NEWSLETTERS - Makalu 2014

The Daily Moraine - Makalu #820 May 2014

A walk to Camp 2...and back

You might be surprised to hear from us earlier than expected, however, our trip towards the summit of the 8,485m-high Mount Makalu was a lot shorter than anticipated.

Randy, Jacob, Suzanne and Heidi on their way back to ABC
Randy, Jacob, Suzanne and Heidi on their way back to ABC

As scheduled, we all left ABC on Thursday, 15th May, and we all made it to Camp 2 in good time and in good weather. "It was actually fun going up this time. I really enjoyed it," Heidi said once she was tucked up in her tent. However, we were certainly not the only people up there and it almost seemed as if the whole of ABC had been moved to Camp 2, which lies at an altitude of 6,635 metres. "I counted the tents up there and there were around 30," Jacob said when we returned to ABC on Friday. "And given that the Sherpas often share a tent between four of them, I guess there must have been around 70 up there."

The reason for the exodus to Camp 2 was the weather window that was forecast for 17th and 18th May and which is actually still valid. "The problem was that the winds on 16th May were a lot stronger than forecast and that the Sherpas were unable to fix the rope to the summit," Suzanne explained. "As a matter of fact, in these winds reaching up to 70 km/h they couldn't even leave their tents at Camp 3 on the morning of 16th May."

Rene below Camp 1
Rene below Camp 1

After our group had arrived at Camp 2 in the early afternoon, we all settled into our tents, boiled water and tried to drink and eat as much as possible, which can be pretty difficult up there. "I am glad that I have brought up some real Swiss chocolate as this is one of the few things I can eat up here," Heidi commented rummaging around her gazillion plastic bags trying to find this culinary treasure while I was struggling to enjoy the Chapati, Gyanu had made me and which I had filled with cream cheese and pickled gherkins. In the tent next door, we could hear Jacob scoffing down his boil-in-the-bag meal while Suzanne was holding her nose in order to avoid the fumes and modestly eating her nuts.

Naoki and Rene were playing cards in their tents with Naoki winning five games, which the card-playing Dutchman had troubles to get over. "Naoki beat me five times," he kept on telling us the following morning when we were getting ready to go back down. Apart from the odd Russian telephone conversation, there was not much noise coming out of the fourth tent being occupied by Sergey and Stuart, and so we all tried to go to sleep at around 7pm – a task some of us were successful in and some were not. "Rene took a sleeping pill and was out cold and all I could do was watch him sleep all night," a very tired looking Naoki said.

Too windy

Big plumes coming off the summit of Makalu La
Big plumes coming off the summit of Makalu La

After about 12 hours, during which our tents were beaten by the strong winds, we heard some conundrum outside and Ferran Latorre from the Spanish team went to Suzanne and Jacob's tent to find out what our team was planning to do. "It is far too windy to go up to the Makalu La," he said sounding concerned. And another look out of the tent confirmed Ferran's worry: the wind was still drumming against our tents and the plumes coming off the mountain were quite significant. "Stay in your sleeping bags. I am going to find out what's going on," Suzanne called out before she wrapped up warmly and trotted over to the big gathering of mountaineers.

Most of the climbers, expedition leaders and Sherpas were standing in the cold wind to find out what was happening and come up with an action plan. "The rope fixing Sherpas could not do their work in this wind and some of the tents have been blown away from the Makalu La," said our Sirdar Loppsang. "Fortunately, we collapsed all our tents, so they should be fine."

After about 15 minutes, most teams decided to go down as climbing up to the Makalu La would have been to strenuous and energy-draining in these high winds. Sergey, who for a change was one of the first to get started that morning, was standing in front of our tent finding it hard to grasp what was happening. "I think I will break the record for the most ski descents from Camp 2 on Makalu," he said putting on his skis and elegantly skiing off towards crampon point. "The skiing is getting better every time. This time, it was almost powder," he remarked back down at ABC.

Camp 2
Camp 2

For the rest of us, this also meant to pack up our gear and go back down to ABC, however, not without leaving everything we will need for a possible next summit attempt. "Russell always says an expedition takes at least 62 days, so we have another two weeks to go," Rene said sounding very optomistic. And Suzanne is hoping for us to use the Everest summit window, which traditionally happens between 20th and 27th of May. "It's a big mountain and it demands a lot of time. Of course, we are all disappointed but those who have time might get another chance," she said.

And now we are all back at ABC having cut our kitchen team's holiday a little bit short, however, they didn't seem to mind and welcomed us with a smile and a delicious lunch, which we all enjoyed before we settled back into our own tents catching up on sleep, writing a newsletter, having a wash, or - in Stuart's case - packing his bags for his departure from ABC. "I have been here long enough and even though I enjoyed the climb, I am ready to go back home to my wife," he said after having told us that he would take a helicopter back to Kathmandu the following day.

As far as the rest of us are concerned, we still don't know whether the weather gods will allow us to stand on top of this beautiful mountain, which is notorious for its high winds. The rope-fixing Sherpas, who are currently at Camp 3, will have to withstand another windy night at the exposed Makalu La and it remains to be seen whether they will still have enough strength and energy to fix the rope from the bottom of the French Couloirs to the summit. All this will unfold in the next few days and we will certainly keep you posted.

Billi Bierling, Makalu ABC