I am reading a book of short stories of Chekhov: "True happiness is impossible without solitude. The fallen angel probably betrayed God because he longed for solitude, which angels do not know."
Snowed in the afternoon.
Seracs threatening the route; a few weeks later, one collapsed only about 30 seconds after an Austrian climber had passed.
Talked to the members of the Chilean expedition. They said they had fixed a little rope over an icy boulder, but otherwise said there was no difficulty to their camp 1 at 6200m. They had come down from their camp 2. Seemed nice guys --- asked me whether I was a guide [this proves they were nice guys].
After lunch, Guy told us his plans. On Sunday 15th puja. Then:
So (as Jean-Claude put it) we climb the mountain five times.While we are trooping up and down the mountain, the four climbing Sherpas will be fixing the ropes and carrying up the tents and oxygen (which I, at least, plan to use above Camp 4).
In the afternoon, I prepared some of my gear and got Bryan to make some loops for me to connect me to the fixed rope (with a carabiner and Petzl ascender). I have never seriously used fixed ropes before --- Makalu seems an interesting place to learn.
Also, I'm somewhat unhappy with the inconvenience and hassle of a big expedition. Instead of making myself coffee and breakfast when I wake, I have to walk over to the kitchen tent and scrounge some when the kitchen staff wake (about 7:30). On the mountain I'll have the inconvenience of sharing a tent. Finally, I seem to be acclimatizing faster than all these hotshots. I've been the only one healthy and energetic enough to go for long walks. Many of the others still have headaches and don't feel very well. The same goes for the three groups that got here before us: the Koreans and Spanish don't seem to have gone anywhere, and the Chileans have only set up a camp 2. On Mustagh Ata, I climbed the mountain in only 10 days from base camp at 4400m, with no to-ing and fro-ing, but Makalu is 900m (2950ft) higher and a much more difficult mountain; I'm concerned that Guy's regimen will only succeed in exhausting me.
In the morning we had a puja---a ceremony in which the Sherpas asked permission from the Gods to climb the mountain. It consisted of putting up prayer flags, chanting, a fire of juniper, and some ritual eating and dispersal of food. During the ceremony, it grew very cold and started snowing; perhaps, not a good omen.
Putting up the prayer flags during the puja; Tenzing at right.
The Chileans came over, and we had a pleasant chat.
After lunch Katie and Jonelle left for the south Makalu base camp to hitch a ride out on a helicopter to go trekking in the Khumbu. Katie had had a persistent altitude headache at base camp, and so they had abandoned their plan to cross the three 6000m cols to the Khumbu.
Guy went to a meeting with the other teams, and came back with words of praise for the Chileans and anger for the Koreans (as being arrogant and uncooperative). The Chileans and Koreans had agreed to have their sherpas work together fixing ropes, but the Koreans refused to allow us to join the consortium, or even to use their ropes. [As it turned out, this was not a problem: the Korean ropes were so lousy that no one wanted to use them anyway.]
It was warm and sunny in the afternoon.
Today, we would be climbing to Camp 1 and back. Guy told us we wouldn't be leaving until 8:30, but I worried that, if I left at 8:30, I would end up walking down a crevassed glacier unroped in the late afternoon with soft snow, and so I decided I would try and leave after the 7am breakfast. Confusion! Guy had told us breakfast would be at 7am but had told the kitchen staff that bed-tea was at 7am. Eventually I left at 7:35, about 45 minutes behind the sherpas and hour before I was supposed to (another black mark).
Climbed loose rock between the seracs. Had fun jumaring up a 10m fixed rope over an icy boulder.
Jean-Claude negotiating the icy boulder, while Guy ties his laces (photo taken on a later trip up the mountain).
Followed the sherpa tracks in the new snow, and then onto the easy snow. It was awesome to be alone up there with Makalu's giant W face to my right.
View of the west face of Makalu on the way to Camp 1.
The fun diminished when I eventually saw 12 climbers ahead of me --- the Koreans and our 4 sherpas. Continued up crevassed slopes to below the final slopes to camp 1 at about 10:35 (c6100m). There was a traffic jam on the fixed ropes there, so I returned down.
Climbers on the fixed ropes up the steep ice below Camp 1.
By now the Chileans, Spanish, and the others in our group were coming up.
I arrived back at base camp quite tired at 1pm. Saw the Chileans. Rested.
This day the Sherpas were supposed to carry to Camp 1, but they went to Camp 2 by mistake.
Guy had fruitful conversations with the Austrian and Iranian parties (who had arrived after us) --- we work together (or, rather, our sherpas work together) on the fixed ropes. We have 500m of fixed rope, and the Austrians gave us 400m more. A trekker with the Austrians had suffered a stroke and had to be evacuated; also a climber was evacuated (K & J went on their helicopter).
Temperature of 16F in morning. Weather was sunny but windy in the morning, sunny at midday, and later cold. Many of the others showered, but I rested hoping to get rid of the cold that ails me.
