America's first mountaineer to climb all 14 8000m peaks and twelfth overall, all without oxygen, Viesturs describes the major events on Annapurna along with his own three attempts featuring his diary entries. You should buy this book first and foremost for Viesturs account of the first ascent of the East Ridge by Swiss Erhard Loretan and Norbert Joos in 1984, second for the miraculous survival of Simone Moro and tragic death of Anatoli Bookreev on Christmas Day 1997, third for his own three attempts and eventual success, and finally as a history of the main events in Annapurna's history including the first ascent by Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal in 1950, the first ascent of the south face by Dougal Haston and Don Willans on a Chris Bonington British expedition in 1970, the first ascent of the northwest face by Reinhold Messner and Hans Kammerlander in 1985, the first winter ascent by Jerzy Kukuczka and Artur Hajzer in 1987, and the second ascent of the east ridge by J.-C. Lafaille and Alberto Inurrategi in 2002. There are 8 pages of colour photos and a 2-page b/w photo.
The book starts with Ed describing his attempt to climb Annapurna North Face in 2000 with Veikka Gustafsson, Neil Beidleman, and Michael Kennedy. After witnessing "the biggest avalanche any of us had ever seen", they decided to give up their attempt because "the risks are too great."
Ed then describes the first ascent of Annapurna in 1950 by Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal, chronicled by Herzog in Annapurna, the best-selling mountaineering book of all time. In 2000, Ed's co-author for this book, David Roberts, wrote True Summit, a book fairly critical of Herzog, stating that the 1950 team was ridden with dissension, acrimony and envy, and that the book was little more than a gilded fairy tale. Ed disagrees with David: "For me, Annapurna is still an amazing book, essentially a true story, and all six of the leading climbers' ability to pull together to save one another's lives far outweighs the kinds of squabbles and disagreements David dug up." After searching for a route on Dhaulagiri, the French team switched their energies to Annapurna. Even though the maps of the day were wrong, the team managed to find a way to the Annapurna North Face, and in just a few days were ready to tackle the summit. Herzog was "indulging in the kind of ecstasy" and stayed on the summit while Lachenal wanted to go down. "As much as I admire Herzog and empathize with his rapture, I have to concede that Lachenal was using better judgment." He briefly describes the horror filled descent and escape from the clutches of death,
The authors then describe the first ascent in 1970 of the enormous Annapurna South Face rising "in one unbroken, gargantuan sweep more than 10,000 feet from the glacier at its base to the summit". Dougal Haston and Don Willans, "two brilliant climbers with huge egos, blazing ambition, and sharp tempers", reached the summit. The British Expedition was led by Chris Bonington who "despite his conservative, military background ... has always been a firm proponent of the tell-it-like-it-is school of adventure journalism." The lead climbers were supported by five "good soldiers", including Tom Frost who provides some perspective on the expedition. "For me, the day-to-day details, disputes and all, painted a complete and accurate picture of expedition life ... Despite the dissension within the team ... the ascent of the south face of Annapurna ranks today as one of the geatest deads in Himalayan history."
My favourite chapter is when Ed Viesturs tells the next story of the 1984 ascent of the East Ridge by Erhard Loretan and Norbert Joos. After a brief review of the 1978 ascent by an all-women's expedition led by Arlene Blum, Ed uses Loretan's book Les 8000 Rugissants to tell the story. The two Swiss climbers left Base Camp on October 21 and climbed to Camp II, and the next day to Camp IV at 7500m, a snow cave above Roc Noir. They set out on October 23 at 4:30, reached the Col below the East Summit at 8:30 and reached the East Summit at 14:00, descending in an hour to the col below the central summit at 8020m where they decided to bivouac in a snow cave. In a call to base camp they announced their intention of "descending by the north face after having reached the principal summit." Rather than what was believed to be a desperate last resort, Loretan and Joos had pre-planned to do the traverse of Annapurna. On October 24 they climbed the Central Summit and then had to rappel down a 100m rock cliff that blocked any idea of retreat along the East Ridge. They reached the main summit at 13:30. "We fell into each other's arms. A great happiness spread through me. ... The statistician in me told me that we had succeeded today on a new route on Glacier Dome (Tarke Kang), the third ascent of the Roc Noir (Khangsar Kang), and the first of the east ridge of Annapurna with its three summits (east, middle, and main) ... to celebrate ... it would be necessary to arrive on the north-side base camp alive, and that, as the one-armed say, is another pair of sleeves." After only 10 minutes on the summit, they started their descent of the north face which neither climber had seen before and bivouacked again at around 6800m. On October 25 the men spotted the top end of a fixed rope just 100m below them, but below an overhanging wall. "The descent of those 300 feet would turn out to be the most desperate passage of the whole traverse." After reaching the fixed rope, the two climbers continued their descent and had to bivouac again before stepping off the glacier at 13:00 on October 26. Loretan: "The doors of hell had just closed behind us, enclosing inside them our fears, our doubts and our anguish." Viesturs: "There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the 1984 traverse of Annapurna was one of the greatest feats in Himalayan history."
