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Story of Elisbath Revol's Anna Purna climb (2009)
Elisabeth Revol's account
What follows is a professional English translation of Ms. Elisabeth Revol's account of events surrounding her and Martin Minarik's summit of the East Peak of Annapurna, which occurred on April 19th, 2009. The account also describes the events surrounding Martin's disappearance on the mountain, during their descent.
Re: Annapurna Climb
On April 10, we left Annapurna's south base camp for the Machapuchare base camp, at 3700 metres. It was snowing. Conditions were difficult and taxing with 80 centimetres of new snow at the base camp. Our packs were also heavily loaded, with eight days worth of food and fuel. I hadn't been feeling well for the past four days which made this first day even more difficult. The next day we went up a very steep, narrow valley. Our first test: getting across the river. The valley was long but beautiful. Nevertheless, we had to be wary of the snow-covered, grassy slopes that were melting off as the hours went by. We set up our first camp at 5000 metres.
On the 12th, we set off again, hoping to reach the glacier by crossing a snow-covered moraine. Once we reached the top, we realized that the glacier was too jumbled to travel on, so we decided to climb the slopes of Singu Chuli (a 6501 meter peak comprising numerous fluted ice slopes, very beautiful but very technical, which was going to require all our focus). Many sections were extremely steep, with inconsistent snow that needed to be pushed around to make any progress while planting our ice axes as firmly as possible in the event that we lost our footing. In short, the day was very draining both physically and emotionally and ended once again in snow and fog. We set up our camp on an exposed, cornice-loaded arete.
On the 13th, we headed out under sunny skies towards the summit. At around 6000 metres, we decided to attempt a traverse via a series of mushroomed formations to reach the glacier. We lost all the elevation we had painstakingly gained. We roped up quite a few times because the terrain was very dangerous. In mid-afternoon, we finally set foot on the glacier via a traverse exposed to serac fall. Our total elevation gain was only 100 metres. A very difficult day technically. When we stepped onto the glacier, we found ourselves struggling through waist deep snow.
We were on the move at daybreak. Not only were we wading through deep snow, but we also needed to break through a crust before sinking up to our waists. Martin was following me and we were finally making progress towards the summit. On that day, I believe that a lucky star was with us. The glacier was becoming more open and I was convinced that a huge crevasse would soon stop us in our tracks. Which is exactly what happened, except that we found a very narrow and exposed arch that allowed us to access the top of the glacial plateau. The traverse was like walking a tightrope and remains one of the most memorable moments of our climb, and also "a miracle". We set up our tent on the glacier flats and the wind picked up.
On the 15th, we travelled across kilometres of deceptively rising terrain before reaching the slopes that led to the base of the Roc Noir. There was a lot of snow there as well, compounded by wind and snowstorms. It took us three days to reach the col and one day in the tent while we waited for the storm to abate. It had been eight days since we'd started out and we finally reached the Roc Noir (7485 m) on April 18. It was a milestone for us.... we had overcome all the adverse weather conditions... we were filled with joy at the sight of this incredible arete rising before us.... it was simply amazing ... mind-blowing. We continued to climb. The arete was very narrow and exposed at the start. We needed to be very careful, but it was so beautiful, ........ and breathtakingly airy. We set up our tent at around 7500 metres just past the Roc Noir. We would only have two days to do the traverse. After that, the winds would start gusting up to 180 and 200 km/h.
On April 19, we set off at night for what would be our "SUMMIT DAY", with light packs. We decided to leave our camping gear behind. There was still lots of wind - blowing at 80-100 km/h. It was draining. My face was still raw from the day before. I was feeling physically strong and I had mentally transcended the difficulties. Martin had been quite tired since the day we spent in the tent waiting out the storm. (During those two nights, the pressure variations meant that, at times, we were at 7700 metres although we were physically only at 6600 metres. At that point, we weren't well acclimatized, which is very hard on the system. He ended up with a really bad headache.) We arrived at the base of the East Summit and the wind picked up again. As we reached the crest of the arete, I thought that I could hear jet engines.... but it was the wind funnelling through from the other side of the arete. I reached the summit and was overcome with joy: a joy as big as the arete and the mountain. We fell into each other's arms. Emotions were running high, but I was worried about Martin. He was exhausted. We did not reach the Central Summit, as the wind was much too strong. I lingered a bit longer on the East Summit, just to savour this "cherry on top of the cake that I had dreamt of so much from below" and we started our descent following the same route. We had to be very careful and focused; the terrain was steep and treacherous. Martin was becoming more and more tired and I was having to wait a long time for him. We arrived very late at our camp. Martin went into the tent with his crampons on, made a phone call and went to bed with all his gear on, having had nothing to drink.
