Respecting Annapurna and its History
It seems almost everyone knows at least a piece of the history of mountaineering on Everest. Whether it’s having seen a movie about it, reading Into Thin Air, or just hearing stories about the 200+ deaths on the peak, Everest teaches us that climbing can be dangerous. But Everest is tame compared to Annapurna. As more and more trekkers make the ascent to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC), it seems right for those making the climb to know the history of the mountain.
Though ambitious mountaineers have been attempting summits of challenging mountains for hundreds of years, the conquering of Annapurna’s summit is very recent in the greater timeline of mountaineering. Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal did not make it to the top until June 1950, and the next climb after that wasn’t until 20 years later. The first American team, and the first summit by a team of women, took place in 1978. In fact, women have not even been allowed in the region until recently, given the local Gurung people’s deeply held beliefs about the sacred nature of this land.
Less than 150 people have climbed Annapurna, yet some of the best books on climbing recount tales of this mountain. Compelling reading can be found in Herzog’s Annapurna, about the initial ascent; Annapurna: A Woman’s Place, about the first team of women to climb it; and Annapurna South Face, climber Bonington’s terrifying account of taking a particularly challenging path up the mountain.
Why does Annapurna make for such compelling accounts, when so many more people have climbed Everest, K2, and others of the 10 highest mountains? It surely has something to do with the extreme dangers of Annapurna. Though many trekkers don’t realize it, by traveling to ABC base camp (generally by way of the Sanctuary Trek or the Annapurna Circuit), you are walking up the most dangerous mountain in the world. While those traveling to Everest Base Camp marvel at the memorials to the climbers who have died and remain on the mountain, Annapurna has an astonishing 40% fatality rate. Traveling to base camp may be relatively safe, (the 2014 disaster was an anomaly that led to greater safety rules for trekking), but continue up the mountain and features like a sheer ice walls make it almost impossible to scale.
Locals in Nepal, India, and China believe the gods dwell in the Himalayas, and they sometimes attribute accidents and disasters to travelers’ lack of respect for the mountains. Some Sherpas recount stories of seeing figures or ghosts on their ascents – the mountains are sacred to them, and it is important for travelers to the area to both know and respect this.
So, while you go through physical training, buy the right gear, and plan your trip, be sure to also pick up a book about the treacherous climbs of Annapurna. You will not only know more about where you are headed, you’ll also have a much deeper respect for the region and those who live there. You’ll also appreciate your own accomplishment a lot more when your trip is complete.
Article by Dani Bailey.
Top image by Jeanne Menjoulet/Flickr