In the next chapter, Ed detours to look at competition in mountaineering, specifically between Loretan and Benoit Chamoux to be the third person to climb all 14 8000ers. In September 1995 Both Loretan and Chamoux were on the south side of Kangchenjunga. Loretan arrived a little earlier and was more acclimitized and stronger than Chamoux. Loretan: "I understood that Benoit Chamoux was absolutely determined to beat me to the top." Both climbers left Camp IV (7800m) on October 5 with Loretan's team breaking trail, and Chamoux lagging behind. Loretan reached the summit at 14:35 and passed Chamoux still heading up as he climbed down. Chamoux was never seen again.
J.C. Lafaille and his mentor Pierre Beghin's attempted the south face of Annapurna in 1992, where Beghin fell to his death. "The ordeal he endured during the next several days would eventually become one of the most amazing self-rescues in mountaineering history." After attempts in 1995 and 1998, J.C. teamed up with Ed Viesturs and Veikka Gustafsson to try the East Ridge in 2002. "In Jean-Christophe Lafaille, I would discover one of the best partners of my mountaineering career." Alberto Inurrategi joined the climbing team. "In May a pattern began to form, with J.-C. doing most of the leading on our route. In part that was because he was so fast and so technically gifted." As J.-C. and Alberto pushed on the East Ridge, Ed "started getting the heebie-jeebies ... Deep snow on the face - not good. ... [Veikka and Ed] both agonized but finally after hours of silence knew we would go down." J.-C. and Alberto completed the East Ridge and reached the summit of Annapurna on May 16. J-C.: "There, at an altitude of 8,091 meters, a deep cry of joy, of liberation, came from the bottom of my lungs ... We held each other in our arms. I started crying, my emotions were so strong. Alberto clasped [Felix's] ice ax to his heart." They returned along the east ridge to safety, with J.-C.'s obsesssion with Annapurna finished, but with Ed still needing to climb Annapurna for his quest to climb all 14 8000ers.
Ed then describes the competition between Reinhold Messner and Jerzy Kukuczka to become the first person to climb all 14 8000m mountains. Messner and Hans Kammerlander climbed a new route with "delicate friction moves on rock slabs interspersed with steep snowfields" up the northwest face of Annapurna in 1985. Kukuczka and Artur Hajzer climbed the north face, reaching the summit in winter on February 23, 1987. Kukuczka: "it is impossible for a moment to get away from that bitter, penetrating frost, that takes away one's will and hope. ... We climbed on ice so hard that even the tips of our crampons could hardly penetrate it."
After briefly commenting on Anatoli Bookreev and his involvement in the 1996 Everest tragedy, Ed takes excerpts from Simone Moro's book Comet on Annapurna to describe Simone, Anatoli, and Dimitri Sobolev's attempt in December 1997 of "a line attacking the fiercely glaciated southwest flank of Annapurna, well to the left of all the south-face routes." After making slow progress in the terrible conditions, sinking in snow up to their waists, they went down the valley for some R&R before heading back up the mountain. Moro: "Above my head there was a terrifying, gigantic cornice of snow and ice stretching out like an ocean wave. Death was hanging right over our heads ... A fraction of a second later, a deafening roar announced the end of that gigantic cornice, and with it our lives. 'Anatoliiiiii ...' That desperate cry was all I could manage before the explosion of ice and rock started pouring down on me. ... After that there followed an interminable phase of bouncing, sliding, spinning around and round." It was 12:36 on Christmas Day, December 25, 1997. Miraculously Moro survived. Simone shouted to Anatoli and Demitri, but there was no answer. Simone himself was in a desperate situation and, with shades of J.-C. Lafaille, had to throw caution to the wind and descend off the mountain by himself.
Ed closes the book with his successful ascent of Annapurna with Veikka Gustafsson on May 12, 2005, completing his Endeavor 8000 project and becoming the 12 person to climb all 14 8000m peaks. They first acclimitized on Cho Oyu to reduce their time spent on Annapurna to an absolute minimum. Ed had to forego his summit attempt to help Jimmy Chin, sick with pulmonary edema, descend from their high camp (7070m), while Veikka reached the summit solo. They then turned their sights on the 1950 French route on the north face, "the least of all evils." With help from Silvio Mondinelli's Italian Expedition in using their fixed ropes, "It would mean that we could climb alpine style, having to traverse that dangerous face only once on the ascent." After waiting for the weather to clear, they left base camp on May 8 and climbed to Camp II. The next day, "we had to dash up and across what I called the Gauntlet, that frightfully exposed face down which in 2000 we'd seen the avalanches pour" to Camp III (6800m). "I was pretty wired - the culmination of an eighteen-year quest might come the next day." After waiting out May 10 and 11 due to high winds, the left for the summit early on May 12. "The scale of this upper north face was truly monstrous." "It was 2:00 P.M. Veikka and I hugged each other as tightly as we could, feeling clumsy with cold. My mind was racing. Oh my God! It's not just my fourteenth, it's Annapurna. ... We spent almost an hour on top. I wanted to savor every sweet moment of this."