The Walk in Base Camp

1.4.01. Flew to Tumlingtar (457m; 1500ft)

In the morning (in Kathmandu) I bought a few batteries and a pile of tablets for sore throats. Packed up, and at 11am we left for the airport. After a good deal of hassle with the gear --- they said they could take only 250kg on the plane but we had 450kg --- we took off in an antiquated Dornier and got to Tumlingtar at about 2pm. Stayed in lodge. It was hot, and there were violent thunderstorms during the late afternoon.

2.4.01. Walk to Mani Bhanjang (1158m; 3800ft)

Woke early and read for a while. Got up, and packed, and was ready to leave at 6:30am, but our group breakfast wasn't until 7:30. I decided to leave on my own to take advantage of the cool morning air (my first black mark). Took several photos because the light was great, the morning fog was lifting, and the mountains were clearing.

The decrepit hotels near Tumlingtar airport, in the early morning.

Fog and trees. A little later, when the fog had lifted a little, it was possible to see the mountains, including Makalu.

Reached Mani Banjang a little after 10. Had lunch. Found good spot to sit in shade of bamboos above a big camp site (soccer field), and read. Hamish showed up and we talked with some of the local kids, whose English was surprisingly good. Eventually wandered over to our camp site, and was happy find that four of us had been assigned tents of our own. I found it a short, but pleasant, walk--- good views, and interesting walking through villages. It was hot, but not as bad as I feared. A large Iranian party bound for Makalu arrived at the soccer field. There seem to be about 20 of them, and they always trek in a single line with only about 2 feet between them. We have over 45 porters. Before dinner we went down the town for a beer, and some of the others shot at a sign with slingshots they had bought. Eventually, Guy put a stone clean through the sign.

3.04.01. Walk to Chichira (1920m; 6300ft).

Today the sherpas brought us tea at 6 and we had breakfast at 6:30. I left at 7, and reached the ridge at 9. View of Makalu. I stopped, had some of my lunch, and was joined by most of the others. Had fun following Guy at high speed along the trail. I am starting to feel really good. Stopped at Chichira --- beautiful spot on the ridge. Good day. Two Germans came down with tales of Shipton pass being closed by several feet of snow, but I don't think we'll have problem.

Guy said that Time Magazine sent someone to Everest base camp to write an article about how much garbage was there. But there is no garbage there, so he took a photo of Adventure Consultant's temporary garbage heap, and wrote the article anyway. [Why is the world so interested in the garbage, or the lack thereof, on Everest? Among all the world's evironmental problems, this hardly counts.]

4.4.01. Walk to Num (1524m; 5000ft).

Beautiful views in the morning of Chamlang and Makalu as we walked along a ridge.

Chamlang and Makalu from Chichira.

I left at 6:45, and ambled by myself for a while, and then with various people. Stopped for 2 hours at the highest point to read and admire the view. A few rhododendrons were in bloom. Then walked down to Num about 3pm. Probably walked for about 4 hours.

We discussed whether our group could maintain Iranian formation for even 30 seconds --- the consensus was no.

5.4.01. To Sedua (1500; 4922)

Left at 6:30, and descended a steep trail to the river. For a while, a Nepalese woman walked behind me so I could hear her radio. There was news of the collision between a Chinese fighter plane and an American surveillance plane, which was just about the last news of the world that I heard for the next five weeks.

Sedua woman and radio.

Reached the Arun river below Num at 7:30 and Sedua at 9:30. As I arrived 3 porters arrived carrying 90kg (200lbs) each(!), mainly beer. The rest of the members straggled in, followed by the porters. I spent the afternoon reading and drinking beer.

...I am enjoying the trek in except, as usual, I would rather be going faster.

6.4.01. To Tashigaon (2057 m, 6750 ft)

Felt a slight cold come on during the night --- Keith and most of the NZers started the trek with colds. So far, it only amounts to a sniffle.

