Join the Adventure Consultants' team as they made their attempt on Makalu, the fifth highest mountain in the world on the border of China and Tibet.
Adventure Consultants Makalu Expedition 2001 Dispatches
Makalu Expedition Team:
Expedition Leader - Guy Cotter, New Zealand
Robert Stevens, USA
Jean-Claude Latombe, USA/France
Keith Kerr, UK/Hong Kong
Jim Milne, USA/NZ
Bruce Hasler, New Zealand
Mark Williams, NZ/ UK
Mountain Guide - Bryan Moore, New Zealand
Professional Mountaineer - Takashi Ozaki, Japan/Hong Kong
Bruce and Bryan work for Adventure Consultants in New Zealand; Bruce Hasler is a mountain guide and is joining the expedition for some extra training whilst Bryan is part of the Natural History New Zealand film crew, working on a co-production with National Geographic International called 'The Force' which is a documentary series about the thrills of extreme sports. The series explores the psychological and physical challenges of "pushing the limits" and discovers the science behind each discipline.
Heading our Sherpa staff is Ang Tshering Sherpa who is the Expedition Sirdar. He is assisted at Base Camp by cooks Dawa Nuru and Dawa Thundu. Lhakpa Dorjee Sherpa is the Climbing Sirdar. Lhakpa Dorjee has been on two expeditions to Makalu and has summitted before. The other Climbing Sherpas are Mingma, Tenzing Gyaltsen and Pema Rinzing.
The trekkers accompanying the expedition are:
Katie Deans, NZ
Jonell Mills, NZ
Alexander Kerr, UK/Hong Kong
Lawrence Kerr, UK/Hong Kong
Hamish Emerson, NZ
With the support of:
Trekking Guide - Lhakpa Sherpa, Nepal
Helper - Ang Chottar Sherpa, Nepal
Katie and Jonell are from Queenstown in New Zealand and are trekking into Base Camp (BC) with the expedition, and they will then trek over Sherpani Col, West Col and the Amphu Lapcha to Chhukung and the Khumbu Valley. Alexander and Lawrence are Keith's sons and will accompany the expedition for several days towards Makalu BC before turning back for Tumlingtar with their trekking guide. Hamish is a cameraman and is part of the National Geographic Television film crew. For the duration of the expedition, he will be filming at Base Camp for the 'Extreme Force' documentary.
3 April 2001 - The Adventure Consultants Makalu Expedition 2001 has begun!
After flying into Tumlingtar on April 1 and staying the night there. The expedition began in earnest when we loaded 45 porters with all our trekking equipment and set out for Mane Bendre. The cloud lifted from the mountains to reveal spectacular views of the great Himalayan chain from Mera Peak to Makalu. Obviously a lot of snow has fallen up high of late and the mountains are quite plastered. We set up camp for the first night after a four hour trek. The climate is very temperate getting to 35º C during the day and warm and balmy overnight.
A 6am wake up with tea started the day, followed by a hearty breakfast. After breaking camp we trekked through terraced fields of rice and wheat to arrive at Chicela, a village perched high on a ridge at 1,860m with promising views of Makalu when the cloud around the mountain clears.
6 April 2001 - Kangma
Howdy! The group arrived at Kangma (Kauma) this afternoon after a 1,300m climb from Tashigon. We arrived in good weather which is a kind break from the afternoon showers of late. Surprisingly there is still a lot of snow here at 3,500m and the camp is set up on a metre of remaining winter snow.
Everybody is well and enjoying the trek although most are finding the big hills hard going. The track today took us through forests of magnolia and rhododendron in full flower. A highlight for the resting trekker!
Porter disputes were the order of the day yesterday at Tashigon and AC Sirdar Ang Tshering received all sorts of threats while trying to negotiate with porters who were returning to Hile. Unbeknown to us they also charge for the return journey, a point not raised when they were first employed and a surprise to us. So, many hundreds of rupees poorer, we then hired some porters from Tashigon for the next leg. Up here the snow is deep on the ground and we have to hire porters with their own equipment or provide it for them.
Tomorrow we cross the Shipton Col and if we are lucky we'll get some spectacular views of Makalu!
