Asia, Nepal, Makalu Ascent and Tragedy

Publication Year: 1987.

Makalu Ascent and Tragedy. On September 10, Marcel Rüedi and I flew from Kathmandu to 2800 meters in the Barun valley. Three days later we got to Base Camp at 5400 meters below Makalu. We, with four other Swiss and Austrians, were members of a six-man and three-woman Polish expedition led by Krzysztof Pankiewicz. On September 17, Krzysztof Wielicki, Rüedi and I climbed the Kukuczka ridge to 6900 meters where we bivouacked. The next day Rüedi and Wielicki reached the Makalu Col before we all returned to Base Camp. On the 21st the same two left Base Camp and climbed to 6900 meters. The day after, they got to Makalu Col and on the 23rd to 7900 meters on the normal route. Wielicki thus describes the climb: “We began at 7:45 climbing toward the top. I led all the way. The first 100 meters were very difficult in the deep snow, until we joined the tracks of Ducroz and De Marchi. When we reached the snowfield below the summit at about 8200 meters, we had to decide which route to choose. I took a new variant because the French couloir and the Kukuczka ridge seemed too long and I feared deep snow. I climbed directly for the summit by a rock-and-snow couloir. It was 45° to 50°. I left 20 meters of fixed rope on the rocky part. The snow was very deep and soft. Marcel was 40 to 50 meters behind me. The couloir joined the last 15 meters of the Kukuczka ridge, which was very windy and steep. After that, I had 60 meters of snow to the summit, which I reached at 3:45. I descended fast to the top of the couloir where I met Marcel. He looked well. I gave him all the liter of tea and chocolate. I told him, ‘I’m going down to the tent and will prepare hot drinks for us.’ He answered, ‘O.K. I’m going to the top. ’ I didn’t see him again as the couloir was hidden. It was four P.M. When I reached the tent at seven o’clock, it was nearly dark. I prepared drinks, but Marcel didn’t come. It was a horrible night. Our only headlamp had been damaged on Makalu Col. I thought he would come after midnight when the moon rose. I don’t remember the night too well. I feared he had fallen on the steep traverse or in the couloir. He had no ice axe. Sunrise came at six o’clock and I waited until 9:15 when I decided to go down to Makalu Col for help, thinking that Messner and company were climbing up. In the tent I left a full thermos of hot water mixed with chocolate, the gas stove and all the down equipment. On Makalu Col, before eleven A.M., I met Messner, Kammerlander, Mutschlechner and four Sherpas, who had come up from Camp I. Kammerlander took binoculars and said, ‘I see Marcel. He is at 8000 meters coming to Camp III.’ After a meal they all seven went up to their Camp III. I remained on Makalu Col. I can’t understand why Marcel suddenly lost his strength. At four P.M. two Sherpas came down with the tragic news that Marcel had died. When they reached their Camp III, which was 100 meters below ours, Reinhold sent two Sherpas up with medicine. Marcel was sitting 30 meters below our tent, but it was too late. He had died. The Sherpas said that our tent wasn’t open. I couldn’t go back to Marcel that same day and went down to Base Camp. I had known Marcel only a few days, but I felt he was an old friend. I can’t forget him and his optimistic face. Maybe it was my fault, but I couldn’t tell him, ‘Stop! Come back!’ He was for me one of the biggest Himalayan tigers. It is difficult to tell what I felt and what I feel. I lost Marcel!” Messner, Kammerlander and Mutschlechner found that Rüedi had bivouacked at 8100 meters after reaching the summit. Marcel Riiedi, along with Erhard Loretan, was the most successful high mountain Swiss climber. Makalu was his tenth 8000er. Although he had pulmonary edema on Dhaulagiri in 1980 when he climbed his first 8000er, after that he was incredibly strong at high altitudes. The success of his lightning-fast ascents of K2, Shisha Pangma and Cho Oyu misled this amateur climber, who had to be careful of his spare time, and so he climbed his last 8000er “too fast, too high!” He was doubtless a victim of pulmonary and cerebral edema. [The Poles continued with their efforts until October 21. On October 15 Wanda Rutkiewicz and companions got to Camp III, but the wind was so strong that they had to give up the attempt.—Editor. ]

Oswald Oelz, Schweizer Alpen Club