AAC Publications - http://publications.americanalpineclub.org

Asia, Nepal, Makalu, West Face Attempt

Makalu, West Face Attempt. The international expedition to the west face of Makalu (27,825 feet) began with a set of ridiculously lofty goals, labored without success, came home in rancor and remained divided by arguments that are moot and probably best forgotten. We did manage to find our way through the initial difficulties of what must some day become one of the most beautiful and technically demanding routes in the Himalaya. The west face is astoundingly beautiful: a polished, white granite monolith, splashed with consecutive fields of livid blue ice. Its base is defended by a complex glacier and higher, by an enormous hanging glacier split in half by a 20-foot-wide crevasse. The permit for Makalu was originally obtained by Fritz Stammberger after his abortive attempt on the south face in 1974, but he died in 1975, apparently attempting an unauthorized solo of Tirich Mir. The project lay forgotten until a year later when Jeff Long pulled it together and in two arduous months managed to gather a team and the necessary financial backing. The climbers were Lanny Johnson, Geoff Conley, Mike Lowe, Peter Quesada and I, Americans; Ed Drummond, British; and Boris Krivic and Matija Maležic, Yugoslavs. Six support members were also included in the team as it assembled in Kathmandu early in March. On March 14 Rodney Korich, the expedition manager, escorted the first load of equipment by air to Tumlingtar and by March 25 we had reached the south face moraine. Conley left us there with hepatitis. (Dane Burns and John Roskelley, who had been hoping to climb the West Pillar, turned back on the approach march because of illness.) The West Face Base was established at 18,400 feet and occupied by most of the team on April 1, about the time that Drummond left for home. Mike Lowe, the two Yugoslavs and Jeff Long made rapid progress through the rock and ice maze above the glacier and on April 10 Krivic, Maležic and I established Camp I at 21,000 feet. Lowe, Long and Krivic fashioned a rope ladder over the deep crevasse that split the hanging glacier, but shortly after that Lowe came down with both pulmonary and cerebral edema and was evacuated with Quesada, who had cerebral edema and a possible detached retina. On April 18 Maležic and I placed Camp II at 22,200 feet at the base of the first icefield. In the meantime Jeff Long had got pulmonary edema. A few days later I was struck by falling rock and suffered three broken ribs and cuts. Richard Collins, Peter Hutter and George DiVicenso, Coloradans, arrived but only Collins managed to adapt to the altitude. Maležic and Krivic placed the highest ropes to 22,800 feet. Camp II was in an unacceptable location since we three who spent more than one night there (Krivic, Maležic and I) were all struck by rockfall. On May 10, during what was to have been our last high push, Camp I was burned to the ground by an exploding stove and a night later unoccupied Camp II was erased from the mountain by an avalanche. Long called an end to the climbing a day later. After a day or two of rest, Collins, Krivic, Maležic and I returned to the mountain and spent three days retrieving all our fixed rope and transportable equipment. Leaving the mountain cleaned was something we had hoped to accomplish from the beginning and the one thing we had set out to do that we actually accomplished.

Geoffrey Childs, Unaffiliated