Until then signing off, Guy Cotter
11 April 2001 - Hillary Base Camp
Finally we're at Hillary Base Camp and having a rest day before heading up tomorrow to our Base Camp. All members are fine and enjoying a rest after a strenuous and delightful trek over the Shipton Col and into the remote wilderness of the upper Barun Valley. Ancient rhododendron forests grace the slopes intermingled on this side with Himalayan cedar. The upper Barun is surrounded by huge rock walls with lofty peaks above occasionally sending down huge spring avalanches to the valley floor.
Crossing the Shipton Pass is not for the faint-hearted. Three distinct passes take one over 4,000m and the terrain is definitely alpine at this time of year. We traveled on snow the whole way to Mungbo, a sloppy wet camp site almost below snowline in the forest. From here the trekking route descends into the Barun River and a meandering track leads through the forest opening into river flats at Yangle Karka. Another 1.5 hours later we arrived in Totata, an opening above the tree line with views of towering cliffs all around.
Yesterday we ascended above the tree line and into the mountains proper to set our camp at Hillary BC at 4,600m. Several climbing teams are already here and have set up their Base Camps here whilst we will move up tomorrow to a higher site giving closer access to the mountain.
Makalu stands omnipotent above, 4,000m of the South Face hangs directly above us and it appears we are surrounded by mountains here. It is a beautiful and remote place.
13 April 2001 - Greetings from Makalu BC!
We arrived yesterday at our Base Camp site at 5,400m. Already here is a Chilean group, a Spanish group and a Korean group. An Iranian group is expected to arrive today and another Italian group are a few days away. Now all our tents are set up with a luxurious dining tent (with heater!) close to the kitchen and store tents. I am writing from the comfort of the communications tent with the gentle hiss of snow sliding down the skin of the tent during the usual afternoon snow shower.
All members are fine although we are experiencing the usual lassitude when arriving at an altitude like this, but everyone still has an appetite which is a great sign. The approach to our BC on the Chago Glacier passes beneath the West Pillar and West Face of Makalu. The shear height and scale of these routes is astounding as we were directly beneath them as we ascended the glacier. The route we intend to follow, the NW flank, or normal route, looks a lot less imposing but it still has steep sections approaching the Makalu La at 7,400m.
We have a Puja ceremony on Sunday which is a Sherpa tradition where prayers are spoken, incense and juniper are burnt and our prayer flags are erected on a pole above the chorten, a stone shrine built with care and respect by the Sherpa crew. Essentially the Puja ceremony is about asking the gods for safe passage on the mountain and afterwards we can move onto the mountain.
17 April 2001 - Day Trip to Camp One
Yesterday we all went to Camp 1 (C1) for acclimatisation and to stretch the legs. Some of us cached gear at 6,100m whilst a few continued to C1 at about 6,250m. Conditions are good on the lower part of the mountain and several teams are already making their way through C2 and attempting to fix ropes to Makalu La at 7,400m.
I am pleased to report the skiing from C1 down the Chago Glacier has been excellent with Bryan, Bruce, Rob and Guy 'ripping it up' much to the chagrin of the 'foot-propelled' members of the expedition!
Our last two trekkers who have accompanied us thus far to Base Camp, Katie and Jonell, left us yesterday. They managed to hitch a ride on a helicopter to Lukla for trekking in the Khumbu region for the next 10 days.
Our group is resting today at BC and our plan is to move to C1 tomorrow and onto C2 two days later, then return to BC for more rest on the 19th or 20th.
22 April 2001 - Back Off the Hill
Howdy folks, we're back off the hill today from C2. The team moved up to C1 (about 6,300m) four days ago (18th) at the head of the Chago Glacier to acclimatise and begin the ascent in earnest. All members moved well and the ascent took 3-5 hours in moderately windy conditions.
A rest day was enjoyed (endured?!) by all as we all found ourselves in various states of discomfort with the new altitude. On the 20th we again moved up to C2, which apparently is only 300m above C1, but seemed to take a disproportionately long time. High winds have been lashing the upper mountain and the C2 site is fairly exposed but our Sherpa crew went ahead and cut tent platforms from the snow and ice and set up the tents for our arrival. The strength and fortitude of the Sherpa crew is an ever lasting inspiration to us and their efforts are always respected and appreciated.
The first night at this new elevation of around 6,700m was rough. The wind howled all night forcing snow between the inner and the fly of the tent and forcing spindrift through the zippers into the tent. Condensation from breathing and cooking coated the inside of the tents which would then peel off in sheets onto the occupants inside. Not much sleep was had.
