“The catastrophe on Annapurna is inevitable”

Marc batard

On April 16, 68 people sneaked to the top of Annapurna (8,091 m), the most lethal of the 14 eight thousand. The exceptional thing that day was that someone did not go up, and among those who did not do so are three Frenchmen, one of them the legendary Marc Batard. To the objective dangers of the road (where avalanches and falls in crevasses have taken half the 77 deaths to date), that day were added those generated by a multitude of “pseudo-alpinists” hanging from fixed ropes “poorly anchored” , as the French trio explained to Montagnes Magazines.

Marc Batard is 69 years old and is a legend known as the sprinter of Everest: in 1988 he climbed the route of the southern slope or Nepal in 22 hours and 29 minutes. When he started from base camp he weighed 55 kilograms and was 1.67 meters tall. Upon returning, he had lost eight kilograms. No one has been able to climb the roof of the planet (8,848 m) by the original route faster and without the help of bottled oxygen. But Batard is much more. A high mountain guide, he left his profession and his passion at the age of 43 after publishing a passionate autobiography entitled Escape from the peaks. Guiding a client on the Cho Oyu (8,201 m) she felt a plate of wind move under her feet, announcing an avalanche. It was the last straw. He managed to descend unscathed with his client, packed up and left the mountain. His book collects sexual abuse by a relative during his childhood, his repressed homosexuality and his constant search for danger in the high mountains to flee from others and from himself. After publishing his work, Batard recognized that he had a single obstacle in his life, tiny next to those he had faced: “Confronting the mountain world and the rest of the world. I want everyone to know who I am and I want to know how those with whom I have shared 30 years of my life are going to look at me today ”. His friend, mountaineer and journalist Jean Michel Asselin assured him that his book was his “most beautiful Everest”. Batard swapped crampons and ice ax for canvases and brushes, his genuine passion. He also wanted to spend more time with his children. If hopelessness and anguish led him to flee up the mountain, now he wanted to scream that his suicidal way of facing the climb was the wrong way to look for an exit door.

25 years have passed and, suddenly, Batard has regained his appetite for the peaks. He will be 70 years old in 2022 and he wants to celebrate it by climbing Everest without artificial oxygen. But it goes little by little. In 2020, he climbed Aconcagua (6,962 meters) twice in a row and found that his exceptional adaptation to altitude had not disappeared. By the way, he lost weight and regained a project that was on his mind: creating a school for mountain guides in Nepal that already has a name, Himalaya International Mountain School (HIMS), whose work will focus on training the Sherpas who work in the highest mountains on Earth. And what he has just seen in the Annapurna has only confirmed something that he already suspected: “If Lachenal saw this, he would escape from his grave.” Louis Lachenal, one of the greatest French mountaineers in history, was the first to step on the top of an eight thousand, Annapurna, in 1950, accompanied by Maurice Herzog. 70 years later, where the couple went without sherpas, artificial oxygen or fixed ropes, the 68 who broke a record on April 16 represented a very typical picture of the times, where shortcuts are well worth a photo on Instagram . “The technical level of the Nepalese guides, even those who have the UIAGM certification [la más alta]It is insufficient and I told the leader of the Seven Summts Treks agency that way… although he was not amused at all, ”explained Marc Batard. One of his expedition companions, Yorick Vion, who is studying in France to be a guide, adds: “The clients of these agencies don’t even acclimatize. They travel by helicopter to base camp, sleep one night at 5,500 meters and then suck in bottled oxygen, many of them from 6,500 meters. In field 3, I could see a store full of cylinders and everyone who reached the top spent four days at 6,900 meters waiting for the arrival of good weather. This means huge amounts of bottled oxygen and food. I don’t think they got all this trash down … The fact is that a helicopter transferred hundreds of meters of missing fixed ropes and huge amounts of bottled oxygen to the level of 6,400 meters. The excuse for such a display was that the Sherpas found ice on the road. “Of course there was ice, but when you know how to climb you go around without a rope, you shouldn’t exaggerate”, Yorick Vion despairs before adding: “There were clients who had never worn crampons. They wore them on rocky terrain, where we passed in slippers. I told myself that they had no chance of reaching the top but when I saw the list of those who had achieved it, they included, I couldn’t believe it. The truth is that some agencies in Nepal have colossal resources and offer three guides per client! ”.

For Bertrand Delapierre, the cameraman who was supposed to film Batard’s return to the Himalayas, what he experienced in Annapurna invites to propose solutions: “Not everything is the fault of the Nepalese, since they do not live Himalayanism like Westerners do, but from there to place in such dangerous places to people without skills … the guides should deny the summit to those who lack technique and physique. One day we are going to witness a catastrophe, it is inevitable ”, ditch.

Meanwhile, many of those who signed up for Annapurna are already in Dhaulagiri, ready to wait their turn to take their photo on its summit, and on Everest the record of applicants (400) in base camp has already been broken …

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