Finally, we have touched this beautiful mountain properly. After having been up to our camp 1 at 6,100m for one night and tagged camp 2 at about 6,500m, we are back at our base camp. I am saying ‘our base camp’ as we seem to be camped about two hours further down the hill than the other teams that have not arrived yet. Why we are lower down, I am not sure as it adds quite a long way to reach camp 1 with a heavy pack. On the other hand, it is a much nicer and cleaner site.
We started out on Wednesday morning with heavy packs and had to negotiate our way across huge boulder fields to reach crampon point, which took us the best part of four hours. Crampon point is the place where you get on the glacier and put on your harness and, as the name suggests, your crampons and your big 8,000m boots. We were very lucky, as two of our kitchen boys, Lhakpa and Mingma, carried our heavy boots to the bottom of the glacier, which saved us carrying a few kilos.
As you never know about hidden crevasses on the glacier, we roped up and moved across the icy fields – and we did so very slowly as we were walking in the heat of the day and the sun was beating down relentlessly. Our five Sherpas, Chhiring, Pemba, Nima, Tenji and Angchuk had gone a day ahead to establish Camp I, however, when we reached the plateau, where we thought our camp should be, there were no tents. We saw our Sherpas coming down a steep slope smiling and saying, “another two hours to camp”.
As all eight of us were pretty tired at this point (as I mentioned before, our base camp is another two hours further down the hill), our jaws dropped. Fortunately Suzanne, our guide, remembered that our kitchen boys had not only carried our boots to crampon point but also four tents, which they had put in the deposit tent there. So, our poor Sherpas were asked to run back down and fetch the tents for us. I felt very bad for them and even though I think all of us would have made it further up the hill, we would have been very exhausted.
Superhuman or not?
While the Sherpas ran down to crampon point, we checked the place for crevasses, boiled water for everyone and within one hour, Chhiring and Angchuk were back up again with four tents. Amazing! I often admire the strength and great powers of the Sherpas, however, sometimes we forget that they also get tired and that they are actually not superhuman. I bet these two men were quite tired when they got back down to base camp after their long day.
As far as the rest of our day went, we pitched or tents, got as comfortable as possible, boiled lots of water, tried to eat (food does not go down well up high) and went to sleep at about 6pm. The next morning we were woken up by glorious sunshine and rather than going down immediately we thought we should check out the higher camp and go for a stroll up the slope. The Sherpas had fixed a rope up the steep section to which we clipped in our safety gear and climbed up towards the higher camp.
The conditions on the mountain seem pretty good and despite being post monsoon, there is not too much snow. Some of us crashed in the tents at 6,350m for a rest and some of us went further up the hill to see where we could put our second camp, which will probably be at an altitude of 6,500m….. However, that’s for later, when we go back up in a couple of days. For the time being we will relax, wash (very much needed), eat and get ready for the next acclimatisation phase, which we will start on Sunday.
Then, we will inch our way up to Camp I, spend two nights at Camp II, establish Camp III on the Makalu La at about 7,300m and sleep there for at least one night to acclimatise our bodies as well as possible for our summit attempt, which we will be doing without the use of supplementary oxygen.
Different acclimatisation methods
So far, it has been a great trip and I hope that the weather gods will be with us and we will get a good chance to go for the summit at the end of September or beginning of October. The nice thing is that we have been on the ‘road’ for more than two weeks and that we have seen and experienced many things and met many people, which makes the summit an extra bonus.
A few teams are still expected to arrive, however, some of them are taking a helicopter to the lower Makalu base camp, which still lies at a height of 4,800m. In order not to feel altitude sick upon arrival, the members of those teams have been sleeping in hyperbolic tents in their homes for the past six weeks. These pressurised tents are supposed to acclimatise the body to an altitude of about 6,000m, however, I am not sure whether it acclimatises your body to the different environment, the different food, the different sleeping arrangements, the unusual toilets or the fact that you are in the middle of nowhere with very limited means of communication.
Anyway, I’d better stop rambling as I am not sure whether I will be able to send this update due to the limited Internet service here. But if I do, I hope you have enjoyed my little note and I hope that I will be able to send another update before our final summit attempt. Once again, thank you for your lovely messages and your support, which I definitely need on this big and beautiful mountain, I am feeling very humble towards.