Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Preparation, Pain and Patience

Brad Johnson writing from ABC.
We are resting in ABC, for our third day, since our last foray up the mountain to camp II and to Makalu La at 7,475m (24,500ft.) Those 3 days on the mountain were to be our last days of preparation before a summit attempt. Of course we have been preparing for the summit in many ways. Back home training and organizing, then the 9-day trek in to Advance Base Camp (ABC), all fall under the title of Preparation. A few days rest at ABC to acclimatize and then up the mountain to camp I and camp II. It all sounds so easy in our dispatches, Even a climber who knows a little about Makalu would say we are "only" climbing the "normal"or easy route up the mountain. Not something as daunting as the West Ridge. However Makalu is not a mountain that has and easy route to the summit. Yes from ABC to camp II it is non-technical glacier climbing, but each new altitude brought long, uncomfortable nights in the tent, headaches, nausea, cold temperatures and the longing for the sun to return to warm ourselves. The sun also meant we could get out and start moving or climbing again. This movement always got the blood flowing, bringing more oxygen to the brian and the releif of our headaches.

Returning to ABC for a rest, shower, good meals always helped our bodies get ready for another trip up the mountain. Usually the 2nd and 3rd nights on the mountain were not so painful as our bodies were now used to our previous highpoints.Thinkiing we would be ready to go higher we would strike off again for Makalu La, only to feel like we had lead in our legs. Our minds are asking what is wrong with our body, why is it not responding like we think it should. Maybe we had not rested enough in ABC?? and so a few return to camp II to rest and hydrate to try again the next day.

With 3 other expeditions here climbing the same route to the summit, it is usually the first group to arrive that takes on the work of finding the way up the glacier to camps I and II. In addition above camp II, where the climbing really begins, it is their decision to find the best way to climb to Makalu La.

Having been here twice before, both times our expedition was the first group on the mountain and both times we chose to climb the 2,500ft snow couloir from camp II to Makalu La. It was straightforward climbing, allowing the climber to develop a rythim of kicking each step up in the snow. This year the German group arrived first and when they began setting the route to Makalu La, instead of climbing up the couloir, they chose to climb up steep rock bands, mixed with hard ice. Why you ask? Because, that is the way people climbed it last year and the anchors and some rope were still there. Because it seemed less work to fix the route to go this way using what had been left behind.
This year when I saw that the route to Makalu La was through 2,000ft of rock bands, I felt depressed knowing how painful, tiring, and time consuming the climbing would be.

Our expedition of 6 French and 4 Americans, began our first climb to Makalu La on 2 different days. The French team, all of the Sherpas, as well as Erik Meyer, went on the first day, with 3 of the French carrying a tent and sleeping bags to the La, where they spent a cold, windless night. Erik and the Sherpas reached the La for a short visit and then descended to camp II. The other 3 French did not quite succeed in reaching the La because the climbing was too tiring and time consuming and returned to camp II to spend the night.
The following day Robbie, Chirs and Brad climbed to Makalu La, meeting the 3 French who were headed down to ABC for a rest. This day was ecceptionally calm and sunny with great views of Everest and Lhotse and countless other mountains. We reached the La between 1:pm and 2:pm, and took photos of the upper reaches of the mountain. From Makalu La to the summit is now cake walk either. There is still 3,000ft of climbing up glaciated terrain. The final 700ft. Of climbing involves steep rock and ice climbing and a narrow final ridge of snow and rock to reach a summit that can only accommodate 2 or 3 people ata time. We three stood and tried to memorize the route that we will have to climb by headlamp on our summit bid and then we made a hasty retreat to camp II, where we drank and ate. With just enough daylight left in the day we decided to descned all the way to ABC, arriving just in time for dinner, ending a very long, 12-hour day. We all felt the pain of such a push from 22,000ft to 24,500ft and back down to ABC at 18,800ft. It was good to be "home" again and off the snow, where we ate and slept to our hearts content.

We have now had 3, windy rest days in ABC. The top of the mountain is being raked by the jet stream, with winds of 70-mph or more at times and the forecast shows stronger winds to come for a few more days. Patience is now the key to our success. It is obviouse we have all lost weight. Our lips and noses are blistered and chapped. We have more than the "farmers" tan. If we took our clothes off I think we would resemble a turtle without its shell on, a brown head with white meat beneath. We have been in the mountains almost a month now, there is already talk of eating big saladas, hot pizzas, fresh pastries, getting a massage, going to the beach and wondering how much it would cost to hire a big helicopter to fly us out once we have reached the summit and returned with all our digits. Are we putting the cart before the horse too soon? Patience is the key now to wait for the weather to be in our favor.

To pass the time we have been reading and watching DVD's, we even had a coctail party yesterday afternoon and invited a few members of the other groups here to partake.
All the wine and whiskey meant for a summit celebration party ended up being consumed. I guess the party is over and it is time to focus once again.

As is usual, there is a variety of nationalities here in hopes of reaching the summit of Makalu. English, French, American, German, Italian,Turkish, Isreali, Dutch, Swedish and an Austrailian who is back for his second time after turning back 50m from the summit when he realized he had frozen his nose and his toes.

We are as prepared as we will ever be for our first summit attemp. It is going to be painfull climbing to 27,767ft, with or without oxygen and when the weather forecast shows us when the winds will dye down we will let you know when we will make our summit attempt. Until then we hope your day is as sunnny as ours but with less wind.
Have a great day,
Brad Johnson

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