American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Makalu, Solo and Without Oxygen

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1982

Makalu, Solo and Without Oxygen. The Sherpas climbed with me up the ropes, fixed the day before, to Camp III on the Makalu La at 24,550 feet. They dropped their loads and descended to Camp II, leaving me alone, still 3275 feet below the summit on the first-ascent route on the northwest side. The next day I set out alone in beautiful but windy weather. My pack had the entire equipment for a camp and four days’ food and weighed 45 pounds, which got heavier and heavier with time. I kicked steps slowly up 1000 feet, resting oftenand taking hours. The snow was soft, at time knee-deep. About noon I had got to 25,600 feet and decided to set up Camp IV. Thus I could rest from early afternoon on and prepare sufficient liquids. The next morning early, April 25, I left the tent with a light rucksack. At first the climbing was easy and the snow frozen. I could not head straight for the summit couloir because of glass-hard frozen séracs and had to take a longer but safer route. A snow-filled gully led to a glacial basin which was connected to the summit pyramid. There, at 26,600 feet, the snow got soft again and I climbed up this snow desert like a panting ant. With a long traverse I got around noon to the beginning of a steep gully cut by two rock bands. “I’ll have to be on top by five P.M.,” I said to myself and climbed the summit gully relatively fast. Despite technical difficulties in the upper part, I got to the exposed and stormy summit ridge in two hours. Following the long ridge, I soon got to the fore-summit, which I slabbed on the right. A last heavily corniced and exposed upswing took me to the summit (8481 meters, 27,825 feet). It was 5:15. An indescribable feeling filled me. Although I had climbed three 8000ers before, I had never before felt that complete solitude. But my climb was not over. The descent with its fatigue, thin air and great thirst, gave me pause for thought. Quickly I descended the summit gully and started the long traverse to the glacial basin. It got dark and fog hindered my vision. Suddenly I slipped. My ice axe and ice hammer were ripped away. I could not arrest myself. Faster and faster I pitched over several glacial steps. Instinctively I stretched out my arms and gained some control. My head came around uphill and I slowed. Finally I carefully dug my feet in and came to a stop, luckily unhurt. I had slid some 400 feet. Fortunately I found my ice hammer. Not knowing how high I was, I traversed horizontally, hoping to find my uphill tracks. After half an hour the slope got so steep that I knew I must be either too high or too low and decided to dig a snow cave for the night. Luckily there was little wind and shivering hard, I survived the night without frostbite. With the first light I saw that I had traversed too high and began to descend. In Camp IV I drank much tea and slept for two hours. It was late when I got to Camp I. It was hard to believe that in only 16 days from arrival in Base Camp I had reached the summit solo and without artificial oxygen. A few days later my friends, Hanns Schell, Hilmar Sturm and Georg Bachler, set out for the summit. They climbed the chain of camps, but changeable weather forced them down from Camp IV. After four days of rest in Base Camp at 17,725 feet, they went back up. On May 17, in Camp IV Sturm was snowblind and Schell too exhausted. Bachler set out with Sirdar Zang Phu, but the Sherpa soon had to turn back. Bachler kept on up the deep snow to the foot of the summit gully, where he found my ice axe. There he left his pack and climbed on. On the snow-covered rock bands he wet his gloves. His hands beganto freeze on the summit ridge and so he had to give up only 50 meters (about 150 feet) from the summit. The next day all were safely back in Base Camp.

Robert Schauer, Österreichischer Alpenverein

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