Aug 28, 2012

It's official... Makalu 2012 expedition confirmed!!

Not only do you learn about mountains and cultures in this wonderful world of mountaineering, you also learn about politics... and the art of being flexible and always looking on the bright side of life (flashbacks of the Olympic Closing Ceremony spring to mind here....). To put it mildly, a change of plans in mountaineering terms is a little bit more complex than changing your Saturday evening plans from Plan A: 'The White Horse Pub'  to Plan B: 'Tiger Tiger Disco Bar'....  To keep the nightclub analogy going, today my Plan A: 'White Horse Pub' plan (a la Cho Oyu) officially changed to Plan B: the equivalent of a an all-nite rave bar in Shoreditch with a lot less oxygen (although am sure that the effect on brain cells is not dissimilar).... Welcome to Makalu. At 8463m it's the 5th highest mountain in the world, just 385 small metres lower than the summit of Everest and an unpredictable beast of a mountain with an absolutely gorgeous silhouette.... 

Over the past 5 years Tibet has occasionally been closed to climbing by the Chinese government. When I decided to head back to Tibet this year to climb (and ski) Cho Oyu, the 6th highest mountain in the world, I knew that this political uncertainty was one of the logistical risks. I've been keeping my eye on the border situation in Tibet for a few months now so it wasn't a massive surprise when I received confirmation from my expedition guide, Adrian Ballinger from Alpenglow Expeditions, that the border was well and truly shut  and that the Chinese Tibetan Mountaineering Association (CTMA) were not handing out climbing permits this autumn. Hence, the move to to Plan B.  Makalu, one of the most difficult mountains in the world to climb, will be a massive challenge for various reasons - not only because of the altitude (the obvious answer!) but also due to factors such as the remoteness of the mountain, the distance between camps, the tremendous summit day, the technical nature of the mountain (have I sold it to you yet?). 

Through the climbing grapevine that runs thick and fast during Himalayan climbing season, we've learned that a number of climbing teams who had planned to climb Cho Oyu have been in Kathmandu for over a week, visiting the Chinese Embassy and requesting access to Tibet without any success in receiving the climbing permit required to attempt most Himalayan peaks. 

Makalu is our Plan B over other mountains because despite its' challenges, it is believed to be a realistic goal for our very strong team of 4 climbers, 2 international guides and 5 Sherpas. As with so many challenges much will come down to planning and putting in place all of the infrastructure required to manage (and minimise) the risks and maximises the chances of success. This means a high climber to sherpa ratio (1:1), climber to guide ratio (3:1); fresh food, excellent base camp and abc infrastructure... and supplemental oxygen. I'd love to be a 'purist' and follow in the footsteps of so many of the mountaineers that I look up to for their alpine-style climbing techniques (light and fast with no fixed infrastructure) however, I have to be realistic with my approach and my overall objectives about Why I climb... but that is the subject of a whole other blog entry!

In terms of logistics, in order to have Makalu Basecamp established in time for our arrival and expedition, our sherpas and equipment will be flying from Kathmandu tomorrow and then they will start the 8 - 10 day walk into Base Camp. We will be helicoptering into Base Camp at just over 4000m (hence my pre-acclimatisation antics!) around the 11th or 12th of September with a view to hit the late September / early October summit window. This is the window when the normal jet stream winds of 100kph+ subside for a few short days and allow for a summit attempt before picking up to their gale-force speeds.

It will be a tremendous adventure and one that I am very much looking forward to - I won't lie and say that there is no apprehension or nerves but you never know unless you try - and no matter what, it will most certainly be an adventure of epic proportions with so much to do and see and people to meet along the way... and, after all, isn't that what life is all about?. 


Post a Comment