American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Makalu, Southeast Ridge Attempt

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1984

Makalu, Southeast Ridge Attempt. Our light-weight expedition attempted the southeast ridge of Makalu without resorting to artificial oxygen or high- altitude porters. We were Renny Jackson, Scott Thorburn, Chas Macquarie, Peter Hollis, Peter Athans and me as leader. On March 11 our advance party flew to Tumlingtar and began making arrangements for the 53 local porters. The rest of us and our gear flew on March 13 and the next day we began our 14-day walk to Base Camp. We reached Tashigo, the last permanent habitation at 9000 feet in six days. We were in the snow for the next six days. It took three days to cross the Kongma La (Shipton Col) in deep fresh snow with freezing temperatures at night. The higher we went in the Barun valley, the less snow there was until at our 16,000-foot Base Camp there was none. Base Camp was just below the Barun Pokhari about two miles from the bottom of our route. Our first job was to find a route through the lower icefall. We traversed in from the left and located Camp I at 18,000 feet. The route from Camp I to Camp II was circuitous but not technical. We placed Camp II at 20,000 feet on April 8. Camp III at 22,000 feet on the col overlooking the Tibetan side of the mountain was occupied on April 19. To here the route was one of the safest possible. Crevasses were exposed to view and no ice cliffs or avalanches threatened the glacier. The more difficult climbing between 22,000 and 25,000 feet was largely on a ridge and objectively safe. We placed 2250 feet of fixed rope to a large flat area on the crest of the ridge at 24,000 feet, which on April 30 became Camp IV. On May 1 Camp IV began receiving daily snowfalls that accumulated as much as six inches each afternoon. On May 2, I continued up the ridge to the “drop-off point,” where we planned to leave the ridge and descend into the eastern cwm. Our plan was to put Camp V in the bottom of the cwm and Camp VI at 26,250 feet within reach of the summit. We needed four or five consecutive good days. We waited until May 6 for a change in the weather and decided to go ahead anyhow. From the “drop-off point” we descended 500 feet into the cwm to establish Camp V at 24,500 feet. On May 7 it was again snowing heavily, but Chas Macquarie and Scott Thorburn made an attempt to establish Camp VI. Because of poor visibility and knee-deep snow they gave up at 25,400 feet. On May 8 the four at Camp V decided to descend. There was a short break in the weather on May 11 and 12, but in general the mountain became more and more snowy. We brought down as much gear as possible and began the hike out on May 15.

Ronald A. Matous

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