How would you feel climbing the 10th tallest mountain in the world? Would you still have the same thrill if you learned that it is also one of the deadliest mountains to climb? Well, this is the case with Annapurna, a mountain in Nepal. Annapurna means “full of food’’ and it is also the name of the Hindu goddess of food and fertility. Sadly, Annapurna is not only rated as one of the most difficult mountains to climb but it also presents a higher fatality rate than most other taller mountains.
Why is Annapurna so difficult to climb?
Annapurna has unpredictable weather, rugged terrain, avalanches, and high altitude. The elevation gain between the base camp and the highest peak is high, and when exposed to harsh conditions, it makes climbing difficult.
In this article, I have explained the reasons why Annapurna is so difficult to climb. I have also included details of everything you need to climb Annapurna safely and successfully. Do you know why climbing Annapurna is considered deadly? I have compiled several real incidents to give you a clearer picture. Lastly, I will leave you with some interesting facts about Annapurna.
Why is Annapurna so Difficult to Climb?
Having already stated why climbing Annapurna is so deadly, I have gone deeper and explained each reason below.
The weather in Annapurna is characterized by cold temperatures averaging at 8-120F and all-year-round snowfall. Additionally, high-speed winds are frequent. Rain is most common in summer but again, it can rain at any time without warning. Oftentimes, a cloudy sky leads to poor visibility.
These weather conditions make climbing Annapurna harder for mountaineers. Possible dangers that result from poor weather include hypothermia due to freezing temperatures, slips and falls, and even worse, death. I’ll touch on some actual deadly Annapurna incidents later.
Annapurna stands with one peak over 26000ft, 13 peaks over 23000ft, and 16 over 20,000ft. That’s not all – the entire mountain is full of cliffs, steep slopes, and crevasses (deep open cracks). This combination puts Annapurna in the list of the most difficult mountains to climb.
The south face of the Annapurna 1 peak is especially steep. It features a wall of rocks that is 9,800ft high. Oftentimes, you will also encounter slippery walls of ice, rock falls, or unstable ground that can lead to falls, injuries, or even death. In 2015, two climbers died under unclear circumstances.
Altitude is the upward elevation of an object, also known as the height above sea level. When you are climbing a mountain, you go higher and higher in altitude. As the altitude increases, the level of oxygen in the air reduces, meaning that you will start struggling to breathe in order to take in more oxygen with each breath.
While the effect of altitude may vary from individuals, the body may start reacting to the altitude at 6,900ft and onwards. With all the peaks of Annapurna rising above 20,000 ft, you can start imagining the possible high altitude effect climbing Annapurna brings.
Signs of altitude sickness can start showing 8-48 hours after exposure. They may include nausea, headache, reduced appetite, difficult to sleep, and dizziness.
So, can you die of altitude sickness? Maybe not directly but it is possible to have accidents or make wrongs decisions that lead to death. This may come from the weakening of your body, stress, and loss of bodily functions.
An avalanche is a movement of snow at high speed down a mountain or hill. This happens when snow keeps on piling in one place. Eventually, if the underlying layer is too weak to hold, it slides away carrying the heaped snow with it.
Avalanches have the ability to sweep away trees, rocks, and other materials along their path, including climbers. Further, they can move at up to 100 miles/hour depending on how sloppy the terrain is.
Now, I already stated that Annapurna is covered in snow all year long, right? I need to add that the mountain is also avalanche-prone. This is especially so in winter (Dec-Feb) when there is massive snowfall. Also, with an elevation of about 26,545 ft, it is obvious that the avalanches move at high speed.
Avalanches can cause severe injuries or death. Back in 2014, 43 people died when several snowstorms and avalanches hit Annapurna in what was termed as Nepal’s worst trekking disaster. Another more recent avalanche incident in Annapurna occurred in January 2020.
The Turnaround Time and the Elevation Gain
The turnaround time is the set time at which you turn around and descend down the mountain whether you have reached the peak or not. Many factors, and especially harsh weather, high altitude, and difficult terrain can greatly delay the turnaround time.
This is also the case with most of the highest mountains. For Annapurna though, the total elevation gain may affect the turnaround time more than most other mountains.
