 members.
Many of them started early in the season on Annapurna and have now moved on to Dhaulagiri to climb it before the monsoon arrives. There has also been the same siege-style commercial climbing of the two eight-thousanders that is more reminiscent of Everest, with guides moving up first to fix ropes and taking clients up the mountain.
In fact, there were so many relatively inexperienced climbers this year on Annapurna that even easier sections had to be fixed, which meant that the lead team ran out of rope high on the mountain. The expedition then radioed for a helicopter that dropped rope, oxygen, food and other supplies at nearly 7,000m on the north face of Annapurna. A helicopter also lifted a Taiwanese climber suffering frost-bite from Camp III to Base Camp.
This use of helicopters has led to more criticism about the over-commercialisation of Himalayan mountaineering, and some climbing bloggers have contrasted it with the pure pioneering adventure of the French expedition of 1950 on Annapurna.
But it was also this that allowed 68 people to summit the 8,091m peak by 16 April without a single fatality—all the more remarkable because Annapurna has the highest ratio (32%) of deaths on any mountain in the Himalaya. Of the 68 who got to the top this season, 14 were women, and among them six were Nepali.
It helps that Dhaulagiri is just across the Kali Gandaki Valley and so close to Annapurna that climbers just moved across for the second climb. Most Annapurna summiteers are also on Dhaulagiri, where fresh snow had delayed climbing till early this week.
While most, including 82-year-old Carlos Soria and the six Nepali women, are on the easier north ridge route, there are some veterans attempting the never-climbed northwest spur of Dhaulagiri which at 8,167m is the world’s seventh-highest mountain. Many of the climbers on the northwest ridge have tried to get to the top on this route several times in the past.
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