On the 20th, we continued our descent on the arete. The wind was draining. I hurriedly got to the other side of the Roc Noir to shield my raw face. The traverse was still just as finicky and esthetically beautiful. We reached the col just before nightfall. Martin was getting slower and slower and dozed off regularly. I was afraid for him, but more importantly, we were descending too slowly. We had been at altitudes unsuited for human life much too long.
On the morning of the 21st, my fears about Martin were confirmed. Despite a full night's sleep, he hadn't recovered. On the contrary, his hands and face were swollen. I was afraid that he had oedema. It took him three hours to get ready that morning. That day, we needed to go back up and traverse towards Tare Kang. The route was very long but we wanted to descend the northeast face because all the other descent routes were too exposed to serac fall. Bad weather moved in very quickly that morning. I was breaking trail up front and waiting for Martin every half an hour or so. At one point, the wind picked up violently, the fog closed in around me and it started to snow shortly thereafter. Visibility was less than two metres. I continued down towards the col leading to Tare Kang. I waited half an hour for Martin, then an hour. What was he doing? He should have been here by now. I called him, no answer; but there was so much wind that he probably couldn't hear me. I was worried and decided to backtrack to meet up with him. I went back up to the point where I last left him. No one. I called out, no response. Tracks were quickly covered over; it was snowing heavily: there were already 40 centimetres of new snow. I returned to where I had waited for him for an hour. No one, no tracks, no response. What should I do? I couldn't find him, I had run out of water and food. I didn't have a tent.... I waited there for about half an hour with my head in my hands, my mind spinning with questions, and especially waiting for a sign, a sound from Martin. What had happened to him? Had he taken a fall, plummeted into a crevasse, or fallen asleep? I had no answers to any of these questions. I searched for him, I called him and there was no one on the arete. I was alone, lost in my thoughts. It was snowing heavily. I needed to make a decision. I decided to continue downwards. If I stayed there, I might die in an avalanche or from dehydration, which can trigger oedema at these high altitudes. I started down, but I couldn't see anything and couldn't distinguish the terrain features. I cut across many slopes and triggered large slabs under my feet. I was afraid and overwhelmed by these slopes, by the heavy snow and especially by what had just occurred. Martin was nowhere to be found and I didn't know what had happened to him. I pressed on, in this very dangerous terrain, which kept sluffing under my feet and stepped onto the glacier. It was very crevassed and required my full attention. There were lots of traps to avoid. I then found myself in a jumble of ice with a single ice axe. After some tense downclimbing, I decided to dig a hole in a crevasse and spend the night there. It took me an hour and a half to dig the hole. It stopped snowing halfway through the night.
I started down at daybreak on the 22nd. A bank of clouds rose quickly from the valley. I hurriedly made a note of where I could travel on the glacier. I went up the serac band above me and traversed on the right. I couldn't see the arete from where I was, so I moved as quickly as possible towards the glacier flats. I suddenly found myself spread-eagled above a crevasse. My heart rate went up to 200 when I could only see blackness at the bottom. I ended up safe and sound on the glacier flats. I only needed to traverse to the moraine. At that point, I could see the descent route and observed a black spot around 6700 metres descending in my tracks. It had to be Martin. He was following my track. But where had he disappeared to, what had he done? I was now reassured. The bank of clouds rose up and I couldn't see him anymore. I then decided to continue my descent as I was out of food and water. I needed to notify the agency, my husband and search-and-rescue teams about Martin. My radio battery was dead. I arrived at the lodge at Tilicho base camp late in the afternoon. It was a very long descent on the moraine. It was too late to go down to Manang so I decided to spend the night there.
On the 23rd, I left around 5:30 a.m. I arrived in Manang at noon and notified everyone. The helicopter wouldn't be able to fly that afternoon as the winds were too high. It came in around 6 a.m. the next day with two sherpas on board: Temba, our cook, and another. Together, we flew up the moraine and then along the toe of the glacier. There was no one there, no other tracks - only mine. Where was Martin? He should have been there. We dropped the two sherpas off at the lodge. They went back up the moraine to the toe of the glacier. I headed down to Pokara to provide the details of our ascent and descent.
On the 24th, I flew out from Pokara in a helicopter to search the glacier and moraine and to pick up the two sherpas. We flew over the area without any luck...there was only my downtrack and no one had travelled in the area since. What had [happened]? Had he fallen into a crevasse after I had spotted him for the last time? Had he fallen off the mountain? Had he succumbed to oedema? All these questions remained unanswered. All I know is that the last time I saw him, he was following in my track at about 6700 metres. The rest is a question mark...
On the 26th, Tendy from the agency sent four sherpas up the glacier.....They went up to 6800 metres and saw no one. The tracks were already covered over by the snow. Five days later, they came back down, without Martin.
page up | Elisabeth Revol, France | Professionally translated by: Ms. Lise Gautron (Banff, Alberta) & Ms. Geneveive Wright (Canmore, Alberta)