The total elevation gain is the entire gain in height as you climb to the top of the mountain. To explain this further, I will compare Mt. Everest, the highest mountain in the world, to Annapurna:
The elevation of Mt. Everest’s South base camp in Nepal is 17,900 ft (5,500m) while its highest peak is 29,029 ft (8848m). To get to the peak from the base, you experience an elevation gain of (29,029-17,900)= 11,129 ft (3392m)
On the other hand, Annapurna’s base camp elevation is at 13549 ft (4130m) while its highest peak is 26,545 ft (8091m). The elevation gain, therefore, becomes (26,545 -13549) =12,996 ft (3961m)
From this example, despite Everest being taller in height, Annapurna’s total elevation gain is higher than Everest’s. You will, therefore, require more effort and more time to climb Annapurna. Unfortunately, the more time you spend up in the high altitude, the riskier it gets for you.
Finally, all the above factors contribute to another major factor; accessibility. Typically, high altitude, unpredictable weather, rough terrain, and frequent avalanches make some parts of Annapurna difficult to access in case of an emergency. There are instances when heavy snowfall and avalanches have hindered Annapurna rescue operations.
Can You Climb Annapurna? Everything You Need to Climb Annapurna
Saying that Annapurna is difficult to climb hasn’t stopped people from doing it. In fact, it was the first 8000m (26,246 ft) to be climbed back in 1950 and has been climbed since then. So, yes, you too can climb Annapurna.
However, climbing Annapurna is not an activity for beginners; you have to be both fit and experienced. Furthermore, you need proper preparation and arrangement to not only climb successfully but also do it the right way and safely.
With this in mind, I have compiled a detailed list of everything you need.
It is advisable to book your tour to Annapurna Base camp with a tour company. This will help you avoid the hassles of making all your tour arrangements yourself. Additionally, you will find your way more easily, deal with emergencies faster, and save time.
Trekking to the Annapurna Base camp with a tour company usually costs between $1,000-$3,000 and it takes 7-14 days (depending on the itinerary). The fee caters to local flight/transport, accommodation, food, permits, and porter services. However, be sure to have everything in writing that is catered for in the booking fee, to avoid surprises.
To get to the summit (26,545 ft) and back, the price goes up. On average, a full package that includes the flight to Kathmandu, guides and porters, tented camps, foods/beverages, and an expedition permit for the duration of your climb, is about $20,000 per person.
Assuming that you are a good hiker, from the base camp, it will take you about 32 days to summit and get back to the camp. In total, you can spend around 42-60 days from the foot of the mountain to the base camp, then to the summit and back.
Getting to Annapurna
It all starts at Kathmandu, the capital and largest city if Nepal. From Kathmandu, you have to pass through the city of Pokhara to get to Annapurna. You can use a bus for $7-$25, a plane for $100-$200, or a jeep at $250 divided among 8 passengers.
Note: Above prices are often included if you choose to go with a tour company.
Permits and Visa
To climb Annapurna, you need the ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Permit) and the TIMS (Trekking Information Management Systems) permit. You can get this at the office of the Nepal Tourism Board in Kathmandu. The cost of the ACAP is about $27per person while that of the TIMS permit is about $20.
Additionally, you need to require a visa from the Nepali embassy in your country and to be a holder of a valid passport issued by your government. The Visa fees are $25 for 15 days, $40 for 30 days, and $100 for 100 days. If your visa expires, you can renew it at $2 per day.
Note: Visa fees are not included when booking with a tour company. Permits are most often included (depending on the tour company).
Tour Guides and Porters
A tour guide helps to find your way around and get some tasks done. Also, having a tour guide is a great opportunity to learn more about the Annapurna area and avoid potentially dangerous areas. A porter comes in handy if you particularly have lots of gear with you.
Normally, a tour guide will cost you between $20-$30 per day while a porter charges between $15-$20 (the average price for Annapurna base camp trek).
Note: Above prices are often included if you choose to go with a reliable tour company.
Equipment and Essentials
Given the difficulty of the hike/climb, you should only carry what you need. This will make it easier for you or even your porter to carry. Still, make sure you pack to cater for all weather conditions (remember the unpredictable weather part?).
Basically, you should tailor your luggage to individual needs but include all-weather clothing (warm) and spares, all-weather hiking footwear (warm), cellphone, chargers and international adaptors, toiletries, snacks, water bottles, hydration bladder, sunscreen, and a first-aid kit.
For the equipment, you are sure to need a winter sleeping bag, trekking poles, a daypack/backpack, a duffel bag for all your stuff, an ice axe, climbing ropes, helmet, and a pocket knife among others.
Most tour companies will provide you with a detailed list of what to bring or rent.
Note: Typically, climbing gear and equipment are never part of the tour package. Buy or rent your own in advance to avoid inconveniences. Also, check if your tour company recommends specific equipment beforehand.
The Best Time to Climb Annapurna
While the weather can change at any time and without warning, the best time to climb Annapurna is during fall (Sept- Nov) and spring (March-May). Also, between these two seasons, October and April are known to present more stable weather conditions.
