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Makalu
West Ridge

Fascinating Project
at 8485 Meters

I have arrived home. Earlier than planned. And that’s why my feelings are naturally torn right now: On the one hand, disappointment about the forced abandoment and uncertainty about the reasons that led to it. On the other hand, my joy remains strong that I was able to make the right decision for me on the mountain – joy that I came home healthy and that I was able to wrap my loved ones in my arms earlier than planned.

We had set an ambitious goal with the West Pillar of Makalu. And since we chose to climb without supplemental oxygen and in the expedition style we practice, we had to consider the potential for failure.

All of this was clear to us at the start. And now, here I sit, at the very point where the adventure came to an early end.

What I have left now are the experiences I was allowed to have during this incredible time. We were a good team, everything worked well, and we had a great deal of fun.

One reaches Makalu’s base camp only after a trek of several days. That was certainly not the least of the reasons that our group had the privilege to be completely alone on our planned route. Even on the normal route we used for acclimatization training we didn’t encounter any crowds.

At an altitude of 5,440 meters above sea level, the base camp is already significantly higher than all of the mountains in Europe. Thus, one spends most of the time in high-altitude mountaineering in acclimatization, in letting the body get used to the altitude. That’s because without question the largest danger on the roof of the world is developing life-threatening pulmonary or cerebral edema. We are however all experienced mountaineers. We therefore have confidence we can correctly assess our situation.

Our strategy is relatively simple: First, take a look around the West ridge and then use the normal route to get used to the altitude. Then we just need to wait for a good weather window for our summit attempt. There are often only one or two of these windows before monsoons put an end to the mountaineering season.

The first acclimatization round takes us to the foot of the West Pillar at 6,000 meters above sea level. For the second, we climb to Camp 1 taking the normal route (6,400 meters). After spending two nights there, we climb to 6,850 meters and spent a further night at that altitude. That’s when I first feel a strong headache.

That is in and of itself not unusual during acclimatization. Disquieting is, though, that the headache is focused on one side of my head. Plus, I have accompanying vision problems with my right eye. I am however firmly convinced it will ease up when we descend to base camp the next day. That’s why I take some medications that offer some relief overnight.

As expected, the headache disappears in base camp, and I’m certain it was only some early difficulties adjusting. I am well prepared. Conditions are looking good, as are the team’s motivation and camaraderie. What a great sensation to feel prepared!

After 5 days of bad weather, we start our third acclimatization round. Our plan is to spend a night at 6,700 meters, and then to ascend farther to Makalu La (the saddle between Makalu and Kangchungtse at 7,350 meters above sea level). There, we would spend another night. David and I climb quite quickly and reach the camp at 6,700 meters after only 4 hours.

We start to put up our tent before the rest of the team arrives. I feel very good. It’s just 2 p.m. as we lie down in the tent. Not a quite an hour later, I start to experience the same symptons, which are unusual for this altitude.

At first, I don’t take any medicine, knowing that as soon as I take some medications, moving on and up in the morning is out of the question. That would be too dangerous since the symptoms of cerebral edema are masked by medications and could be felt too late. If you ignore these symptoms, cerebral edema usually ends in death.

The pain becomes so strong that I must take a double dose of the normal tablets. David and Michi, both of whom have a lot of high-altitude mountaineering experience, soon made it plain to me, “You have to descend immediately.” At this moment, it’s not of course easy for me to accept the demand. On the one hand, however, I don’t want to put my own life in danger. In the end, it isn’t about only me: I have a family at home.

In addition, I don’t want to put my colleagues in danger when we are out on the West ridge. It is clear to me that if I fall behind in acclimatization, I can’t keep up with the rest of the team later. Thus, the decision to abort the expedition early was at the end quite simple – in fact, really totally clear!

David accompanied me down to Camp 1. From there, I can descend alone. Our sirdar Karma meets me at 5,700 meters and carries my pack back to base camp.

What great luck to have such a great team. After my colleagues return to base camp after reaching Makalu La, we have to discuss the situation.

Meanwhile, of course, I put in a lot of thought. Did I simply climb to quickly? Did I not acclimatize enough? Or did this simply have to do with the skull fracture that I suffered a few years ago? What could the symptoms mean? And what does it mean for my future? Lots of questions!

In the meantime, it seems relatively clear to me that it is related to my skull fracture; I am still receiving medical consultation. But the most important answer was obvious: For me, this expedtion is at an end!

David Göttler, Michi Wärthl, Daniel Bartsch and Han Mitterer continue on the mountain on the normal route. I am thankful to them for the fantastic camaraderie and the caring support.