But dawn came eventually and the sky had cleared. To the south and west an incredible panorama was revealed including the peaks of the Khumbu (Ama Dablam, Taweche, Cholatse etc) through to the Lhotse and Everest. This surely is an incredible viewpoint of looking obliquely onto the Kangshung face of Everest and South Col.
Life at 6,700m is not easy, so not much was done. Keith walked 100m up the hill towards Makalu La whilst the rest of us lounged and rested. Robert and Takashi descended to BC rather than endure another night at C2 arriving to milk tea at BC later in the day. A mammoth game of 500 (cards) lasted into the night for Mark, Guy, Bryan and Bruce whilst the wind continued to gust outside.
Today we all returned to BC. Going downhill sure is easier, taking 2-4 hours for us all to come down. Everyone feels wasted from being on the hill and we are looking forward to the rest and pleasures of BC. Before this place seemed pretty stark, now it feels like paradise!
We return to C2 on the 25th with the intention of going to Makalu La at 7,400m and site for C3. High winds keep stripping the snow from the upper mountain and the howling wind sounds like a passing freight train. As the season progresses these winds should ease and this is when we intend to make an attempt on the summit. Time for dinner.
25 April 2001 - Ominous Weather
An early start was anticipated today by the Adventure Consultants team to head up to C2 where we intended to spend two nights before making our way up to Makalu La at 7,400m. Heavy snow last night then high winds this morning have put a damper on our enthusiasm to go up and we are waiting to see what the weather will do before leaving Base Camp. A thick blanket of high cloud at around 9,000m is purring in from the west with various layers at lower levels hitting Makalu’s west face and banking up over the top of us. It is ominous weather and hard to tell what is following. It may come fine but there is a lot of moisture in the air still. High winds are stripping the upper slopes of snow and we can hear the wind howling aloft, in protest at having to force its way around this beast called Makalu.
At present our anticipated summit date is somewhere around 12 May, based on our acclimatisation schedule and progress to date. Naturally we anticipate this date to change with the foibles of weather and the reality of human frailty in this environment.
Next update should be 29 April, until then, Namaste!
29 April 2001 - Fine weather!
Today is the second day of fine weather in a row, a record for Makalu this season! The Adventure Consultants team is in BC having descended yesterday. On the 26th the entire team departed for C2 from BC. The intention for this foray onto the mountain was to reach Makalu La, which at 7,400m, is crucial to our acclimatisation. Followed by a rest at BC this sets us up for the next phase as we slowly let our bodies adjust to the thinner atmosphere up high.
The ascent to C2 went well until a mishap on the fixed ropes below C1 left team member Keith Kerr with a ruptured ligament on his patella forcing a return to BC. Guy descended with him and after conferring with doctors at BC it was decided he must return home for treatment. This was a blow to the team and we are all disappointed for Keith and wish him a speedy recovery. Meanwhile, the rest of the team ascended to C2 and Guy left BC the next morning and joined them later in the day.
The morning of the 28th dawned fine and it was with cold fingers and toes we prepared ourselves for the ascent to Makalu La. Departing about 8am we followed our Sherpa team up the fixed ropes. Wind-transported snow had covered the ropes and a lot of work was required to kick new steps in the snow and make the route climbable again. Most of the team climbed to over 7,000m during the day and Bryan and Guy turned back at 7,200m at around 1.00pm due to slow progress of the clearing party. All members descended to C2 then down to BC for a much appreciated rest and dinner sitting on a chair instead of lying down!
We plan to rest here for 2-3 days before returning to C2 followed by a night at C3 on Makalu La. This will be the final stage of the acclimatisation process and sets us up for the summit attempt which we still anticipate will be 11-14 May. Bring it on!
5 May 2001 - Back At Base
Hi there, the AC team is now back at BC having now completed the acclimatization phase of the expedition by staying at Camp 3 at Makalu La (7,400m).
On 3 May the team left C2 to make the long (900m) ascent to Makalu La in good weather. Robert, Bruce, Mark, Takashi and Guy made the ascent over 7 hours along with our strong Sherpa team. Arriving on Makalu La was a milestone on the expedition and our first view of the summit pyramid of Makalu.
We overnighted in relative comfort in reasonable weather then yesterday (4th) returned to BC for a much appreciated rest. What took 7 hours to ascend from C2 to Makalu La took only 40 minutes to descend!
