annapurna III southeast ridge
Annapurna III (24,786 ft.), Nepal. The southeast ridge is the farthest right ridgeline with bare rock in the middle foreground; (photo/Sanjay Pandey)

Ukrainians Make First Ascent of Annapurna III Southeast Ridge, 40 Years After First Attempt

Coveted since 1981, the Southeast Ridge of Annapurna III has stifled generations of top alpinists. Three rising stars from Ukraine finally topped it out on Saturday.

Climbers have long sought the summit of Annapurna III (24,786 feet) via the Southeast Ridge without success. Forty years after the first attempt, Ukrainians Viacheslav Polezhaiko, Nikita Balabanov, and Mikhail Fomin claimed the long-awaited first ascent on November 6.

Few details from the ascent are yet known. But the climbers are down safely, after a 3-day descent. ExplorersWeb reported the news via an Instagram post from the Cherkasy Mountaineering Federation.

The descent was notably hairy — one bivy placed them just below 21,000 feet on Sunday in 45mph+ winds. But the trio appeared to never lose its sense of humor, at one point reassuring all who were following, “[w]e’re having fun!”

Once safely on the ground, Fomin texted, “All’s well. We have already left base camp and we are flying back to Kathmandu. We’re all alive!”

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Annapurna III Southeast Ridge History

To understand the challenge of the Annapurna III Southeast Ridge is to understand its massive scale. The technical climbing begins around 17,200 feet — a daunting 7,500 feet (or two and a half El Capitans) below the Annapurna III summit. The climbing and conditions have turned back the world’s best alpinists.

British climbers Nick Colton and Tim Leach made the route’s first attempt in 1981. They came close — about 3,000 feet short of the summit — before turning around.

In 2016, David Lama, Hansjörg Auer, and Alex Blümel sieged the Southeast Ridge over 5 weeks but never came within 3,000 feet of the summit. Unpredictable weather conditions forced the capable team to descend from a situation that, in their judgment, would otherwise become “suicidal.”

“Unclimbed,” a documentary short about the attempt, won the UIAA’s Best Climbing Film award for the year.

Lama and Auer would later die climbing on Howse Peak in the Canadian Rockies.

Also, in 2016, two members of the Southeast Ridge first ascent team won a Piolet d’Or. Balabanov and Fomin won the award for the first ascent of the North-Northwest Pillar of Talung (24,107 feet, ED+).

It was just their second Himalayan expedition, and the team may win again for this year’s Annapurna III outing. The Southeast Ridge of Annapurna III was considered one of high-altitude alpinism’s last significant unclimbed challenges.

We’ll share the details of the historic ascent as soon as they become available.

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson is a staff writer at GearJunkie, and several other All Gear websites.

He has been writing about climbing, cycling, running, wildlife, outdoor policy, the outdoor industry, vehicles, and more for 2 years. Prior to GearJunkie, he owned and operated his own business before freelancing at GearHungry. Based in Austin, Texas, Anderson loves to climb, boulder, road bike, trail run, and frequent local watering holes (of both varieties).