About the mountain
Makalu is the fifth highest mountain in the world at 8,485m (27,838ft), located 19km (12 miles) south east of Everest, on the border between Nepal and China. The name of the mountain was most likely taken from the Sanskrit word Maha-Kala, which means ‘Big Black’, and the perfect pyramid structure of the mountain with four sharp ridges makes this mountain a very spectacular sight indeed.
The first summit was achieved on May 15th 1955 by Lionel Terray and Jean Couzy as part of a French expedition lead by Jean Franco. On the following 2 days a further 7 people from the team summited which at the time was an incredible achievement to have the vast majority of expedition members be successful on such a difficult peak. Before this, it was usual for just 1-2 people in an expedition to make the summit with the rest providing logistical support.
Climbing the mountain
Our Makalu programme takes place over 61 days from early April through to the end of May and we use the same logistical support/plan for the trek to Everest Basecamp, before returning to Pheriche. From here we will embark on a spectacular helicopter flight directly to the Makalu Advance Basecamp, which lies at 5,700m and serves as our basecamp.
We will be placing 4 camps higher up the mountain, with camp 1 being placed at the bottom of the headwall, at 6,100m, which is slightly lower than the traditional camp 1. Camp 2 is situated at 6,600m, camp 3 at 7,400m and camp 4 at 7,600m.
We will stay for two nights at camp 1, then move to camp 2 for one night, which is situated in a safe spot just below the Makalu La, where the views of both Everest and Lhotse are truly magnificent and show both mountains from a different side.
Having spent three nights on the mountain, we descend back to basecamp where we will stay for four to five days resting, washing and preparing ourselves for our second acclimatisation rotation.
Our next trip up the hill sees us skip camp 1 and head directly to camp 2, which should be a 4-5 hour day meaning we can wait until the sun is up before we head off. We will spend the night at camp 2 then an early start before taking on the challenge of climbing up to the Makalu La where we have camp 3 set up. This will be our first day in down suits as the Makalu La is very exposed to the cold winds, and is a very challenging day taking between 6-9 hours and demands some technical climbing over mixed ground of rock and ice.
We will stay one night here which can be a bit rough and windy, before getting up early to return to the comfort of our basecamp. Once we are back down, it’s now a bit of a waiting game to keep a close eye on our weather forecasts and identify the ideal summit window.
When we have decided upon our summit day, we will leave 3 days prior, and head straight to camp 2. Following this we take on the long climb up to the Makalu La. The next day is a welcome very short day as it only takes between 90 minutes to 2 hours to reach camp 4, which gives us the whole day to rest, eat and rehydrate before our summit day starts at 11pm
Summit day is both long and technically challenging. We cross a glacier and then climb through some seracs before traversing left and reaching the bottom of the French Couloir, at 8,250m. Climbing in this couloir protects us from the wind until we reach the summit ridge, which takes us firstly to the false summit, and then the real summit, which is a very small, exposed rock peak.
The descent is quite fast, using abseiling or arm wrap down the couloir to camp 4. From here it is best to keep going down to camp 2, which can take between 4-6 hours, and from here either rest the night or some people choose to continue all the way back to basecamp.
The next day is used to shower and pack our gear before the helicopter arrives the following day to take us back to Kathmandu.