Annapurna is a massif in the Himalayas in north-central Nepal that includes one peak over 8,000 metres (26,247 ft), thirteen peaks over 7,000 metres (22,966 ft), and sixteen more over 6,000 metres (19,685 ft).
The massif is 55 kilometres (34 mi) long, and is bounded by the Kali Gandaki Gorge on the west, the Marshyangdi River on the north and east, and by Pokhara Valley on the south. At the western end, the massif encloses a high basin called the Annapurna Sanctuary. The highest peak of the massif, Annapurna I Main, is the tenth highest mountain in the world at 8,091 metres (26,545 ft) above sea level. Maurice Herzog led a French expedition to its summit through the north face in 1950, making it the first of the eight-thousanders to be climbed and the only 8,000 meter-peak to be summited with a safe descent on the first try.
The entire massif and surrounding area are protected within the 7,629-square-kilometre (2,946 sq mi) Annapurna Conservation Area, the first and largest conservation area in Nepal. The Annapurna Conservation Area is home to several world-class treks, including Annapurna Sanctuary and Annapurna Circuit.
Historically, the Annapurna peaks have been among the world’s most treacherous mountains to climb with the particular case of the extremely steep south face of Annapurna I Main – a wall of rock that rises 3,000 meters (9,800 feet) – making it one of the most difficult climbs in the world. By March 2012, there had been 191 summit ascents of Annapurna I Main, and 61 climbing fatalities on the mountain. This fatality-to-summit ratio (1:3.1, or 32%) is the highest of any of the eight-thousanders.
In October 2014, at least 43 people were killed as a result of snowstorms and avalanches on and around Annapurna, thus resulting in Nepal’s worst ever trekking disaster. The most recent report of human casualty has been that of 17 January 2020, due to an avalanche triggered by heavy snowfall.
The mountain is named after Annapurna, the Hindu goddess of food and nourishment, who is said to reside there. The name Annapurna is derived from the Sanskrit-language words purna (“filled”) and anna (“food”), and can be translated as “everlasting food”. Many streams descending from the slopes of the Annapurna Massif provide water for the agricultural fields and pastures located at lower elevations.
Annapurna I was the first 8,000-metre (26,200 ft) peak to be climbed. Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal, of the French Annapurna expedition led by Herzog (including Lionel Terray, Gaston Rébuffat, Marcel Ichac, Jean Couzy, Marcel Schatz, Jacques Oudot, Francis de Noyelle), reached the summit on 3 June 1950. Ichac made a documentary of the expedition, called Victoire sur l’Annapurna. Its summit was the highest summit attained for three years, until the first successful ascent of Mount Everest (although higher non-summit points – at least 8,500 metres (27,900 ft) – had already been attained on Everest in the 1920s).
The south face of Annapurna was first climbed in 1970 by Don Whillans and Dougal Haston also without using supplementary oxygen, members of a British expedition led by Chris Bonington that included the alpinist Ian Clough, who was killed by a falling serac during the descent. They were, however, beaten to the second ascent of Annapurna by a matter of days by a British Army expedition led by Colonel Henry Day.
In 1978, the American Women’s Himalayan Expedition, a team led by Arlene Blum, became the first United States team to climb Annapurna I. The first summit team, composed of Vera Komarkova and Irene Miller, and Sherpas Mingma Tsering and Chewang Ringjing, reached the top at 3:30 pm on 15 October 1978. The second summit team, Alison Chadwick-Onyszkiewicz and Vera Watson, died during this climb.
In 1981 Polish expedition Zakopane Alpine Club set a new route on Annapurna I Central (8051 m). Maciej Berbeka and Bogusław Probulski reached the summit on 23 May 1981. The route called Zakopiańczyków Way was recognized as the best achievement of the Himalayan season in 1981.
On 3 February 1987, Polish climbers Jerzy Kukuczka and Artur Hajzer made the first winter ascent of Annapurna I.
The first solo ascent of the south face was made in October 2007 by Slovenian climber Tomaž Humar; he climbed to the Roc Noir and then to Annapurna East (8,047m).
On 8 and 9 October 2013 Swiss climber Ueli Steck soloed the Lafaille route on the main and highest part of the face; this was his third attempt on the route and has been called “one of the most impressive Himalayan climbs in history”, with Steck taking 28 hours to make the trip from Base Camp to summit and back again.
Annapurna I has the greatest fatality rate of all the 14 eight-thousanders: as of March 2012, there have been 52 deaths during ascents, 191 successful ascents, and nine deaths upon descent. The ratio of 34 deaths per 100 safe returns on Annapurna I is followed by 29 for K2 and 21 for Nanga Parbat. Climbers killed on the peak include Britons Ian Clough in 1970 and Alex MacIntyre in 1982, Frenchman Pierre Béghin [fr] in 1992, Kazakh Russian Anatoli Boukreev in 1997, Spaniard Iñaki Ochoa in 2008, and Korean Park Young-seok in 2011.