Our plan now is to rest up in BC for a few days then make our summit attempt. So far no-one has reached the summit this season. A Spanish team came within 130m of the top but descended in the face of extreme climbing as they were off route. In the next few days several teams are planning to combine forces to make the top but weather will determine the result. Unlike a lot of other Himalayan peaks Makalu gets more difficult the higher one goes.
The weather is windy today so our timing will hopefully coincide with an improvement in weather.
The lunch bell has gone, time to recharge the batteries!
9 May 2001 - On Their Way Up
Hamish Emerson has reported from Base Camp that "the weather is good; a bit of fresh snow in the morning but has cleared up nicely, currently 10ºC, with little to no wind. The boys departed at 10ish and should arrive at C2 around 4pm." The Expedition team are on their way up the mountain! Weather and conditions permitting they are planning to make their summit attempt on Saturday 12th May.
10 May 2001 - Makalu La
The AC team are heading up to Makalu La today. The weather is good; clear blue skies and not much wind. We have just had the weather forecast in for the next five days which shows good summit conditions, around 18 knots on the summit for Saturday.
Guy and Bryan arrived at C2 to find their tent full of water from the pre-season melt. Takashi opened up his tent to find two sleeping Iranian team members! Everyone slept well last night and started to head up to C3 around 8.30am. It should take them about 6 hours, but due to the other teams there may be quite a few people on the ropes. Guy, Rob and Takashi will be using oxygen, Bruce, Mark and Bryan will not. They will sleep with oxygen at C4 and leave around 4am for the summit and should be on top around 10ish. We will lose radio contact after C3 until they reach the summit ridge.
Other teams on the move up to C3 today are the Chilean and Iranian teams. The two Austrian members going for the summit yesterday had to turn around due to bad weather. The Austrians and Italians will make an attempt on the summit leaving BC tomorrow.
And in breaking news: for breakfast I had bacon, eggs and Venus coffee (freshly plunged)!
Hamish Emerson reporting from Base Camp
11 May 2001 - Camp 4
The latest news in from Base Camp is that the AC team have all arrived safely at C4. They will rest up and review the weather at 1am, conditions permitting they will leave for the summit at 2.30am.
12 May 2001 - French Couloir
The AC team left C4 at 4am. Guy and several members of the team arrived at the French couloir at 7.30 am, along with the Chileans. The weather is clear, but there have been strong upper-level winds (contrary to the weather forecast). They are evaluating conditions on the upper mountain, we are expecting updates over the next few hours.
Hamish Emerson reporting from Base Camp
12 May 2001 – Success On The World’s Fifth Highest Peak
The Adventure Consultants Makalu Expedition 2001 has achieved success on the world's fifth highest Peak, Mount Makalu (8,463m). Expedition leader Guy Cotter (New Zealand) and team members Takashi Ozaki (Japan) and Lhakpa Dorje (Nepal), along with two members of a Chilean Expedition have reached the summit. Congratulations go to Lhakpa Dorje on being the first climber in history to summit Makalu twice.
The AC team left Camp 4 (7,700m) for the summit at 4am this morning in moderately windy conditions and reached the summit at 2.30pm, Nepal time. The climbers reported conditions on the summit to be windy with cloud covering their views of Everest, Ama Dablam and Baruntse. Their plan was to spend 10 minutes on the summit then return to Camp 3. Other AC team members Bruce Hasler (Queenstown, NZ), Mark Williams (Queenstown, NZ) and Robert Stevens (Turlock, USA) turned around earlier in the day. Bryan Moore (Wanaka, NZ) turned around yesterday before Camp 4.
It has taken the team 6 weeks since leaving home to get to this stage of the climb. Slowly letting their bodies adjust to the altitude and moving their camps and equipment into position to make their summit attempt.
The Expedition followed the first ascent route, the 'Classic' Route, which was first climbed on the 15th of May 1955 by a French team led by Jean Franco.
Makalu has had fewer than 190 ascents, and up until Lhakpa Dorje's second successful ascent on this expedition, there had not been a repeat summit (two successful summits by the same person). Rob Hall climbed Makalu in 1995 and is the only other New Zealander to have summited.
Makalu at 8,463m is the fifth highest mountain in the world standing close to the Everest group at the head of the Barun Valley. The summit ridge is the demarcation point indicating the border between Nepal on the Southern side and Tibet to the North.