Tomorrow, we go up to camp 1 for 2 nights, and then perhaps to camp 2 for 1 night, before returning to BC for 2 days. Our strategy is to go slowly and acclimatize well. I worried about how long this was all taking --- what happened if we got a big storm? Guy said that even a large (6 ft) snowfall would clear in a few days.
I should be excited, but I'm a bit worried about not being completely well. First signs of cold began on 6th (11 days ago). Most of the others, who set off with colds, shook them off during the trek in.
Reached Camp 1 at 1pm tired and in bad weather. The sherpas had erected 5 tents, and Mark assigned me one --- a big Mac Pac --- which I shared with Takashi. I spent the afternoon resting.
The view looking west from Camp 1.
As usual, I was packed first, and so was rewarded with having to break trail for the others. I stopped before the fixed ropes to put on my crampons and other gear, and to wait while those who had passed me climbed the fixed ropes.
The others climbing the fixed ropes on the way to Camp 2.
Finally left up the fixed ropes before only Rob and Takashi. Climbing the fixed ropes was hard work because they were long, the last part was very steep, and the footsteps in the ice were barely sufficient. As I neared the top, the wind revived, and it became extremely cold. From the top of the ropes, it was only a plod in a gusty high and very cold wind to the camp --- I had to put on my heavy down jacket. Guy helped me take off my crampons and install myself in my tent. Takashi struggled in about 10min after me.
Takashi has had an altitude headache ever since we left Tashigaon. Rob also has some altitude problems, and so the two of them went down about midday. Guy vomits for the second successive day, but otherwise seems O.K..
My cold continues to worry me --- much coughing, and now pain from the sinuses at the back of my nose.
After Takashi leaves, I have the large Mac Pac tent to myself. The food I have to eat is execrable: no breakfast food, 4 identical Japanese soups, 2 barely edible cheesy somethings. I am angry, especially when I discover that everyone else (including Guy) had grabbed all the good food.
I spent the day reading, with rare excursions outside for the view.
At tea, Guy talked about the Adventure Consultants 1995 Everest expedition. They reached the South Summit (8763m,28750ft), and Guy continued. The snow on the top of the ridge was bad so he kept on the face below the top of the ridge; then a 20--30 foot wide cornice collapsed behind him [it "unzipped" along his footprints]. Since it was late (12:30) they decided to return. Chantelle Mauduit [a client] collapsed, so (I think) Guy gave her his oxygen and helped her down. Eventually, the Sherpas took over, while Guy helped Doug Hansen [a client, who died the next year near the summit of Everest], who was falling over every step. It got dark, but they found a bottle of oxygen left for them by Ed Viesteurs [an AC guide] --- this allowed him to put Hansen on 4 litres per min, so that he now fell over only every second step. Guy got back to the camp at 9:30pm, and spent the night with Rob Hall keeping Doug Hansen and Chantelle Mauduit alive.
Tomorrow we go to camp 2; then we rest one day; then we go Makalu La and return to base camp in one day. In the afternoon we packed our own food for the excursion.
Began snowing after lunch, and by 5:30 there is a couple of inches on the ground, but it doesn't look serious.
I am reading Klemperer: I Will Bear Witness 1933-1941 (A Diary of the Nazi years): "I am ploddingly and hopelessly reading Crebillon... I do not believe that I shall once again find the youthful boldness for a grand and blind general survey, I am drowning in material and scruples..." July 28, 1933 --- he was only 52 at the time!
We have a communications tent where we can send and receive e-mail via satellite (for $7 a shot). Whenever we are in base camp, the tent is in constant use. Also Keith has a phone, and typically spends more than an hour per day on it. I resolutely refuse to have anything to do with communications. At least we use solar panels to charge the batteries --- the Chileans have a petrol generator. Our boom box is playing pop music almost continuously all day. Except for all that, base camp would have been a pleasant spot.
I'm getting a bit bored, as I thought I would, with all the sitting around at camps that are too high to be comfortable; also, with the communal meals, where everyone seems to have run out of new things to say. Concerning the climb, it will be spectacular to get to Makalu La. If I can make a strong attempt on the summit, I think I will judge the trip a success.
The method of climbing --- no climbing rope, only fixed ropes--- is new to me, but I'm starting to get the hang of it. I think will be able to hold my own (especially using oxygen above Camp 4).
Keith's decision to pass me in a dangerous fashion only 20m from the top of the fixed ropes is inexplicable to me. We had left base camp at about the same time 3 hours earlier, and sometimes he had been ahead and sometimes I had been. So what had induced him to try to pass me there when we were only a few minutes from easy ground?
Something in Keith's knee had popped, causing him to fall --- he hadn't injured it in the fall. Guy diagnosed the injury as serious --- in particular, his kneecap had much more movement than it should --- and told Keith he would have to return to base camp. Keith wanted to go to Camp 2 and hope that it would heal with rest. Guy escorted Keith down.