Kathmandu! We have arrived and are immersed in the chaos, the noise and bustle of this wonderful city! I think I like it here so much, because it either means that I’m on my way to embarking on some adventure or because I am passing through on my way back home.

This visit concerns the first point! As of yesterday our team is now complete; Steph arrived from Switzerland via Delhi, the rest of us from Doha and we celebrated the first evening of the coming 8 weeks that lie ahead of our expedition to Makalu together for the first time, Steph, Hans, Daniel, Michi and me.

Here in Kathmandu we packed the things we had previously stored, checked the air cargo and made the necessary briefings to the authorities. It is always a privilege and honor to be visited , personally by Mrs. Hawley. Meticulously and with her dry sense of humor, she wants to hear everything about our planned expedition.

How have we planned getting to the base camp, what route have we chosen, where do we want to camp, are we going to use fixed ropes and if yes how many, do we plan on using supplemental oxygen?

The answer to both latter questions is “no”. Due to the fact that we still aren’t really sure of the exact height of the camps we will be establishing we have to fib a little. At the end of our meeting we give her some much appreciated replacement parts for her VW Beetle, a dream vintage car!

Now we are waiting, patiently for the 12th when we are scheduled to fly from Kathmandu to Tumlingtar, and from there to the base camp. We will need about 10 days for the trek in that starts at a mere 800m and then slowly climbs to over 5000m. When we arrived at base camp and have everything set up, we will be in touch again!

Yesterday evening we arrived as planned to base camp at 5420 meters above sea level! On April 18th after an interesting trek we reached the so-called “Hillary Base Camp” at 4835 meters above sea level, a day earlier than we had originally planned.

It snowed the next night and following day, and continued to do so until April 21st! With much persuasion, Sirdar Karma, our head porter convinced the other porter’s to continue further despite the bad weather. The path was tedious and took us over a rock glacier. The new snow slowed us down and impeded our every step, until finally a 140 meters below our planned base camp the porters threw in the towel!

It snowed again and we were left with no other choice but to carry the material we could up ourselves. Once we’d finally reached our base camp, tired and exhausted we cooked a simple dinner and disappeared into our sleeping bags.

We’ve built our base camp on a moraine, a dream! This morning was beautiful! For the first time we were able to set our eyes on the Makalu and marvel at it’s majestic size and beauty! This mighty mountain instill’s respect and awe.

We have our camp all to ourselves – a rare privilege for an eight-thousander!

We are away from all the hustle and bustle; the climbers for the normal route have their base camp a good 300 meters higher than we are. Today we transported the last of the material the porters deposited before turning around. Five porters will meet us later with the remaining gear still left to be brought up from the Hillary-Camp.

We are slowly getting set up here and getting used to the altitude. We all get along well and it’s been a lot of fun, despite the very minor setbacks we’ve encountered.

It’s great to be ‘on the road’ with such a solid team! Tomorrow we hope the last of our material arrives and we can finally settle into our Aerie!

We are alone here in the Makalu base camp for the west ridge, enjoying the quiet and being able to fully concentrate on climbing. We heard of the events that took place on Everest over the radio and then from back home, and are even more glad to be over here on Makalu.

As of yesterday, our first acclimatization trip is behind us and we are all doing well and are back at base camp!
We climbed to 6200m on the ridge, which leads to the actual West Pillar, and then continued after a rest day, and spent three nights on the normal route for further acclimatization up to 6800m.

Exploring the West Ridge: What’s nice is that we are slowly but surely getting closer! It’s been over a year now that we’ve been preoccupied with Makalu and the West Pillar: finally we’ve been able to tackled the first few meters of the ridge!
About a week ago we head out to explore the beginning of the ridge which leads to the actual West Pillar. We were all eager to see what we would find.

We were pleasantly surprised with what was waiting for us; a snow-free stone and gravel ramp up to about 6000m. We set up our tents and the next day set out over a firn and ice ridge. The ice here is incredibly hard and brittle. How many times during pre monsoon in recent years, have the conditions been this dry with so much bare ice? Let’s see if it will work to our advantage or disadvantage.

We explored the ridge up till 6200m and once we had taken a good look, we head back to where we had set up our tents for another night before heading back down to base camp the following day.

Further Acclimatizing on the Normal Route: The past few days, and more importantly nights have also been useful to optimize our set up. For example which sleeping bags combined with which tents work best, and above all are lightest.

