Huge Avy Swallows—and Spits Out—Climbers
This photograph—shot by Turkish mountaineer Tunç Findik last week on Annapurna—has a certain finality to it. A huge wall of snow crashes down a steep couloir toward four hopelessly tiny-by-comparison climbers. It reminds me of the opening seconds of one of those grim Faces of Death films, when you know that the end is inevitable and very near, especially given this past winter’s terrible avalanche toll across the U.S. (30 died in all). The next shot in the series (which you can see here) shows said climbers—Mexicans Maurizio Lopez and Badia Bonilla, Ang Kami Sherpa and Lakpa Norbu Sherpa—being swallowed by the cloud of snow.
But, miraculously, all four survived. How’d they do it? They ducked under the ice overhang, and the avalanche roared right on overhead. Nobody was buried, nobody was hurt, despite eyewitness Don Bowie giving it a “pucker factor” of 11 (out of a possible 10) in his detailed report. Later that night, “safe” in Camp 3, their tents would be crushed by another set of avalanches. Unphased, they’re still pushing for the summit, no doubt encouraged by news of yesterday’s summiting by an international team of a dozen climbers.
And so life continues on 26,545-foot Annapurna, the world’s 10th highest mountain and, statistically, its deadliest 8,000-meter peak. The Nepalese mountain is so ravaged by avalanches that Reinhold Messner once declared, “Annapurna has the most dangerous standard route of all 8000ers.” This is a rare glimpse at what exactly that danger looks like and what was for these climbers, thankfully, just another close call.