There was quite a lot of haze, even in the morning. Left at 6:35 and walked up to a mani wall. There rested, and several of the others arrived. Reached Tashigoan at 9:45 and had a beer with Rob. The women trekkers and Keith and his two sons arrived, and we had an enjoyable lunch together. The others went with Takashi to see some famous bee hives that Takashi had filmed on a previous trip, but they didn't get a very good view. Tashigoan is our first Sherpa village; also the last permanent village we'll see.

At Tashigaon we replaced some of the porters we brought from Tumlingtar with Tashigaon men --- this required long discussions. The Tumlingtar men don't like to travel in the cold snowy country above Tashigaon, and the Tashigaon sherpas don't like to travel in the hot country below.

7.4.01. To Kaungma (3500, 11484).

Morning was beautiful --- very clear. Left at 6:30. As usual, fun conversations with Takashi, Katie, and others going up. Some magnolia and rhododendrons flowering.


To my surprise, I ran into a lot of snow after a while. Many porters for a big group were coming down, some with instep crampons. One female porter had fallen on the icy snow, and had cut her face when she hit the trees. She looked a little shaken. I continued up in the snow in my running shoes without significant problems, and reached Kaungma at 10:30. There was a hut with two Nepalese there. Had beer, my last --- 200R ($2.70). Rob and JC arrived after about 15 minutes. Two very young Tashigoan porters (boy aged 11, girl aged 15) arrived soon after carrying loads. They dumped the loads, and went tobogganing on the snow using plastic sheets. Keith's children arrived in 7 hours from Tashigaon (Lawrence, aged 17) and about 9 hours (Alex, aged 13) looking totally exhausted. The contrast with the Sherpa children was remarkable.

Porters arrived late, especially those with my bag. Thereafter I carried my tent (c 3kg) myself, because typically it would be fine in the morning but would rapidly get cloudy and cold in the afternoon.

It's a little disconcerting to be camped on snow and still have 5000m to climb.

8.4.01. Crossed Shipton Pass to Mumbuk (3500, 11484)

Weather was good in morning, but rapidly became a bit dubious. Left at about 7am. Switched to my walking shoes (New Balance 972), which felt a little better on the snow than my running shoes (NB 1300). [My climbing boots, and much else, had gone by helicopter to the south Makalu base camp.] The snow was icy, and the route looked a little scary for light shoes, but fortunately there were good tracks all the way.

The route to Shipton Pass followed the top of the foreground ridge.

Reached Mumbuk just before 12, so it took me almost 5 hours, which is the guidebook time. There was some danger --- many places a slip on the icy snow would have been serious, and in some places the tracks were not good. Rob had worn climbing boots and crampons and was there about half an hour before me [all the way in to base camp from Num, one of the two of us would always reach the campsite first]. I pitched my tent, and took a nap.

9.1.01. Barun valley (3900m, 12800 ft)

My cold caused me to feel bad for a while during the night. Some cloud in the morning, and the barometer is down slightly.

There was snow on the descent through the trees, which made it unpleasant in light walking shoes. Then across the rock slides --- beautiful views of Makalu. [The ridge we had crossed sheltered the Barun valley from bad weather, which comes from the south, and the trail was largely free of snow all the up the Barun to base camp.]

Our porters taking a rest in the beautiful Barun valley.

Reached the bridge crossing the river in about 3 hours; had some lunch there and watched a helicopter land (this is where we stayed in 1996). Was opposite Nehe Kharka in another hour. Here Rob and I almost got lost by following the trail across the river, but we waited for some sherpas to follow. Reached the hut where we had lunch in 1996, but there was too much dung for us to camp there, and we carried onto a beautiful campsite about 20 minutes further on (5 hours). I was feeling a bit grungy from my cold early on, but I finished fast. Put up my tent (which I had been carrying) and relaxed.

About 3:30 (over tea) we heard that Alex was in trouble --- he was moving extremely slowly and was exhausted. Guy sent down some porters to carry him up to our camp. He arrived at 6:30, just on dark. The porters carried him only for about the last half hour (my pace). Although he is only 13, Alex weighs 170lbs. Fortunately, tomorrow is a fairly easy day to a little past Shershon to where our bags were helicoptered, and we spend a day there to acclimatize.

