The Cleanest Line

Makalu: New Route, Kangchungtse

Makalu: New Route, Kangchungtse

Oct 20, 2008 October 20, 2008

Makalu_2_4Some good news to start the week. On Saturday morning at 4:45 a.m. I received the following email and picture from Vince Anderson via satphone (hence the low resolution of the photo):


On Thurs., Oct. 16, Steve, Marko and I hiked up to C2 (ca. 6,700 m.) on the std. route of Makalu with the intention of staying a few nights for further acclimatization and possibly to climb Kanchungtse (Makalu 2 – 7,600 m.). Steve’s cough had not abated so he decided to just rest at C2 while Marko and I climbed. We wanted to try a route on the unclimbed west face (a previous attempt had ended on the ridge, just shy of the summit).

We woke early the following morning to clear skies, light winds and very cold temps. We left Steve and camp at 7:00 a.m. and approached the base of the face in just under two hours. My feet were so cold that I had to stop in the bergschrund, take off my boots and re-warm them in my hands.

We started up the broken ice and rock face just as the sun poked out atus. We started out simul-climbing on moderate terrain until we ran outof ice screws. After a few of these, the terrain steepened and theclimbing became more interesting with the occasional mixed step. Now,we climbed it one slow pitch at a time. We stayed in the sun most ofthe day which helped take some of the sting out of the biting wind.Sometimes, it would sound like a freight train as it blasted over theridges above.

The climbing kept getting harder as we got higher. Above 7,000 m. thealtitude began taking its toll as well, forcing us to progress at asnail’s pace. After about a dozen pitches came some reprieve: snow. Wewere able to climb easily, if slowly, up for 100 m. towards the top inthe amber light of late afternoon. We knew we would be benighted butnot where. It seemed like we had it in the bag if only the snow wouldjust end. It did, but not onto easier ground as we had hoped for. Aboveus, lay steep rocky steps and dark, menacing clouds. Marko led throughone step only to be confronted with another one. It was  beginning tofeel as if it would never end. In the final light of the day, I turnedaround to catch a glimpse of a truly beautiful sunset behind Everestand Lhotse, just twelve miles distant.

Darkness descended and with it, cold. We were still going up. Long outof water and unable to eat any more food without it, we were exhaustedfrom the long day out in the cold, the hard climbing and the highaltitude. We were now at 7,600 m. (ca. 25,000 ft.) and in the dark. Thecold crept in. I paid out the last of the rope, disassembled the anchorand started climbing again. After a seemingly endless progression offour breaths for every single step, the rope led me up over the highestpoint then down a short ways to a small flat where Marko was belaying.We said nothing, exchanged bear hugs and, without any photos orcelebration, started down.

Unbeknownst to us, others, including Steve, had been tracking ourprogress from below not without some consternation due to the late hourof our summit, the high winds and gathering clouds. For some reason(dehydration?), my eyesight in my left eye was completely blurry. I washaving great difficulty seeing. Marko led down. All I had to do wasfollow his footprints in the snow. In an hour and a half, we had madeit down to Makalu La, the large pass separating Makalu fromKangchungtse. There, we intersected the std. route on Makalu andfollowed it down to our camp. We arrived at 11:00 p.m. to Steve eagerlyawaiting us with hot drinks and soup.

The weather that had been threatening did come in that night with highwinds and light snow. It ended up being a good test of our lightweighttent as we woke covered in a light dusting of snow inside the tent! Itmade for a long, sleepless night. The following morning, Saturday, weall packed up and descended to base camp.

– Vince

Congratulations to Marko and Vince! We’ll keep you posted as more details become available. If you’re just tuning in, check out the previous posts from this trip: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

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