[T]WO CUMBRIAN climbers who set out to summit Annapurna II last month have returned home with a mighty tale to tell.
Jamie Annetts and Matt Stapely planned to reach the top of the 7,937m peak unsupported and without bottled oxygen – but the mountain had other ideas.
After three weeks of everything going to plan – high winds, freezing temperatures and ultimately a medical emergency forced the guys to make a retreat.
“We had planned a siege tactic to conquer Annapurna II – to move fast and light on the ridge to the summit but nature had other plans,” explained Jamie, director of ExpedAdventure in Staveley who was on expedition with his climbing partner Matt Stapley from Penrith.
“At base camp we heard six avalanches a day, there were massive explosions as they fell. The wind reached speeds of 160km per hour and it was way colder than you can imagine.
“So few people have been up Annapurna II that there is a limited amount of information available and we found that all the research we had done before the climb was out of date because of the way nature changes our mountain environments. The glacier had retreated a mile further than had been described and we had to reach the end of it to start the ice climb. Here we found ourselves tackling ex-glacier scree which was rock hard ice, no snow.
“We were expecting a snow ridge and we found a hanging glacier which felt more than vertical, so the terrain was way harder than previous expeditions had described.”
Only 15 people have stood on the summit of Annapurna II, with the first ascent made by fellow Cumbrian climbing legend Sir Chris Bonington 56 years ago. The mountain range is described as one of the most dangerous in the world and has the chilling title of being the deadliest mountain, as it claims the lives of 40 per cent of people who climb it.
At 6,200 metres, having reached camp two, something wasn’t right, Jamie explains: “I have been a lot higher, but I have never physically worked as hard. We were carrying 25kg and climbing Scottish grade two to three all the time. There wasn’t enough time to recover, to rest. I only had one symptom of altitude mountain sickness and that was that I didn’t sleep that night. When we got up after a freezing night in the tent, I felt totally zonked. Matt led the climbing and on the walking sections I was breaking through snow that was chest deep.
“At this point I would take five steps and then stop to cough. The wind was howling, we couldn’t move fast enough to keep warm. We made it to our next camp – in a cave – and Matt said we needed to have a chat. By this point my breathing was 30 to 40 breaths a minute and Matt could hear a spluttering on my lungs when he pressed his ear to my chest. We rang the Remote Medical Service and I took the drugs they recommended and their advice to descend 500 metres as quickly as possible.
“The descent was very hard, it was steep and icy with avalanche risks on either side of us. I had to abseil off camp two on a short rope and Matt then down climbed, retracing our steps. There were many hard sections as we retreated to camp one. That night was the worst, we were a long way from help and we knew we still had a long way to get back to civilisation.
“Although I was ill, I was still carrying my own pack, we abseiled down the face and at 5,100 metres it was like someone flicked a lightswitch in my head. I felt much better. That day we got down to 3,200 metres, carrying the heaviest bag of my life – 35kg – we had no porters because we were leaving earlier than we planned. We had to walk about 15km carrying everything we brought for the expedition – two climbing ropes, boots, tents, the stove, water, food, a full climbing rack, ice screws…”
It had been an epic adventure and one which Jamie is happy to be home and to tell the tale, already the expedition leader has reflected on what he has learnt from the experience: “We were forced to make our attempt too early in our planned programme because of the weather conditions. We went up anticipating everything that could go wrong and we had control measures in place. When things didn’t go to plan, we dealt with it and we got back down in one piece.”
So will they go back and try again? “No, we’ll share what we’ve learnt so any future expeditions can benefit from our knowledge but there are too many other mountains to climb! My soul is refreshed and I am looking forward to helping other people achieve their mountaineering ambitions in 2017.”
Jamie Annetts is the Director of Exped Adventure, based in Staveley, near Kendal. When he is not heading off to climb the world’s deadliest mountain, he helps other people achieve their mountaineering or polar expedition dreams.
After Annapurna he will begin a four-month season of expeditions to Argentina, Morocco and Norway.
First he’s heading on a three-week trip to Aconcagua in Argentina in January. It’s the highest mountain outside the Himalaya and lies on the border with Chile.
Then he’s off to Morocco for an eight-day mountaineering course on Toubkal – the highest mountain in north Africa.
March and April will see him head to Norway, first to Hardangervidda for an eight-day expedition pulling a sled across the high plateau and then to Svalbard for a 13 night ski crossing of the polar wilderness. These two trips involve skiing and being self-sufficient as well as being able to protect yourself from polar bears.
Find out more about Exped Adventures at www.expedadventure.com