AAC Publications - http://publications.americanalpineclub.org

Asia, Nepal, Makalu, West Face Attempt and Rapid West Buttress Ascent

Makalu, West Face Attempt and Rapid West Buttress Ascent. The west face of Makalu was first attempted in 1977 and first climbed solo by Jerzy Kukuczka in October 1981. The route followed the left edge of the face and finished via the northwest ridge. In October 1982, a new route was opened up the center of the face by a Polish team, and Andrzej Czok reached the top from the northwest side. In September 1984, Swiss Romolo Nottaris achieved an ascent along a route slightly to the right of the 1981 route. It was his second attempt from this side, having been accompanied by Swiss Jean Troillet on his first attempt in 1982. Troillet returned in 1988 with Swiss Erhard Loretan, but their plans for a completely new route up the west face were frustrated when Troillet fell ill at Base Camp. Three years were to elapse before this pair was able to put their plan into action. The Loretan-Troillet route follows the untried right section of the west face, starting with steep snow and ice and continuing above 7000 meters with difficult, in some places overhanging, rock directly to the steep summit headwall. The lower part is avalanche-prone, but the main difficulties are in the upper section. They set up Base Camp at 5300 meters at the foot of the west face on August 28. They were committed to alpine-style. During the next four weeks, between intervals of bad weather, they established a bivouac tent at 6500 meters and climbed in the upper rock section to 7800 meters. On September 19, they discovered that their bivouac tent had been wiped out by an avalanche with the loss of nearly all their equipment. At Base Camp, they were able to purchase essential items from a Japanese expedition. On September 26, they climbed to 7800 meters, but had to return when Troillet broke a crampon. With time running out, they fixed a rendez-vous at around 7900 meters near the top of the west pillar with Spaniards who had spent 50 days setting up camps along the ridge. Fully acclimatized by now, Loretan and Troillet left Base Camp at one A.M. on October 1, carrying light rucksacks with a minimum of food and equipment and a 50-meter rope. The weather was perfect. Starting up the lower part of the west face, they traversed out onto the west pillar and continued up it, reaching 7400 meters by ten A.M. After a rest, they left at five P.M. and reached the top Spanish Camp at 8000 meters, from which they set out at midnight, joined by two Spaniards Carles Vallès and Manu Badiola. At 8200 meters, beyond where the west pillar merges into the southwest face, they encountered a difficult rock section. By now they had moved well ahead of the Spanish pair and reached the summit at ten A.M. on October 2. They spent two hours on top until the arrival of the Spaniards. Returning the way they had come, Loretan and Troillet completed the descent to Base Camp in the amazing time of nine hours. This was the fifth ascent of the difficult west pillar and establishes a record as the fastest ascent of the mountain. It was Loretan’s twelfth 8000er and Troillet’s sixth. As noted below, the two Spaniards who made the sixth ascent of the west pillar met disaster on the descent when Badiola tragically fell to his death on the difficult rock section at about 8300 meters. (This information was kindly given by Erhard Loretan.)

TREVOR Braham, Alpine Club