Sunday, May 30, 2010

Chris's Summit Account

I know many of you have been waiting for the details of Mountain Climbing versus Mountain Summiting, and I am finally going to go through all the gritty details of the summit push. I have been waiting for everyone to arrive back in Kathmandu and to give everyone the chance to put together their own version of events.

The reality is that our summit push started May 20th. I left ABC at 5800m early on the 20th to give myself the best chance at getting some rest at Camp 2 at 6800m. I left ABC at about 6:15 am and started the arduous climb up to camp 2 via the depot camp, the ice fall, and the serac field to reach Camp 2 at about 11:30 am. It was actually one of the best parts of the climb for me because I was feeling strong, healthy, and arrived with enough time to level out our tent at camp 2. One of the interesting things that happens to tents on a snow field is that the middle of the tent melts out due to the solar reflection and heat that collects inside the tent. I call it the bathtub effect, and you get this sloping wall inside the tent not unlike laying in a bathtub. Not real comfortable to sleep in and you either have to move the tent or chip away the ice wall along the sides and then build up the center. This is what I spent the afternoon doing, so that by the time my tent mate Robbie arrived we had a nice level tent again. Which was  a great thing because we ended up spending two nights at Camp 2 due to extremely high winds on the morning of the 21st.  The forecast had called for moderate winds of 20-30km/h during the night of the 20th and through the morning of the 21st. Reality was that we had winds close to 80 km/h with gusts that were stronger. In order for us to make a successful bid for the summit we would have to leave Camp 2 no later then 9:30 am to head for Camp 4. If everything would have been perfect we would leave no later then 6:30 am to head for Camp 4. It is about a 5 hour climb to the Makalu La and then another two hours past that to Camp 4. We needed to have enough time to get to Camp 4, set up tents, make dinner, brew water, and rest before leaving for the summit. We were up and ready to go at 6 am, but the winds kept howling and a few times I thought the tent would blow down due to the gusts coming off the Makalu La. The winds did eventually die down as they were supposed to but it did not happen until close to 1pm. Therefore we had to delay our summit bid until the 23rd. The winds picked up again on the evening of the 22nd but luckily they were in the 20-30km/h range on the morning of the 22nd when we left Camp 2 and started up towards Camp 4.

The journey up to Camp 4 winds through the upper German Camp 2 and proceeds up the lower rock band, the snow field, and the upper rock band in the Makalu La. It takes about 5 hours to make your way through the nearly vertical rock bands that are layered with blue ice and sugar snow. Once you successfully navigate that area. You have a two hour hike across a snowfield to reach Camp 4 at about 7500m. This is where our journey to the summit began.

On the morning of the 22nd I left at early and arrived at Camp 4 by about 1:30pm. I arrived and helped set up the tents at Camp 4, started boiling water for hydration and food by 3pm. Robbie arrived at about 4 pm and jumped into the tent. Things were going well for our summit push. The winds had died down, their was some afternoon convection clouds happening but nothing that was serious. Chhiring and Furtemba had left to fix a few sections of rope through the serac field that lead to the base of the French couloirs. Brad had made a climbing decision about heading to the summit the day before from Camp 3. Unfortunately his bid for the summit was not successful.(He will tell his tale in a few days). Eric was still coming up to Camp 4. Robbie and I were in the tent resting and getting all our gear ready to head to the summit. For me this included going through my Valandre down suit and making sure everything was in the right pockets. Batteries for foot warmers on inside pocket right side, water bottle on inside pocket left side, Camera, Dermatone Sun Block, Spare Batteries for head lamp, Spare Head Lamp in zipper pocket, food stashed in thigh pocket, Camelback full, Radio, spare radio battery.  Then I crawled into my down suit, Crawled into my Bloody Mary sleeping bag, and started to nap for our departure for the summit. Eric M arrived into camp 4 just before it got dark and he started his process of getting ready. Our original plan was to leave for the summit at 12:00am but because so many people had arrived so late in the day we made the decision to push that back until 2 am.

