Makalu, winter attempts. Five of the six 8,000m peaks still to be climbed in winter lie in the Pakistan Karakoram. The sixth, Makalu (8,485m) lies in eastern Nepal. Two teams were on the mountain together this winter. One was the tried and tested Italian trio of Romano Benet, his wife Nives Meroi (together with Gerlinde Kaltenburnner the leading women’s 8,000m peak collector), and Luca Vuerich (Benet and Nivoi had only recently returned from a post-monsoon attempt on Makalu). The other was a strong four-man Kazakh expedition comprising Gennady Durov, Sergei Samoilov, Eugeny Shutov and Denis Urubko. If anyone could overcome winter conditions on Makalu it was likely to be Samoilov and Urubko. The Kazakhs flew into the lower (4,800m) base camp on January 9, 2008, a few days prior to the Italians. They found the normal route up the west flank and northwest slopes in good condition, with snow rather than ice. After a number of aborted attempts thwarted by bad weather and high winds, they reached the Makalu La (7,400m) and at the start of February set out for a summit attempt. However, they only gained a short distance, reaching an altitude of ca 7,500m before, once again, being battered by ferocious winds. Retreat, even for the likes of Urubko, was the only option.
The Italians didn’t get quite as high but stuck it out for a few more days after the departure of the Kazakhs, until on February 9 storm-force winds destroyed their upper base camp (5,400m). Subsequently, on the long walk down the difficult moraine to lower base camp, Meroi was blown over by the wind and broke her right ankle. The others carried her down to camp, where despite continued high winds, all three were evacuated by helicopter on the 12th.
Before their arrival, Makalu had received about 11 attempts in winter, starting with Renato Casarotto’s 1981 expedition to the southeast ridge. The most memorable in recent years took place during the winter 2005-06 and resulted in the disappearance of the celebrated mountaineer, Jean-Christophe Lafaille. The Frenchman left his tent at 7,600m on January 27, 2006, for a summit push; how high he got is unknown, as his body has yet to be discovered. Previously, several climbers had reached heights of around 7,500m on both the normal route and the southeast ridge.
Lindsay Griffin, Mountain INFO, www.climbmagazine.com