Makalu 2009: Final Post with Photos
I’ve been home from Makalu almost two weeks now and it’s been almost three weeks since I last posted -- time flies. I was able to leave base camp very quickly because Cory Richards injured his knee in the deep snow just a few hours from base camp, the day after my last call. He necessitated a helicopter evacuation from base camp and I was able to hitch a ride out. Two and a half hours of flying at 120 knots sure beats walking eight days when you’re just ready to go home!
Editor's note: Steve House puts the finishing touches on his Makalu 2009 series today with a bunch of photos from the trip. You'll find links to the rest of the series -- most of which include sat-phone calls from Makalu -- at the bottom of this post.
[Me on the phone with you at www.thecleanestline.com from 7400 meters (24,270 ft). Lhotse is behind me. What a perfect day! (I needed four of these in a row to climb the west face.) All photos © Steve House.]
Once in Kathmandu I was able to change my ticket for the very next day. Unfortunately, almost as soon as I landed, I was hit with news of the loss of Patagonia Ambassador Jonny Copp, Mountain Hardware athlete Micah Dash, and young filmmaker Wade Johnson on China’s Mount Edgar. While tragic, it certainly made it difficult for me to feel any self-pity for my own problems. Deadlines, work, trying to get some climbing in; I am happy to be alive and healthy and home.
What follows is a slide show with a few of the highlights (and low-lights) from my recent adventure: trying to solo the world’s fifth highest mountain, Makalu. At many of these junctures, including at the Makalu La at 24,000 feet, I took you, the Cleanest Line listener, right along with me. I said then that I wished I could send pictures. Well, here they are:
My ‘ABC’, advanced base camp, at the base of the west face.
My tent during the storm before I realized I had High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)
My tent on the normal route during my final, post-HAPE acclimatization trip. This camp is also about 6500m/21,300ft. My biggest regret about this expedition is that I left this tent for my descent. After the large snowfall at the end of the month, I was physically unable to get back up to this camp to take this tent down. By now I am sure that it has either been shredded by high winds or collapsed by heavy snows. Either way it is a disgraceful addition to a lot of litter that is left on this mountain each year. I hope to be able to find what’s left of it next year and carry it off the mountain.
Sunrise on Lhotse (left) and Everest. The south col (high camp for the normal route up Everest from the Nepalese side) is plainly visible. The summit-day climb on Everest for most climbers starts at the south col and roughly follows the sun/shade line. The south summit is the little peak on the left at the top of the shadow. Ascending the fixed ropes from the south col to the summit usually takes people six hours on supplemental oxygen -- in my opinion, that’s doping.
A high-altitude porter (aka: climbing sherpa) scouring the Makalu La for discarded oxygen bottles which are worth about $400 each in Kathmandu. The summit behind him is Chomo-Lonzo, in Tibet, three miles from where I’m standing.
The details of exactly how they “clean” their camps are unsavory to say the least. Here the two climbing sherpas have been instructed to bury everything they can’t carry down. As you can see this includes multiple stoves, pots, a tent, tent poles, fuel canisters, and many other not-so biodegradable items -- not that anything biodegrades at 24,000 feet. This practice is extremely common among expedition-style climbers and one of the primary reasons I have long been a vocal critic of this climbing style.
Two days later, back in base camp, I awoke to this: A ton of heavy, wet snow that collapsed our cook tent. The snowfall continued for three days.
During my attempt on the normal route with Cory (and attempt to retrieve my tent at camp 2), Cory badly injured his left knee and had to be flown out. I was lucky enough to be able to go along for the ride. Our helicopter could only lift two people and gear in addition to the pilot so our cook and his helper were left to walk out.
Our thanks go out to Steve for sharing these photos and taking the time to call on his sat phone. Should another attempt at the west face be in his future, we hope the weather cooperates.
All photos © Steve House