Russians to Ski Annapurna

This year’s flurry of ski descents of big peaks continues, as Russian mountaineers Anton Pugovkin and Vitalij Lazo have arrived in Nepal to climb Annapurna without oxygen, then to ski down the 8,093m peak.

To warm up for Annapurna, the two skiers have been testing equipment on Mount Elbrus. Photo: Anton Pugovkin

Annapurna is the second part in a long-term project for Pugovkin and Lazo. They plan to ski, in similar style, Annapurna, Nanga Parbat, Everest and K2. The pair already skied from the summit of Manaslu to Camp 1 one year ago. They have cheerfully dubbed their five-mountain idea Death Zone Freeride.

There have not been many successful ski descents of 8,000m peaks, and only two attempts have been made on Annapurna. The first, in 1979, ended in tragedy. The expedition reached the summit along a route similar to the one Maurice Herzog used during his famous first ascent in 1950. Frenchman Yves Morin was then able to ski down to around 6,600m. Here, on a steep section of ice, Morin got his ascender stuck while trying to descend a fixed rope with his skis on. While struggling to free himself, he died, seemingly from exhaustion.

Then in 1995, Slovenian brothers Davo and Andrej Karnicar skied from the summit to Base Camp in one day. However, while Andrej Karnicar’s descent is uncontested, there is some doubt whether his brother Davo started from the summit or from a lower elevation. Elizabeth Hawley, the late chronicler of Himalayan climbing, suggested that he started from 1,200m below the summit.

Now, 23 years later, the Russian pair have set out to replicate the Karnicars’ adventure, without controversy.

Pugovkin, left, and Lazo. Photo: Vitalij Lazo

First, though, Pugovkin and Lazo will need to find a way to the mountain. They have been waiting in Pokhara for three days and are struggling with the logistics of reaching Annapurna, thanks to Nepal’s recent ban on helicopter flights.

Update 22/10: Pugovkin and Lazo abandoned Annapurna on October 8 due to dangerous conditions. On his Facebook, Lazo explained: “We turned back at 6,300m from camp 3. There were just the two of us on the mountain, nobody else, just some rats, wild goats and snow leopard. The route condition is really bad, very risky. At 5,800m and higher, avalanches and ice falls on both sides, left and right.”