American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Makalu

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1979

Makalu. On May 21 I succeeded in climbing Makalu* (27,825 feet) with Nawang Tenzing, one of our Sherpa expedition members. Our Austrian-German-Nepalese expedition had three Sherpas as full members but no high-altitude Sherpa porters. Already on May 1 our first rope reached the summit: Herman Warth, leader, and Ang Chepal, sirdar. The latter did not use oxygen and did not have his blood thinned. (On our expedition only the doctor, Karl Landvogt, experimented on himself and on the Sherpa Nga Temba; we do not know whether this blood dilution had any positive effects.) I was in support of this summit climb up to 25,250 feet. Another group consisting of Hans von Känel, Dr. Landvogt and Nga Temba reached the summit on May 10, so that all members of the expedition except for Frau Warth achieved their goal. We had very deep snow on the approach and so despite leaving Tumlingtar on March 11, we established Base Camp only on March 31. We followed more or less the French first-ascent route of 1955 up the northeast side. Advanced Base was set up on April 4. We found the route to the upper Chago Glacier and placed Camp I at 20,675 feet on April 8. A thousand feet of rope were fixed up to the ice balcony and Camp II was pitched at 23,000 feet on April 13. Bad weather kept Camp III from being established on the col at 24,275 feet until April 24. Camp IV was set up at 26,100 feet on April 30. On May 1 Warth and Ang Chepal encountered deep snow up the 45° to 50° slopes leading to the couloir. There was such bad snow in the couloir that they climbed a rock barrier to reach the east ridge, where they fixed 150 feet of rope. The final summit ridge required careful belaying with 70° passages. Only starting at Camp IV was oxygen used. The sets did not always function well. As a consequence the second group had to climb the last 800 feet almost without supplementary oxygen. They therefore had to bivouac on the descent and von Känel and Dr. Landvogt suffered frozen fingers and toes and von Känel was snowblind. We could not carry out the planned traverse by ascending the southeast ridge because of delays caused by heavy snow during the 20- day approach. Of the more than 100 porters with which we started we had only nine at the end. Moreover the conditions on the south side were unexpectedly bad. The freezing of fingers and toes on the second climb and the malfunctioning oxygen apparatus prevented further consideration of a traverse.

Kurt Diemberger, Österreichischer Alpenklu

*This was Diemberger’s third 8000-meter peak, a remarkable feat for a man of 46 years. Later in the year he added a fourth, Mount Everest!—Editor.

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