Sunday, May 30, 2010

Brad's Climbing Push



During the days of May 15 through 18 I decided to escape the wind and doldrums of ABC and hike down to the lower altitudes of Makalu Basecamp for a rest. I ended up staying in the basecamp of Marty Schmidt and Chris Benway. During this time I met up with Marty Schmidt who had been attempting a new route on the opposite, side of the mountain with Chris Warner, but Chris ended up getting very sick and was evacuated from the mountain, leaving Marty without a partner. Marty decided to try and solo the N.W. ridge route that we were climbing on and then is when I met Marty.
Talking with Marty, he and I both knew we did not want to be "guided" up the mountain by Sherpas, nor did we want to get in line and just follow fixed rope to the summit.
May 23rd was the day chosen by our team of Sherpas and climbers to try and summit. The weather was also suppose to be great on the 22nd as well.
Marty and I decided to climb to Makalu La, alpine style from Camp 2 on May 21 ahead of the 14 people going for the summit on the 23rd. This way we would have the first shot at the summit on the 22nd and it would be just the two of us route finding and breaking trail to the summit. We chose to make our summit bid from Makalu La, 7500m, and not from a camp 4 at 7600m. the distance between Makalu La and Camp 4 being 1-1/2hrs.
Although I knew  we should depart Makalu La at midnight, we overslept and ended up leaving at 3:30am, already putting us behind schedule.
The night was perfectly calm and stary and not too cold. We climbed to 7800m by 8:30am, then found our way through a very steep broken glacier / ice fall, pulling out of the snow fixed rope from last year and replacing some anchors. This used up valuable time as well.
Once through the icefall we climbed a crevassed slope that seemed to go on forever up to approximately 8,100m where we stopped to rest at 12:30 noon.  Being above 8,000m now we both could begin to feel the lack of oxygen, althugh up to this point we both felt strong climbing without bottled oxygen.
Looking up at the summit pyramid, we calculated how many hours we still needed to climb the French Couloir to the summit ridge, then across the summit ridge to the "false summit", around that and the final 100m to the true summit. We decided that if all went well we would need at least 4 more hours. Meaning we would summit around 5:00PM.
The weather was still perfect and no wind. If there was ever a day to push the limits today was the day. We were both worried though, about summiting so late in the day and then descending as the sun was setting and obviously coming back down through the crevasses and icefall in the dark.
We ended up making the deciscion not to continue, which left me heartbroken that we were turning around so high on the mountain and the summit seemingly so close.
Our descent to Makalu La ended up being faster than we thought and the evening weather stayed clear and calm, telling us that all would have been fine if we had been descending in the dark.
As we stood at Makalu La re-hydrating from the days effort, my American and French teammates and the Sherpas, came up over the La from Camp 2 on their way to Camp 4. Some looked stong and ready for their summit attempt and some look exhuasted from the steep climbing with a heavy pack. Two of the French climbers could not make the Makalu La without the aid of using oxygen. By dark they were all in Camp 4, hydrating and getting ready for their summit bid.
At 2:30am they departed Camp 4 and began their ascent. By the time the group reached 7,800m, Robbie and Silvia had already decided that they did not have enough energy to continue. The main group continued throught the steep ice fall, with several Sherpas out front fixing rope as they went. By 11:00am they all arrived at our high point and rested for a long time. Then they al decided to push on, crossing the slope above to the start of the French couloir. Although the Sherpas found lots of old fixed rope in this section, they also fixed their own rope, caused more delays. By mid afternoon they had reached the summit ridge in deteriorating weather. Pushing on the lead Sherpas climbed to the false summit and fixed more rope around this and up to the main summit.
At 4;15pm Erik Meyer and Lakpa Sherpa, both climbnig without bottled oxygen, decided that because of the lateness of the day and because it was beginning to snow, that they would turn around and head down. This was a very difficult decsision only 100 vertical meters from the summit. Ahead of them the two lead Sherpas, two French ladies, one Fench men and Chris Klinke pushed on. Ultimitaley they all summited Makalu between 5:30pm and 6:30pm in a brief window of clear wether, then began their descent.
In the long hours that followed descending in the dark, Lakpa and Erick had difficulties finding the start of the fixed rope back through the steep icefall. In their searching, Lakpa suddenty slipped on blue ice and dissapeared down the ice cliffs to the horrow of Erick. Erick searched for Lakpa for several hourse before the group of summiters had descended to where he was searching. Further searching came up empty handed and they assumed that Lakpa had died in a crevasse. They slowly made their way through the icefall in the dark snowstorm and back to Camp 4, where to their shock and amazement found Lakpa in his sleeping bag in one of the tents. He had miracoulously survived a 250m fall, without much injury or ending up in a crevasse and found his way back to Camp 4. By 11:00pm everyone was safely back in Camp 4 exhausted. That night it snowed all night and by morning there was 18 inches of new snow.
Packing up it took them all day to descend from Camp 4 to ABC in a snow storm and very heavy packs.
It was a big releif to have the entire team of climbers and Sherpas back down from the mountain safe and sound for the last time.
Starting the next day we packed up our equipment and headed 30km down valley to a point where we could be helicoptered out of the mountains and back to Kathmandu.
We are now resting in Kathmandu and eating lots, with skinny bodies and sunburned faces. It was a great trip and we all came back good friends.
Thanks for all of your support and we will see you when we get home..
Brad Johnson

1 comment:

Tony said...

Good job, Brad. Hindsight is always 20/20. You made the right choice based on the info you had. Great effort and it's a round trip thet is a sucess! It would have been nice to summit, but it's optional; returning alive, intact, andstill friends is not. Bravo!
Tony