Sunday, May 9, 2010

Makalu La and back again

Since the last posting we have gained almost 2000m in elevation, spent 2 nights at Camp 2 and achieved an altitude of 7474m at the Makalu La. My mom had asked me what the route is like up the mountain and since it is Mothers day I thought I would try and describe the route from ABC to the Makala La so that you have at least a verbose description since sending pictures has been rather difficult.

ABC (5600m) to Camp 1 (6400m) (approx 4 hrs)

When you leave ABC you head up a scree and talus field of boulders that is situatued between two ice falls or pentitentes. The ice fall has large blocks of ice and glacier coming down the mountain for about 3 km. In between the ice fall is the scree slope that we actually go up. It is a twisty path of rock sitting on top of ice, so the route changes slightly every time you go up up it. In an earlier post I talked about the two different routes to Camp 1. Now we are only using the route that traverses the Barun Glacier at the top. The 3 km of scree takes about 45 minutes and you gain about 400m in altitude jumping from rock to rock and walking on the gravel and boulders. There are a couple of vertical sections that require you to scramble up the rock walls carved out by the receding glacier but nothing that is all that tricky. Once you reach the tongue of the main glacier we switch from hiking shoes to our high altitude boots, put on our harnesses and crampons and strike out on the glacier. The glacier walk is another 3 km to Camp 1. On the glaicer we have a wanded route to help avoid some of the larger crevases and the challenging section is the last bit which is a semi vertical 250 m ice wall. There is a fixed rope here and it can create somewhat of a bottleneck if there are a lot of people moving up. Currently in ABC there are about 40 people wh are attempting to climb Makalu not including climbing sherpas. So you have to time your ascent to avoid a little crowd. Once you get to top of the ice wall you have about a 20 minute into Camp 1. Up to this point none of us have actually slept at Camp 1, we instead have chosen to go the next 2 km to get up to Camp 2 at 6700m to sleep.

Camp 1(6400m) to Camp 2(6700m) (approx 2 hours)

The route between Camp 1 and Camp 2 is a zig zagging route up through several large seracs (ice cliffs) and crevases. The route heads out to the east from Camp 1 and starts up a steep ice slope. Luckily the ice slope has had a firm layer of snow on it for the past few weeks so it does not require front pointing or even ice tools. You can use the fixed line and just dig your heals in as you ascend. At the top of the ice slope you have a choice of the low road or high road. The high road requires you to make a leap of faith of 3 ft or so over a gap in an ice bridge, but then you have a gentle rolling slope to ascend. The low road does not require a leap of faith but does send you up and down through a series of ice bridges that brings you out onto the high route. It is really about how confident you feel in your footing and making the leap. Most people seem to choose the low road after a fresh snow, but if the wind has been blowing people use the high road because it is shorter. Once you get through the series of seracs you have about an 1 hour journey going up the final 150 m to Camp 2. Camp 2 is sheltered by a series of large seracs and is protected from avalanche and rock fall. From Camp 2 you have an amazing view of Everest, Lhotse, and what seems an infinite number of mountains to the west. The sun rise and sunset from Camp 2 is truly something to see. You also have a great view of the Makalu La. La means pass in Nepali.

Camp 2 (6700m) to Camp 3 (7500m) AKA Makalu La (approx 6:30 hrs)

The crux of the climb really comes into play on this next section. The current route has us going up the rock bands to reach the Makalu La. The distance is probaly not more then 3 km but you gain a significant amount of altitude in short distance and the climbing is technical and tricky. You leave Camp 2 and cross a large snow field to attain the base of the rock bands. As you ascend through the rock bands you are going at an almost 70 degree angle through most of it. You have rock and ice mixed, covered with snow. So you have to place your feet carefully, and make sure you are always in contact with at least two points of your body. You wind your way through the lower rock band and go though the various machinations of your body to achieve the middle snow band. Once you reach the snow band you cross about 1km of snow and ice to achieve the second rock band. Here is where your mind plays tricks on you. You think you should be almost at the top of the La, but in reality you still have almost two hours of hard climbing before you top out. The route through the upper rock band presents several false summits for you as you look up. The route winds it way through the rocks and snow fields in such a way as to be constantly suprising you with a little bit further to go. The time it takes to climb this relatively short section from Camp 2 to Camp 3 is about 6:30 hours. It is vertical and the first time through you are trying to learn the rhythm of the route. Unfortunately the route is as tone deaf as I am and there is not a rhythm to be had on the route. So it makes it very tiring as you climb your way up.

Rob, Brad, and I climbed frrom Camp 2 to the Makalu La and then descended all the way to ABC in the same day taking approximately 11:30 hours to do so Eric had ascended to the Makalu La the day before and came back down and slept in Camp 2.

Yesterday we definitely were feeling the effects of such a strenous effort Currently we are watching the jet stream touch the summit of Makalu and waiting for a weather window so we can put together our summit bid. We have a tenative plan of trying to summit around the 15th of May, but that is entirely weather dependent at this point. The Jet stream is supposed to move away from us mid week. We are resting very comfortably in ABC. This morning the team of Klimek and Klinke made omeletes with cheese and mushrooms, and bacon for the team breakfast. The KK esspresso bar is open, and tonight the French have invited a few other teams over for an Appertif of wine, cheese, and a selection of meats. Last nite we watched a movie with the Andrew Kostners team with their laptop projector. So life is good and everyone is continuing to be healthy if a little tired from recent energy expedentitures.

So please send good thoughts on a weather window opening soon, give your mother a call, and be thankful for all that you have.

Happy Mothers Day to everyone, and especially to Veronica who is celebrating her first Mothers Day.

Chris Klinke, Makalu Base Camp