Makalu 8,463 m
01 April – 31 May 2017 (61 days)
New to our program is Makalu, the fifth highest peak in the world. At 8,485 meters it is situated in the Mahalangur Region, about 19km southeast of Mount Everest. Due to its technical difficulty, our Makalu trip is designed for experienced climbers, who have previously climbed another 8,000m-peak.
On this expedition, we use the same logistical support for the trek and acclimatization to Everest Base Camp before returning to Pheriche. From here the Makalu climbers will embark on a spectacular helicopter flight that takes them from the village of Pheriche to Makalu Advanced Base Camp, which lies at 5,700m and actually serves as our base camp.
As we will have just gained 1,000m in altitude, we rest for a few days, before we establish our Camp 1 at the bottom of the headwall. For acclimatization purposes, Himalayan Experience choses to use the lower Camp 1 at 6,100m, where we stay for two nights before we head up to Camp 2 at 6,600m. The route to Camp 2 takes us up the steep headwall and past the traditional Camp 1 at 6,400m until we reach Camp 2, which is beautifully situated in a safe spot just below the Makalu La. The views of Everest and Lhotse from here are truly magnificent and show the two giants from a different side.
After a total of three nights on the hill, we head back to ABC, where our kitchen team has already prepared a good hearty meal for us – a welcome change after ‘boil-in-the-bag’ for three nights. Depending on the weather and the Sherpas’ progress with the rope fixing, we stay at ABC for four to five days and use the time to shower, do laundry, catch up on reading and stock up on the calories before we go back up for our second acclimatization rotation.
This time, we skip Camp 1 and go straight to Camp 2. Don’t worry; you won’t have to leave at the crack of dawn, as the hike only takes about 4 to 5 hours. We still have enough time to wait for the sun to hit our tents and have a last hearty breakfast before starting the walk. By now, the way to crampon point and the headwall leading up to Camp 2 should be second nature.
After spending another night at Camp 2, we get up early to take on the challenge of climbing up to the Makalu La (7,400m), where our Sherpas will have already set up Camp 3. Today, we leave early and for the first time, we will be in our down suits as the climb up to the Makalu La is very exposed to the cold winds.
Be prepared for this day - this stretch of the route often gets underestimated: it demands some technical climbing over mixed ground of rock and ice and most people take between 6 and 9 hours to negotiate two rock bands that are separated by a long snow plateau
You may find the night up here a bit rough and windy, however, we won’t be here for long as we leave the Makalu La to go back to ABC early the following morning. As the wind at this pass is usually unforgiving, the Sherpas collapse all the tents before we head back down for our final rest at ABC.
Now the time has come when we have to “hurry up and wait”: As Makalu is a very windy peak, we may have to be patient to get a good summit window. During our waiting period, we will meet our individual Sherpas, who will accompany us to the top, get used to the oxygen system and get mentally prepared for the summit attempt.
Once the weather forecast looks good enough for us to go for the top, we leave ABC three days prior to our summit day. We go straight to Camp 2 on the first day, which is followed by the long climb up to the Makalu La. However, the following day is a very short on as it only takes between 1 ½ and 2 hours to get to Camp 4, which lies at 7,600m. Normally we get there at around 10am and spend the rest of the day resting, melting snow and rehydrating before heading out into the darkness for the summit at around 11pm.
Summit day on Makalu is long and technically challenging. We cross a glacier and climb through some seracs before traversing to the left and reaching the bottom of the French Couloir, which lies at an altitude of about 8,250m. Climbing inside this rocky couloir protects us from the wind for the next 300m until we reach the summit ridge, which first leads to the false and then the real summit, a very small exposed rock peak.
The descent is quite fast. We abseil or arm wrap down the French Couloir and reach Camp 4 in 1–2 hours. In order to get a good rest, it is best to return to Camp 2 the same day, which can take another 3 to 4 hours – and some people may even make it all the way to ABC.
The following day is reserved for having that well-deserved shower, eating and packing our gear as – weather permitting – the helicopter should pick us up the following day to take us back to Kathmandu. For our Sherpa staff, the expedition is not over yet as they will have to pack up ABC, make sure that all rubbish is taken down and get the porters to carry our material out, which takes another 15 days.