by Kraig Becker
Following a tumultuous spring climbing season in the Himalaya, during which he and his teammates scuffled with a mob of angry Sherpas, Swiss mountaineer Ueli Steck is once again returning to Nepal. This time Ueli has his sights squarely set on an old nemesis as he makes his third attempt on Annapurna, an 8000-meter peak that is amongst the most difficult and deadly in the world.
Located in north-central Nepal, Annapurna stands 8091 meters (26,545 ft) in height, making it the tenth tallest peak in the world. But the mountain is proof that altitude alone is not the only challenge that climbers face when venturing into the Himalaya. Despite its relatively low height, at least when compared to the likes of Everest and K2, Annapurna sees very few successful summit bids. Its notoriously fickle weather and propensity for dangerous avalanches have made it one of the most difficult mountains in the world. To date, roughly 183 climbers have managed to reach the top since Annapurna was first conquered back in 1950. But sadly, another 61 have died making the attempt, giving this mountain the distinction of having the highest death-to-summit ratio of any peak in the world.
Ueli is well aware of the challenges that he’ll face on Annapurna as he has attempted to climb the mountain on two occasions in the past, first in 2007 and then again in 2008. Both of those expeditions took place in the spring season however and he expects to find more stable conditions this fall. Following the summer monsoons, the weather tends to be drier and more predictable during the autumn months, which should result in less snow and fewer avalances. Additionally, colder temperatures should improve stability in general and give climbers a chance to make a safer approach to the summit.
Ueli will be joined on this expedition by Canadian climber Don Bowie, who doesn’t lack for climbing experience in the Himalaya either. The two men left for Kathmandu yesterday and will now spend the next few days collecting and sorting their gear. After that they’ll travel to the town of Pokhara where they’ll start the trek to Annapurna Base Camp located on the mountain’s South Face at 4100 meters (13,451 ft). Once there, they’ll scout the mountain for the best possible route to the summit and begin acclimatizing by carrying their own gear up the slopes where they’ll establish a series of high camps.
If all goes as expected, they hope to wrap up the climb by November 15.