By the time everyone was out of their tents and ready to go it was almost 2:30 am. We headed off towards the summit walking in a single file line through the lower glacier field to avoid crevasses. It always an interesting experience to walk in a line of people through the dark with headlamps glowing ahead and behind you. In the dark you cannot really see anything except a dull outline of what is ahead of you, and you simply hear the breathing of the person behind you. If they happen to be on oxygen then you are pretty sure that Darth Vader is following you in the dark on the way up the mountain. In total their was 11 of us who left for the summit that night. Finjo had returned to Kathmandu because of an illness, Brad had already made his summit attempt, and Mica(a member of the French Team) had felt that he was not rested or hydrated enough to make a bid for the summit that night. So as the 11 of us trudged through the dark we were expecting about a 10 hour push to reach the summit by noon. The reality of a 16 hour push was not something we had considered when we started out, but as the night turned to day it became clearer that was we were looking at.

The glacier and serac fields had fresh snow on top that made some of the traverses a little tricky in navigating. We pushed up through the Serac Fields and reached the bottom of the French couloirs at about 1 pm. The weather was still clear but we had become a stretched out line of climbers. Robbie K had decided that it was not his day due to lack of sleep and food and turned around. So at about 1 pm we started pushing up through the French Couloirs, which is strikingly similar to the Makalu La  but starting at 8100m and slightly more vertical. We had Chhiring who was fixing rope in the lead, followed by the Phillipe, Alexia, and Yeti on oxygen, then Andu and Sandrine, and I was batting clean up on the way up. When we were about half way up at about 3:30 pm The weather started to change on us. We started getting some wind gusts, and we saw the sky starting to speckle up with mares tails and when I was looking across at the ridges spind drift was blowing. Yet we continued to push on thinking all the time that we were almost there. We got to the summit ridge at almost 5pm, at which time we were still about an 1 hour from the summit. The sky was white, the wind was up, and spin drift was blowing everywhere. Sun had disappeared and the temperature was definitely cold. We decided to go for it.

The Summit of Makalu is really only about 3 ft wide and it is proceeded on either side by a little tiny ridge that drops off on both sides for thousands of feet. It is covered by ice and corniced snow and you have to traverse past a false ridge to reach it. It is very tricky to reach. So after making our way up to the false summit, and moving across the ridge. I finally reached the summit at 5:59 pm!!! Alexia and Sandrine summited before me, and I was followed by Phillipe. Yeti had  made the decision to turn around prior to reaching the summit ridge based on weather conditions which was probably one of the smarter decisions of the day.

As we started making our way down the mountain the weather progressed into real nasty storm. Now we were descending the ropes that we has put up and to add insult to injury, they were difficult to find under the snow that had just fallen. We finally reached the bottom of the couloirs after about 2 hours of descending into a worsening storm. We were all aware of the crevasses that we had passed over to reach the couloirs but none of us were sure of our ability to spot them in a white out in the dark. So we roped up and started our descent. It took me until almost 10:45 pm to reach our Camp 4. And along the way there were a few issues, but in the end we all safely reached our Camp 4 by midnight. Everyone was safe.

In the morning, I headed down to ABC. Being completely wiped out a journey that had previously took me 6 hours ended up taking almost 12.

Then on the morning of the 25th a large part of our group was heading down for a helicopter ride from Yangle Kharka which is about 29km trek from our ABC. They headed out at 11:00am. After they left Robbie, Yeti, and I were planning on leaving on the 26th or 27th from ABC. But at this point they became like caged animals and wanted to leave right away. So they headed out after lunch at about 1pm for Yangle Kharka, and I followed at 2:30 pm. By this point I was wiped out and decided the helicopter was the best way out for me. Robbie and Yeti then went on a death march from Yangle Kharka to Tumilingtar and did the simply amazing feat of completing the trek in two days!!!!

Now we have celebrated Robbie’s 40th Birthday in Kathmandu and plan on doing up a party for Eric tomorrow!!!!

Pictures will follow, I am still waiting for my stuff to arrive from Base Camp!

Chris Klinke, Kathmandu

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