My cold has reached the coughing stage. I hope I can get rid of it in the next two days. It is making me feel a bit grungy.

10.1.01. South Makalu Base Camp (4700, 15421)

Cold has moved to throat. I am worried about it. Weather clear in the morning with beautiful views of Peak 6. Alex was obviously not going anywhere. Guy, Hamish, and Keith stay with him, and they send out by satellite phone for a helicopter to take Lawrence and Alex to Kathmandu ($3500 = three Nepalese houses).

JC on the climb to south Makalu base camp --- there was some new snow on the ground in the morning.

I set off at 7am, and reached Yak Kharka [=Yak meadow] at 8am. A Nepalese couple was living there, and I stopped for a cup of tea. The weather was still very clear, but the clouds were starting. I walked very slowly, but without stops except towards the end. I passed Shershon (4600m, 15100ft) at 11am, said hullo to Katie who had got there before me, and continued on. I reach our campsite near the American base camp (c4700m) at 12:03 --- as usual, the walk had taken me about 5 hours. Rob arrived about 10 minutes before me and most of the rest about an hour later. Put up my tent and enjoyed its warmth. My cold had given me a very unpleasant severe sore throat during the walk. I am a little worried --- it is reminiscent of 1995 when I had severe coughing problems.

Guy radioed while we were having tea, and he and Hamish and Keith arrived an hour or two later.

An American expedition is at the south Makalu base camp attempting the difficult southwest ridge of Makalu. One of their 6 climbers has already left with severe altitude sickness. On the walk in, they had to use their Gamow bag to save a Korean climber with altitude sickness who had been left behind by his companions near Shipton pass . The other Koreans seemed unconcerned by his near death: apparently, they didn't much like the guy anyway.

Each evening, we have dinner together, which takes about one and a half hours. The food is very good.

11.4.01. Rest/acclimatization day at south Makalu BC

My cough was very bad during the night, but in the morning my cold seemed much better. Weather perfect in the morning. So far we have been extremely lucky with the weather. The parties before us complained of bad weather during the walk in.

Makalu --- the standard route approaches the summit from the north, behind the ridge to left of the summit in the picture. The American party were attempting the foreground ridge leading to the shoulder at the right of the summit.

Discussed the tragic events of 1996 with Guy. [At the time Guy was nearby attempting Pumori; when the tragedy unfolded he went to Everest base camp and took charge of the rescue.] He said that in all the accounts he has read, people tell lies ...

Weather was cold, breezy, and snowy in the afternoon. My cold continues: cough, sinuses.

12.04.01. To base camp (5700, 18700)

Weather was fine again in the morning. Tea at 5:30am as usual, and breakfast at 6am. I left up the valley at 6:50 so slowly that I was soon passed by everyone, including many porters. Walked up a fairly good trail to Hillary base camp. Not long after, we crossed the glacier on moraine. The trail was hard to follow, except that the porters knew it. Soon headed right (east) up a side valley. I lost the way for about 20mins because I didn't cross to the north side of the side valley. At this point only Rob and JC were ahead of me. Basically, I followed a porter up. Amazingly, some porters had already dropped their loads and were coming down (but they started about 6am). Rob and JC stopped for a rest, and I reached the camp site before them at 12:10. Rob was on my heels, and JC arrived about 5 minutes later. I helped Rob put up a North Face V25 tent, the sherpas put up a big MacPac tent for me, and JC took a big MacPac that was already setup. The others started arriving about 1:15, and everyone was at base camp by about 3:30.

It was a very good day for me: a good walk and my cold didn't bother me; in fact it feels a little better. It is great to be at base camp. Hamish's GPS gave its altitude as 5700m (18,700ft).

Many of the others have headaches or lightheadedness from the altitude, and JC skipped dinner. No one had a big appetite for dinner. I feel quite good except for cold.