We figured out that a combination of one sleeping bag for two in a short compact tent works well for some, but not at all for tall people like Daniel, our camera man! In contrast, we also found out that squeezing three equally sized people (Hans, Michael and David) under a large sleeping bag works really well!

So we spent the last few nights on the mountain at a weight saving optimum, even if the experiment meant a few sleepless nights! We were alone on the West Pillar, but here on the normal route we have bumped into other expeditions.

We were first to set up our tents at camp 1 for two nights. During the first of our very long, and I mean long days there, we met Nima Sherpa who arrived around midday. Nima Sherpa is the personal porter of Japanese mountain climber. He asked us where he should put his tent, and we answered him that it didn’t matter to us, just that he pay attention to the crevasse about 5m in distance away.

He began digging a platform and we went back to our pursuits of snow melting, drinking, eating, listening to music and reading.
Suddenly I saw Nima’s head … blubb, simply slip down one level; no cry, no sign of alarm! At first I did not know if maybe it was an optical illusion, but no, it was not!

Daniel, who was in front of the tent and wearing shoes, was first on site! He grabbed Nima by the arm, his belly still hanging in the crevasse. Michi quickly arrived and wasting no time they pulled Nima out. All eyes were on the hole, maybe not really deep enough to be lethal, but Nima was now firmly convinced that we had saved his life!

He repeatedly thanked us! We were happy that we could help him out and also happy because he involuntarily added a small highlight to our day! After the nights at camp 1, we spent another at 6800m, about 150m above the actual camp 2.

On the third morning the wind was already so strong that we decided to descend to base camp. In warm sleeping bags and after a great “welcome back” dinner prepared by our cook Man Baradur, the wind arrived here too and tore through base camp; blowing violently against our tents during the night. At breakfast Hans complained about the layer of dust lining his tent. We were happy we were no longer sitting up on the mountain!

So now we’re here at base camp waiting for the next good weather window to climb the Makalu La at a height of about 7400m and acclimatize ourselves further. After that we will be in contact again for sure! We wish you all the best and many greetings from Makalu.

I have arrived home. Earlier than planned. And that’s why my feelings are naturally torn right now: On the one hand, disappointment about the forced abandonment and uncertainty about the reasons that led to it. On the other hand, my joy remains strong that I was able to make the right decision for me on the mountain – joy that I came home healthy and that I was able to wrap my loved ones in my arms earlier than planned.

We had set an ambitious goal with the West Pillar of Makalu. And since we chose to climb without supplemental oxygen and in the expedition style we practice, we had to consider the potential for failure.

All of this was clear to us at the start. And now, here I sit, at the very point where the adventure came to an early end. What I have left now are the experiences I was allowed to have during this incredible time. We were a good team, everything worked well, and we had a great deal of fun.

One reaches Makalu’s base camp only after a trek of several days. That was certainly not the least of the reasons that our group had the privilege to be completely alone on our planned route. Even on the normal route we used for acclimatization training we didn’t encounter any crowds.

At an altitude of 5,440 meters above sea level, the base camp is already significantly higher than all of the mountains in Europe. Thus, one spends most of the time in high-altitude mountaineering in acclimatization, in letting the body get used to the altitude. That’s because without question the largest danger on the roof of the world is developing life-threatening pulmonary or cerebral edema. We are however all experienced mountaineers. We therefore have confidence we can correctly assess our situation.

Our strategy is relatively simple: First, take a look around the West ridge and then use the normal route to get used to the altitude. Then we just need to wait for a good weather window for our summit attempt. There are often only one or two of these windows before monsoons put an end to the mountaineering season.

The first acclimatization round takes us to the foot of the West Pillar at 6,000 meters above sea level. For the second, we climb to Camp 1 taking the normal route (6,400 meters). After spending two nights there, we climb to 6,850 meters and spent a further night at that altitude. That’s when I first feel a strong headache.

That is in and of itself not unusual during acclimatization. Disquieting is, though, that the headache is focused on one side of my head. Plus, I have accompanying vision problems with my right eye. I am however firmly convinced it will ease up when we descend to base camp the next day. That’s why I take some medications that offer some relief overnight.

As expected, the headache disappears in base camp, and I’m certain it was only some early difficulties adjusting. I am well prepared. Conditions are looking good, as are the team’s motivation and camaraderie. What a great sensation to feel prepared!

After 5 days of bad weather, we start our third acclimatization round. Our plan is to spend a night at 6,700 meters, and then to ascend farther to Makalu La (the saddle between Makalu and Kangchungtse at 7,350 meters above sea level). There, we would spend another night. David and I climb quite quickly and reach the camp at 6,700 meters after only 4 hours.