Trekking is one the parts in Nepal where life is still like it was many years ago. In this region not many tourists come and the only foreigners are mostly climbers, seeking adventure and luck on Makalu.
The trek involves 7 days’ walking, starting after a local flight to Tumlingthar, at 900m elevation. From there you take a long jeep journey to the last village, Num, at 1560 m, where the only road ends…
The trail tumbles down to the river Arun and goes up again, crossing jungle and rice fields until it reaches the Shipton La pass 4 days later. From there the route follows a smaller glacier-river and snowy mountains rise above the tree line. The scenery always becomes more impressive until the end, at basecamp Makalu, the big mountain stands tall and dominates the view.
From here, lots of poters go down again to the villages, and others go further to ABC. We take 2 days’ rest, together with our group of friends, family and sponsors, where we explore the route to ABC, just a little bit higher… the nights are freezing cold and sun peeps out between the clouds. We can’t wait to go further.
We say goodbye to the people who are going down and we can finally move up to ABC, situated at 5700m. This day is long, for some 5hrs, for others 9hrs, scrambling and losing your way in the stone fields and looking up to the Rockwall where stones fall constantly down the glacier.
Advanced Basecamp of Makalu is on a rocky cwm, surrounded by magnificent ice walls and with view of the normal route to the summit. It takes your breath away …
Many tents are put up and our dining tent is placed in the middle and high so we can overlook the city of climbers. The weather is superb, and we feel the altitude. All day the sun gives warmth, the wind is cold and temperature plummets at night in the sleeping tents, below -20°c.
3 sherpas will be climbing with us and together with the kitchen crew, Pasang, and headchef Santos, we form a nice bunch.
The weather is superb and 1 day after arrival, we go to the crampon-point at 5900m, a place just below the glacier where a tent is set, to leave some gear, which has to be taking up. This trip we will do twice to acclimatize, where the second day we climb up to 6100m just below the head wall, where the ice is shining in the sun. It’s so great to put on the crampons and hear the snow crack under your feet. Everyone is climbing in their own rhythm, gasping for air.
We go up to camp 1 for the first time, situated at 6400m. Two members of our group are ill and they decided to stay at ABC. The rest moves up slowly with a heavy backpack; sleeping bag, climbing material, food, stove, clothing etc. The sherpas climb with us and are carrying tents, food and gas. They will return to sleep in ABC again.
The views are fantastic and the sun burning hot, the snow conditions superb, all is going well and we are happy to be here!
The steep ice wall is demanding at this altitude, but the fixed rope makes it easier to climb and at the end, instead of the killing heat of the sun, an ice cold hard wind blows the sweat away. Than a traverse takes a long bow before you come to a final easy slope to reach camp 2 at 6400m.
There are only a few tents because we are early in the season, but it makes it so much nicer to climb here when everything is peaceful.
We climb to camp 2 situated at 6700m. Along big crevasses and with some steep pitches, we enjoy again the magnificent view on the mountain and look at Makalu la that rises above C2, elevated at more than 7000m high.
Everyone is happy to reach C2 and we are looking at Everest and Lhotse far away, covered by clouds. Once we are back in C1 for our second night’s sleep, the 2 members who were not feeling good, also reached C1 just before the weather turns bad. By nightfall the snow sets in and wind blows, this is a true night out on high altitude, but we are warm tucked away in our sleeping bags and the stoves are burning to make hot stew..
In the morning we descend to ABC with less good weather, but all goes well and we arrive in ABC around 10 o’clock, where the tents are covered in snow.
Taking lunch at midday in our dining tent, suddenly the ground begins to move. I was in Chile when a big earthquake in 2010 struck , so I know immediately what is happening and I run out of the tent. At that moment, stone avalanches come down form the big rocky wall of Makalu, fortunately not reaching ABC. Other climbers stand also out of their tents, looking around and watching ice pinnacles break down in the ice lake, lying just behind ABC. Stupidly I even look to the ground beneath my feet… is the ground we are standing on solid enough to resist these hard shakes ?
Slowly the shaking ends and we are still impressed by what just happened….and we wonder.. what happened with climbers of other teams we met when we went down, and they went up to Camp 1 ?
It takes a time before we have news of the others climbers, who were just in the head wall when avalanches came down, just missing them by an inch, not sweeping them away… Some of them want to go home directly and Hanns wants to go further, what a guy !
A couple of hours later, little news comes in by satellite phone, that the earthquake hits Nepal more badly than we thought. Apparently the earthquake did not just hit our region but the centre was near Kathmandu and reports say that hundreds of people are dead … Sherpa’s are trying to reach their family by phone but there is no contact… probably the mobile coverage is damaged. In the afternoon the expedition leaders are called together to talk to see what we can do.
