Asia, Nepal, International Makalu Expedition

Publication Year: 1975.

International Makalu Expedition. Our expedition had as main objectives the fourth ascent of Makalu (27,825 feet) by the 10,000-foot- high south face without oxygen with a minimum of Sherpas during the inhospitable post-monsoon season. Members were Mario Quesada, Argentine, Matija Malezic, a member of the Yugoslav team which had reached 26,575 feet in their attempt on this face in 1972, Jeff Long, American, David Jones, English, Arnold Larcher, Austrian, and I. Charles Clark, M.D. joined us as doctor. We established Base Camp on September 17. Rain, fog, leaches, ants, floods and scorching heat were forgotten on the morning of the 18th when we caught sight of the dazzling white shield of Makalu’s south face. Spurred by fine weather, we set out for Camp I. Dr. Clark and Quesada experienced great difficulty in acclimatizing to the altitude. Kidney trouble bothered Quesada. Lesser ailments befell just about everyone. At the high camps falling ice presented a serious danger. I got knocked out once and slumped onto the fixed ropes. Jones feared his arm was broken when a large boulder hit him straight on. Although this face may be less difficult than other well-known faces, psychologically it is one of the most taxing. There is not one spot on the entire face where one can plant the whole foot. Never can one relax without a line from one’s belt to the fixed rope. Our Sherpas refused to climb higher than our “dump” at 23,000 feet. Above, vertical rock demands skillful climbing. The greater part of the rope fixing was done by Malezic, who commanded admiration for his graceful, playful climbing style. Arnold Larcher and I shared in the remaining work of leading and rope-fixing. On October 21, Malezic tied the highest rope at 25,600 feet, whereupon we all retreated to Camp I or Base Camp for rest prior to the final push, for which we figured five days from Camp IV. The first winter storm coincided with our three-day rest. Larcher was nursing a frostbitten toe and Long had a hemorrhage of the left eye. The only healthy climber left apart from Matija Malezic and me was Jones. The season had definitely changed when the storm died. Fortunately it had brought no snow, but it was bitter cold. The storm had not only torn some of our tents to shreds but also the determination and enthusiasm of the Base Camp population. Malezic and I learned via the radio of a “democratic” decision to call off the summit bid. Jones, after impulsively deciding to pay a quick visit to Base Camp, refused to come up to join us, as planned. Unsupported by Base Camp, Malezic and I reascended to Camp III in subzero temperatures, only to find one tent destroyed and one Whillans Box filled with compacted snow. Instead of the desperately needed spiritual encouragement from Base Camp, we received the threat of a deserted Base Camp if we stayed longer than it takes porters to come up from Sedoa to clear it. We contemplated a guerrilla-type summit dash, but the dependence on fixed ropes for descent forbade thoughts of such bravado. On October 28 Matija Malezic and I withdrew from the face, leaving stores of equipment and thousands of feet of rope behind.

Fritz Stammberger, Publisher of Climbing, Aspen