[Keith returned to base camp without difficulty, where a doctor with the Chilean expedition confirmed Guy's diagnosis. Keith was escorted down to the south Makalu base camp by two sherpas the next day. He experienced considerable pain during the descent and took 8 hours. The next day he went by helicopter to Kathmandu. The day he descended, a Korean who had contracted pulmonary edema between camps 1 and 2 also descended. but he couldn't afford the helicopter.]
After Keith had set off down with Guy, I climbed from camp 1 (c. 6300m) to camp 2 (c. 6750m). Apart from on the fixed ropes, I pretty much kept up with everyone else.
Beautiful windless morning. I leave at 8:30, after everyone else. Beautiful walk across shelf, then up easy slope to the fixed ropes (9:30).
Climbing the fixed ropes from Camp 2 to Makalu La (7400m).
Climbed easy fixed ropes to a rock (10:40). Waited for Willie. My estimate from his altimeter was that I had climbed about 270m (900ft) (so about 7000m, 23000 ft) --- less than half-way to the La. Nevertheless, I descended so that I could get back to BC without exhausting myself.
Willie on the fixed ropes at about 7000m (23000 ft).
I made a very slow descent, and didn't get back to BC until 4pm.
I had my usual problems on the lower fixed ropes: the usual one was frozen into the ice and I couldn't get my figure of eight (descender) onto it. Instead I descended a rope Guy had put in, but the second section was also frozen into the ice. I contemplated crossing to other rope, but the memory of Keith's fall inhibited me. Fortunately, a sherpa going up on the other rope freed it for me. Then I felt exhausted on a small traverse. I was extremely tired by the time reached base camp --- I had to stop and rest twice while crossing the almost flat final slope to the camp.
Near the bottom, I discovered I've left behind my orange bag with the things I wanted to bring down --- ascender, glasses, ... --- as well as my wallet... Takashi remembers seeing it in the vestibule, and Guy radioed the Sherpas to put it inside my tent.
The others, following the same logic as me, stopped about 200m below the La and made a rapid descent: most were in BC only shortly after me.
A bad day for me --- 270m (900ft) in 2 hours 10 minutes starting from 6750m (22150ft) isn't bad, but on Mustagh Ata I snow-shoed up 1200m of trackless snow in 6 1/2 hours starting from 6200, and my exhaustion on the descent was ominous. The big test is going to be the climb (with personal gear) from camp 2 (6750m) to camp 3 (7400m). The first 450m is easy, but the final section is 200m up a steep icy couloir. I need to regain my enthusiasm for the mountain.
The point of Guy's regimen is that one should feel better, and climb faster, each time one goes up the mountain, but this time I was slower and felt worse than the previous time.
Guy talked about 1996 again. When Neil Beidleman [guide with Mountain Madness] got down he said that lots of people did bad things up there...
For myself, if I was feeling as good as I was on Mustagh Ata I would be quite confident. However, on my last trip up the mountain, despite all the acclimatization, I didn't feel that good. I just have to hope that I rise to the big occasion. These trips up and down the mountain are exhausting me. Since, unlike everyone else (including Guy and Takashi), I haven't had a single symptom of altitude sickness since arriving at base camp, I should surely be resting.
In 12 days we should all be back at base camp and packing to leave.
Warm, but partly cloudy in the morning; light snow or rain in the afternoon.
Rob enjoying the sun at Camp 2.
The Adventure Consultant's "high altitude food" is very bad --- except for the porridge and the 2 muesli bars we are allowed per day, most of it has a very high fat content 50--80%, which is the opposite of what it should be. [To be useful, food eaten at high altitude needs to be almost all carbohydrate; eating fat, even when you can, does you no good, because you don't digest it.]
There is something strange with my fluid balance. I drank enough water last evening so that I urinated a couple of times during the night. Nevertheless, I was very dehydrated in the morning. To Takashi's astonishment, I drank 4 one-pint mugs of weak tea. Nevertheless, my mouth was dry when I set off. I drank a pint on the climb, and more when I returned. Nevertheless, I didn't pee until 2pm.
Talked with Jean-Claude and Guy about options. I just want to get back to Kathmandu (math) and Ann Arbor (more math).
It doesn't say much for Guy's acclimatization regimen that Jean-Claude and I, who had both reached the summit of Mustagh Ata (7545m) without significant difficulty only 8 months earlier, were unable to climb over 7000m on Makalu. Since, unlike everyone else, I had no symptoms at all of altitude sickness, five trips up the mountain were surely excessive for me. If I had been able to make fewer trips, and been able to spend more time resting (possibly at a lower altitude than our base camp, which was unusually high), I should have been able to reach camp 3 and join the summit bid.
News: The Koreans and Spanish made unsuccessful bids on the summit --- the slopes before the final (French) couloir to the summit ridge were too icy. The Spanish reached c8300m, where they were stopped because they hadn't climbed the French couloir. Several parties are now moving up to attempt it.