In total I think we were 8 different expeditions, and that makes a lot of people in ABC. We talked with the head Sherpa and decided that we would wait 3 days before taking new decisions. In the meantime we would give the sherpas all the support we can give by trying to make contact with their homes.
In the evening discussions began between climbers who want to go home and those who want to stay, but we can’t let the spirits go down and are planning to make a puja 2 days later for bringing offerings to the spirits in the mountain. Sadly the next day is filled with more news of the disaster that took place. The deaths in basecamp of Everest and in Langtang, makes it clear that the earthquake was devastating. There are even reports of Kathmandu being completely destroyed and that people are living out in the streets with no water. But when some sherpas living in Kathmandu have contact with their family, it appears to be all right… This confusion divides the group of climbers…again
In the morning, the monks in ABC are preparing the Puja in the center of the camp. Everyone is excited to see how the offerings are made, the climbing gear is blessed and the flags are being placed in the wind, so that the Sanskrit prayers are taking away by the wind. For a moment, our thoughts are with the mountain again and we enjoy being together with our Sherpa friends in this wonderful place.
But in the afternoon, after the puja, all discussions rise up again and a new meeting is set up. All expedition leaders explain the feelings in their groups, and some avec already taking a final decision. It is clear that the majority of Sherpas in ABC do not want to climb further in these conditions and this is, without any doubt, completely understandable. But for some of us climbers, being here is the safest place to be, with enough food and supplies for more than a month. With the news that no international airplanes are flying in or out of Nepal, what are we going to do by returning to the capital where there is chaos? A little group of climbers want to stay, having no problem that the sherpas leave, but that we have also the freedom to be on the mountain, where we feel at home.
The majority of climbers choose to go down and return to Kathmandu, by foot or by helicopter. For them there is no reason to stay anymore and their family are also troubled. And so, our expedition is cut into 2. With three people who want to stay with the Slovakian expedition and the possibility of another expedition that is thinking of waiting. The rest are convinced to go back home.
It is a strange feeling, climbing together to camp 1 with different feelings and angry words having been said, for they who could not accept the decision everyone made for himself… it is a shame that our group must end this way. Gladly as we climb further, we talk to each other, and let our disappointments go… tears falls down.
Me and two other members head up to camp 1 to climb further, with the Slovakian expedition members. We are still hopeful that others will follow, because we believe that climbing is not a shame and not an expression of not having compassion or respect towards the Nepalese people. It is completely separated as I have so much admiration for them, and their way of life. I want to show, with climbing, that you can overcome any problem in life, if you just don’t give in, if you don’t give up.
But the next day, when three members are packed and go down to BC, we hear that all expeditions stop climbing, and that Tibet is closing down all permissions on mountains their side too.
We stay alone on the mountain…, climbing further up above camp 2 , crevasses beneath my feet covered by snow, my climbing partner Stef, pulling at the rope when my leg wants to fall in to the deep… It takes my breath away and I look at the Makalu la, far away….
Here we must end, it is not going to happen, not this year… Our friends don’t want to climb further, our family is worried, we have no backup and just with three people left…
For somebody who looks at the consequences of the earthquake, he will not understand where I am with my thoughts and feelings… sure, I’m happy to be alive but we worked so hard to get here.. lived nearly two years to get to this point that, for me, is not about conquering a mountain, but to make a dream come true… It was a lifetime opportunity to climb an 8000 peak, and now, in reality, it is gone ..
This is my way of life and without it, I would not be living it.
Stef and I return to ABC, carrying a big backpack filled with all the equipment, and look at the mountain one more time. We descend with the two Slovakian people and find ABC already dismantled.
In the evening we sit together with our new friends and say goodbye, from BC our ways will separate, and hopefully we will meet once again in the mountains.
As for us, with the help of a helicopter flight foreseen by the Slovakians, we arrive in Kathmandu the 06/05 where we meet up, a day later, with the rest of our team, united again. The capital still stands. Only a few old buildings have collapsed and normal life in the city regains its rhythm …
But in the region in the shade of the Makalu, houses were destroyed and the only school, in Seduwa , collapsed. It is without any doubt, that we will do anything to find the means for rebuilding this building and we will support our Sherpa people.
And so it was, the story of the Belgian Makalu 2015 Expedition.
We returned with the desire to raises funds for Nepal, and we did. Until now, we have raised €18000 to rebuild in Seduwa with the help of lots of people.
This expedition could not have taken place without the support of friends, family and sponsors like Berghaus, who believed in our project. This give us the extra motivation to try again and build up more great projects !