The Anatoli Boukreev Memorial Fund

Annapurna, Attempt and Tragedy.

    On December 2, Anatoli Boukreev and I, accompanied by the alpinist and videographer Dimitri Sobolev, flew by helicopter from the last lodge to a base camp at 4095 meters. A long glacier separated us from the beginning of Annapurna's south face and the traditional Base Camp, where, due to the abundant snow in which the helicopter would have sunk it had not been possible to land. We were forced to break trail along the glacier to get to the base of the face, an exhausting task compounded by much new and abundant snows. 

    Our stay on the mountain continued to be christened by snowfall that accumulated to four meters. This forced us to change our climbing itinerary (though we kept the summit of Annapurna I as our final objective). The new line of ascent we picked wound its way up the steep east face of Annapurna Fang (7847m) to the line of notches situated between this summit and that of Annapurna II. Once we reached this col we would be able to make a long traverse along the ridge that would bring us to the summit of Annapurna Fang (which is avoidable) and then on to that of Annapurna I. A new itinerary, possibly more difficult, surely longer than an ascent via the Bonington route but, in our minds, much safer given the conditions.

    We grew accustomed to proceeding with snow up to our bellies and with packs weighing up to 34 kilos. On December 25 we began a constant advance in piolet traction on fine mixed terrain to reach the ridge. As we had agreed, I led and equipped the most technically demanding pitches. Thus, after an hour's climb, Anatoli made a small stance for himself on the slope to deal with the unspooling and joining of the rope coils as I slowly dragged them toward the ridge.

    After a couple of hours I was about 50 to 70 meters from the exit onto the ridge at 6300 meters, but a yell from Anatoli announced the end of the last coil of rope. He suggested I set up an anchor to fix the long umbilical cord that connected us. I carried out the task and, given the high difficulty of the last section remaining to be climbed, I decided to wait for him, who meanwhile had been joined by Dimitri.

    I spent the first few minutes filming and photographing my two friends, then concerned myself with putting the video camera away in my pack so I could get my gloves back on. In the time it took to think of doing this, but before I could actually begin, I realized the moment of my death was silently approaching. Blocks of ice and rock in a cloud of snow were falling down on me. In a state of animated peaceful 'resignation' I thought only of yelling out the danger to Anatoli and Dimitri. I remember seeing them make a rapid lateral move in an attempt to get out of the way of the avalanche while I crouched and leaned against the wall, gripping with my bare hands the rope that had just been fixed. 

    I wasn't able to resist the fury of this mass for even a second, and I fell rapidly, grasping the rope between my hands which burned and lacerated my fingers almost through to the bone. The series of flights, slides and ricochets seemed like they would never end. All I could do wasgo along with the movement of the avalanche, often tumbling at break-neck speed and losing orientation.
 It was 12:37 when I stopped half-buried in the snow at 5500 meters. I could not see out of one eye, my hands were stripped to the bone, my clothes were in shreds and I had lost all my equipment except for my crampons. I immediately called Anatoli and Dimitri many times but no one answered. I staggered about in the avalanche for about 15 minutes without seeing or hearing anything from them. I was alive, but unsure of my survival given the conditions and the 1500 meters of wall yet to descend before getting to Base Camp. There, I would be able to organize the rescue that I knew would arrive within a few days' wait. Good fortune willed that only 50 meters from the avalanche stood our Camp I tent, inside which I had a supply of clothing. After exhaustingly redressing I started the long, dramatic descent without use of my hands and able to see out of only one eye. After six hours I arrived exhausted at the 4095-meter Base Camp where my Nepalese cook attended to me, ignorant of what had just happened. Thanks to his nocturnal walk of more than ten hours to a village, and the subsequent radio contact with a friend, Nima, from Cho Oyu, who was trekking in Kathmandu, I was able to take advantage of the help of a helicopter that came and got me on December 26 at Base Camp. 

    Three days later I was once again in a helicopter trying to fly over the avalanche and possibly see my friends still alive. Unfortunately there is still no trace of them today, apart from what remains of Anatoli in the pages of the history of alpinism.

Simone Moro

Anatoli Boukreev

    The last 15 months that have been left on my shoulders have given me three splendid successes, both personal and in sport. An ascent on Fitz Roy (3441m) in Patagonia via the west face in 25 hours round-trip, an ascent of the South Summit of Shishapangma (8008m) in Tibet in 28 hours round-trip with a partial descent on skis, and finally my second ascent of Lhotse (8516m) in Nepal. All this intensely moved and motivated me to continue my pursuit of and craving for alpinism.

    The most beautiful thing, though, that I remember of these months was the start of a great friendship with the strongest alpinist of all time, Anatoli Boukreev, who had decided to continue his activities in my company.

    Twenty-one times on the summits of the 8000-meter peaks in only eight years, the last four of these summits made within 80 days of each other, many with the fastest speed records for the 14 Himalayan giants, and 40 summits of more than 7000 meters to his credit-a veritable 'tank' of high-altitude!

    Little known in the international circles, Anatoli passed into the chronicles when, in 1996, he carried and saved from the hand of death some American alpinists who, bereft of oxygen, had been caught in a storm, beaten by wind and frozen by the temperatures on the flanks of Everest. On that occasion Anatoli was capable of helping them in a situation where others could only stagger and hang on to their ice axes.

    Ex-trainer of the National Russian Alpine skiing team, graduate of the 'Army Sport Club' of Kazakstan, veteran of the Afgani war (special forces), Anatoli Boukreev showed me many things that revealed that he knew how to be a man before being an alpinist. I learned more things from him in one year than in all my 17 years of activity. Through the millions of circumstantial smiles and sneers that a great part of the world of alpinists gave, we communicated in November our intention to try the south face of Annapurna during the winter of 1997-'98. There would only be the two of us, without Sherpas, without any other expeditions at Base Camp, deprived of any method of satellite or radio communication, and facing a mountain that counts more dead than alpinists on its summit and that, in winter, has been summited only once in over 20 attempts.

    We did not want to be disrespectful of a repeated invitation toward a more tranquil style of alpinism; we simply wanted to try an ascent of a mountain in a climatically difficult moment and with an old approach and style. Anatoli and I did not believe (and continue to not believe) in the 'death of alpinism' that the sport has been sentenced to, often by illustrious persons who, due to their influence and the habit of wearing comfortable slippers, pretended that alpinism retired with them. Himalayan alpinism is alive and growing! And without a doubt changed, in respect to 15-20 years agoóbut it is enough to have a pinch of imagination, some contrary ideas and no fear of eventual lack of success, to remember that there are also alternatives to the pilgrimages to high altitude. Without condemning sponsors and 'intelligent' commercial expeditions, Anatoli knew how to marry his spirit of adventure with the sacrosanct need for making a living from alpinism. Extreme moralism, denigrating or defaming actions against other ìcolleaguesî or other summits, never entered in the language or mind of Boukreev (even if it was part of interesting gossip. . .).

    All of this constitutes the testament that Anatoli has left me and that I leave to those who still have a passion, energy and desire to go to the mountains. No one, ever, has seemed to me so human. No one, ever, has appeared to me so terribly strong. An abyss exists between him and the other champions and personalities of the Himalayas that I have had the good fortune (and with some, the misfortune) of having known. There remains now his imprint and the many lessons he has left me. There remain also the many ideas that he and I had in mind and that occupied also the last hours we spent together on that night, the 25th of December. . . .

Simone Moro
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