Ukrainians “Unsolve” Annapurna III’s SE Ridge!

This autumn, small teams have opened several bold new routes on slightly smaller mountains in the Himalaya. In a wonderful alpine achievement, three Ukrainians have climbed the vertiginous Southeast Ridge of Annapurna III.

That Southeast Ridge is considered one of the last great problems of high-altitude alpinism. Viacheslav Polezhaiko, Nikita Balabanov, and Mikhail Fomin managed to complete a dream line up a nightmarish, nearly 3,000m wall.

The Ukrainians are strong contenders for their second Piolet d’Or next year. Photo: Cherkasy Mountaineering Federation


Although lacking the celebrity of the 8,091m main summit, Annapurna III is a major challenge from all sides. Kenton Cool, Ian Parnell, and John Varco made an ascent in 2003, via the southwest buttress. However, the SE Ridge has stood for four decades as one of the last great problems of the Himalaya.

Nick Colton and Tim Leach of the UK made the first attempt on the ridge in 1981. They turned around at 6,400m. The route shot to fame after the award-winning 2016 documentary Unclimbed, by David Lama, Hansjorg Auer, and Alex Blumel, below. Lama and Auer later died in an avalanche in Canada.


Also in 2016, two of the recent Annapurna III summiters, Nikita Balabanov and Mikhail Fomin, earned a Piolet d’Or for the first ascent of another 7,000’er: the NNW Pillar of Talung. The 7,348m peak forms part of the border between Nepal and the Indian state of Sikkim, south of Kangchenjunga. It was only their second Himalayan expedition!

The climb is not yet over

The descent to Base Camp seems anything but easy, and we are still awaiting word. Their only texts are to the Cherkasy Mountaineering Federation, which released the news that they summited Annapurna III on Saturday morning.

On summit day, they stopped for the night at 6,700m. Yesterday, Sunday, they reported that they were about to have one more bivouac at 6,400m.

“We’re having fun!” they insisted. Forecasts showed that both the climb and descent are taking place in very high winds. We’ll update as soon as we receive news.

Annapurna III forecast. Photo: Cherkasy Mountaineering Federation


Correction: This article mistakenly referred to this climb as the first on Annapurna III since 2003. There have been a number of climbs between 2003 and 2021. The story has been corrected to reflect this.

Senior journalist, published author and communication consultant. Specialized on high-altitude mountaineering, with an interest for everything around the mountains: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional ranges, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. Feeling right at home since then!

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All u can eat
All u can eat
6 months ago

Wow! But… did they use their own food and stuff?!

6 months ago

Slava geroyam! Molodtsi. 👏

Steve Bell
Steve Bell
6 months ago

Amazing achievement. Hard to believe it would be another 40 years after Tim, Nick and I went there in 1981 for the thing to be climbed. We all went to 6000m, but I pulled out of the summit attempt because I had a bad feeling about it as I was way out of my depth. Tim and Nick got to about 6400 (not 400m from the 7348m summit as stated above) then bailed because they said they needed three to make a safe ascent, so I took the can for it. But they were right. For an Alpine style ascent… Read more »

Martin Walsh
6 months ago
Reply to  Steve Bell

Thanks, Steve. We have updated the info on your 1981 climb to reflect where Nick Colton and Tim Leach turned around.

Ash Routen
6 months ago
Reply to  Steve Bell

On an unrelated note I was struck by your name Steve and then the link came to me. I met and became good mates with John Grubb’s son Nick at Exeter University. Jon told me about some sort of escapade the pair of you had on a route on Ben Nevis but he was pretty modest about any climbing he had done in the past. Nick and I mainly hiked but had a few days out with the club at Dewerstone and the like. I must pick up a copy of your book someday.

Mike Long
6 months ago

Appreciate your updates!