Nepal 2001: Makalu, J.S. Milne

First draft 23.05.01; edited 06.10.01.

Makalu (8485m, 27939ft) is the fifth highest mountain in the world, after Everest, K2, Kangchenjunga, and Lhotse. It lies on the border of Nepal and Tibet about 20k east of Mount Everest. It was first climbed in 1955 by a very strong French party including the legendary Lionel Terray. Only five of the first 16 expeditions to Makalu were successful, and it had received only 167 ascents by the end of 2000 (versus 1172 for Everest). No one had climbed it twice (Everest has had 299 repeats). Typically, only 2 or 3 expeditions attempt Makalu each year, but this year there was a record number of about 7.

In January, an expedition I had planned for the spring of 2001 to Diran Peak in Pakistan fell through, and I had to look for an alternative. A search of the web revealed that the New Zealand company, Adventure Consultants, was organizing a nonguided expedition to Makalu led by Guy Cotter. After I had some e-mail contact with the company, Guy telephoned me from the Aconcagua base camp on February 3, and I joined the expedition. At that time, according to what Guy told me, it had only three members (Jean-Claude Latombe, Robert Stevens, Takashi Ozaki) and Guy. When we started, less than 2 months later, the expedition had 9 members, including a camera crew, plus a base camp manager.


From left: Bruce, Willie, Takashi, Guy, Rob, Jean-Claude, Bryan, Hamish, me (at base camp, 29.04.01); missing: Keith.

Camera man and base camp manager: Hamish Emerson (Guy, Takashi, and Bryan were also part of the film crew).

Trekkers: Katie Deans, Jonell Mills, Alex Kerr, Lawrence Kerr (the last two are sons of Keith).

High altitude Sherpas: Lhakpa Dorje Sherpa (climbing sirdar), Pasang Namgyal, Tenzing Gyaltsen, Pema Rinzing.

Expedition Sirdar: Ang Tshering Sherpa.

Ang Tshering Sherpa and Lhakpa Dorje Sherpa.

Most of the text that follows is taken verbatim from the journal I kept during the expedition.

30.3.01. Arrived in Kathmandu.

At Hotel Garuda, met Guy and Takashi.

Went to Timal Adventure Trekking [my usual trekking agency], and talked to Thulo Tamang and the Sanu Kancha Tamang. Business is not good. I suggested they need a web site. Perhaps I can help them...

Guy looked at my gear -- we have some different preferences but no problems.

Went to dinner with everyone who is here (all but Kerrs). We gave the two from the film crew a hard time. We don't like this hardships and adventures type stuff. On the other hand, they claim they are examining the psychology and science of high altitude mountaineering. [I'm skeptical of that! They are working for a TV documentary group based in Dunedin, NZ. Their documentary will be shown world wide by International (National) Geographic.]

31.3.01. Morning hike to Burlang Banjang.

Conditions had been unpleasant for outside exercise in Ann Arbor before I left (mud and snow), and so the day after I arrived in Kathmandu I went for a hike. I took a taxi at 6am to Sundarijal (1200 rupees ($16) round trip). Arrived at Sundarijal 6:40 and set off up path --- at one point you cut left and cross a dam but otherwise it is easy to find. Reached Burlang Banjang [Pass] 650 metres (2100ft) higher at 9:25 am. I had a good view of the Langtang peaks. Stayed half an hour and descended to my waiting taxi. On the way down, in a role reversal, a Nepalese took a photo of me with his baby daughter. My friend Gunjaman Tamang had called for me again at my hotel.

We (the expedition) had a meeting on the roof. While the camera whirred, Guy gave us a little talk. We have no doctor, but we can link quite quickly via satellite to various experts.

Finally I saw Gunjaman. He is building a second house for his extended family of 14. His father is 88 and his mother is 83. They never leave their village of Timal which is still a long walk from the nearest road. Now Gunjaman will trek no more (his children have persuaded him that he is too old). It was only an accident that he came to Kathmandu the same day as me, since he hadn't been here for six months. We discussed our six trips together.

Gunjaman said 8 men are working on his house, and are paid between 150R ($2) and 250R ($3.40) per day depending on their skill. It will take them about 8 weeks to build it, and it will cost about 90,000R ($1200).

[When Gunjaman was growing up, his village had no school, and so he is illiterate. However, he speaks his own Tamang language, Nepali, and some English, Hindi, etc.. He is at least as good at mental arithmetic as I am, and better, I'd guess, than 99% of the University of Michigan undergraduates. One of his sons is studying mathematics at the main Nepalese university in Kathmandu and works as a trekking guide during his holidays.]