Generally, spring and fall present warmer temperatures. The weather is also clearer and drier which means that there’s better visibility and the hiking trails are in their best condition. The risk of avalanches is also minimal.
That said, constantly check for weather forecasts to keep safe from unexpected weather changes. Additionally, avoid venturing out when there are heavy dark clouds and fog – an indication of an upcoming storm.
How Deadly is Annapurna?
On average, for every 100 people who climb and return safely from Annapurna, 31 climbers die trying. As such, this mountain is not very popular with thrill-seekers. In comparison, for every 100 people who make it up and down Mount Everest, only about 5 of them die.
Isn’t it interesting that only 191 mountaineers have tried summiting Annapurna since the first summit in 1950? Do you how many people have climbed Everest in the same period? 5500. This is just a general overview. Let’s now get down to real deadly incidents.
Deaths in Annapurna?
Thousands of people have climbed various heights of Annapurna but only 191 have tried to climb to the top.
So far, out of the 191 people who have tried climbing Annapurna to the top, 61 have died. The most recent deaths occurred in January 2020 when a group of climbers was caught in an avalanche.
Nepal authorities rescued over 200 people who were hiking a trail around Annapurna, to get a perfect view of the 10th highest peak in the world. The majority of the rescued were foreigners who included guides and tourists. By the time the rescue mission was over, 7 people were still missing and in all likelihood dead.
The disaster occurred when an avalanche swept away and buried parts of the Annapurna Base Camp. It’s also worth noting that the base camp, simply known as ABC, is just 3,230 meters high (10,597 ft). Put in another way, the camp is over 4,800 meters (15,748 ft) beneath the summit of Annapurna I.
A similar incident had taken place years earlier in September 1991. 7 people, among them 2 South Koreans, 1 Belgian, and Nepalese guides were lost in an avalanche that came after heavy snow flow along their hiking trail.
Yet another incident that was broadcasted by the world media occurred in October 2012. Two famous Uzbekistan mountaineers, Ivan Lobanov and Iljas Tukhvatullin died in an avalanche.
The two died at about 5,600 meters (18,372 ft) up the mountain when an enormous avalanche hit their trail. Iljas was known for conquering several of the world’s highest mountains including Everest, Kumbhakarna, K2, and Khan Tengri among others.
Apart from avalanches, people have fallen to their deaths when climbing Annapurna. Such was the case in March 2015 when Finnish Samuli Mansikka and Nepalese Pemba Sherpa died when descending from the mountain’s summit. The accident happened at around 7,000 meters (22,290 ft).
Climbers have also died after falling into crevasses. Czech national Martin Minarik died in such an incident in April 2009.
There are also fatalities in Annapurna that have resulted from exhaustion and diseases. For example, Werner Burkli, a Swedish national, died of a heart attack on the mountain in May 1982.
Other medical conditions that have led to the death of people as they climbed Annapurna include HACE (high altitude cerebral edema) and frostbite.
That said, the causes of over 10 deaths in the mountain are recorded as “unknown”. Many of these cases involve people who tried to climb the mountain and got lost. To date, some bodies have never been recovered.
Interesting Facts About Annapurna Mountain
Here are some interesting facts about Annapurna mountain:
- Annapurna ranks at number 10 among the highest mountains around the world. Amongst its major peaks is Annapurna I at over 23,545 ft and Annapurna II at 26,040 ft.
- The first successful attempt to reach the summit was achieved on June 3, 1950, by French mountaineers Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal.
- The best selling mountain climbing book of all time, known as Annapurna was written by Maurice Herzog after he conquered the mountain. To date, over 11 million copies have been sold.
- The mountain is home to the Annapurna Circuit, one of Nepal’s popular high-altitude hikes. The trail runs around the mountain and is over 140 miles long. It takes about 14 to 20 days to complete the trek.
- Just like Everest, the top part of the mountain is made of limestone – the kind of stone found on the ocean floor. As such, it’s believed that Annapurna was pushed up from the ocean when the continents were forming. Interesting!
- Annapurna region is home to rare animals such as the red panda, snow leopards, and blue sheep.
- Thomas Humar, a Slovenian mountaineer, was the first to climb Annapurna solo. He made it to the summit and back in October 2007.
Annapurna’s is among the deadliest mountains to climb in the world. Out of the people that have dared to climb the mountain, 31% have not returned. In fact, bodies were not even discovered. Are you a “skilled” climber willing to dare? You have all the information at your fingertips to make an informed decision.