American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Makalu Attempt, Makalu II Ascent

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1981

Makalu Attempt, Makalu II Ascent. Makalu, the world’s fifth highest peak, has had 14 ascents since the first by the French in 1955. Our expedition was fortunate not to have any other expedition on the mountain and we were able to choose our route after a thorough reconnaissance. To acclimatize we were given permission to climb a number of minor summits and also 25,066-foot (7640-meter) Kangchungtse, also known as Makalu II. Roger Baxter-Jones, Georges Bettembourg, Ariane Giobellina and I on September 6 flew to Tumlingtar and reached Base Camp at 15,750 feet on the 16th after a wet, leech-infested walk in the late monsoon season. Between September 18 and 28 we established High Base Camp at 17,725 feet on a bend where the Chago Glacier meets the Barun. From there we climbed P 6170 (20,243 feet), P 6250 (20,506 feet), P 6350 (20,834 feet) and a southern peak of Chago at 6600 meters (21,654 feet). We left High Base Camp for Kangchungtse on October 1 and camped at 19,000 feet on the medial moraine of the Chago Glacier. Camp II was at 21,000 feet where unfortunately Ariane was forced by a severe throat infection to descend. After escorting her down to the moraine, that same afternoon, October 3, we three pushed camp to 22,000 feet. The next day we broke trail to the Makalu La (24,275 feet), with Georges laboriously pulling his skis behind. On October 5 we climbed a 60° gully west of the ordinary route and reached the heavily corniced summit ridge. We scrambled along the airy ½ -mile ridge to the 25,066-foot summit. Georges had left his skis at the south end of the ridge and from there skied down difficult snow on the eastern side and around to the Makalu La, where we had a second very windy night. On October 6 we descended to Base Camp. We decided on attempting a traverse of Makalu up the southeast ridge and down the French (northwest) ridge. Our plan was to climb the whole ridge from Base Camp. We left camp on October 14 during indifferent weather, hoping it represented the tail-end of the monsoon and that by the time we were crossing the summit there would be a lull in the wind systems. We camped at 21,000 feet. On October 15 we crossed over P 6260 and P 6825 and descended to the col at 22,310 feet (6800 meters). On the 16th we climbed slowly up to a flat boss of snow at 24,250 feet. The next day, after about 1500 feet of difficult mixed climbing, we reached a point below a huge black gendarme. We were unable to move along the ridge crest in the savage wind. We therefore dropped down the northern side and into Makalu’s isolated eastern cwm. We set up camp below P 8010. On the 18th we continued up the cwm for a mile and climbed directly towards the summit slopes. We pitched camp at 26,500 feet in very high winds. The 19th and 20th dawned no better. We were in Makalu’s plume with the winter winds now blowing from the west. We had no alternative but to retreat the way we had come. It took us three days to reverse our route to the 6800-meter col and then to find our way down a steep, unknown, heavily crevassed glacier. We were back in Base Camp on October 22. Whilst awaiting the porters, from October 26 to 31 Roger took advantage of clear weather to attempt Makalu by its west side solo. From High Base Camp he hiked to the moraine camp and the next day ascended a rib to bivouac at the foot of a prominent gully that bounds the left side of the west face. On the 28th he climbed the 50° gully and reached the northwest ridge 500 feet above the Makalu La. Here he met the wind and retreated that same day to Base Camp, after a very bold solo bid up untrodden ground.

Douglas Scott, Alpine Climbing Group

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