Sep 28, 2012

Bad Ass Skiing at 7250m...

I’m fairly certain that the Sherpas, like us, assumed that Adrian and Sergey were carrying their skis up the bouldery and snowy steep slopes of Makalu in an attempt to look seriously bad-ass in front of all of the other people on the mountain… (um… all 10  of them?!). 

We all watched with bemused looks upon our faces as, in a session of ‘arts and crafts’ in the mess tent, they installed complex boot-heating systems with an even more complex layer of duct tape to super-power their Black Diamond Quadrants boots. We looked on as they tried to assemble the all-important ski and apres-ski wardrobe suitable for an 8000m peak while balancing minimal weight with warmth and, of course, style.  Sadly the black-bear fur balaclava was sacrificed in an attempt to minimize weight and maximise efficiency… We scratched our heads in curiosity as, they seemed to carry their La Sporta GT 177s anywhere and everywhere there was a chance of an increase in altitude directly proportional to an increase in snow-depth...

Finally, this morning, as we lay in our sleeping bags, we  listened to them grunting to get up at the crack of the sub-arctic dawn, chip open their frozen solid water bottles, drag their harnesses over their down suits and cram their thick wool socks into their boots. All in an attempt to ‘lay down fresh tracks’ after making the 400m ascent from Camp 2 up to 7200m in the -15 degree temperatures.  Either they are seriously, seriously bad-ass or no-one told them that Makalu hadn’t been skied above 7000m before.... and from the merry-band of travelers currently on the mountain, there wasn’t going to be any stiff competition to clinch the title..! 

Regardless, from the comforts of our cozy Marmot sleeping bags we all admired their dedication and spirit and looked forward to watching them carve big, deep turns into the snowy slopes of Makalu against a spectacular Himalayan backdrop of Everest, Lhotse, Ama Dablam, Cholatse…

When we arose from our sleeping bags a few hours later I poked my head out of the tent and watched their silhouettes against the rocks making their way up the face. They’d made excellent progress and I was looking forward to witnessing a seriously amazing descent. I knew the line that Adrian had in mind – it was to the climbers left of our route in a wide, steep bowl of what looked like quite well consolidated but ‘light’ snow.

At 12-noon I found myself perched on one of the rocks in the rock-band  heading up to our 7000m touch-point – jumar in hand, gasping for breath, boiling under the blazing sun… and heard Adrian’s call… “Coming down, climbers left”. And waited. And waited. And waited. And then suddenly I saw them – Adrian first in his ‘Ronald McDonald’ red and yellow Marmot down suit and Sergey looking appropriately Russian in his red Mountain-Hardwear one-piece.

For me, there are few things as mesmerising as watching an accomplished skier on steep terrain, making huge, effortless, big S-turns in fresh, untracked snow. From our vantage point in the rock band as we climbed to 7000m, looking down at the skiers it was like high-altitude ballet in deep powder. In spite of the fact that they made it look effortless it was clear from the breathless, “AWESOME” echoed over the radios that the descent had been seriously hard work.

It’s pretty clear why, as documented in a recent BBC news article, “What Adventures Are Actually Left” why mountains such as Makalu remain unskiied.

With the summits of the world's 14 mountains over 8,000m long since reached, climbers have now taken to skiing down them.
Most of the 14 major mountains, including Everest (Davo Karnicar) in 2000, have been completed, extreme skiing site suggests. But K2, Makalu and Kangchenjunga, in the Himalayas, remain un-skied or un-skiable from the summit.

That night, when we all safely descended back to our Camp 2 tents we all agreed that it had been an absolutely incredible and tremendously unique Himalayan day. Between the climbing and the skiing I couldn’t imagine anywhere I would rather have been. 

Nice to see the boys already plotting their 7200+m line ;-)

Watch this space... more to follow..!


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