NEWSLETTERS - Makalu 2014

The Daily Moraine - Makalu #1028 May 2014

All Himex members and Sherpas reach the summit Makalu

First of all, apologies for not informing you earlier about our summit success on Makalu on 25th May, however, we have been snowed in and unable to communicate since we got back from the top of the 5th highest peak in the world. So, here is what happened since we last updated you on our progress.

Sunrise across summit ridge
Sunrise across summit ridge

The Himex team, including our six Sherpas, left Makalu ABC on 22nd May to start their summit attempt by staying at C2 for the first night, at C3 for the second night and finally, at C4 at 7,590m on 24th May. We were briefly contemplating to go for the top from C3, just like some other teams were doing, however, the route up to the Makalu La (Camp 3) is a very tough climb, so we decided to use the short day to C4 as a rest day.

"It's good to recover from the tough day as we will put a lot of strain on our bodies on summit day," Suzanne said upon arriving at C4 after about one hour. The weather was beautiful and we got a good chance to have a closer look at the route. "Guys, you should get out of the tent and look at the mountain. It's beautiful out here," Heidi said trying to get all the other tired bodies of their tents, however, in vain.

Going up towards the false summit
Going up towards the false summit

At about 4pm everybody was tucked up in their sleeping bags, trying to drink or eat something, and then get some rest until 10pm - our departure time. During the next few hours, none of us really got any proper sleep, which was partly due to excitement and partly to the fact that the wind was howling against the tent walls. However, despite the forceful gales, headlamps all of a sudden illuminated the area around our tents and we could hear the Sherpas getting ready for the final kilometre towards the summit of Makalu.

As everyone had already slept in their full climbing gear, apart from harnesses and crampons, everyone was out of their sleeping bags in no time and after having put on their final gear, we were all of a sudden on our way towards the summit of the fifth mountain in the world. There were quite a few teams ahead of us with a trail of about 30 headlamps showing us the way, which could go probably down in history as the busiest day on Makalu.

After about three hours, we reached the bottom of the notorious French Couloirs, the rocky section that would take us all the way to the summit ridge. "This was a pretty demanding climb. I guess this was the most difficult section I have ever done on an 8,000m peak," said Rene, who had already climbed Everest, Lhotse and Manaslu with Himex.

Climbing towards the summit
Climbing towards the summit

At about 4am, we heard some Sherpas talk on the radio and all of a sudden Chebbi, one of our Sherpas, called out: "The first people of our team have summited. Apparently it is Heidi, Pemba, Sergey and Tashi." It was still pitch black and we were thinking about the four summiteers, who were standing on the top without a view. "We were waiting for the sun to come up, which was very hard as it was getting extremely cold," Sergey said, however, they managed to take some photos during sunrise and very quickly started their way down. "Billi, I would like to go back up with you for the summit photo, but it's just too cold to stay up here," Heidi, who had just become the first German woman - closely followed by me - said on her way down.

More summits

Shortly afterwards, Naoki, Pasang, Rene, Chumba and Jacob joined the team on the very small summit (Makalu has the smallest summit of all 14 8,000m peaks) closely followed by Suzanne, Lakpa, Chebbi and myself. "The summit ridge was rather scary and I don't know how the people did it without a fixed rope a week earlier," Naoki said clinging onto the rope that connected the false summit with the real summit, which stands at 8,485m.

At about 5am the whole Himex team had reached the summit and while some other climbers were still on their way up, the Himex team were already on their way back to C4, C2 and some of them even back to ABC. "It was an extremely long day but despite the 20 hours of climbing, I was happy to arrive back at ABC and get some proper food," said Heidi as eating is a rather difficult chore above 7,000m.

Sergey, Naoki, Suzanne and all the Sherpas, who were carrying extremely heavy loads down from Camp 2, also made it back to ABC while Rene, Jacob and I stayed at C2. "I always feel strong on the way up, however, the descent always takes it out of me," said Rene trying to light his stove to melt some snow to refuel his dehydrated body. "I only drank one litre the whole day," he continued.

The Himex members at ABC after the summit
The Himex members at ABC after the summit

On 26th May, we woke up to the sound of snow falling onto our tents and when we opened our vestibule, all we could see was white. "We are having a bit of a white-out and I think we should descend together - there could be some light avalanche danger," Jacob said while we were putting on our harnesses and crampons for the last time on this expedition. It was actually a good job that Jacob was leading the way as the route had changed a lot since we left ABC on 22nd May. "The final section had melted a lot and at times, I broke in up to my hip," Heidi reported about the last part just before crampon point.

When Rene and I arrived back at ABC on 26th May, the blizzard was in full blow and by the time we woke up on Tuesday morning, our tents were buried in about half a metre of snow. "I have never seen so much snow at this time of year," said Loppsang, our Sirdar. However, despite the bad weather, our brave and hard-working Sherpas did not budge and set off to get the final gear from Camp 2, which included seven tents, more than a dozen sleeping bags, cooking sets, epigas and other materials that was still left up there. "It was an extremely hard day. We were digging our way through the deep snow," said a very tired looking Pemba, when he arrived back at ABC at 7pm after a 12-hour-trip. "It must have been very difficult up there as the Sherpas usually do the round trip to Camp 2 in around five hours," Suzanne said. However, we were all relieved to see all the Sherpas back down safe and sound.

The snow continued all the way through Tuesday night and Wednesday morning with everyone having to get out of their tent before the traditional hot towel and bed tea to free their tents of the snow masses. "I can't believe how much it has snowed in the last few hours. Digging my tent out cost me a lot of energy and I am already exhausted before coffee," Dr Joe said looking hopefully towards the sky to find some blue patches. "I think it is getting better so we had better get everyone together to prepare the helipad," he said grabbing some of our blueberry Tang to make the helipad visible for the pilot. And he was right - at about 11am the clouds slowly disappeared and the sun came back with a vengeance, making being outside almost unbearable. "The reflection of the sun and the snow is extremely strong - and very dangerous for sunburn," Jacob said reprimanding everyone to put on sunscreen before they went to work on the helipad.

Building the helipad
Building the helipad

And while I am writing this, some of our members are panicking to pack up their gear in the hope to catch a helicopter back to the lower elevations and comforts of Kathmandu. "I hope I will make it today as I have an important photo exhibition at the Canadian embassy in Tokyo on 2nd June," Naoki, our Japanese star photographer said while the first helicopter arrived at ABC but sadly taking some members of another expedition.

After more than 40 days and nights at ABC, everyone is slowly leaving this beautiful place and Mount Makalu is finally getting some rest before the next teams of climbers will arrive here for the autumn season in August this year. However, as far as our expedition is concerned, we are all departing feeling very content and happy that the 'Black Mountain" allowed us to stand on its top and let us come back down safely again. At this very point, we would also like to thank our Sherpas and kitchen team for making this expedition possible for us as we are all aware of the fact that without the assistance and help of this amazing team, none of us would have reached the top of this majestic mountain.

And finally, I would also like to thank you for following our expedition and reading our newsletter. I really hope you enjoyed it - until next time.

Billi Bierling, Makalu ABC