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    Makalu 2009: Final Post with Photos

    Cc I’ve been home from Makalu almost two weeks now and it’s been almost three weeks since I last posted -- time flies. I was able to leave base camp very quickly because Cory Richards injured his knee in the deep snow just a few hours from base camp, the day after my last call. He necessitated a helicopter evacuation from base camp and I was able to hitch a ride out. Two and a half hours of flying at 120 knots sure beats walking eight days when you’re just ready to go home!

    Editor's note: Steve House puts the finishing touches on his Makalu 2009 series today with a bunch of photos from the trip. You'll find links to the rest of the series -- most of which include sat-phone calls from Makalu -- at the bottom of this post.

    [Me on the phone with you at from 7400 meters (24,270 ft). Lhotse is behind me. What a perfect day! (I needed four of these in a row to climb the west face.) All photos © Steve House.]

    Once in Kathmandu I was able to change my ticket for the very next day. Unfortunately, almost as soon as I landed, I was hit with news of the loss of Patagonia Ambassador Jonny Copp, Mountain Hardware athlete Micah Dash, and young filmmaker Wade Johnson on China’s Mount Edgar. While tragic, it certainly made it difficult for me to feel any self-pity for my own problems. Deadlines, work, trying to get some climbing in; I am happy to be alive and healthy and home.

    What follows is a slide show with a few of the highlights (and low-lights) from my recent adventure: trying to solo the world’s fifth highest mountain, Makalu. At many of these junctures, including at the Makalu La at 24,000 feet, I took you, the Cleanest Line listener, right along with me. I said then that I wished I could send pictures. Well, here they are:

    The monk at Kathmandu’s “Monkey Temple” that blessed me.

    The line at Kathmandu’s domestic terminal.

    A flight and a few hours in a land rover brought us to the end of the mechanized travel.

    Many kids along the route.

    Crossing Shipton Pass at 14,000 ft.

    The fifth day of trekking.

    The seventh day of trekking, along the Barun River.

    There must be a lot of great ice climbing here in December. This is late April and still lots of cool ice features hanging around. I’m guessing that these features are between 500 and 800 feet high.

    Local recyclable footwear.

    The first glimpse of base camp.

    The first look at Makalu’s west face. My intended route was up to the highest, right-most icefield and then up and right towards the skyline.

    West face at sunset.

    My ‘ABC’, advanced base camp, at the base of the west face.

    The site of my 6500 meter/21,300 foot bivy on the west face where, the next day, I became pinned down by a storm for 2.5 days.

    Hanging out during the storm during the warmest part of the day.

    My tent during the storm before I realized I had High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)

    The beginning of my descent from the 6500-meter bivy mid-storm, with HAPE.

    I took this picture during a brief clearing so I would know the landmark rocks when I got to them. I climbed across the traverse immediately in front of the camera.

    At the base of the climbing-section of the traverse. Relatively safe and sound.

    My tent on the normal route during my final, post-HAPE acclimatization trip. This camp is also about 6500m/21,300ft. My biggest regret about this expedition is that I left this tent for my descent. After the large snowfall at the end of the month, I was physically unable to get back up to this camp to take this tent down. By now I am sure that it has either been shredded by high winds or collapsed by heavy snows. Either way it is a disgraceful addition to a lot of litter that is left on this mountain each year. I hope to be able to find what’s left of it next year and carry it off the mountain.

    While resting at camp two the day before I made my phone call from Makalu La I vented some of my nervousness about the west face to the camera.

    Sunrise on Lhotse (left) and Everest. The south col (high camp for the normal route up Everest from the Nepalese side) is plainly visible. The summit-day climb on Everest for most climbers starts at the south col and roughly follows the sun/shade line. The south summit is the little peak on the left at the top of the shadow. Ascending the fixed ropes from the south col to the summit usually takes people six hours on supplemental oxygen -- in my opinion, that’s doping.

    Looking down the easy mixed climbing of the route between camp 2 (visible) and camp 3 (Makalu La). Most of these ropes were poorly anchored and I’m glad I didn’t need to trust them.

    Looking at the summit of Makalu from Makalu La.

    A high-altitude porter (aka: climbing sherpa) scouring the Makalu La for discarded oxygen bottles which are worth about $400 each in Kathmandu. The summit behind him is Chomo-Lonzo, in Tibet, three miles from where I’m standing.

    Climbing sherpas cleaning up their expedition's camp three with Lhotse and Everest behind.

    The details of exactly how they “clean” their camps are unsavory to say the least. Here the two climbing sherpas have been instructed to bury everything they can’t carry down. As you can see this includes multiple stoves, pots, a tent, tent poles, fuel canisters, and many other not-so biodegradable items -- not that anything biodegrades at 24,000 feet. This practice is extremely common among expedition-style climbers and one of the primary reasons I have long been a vocal critic of this climbing style.

    Two days later, back in base camp, I awoke to this: A ton of heavy, wet snow that collapsed our cook tent. The snowfall continued for three days.

    Cory Richards looks out of his tent that first morning of the storm.

    Re-pitching the cook tent so we can all have some tea!

    Me and my tent on the morning of the fourth day, the first clear day after the storm. You can see the high winds blowing snow off of Makalu.

    Base camp, looking south. Clear skies were such an amazing relief after the oppression of the three days of hard snow.

    The Nepalese army MI-17 (large!) helicopter that flew out the entire Indian Army Makalu expedition right after the storm.

    During my attempt on the normal route with Cory (and attempt to retrieve my tent at camp 2), Cory badly injured his left knee and had to be flown out. I was lucky enough to be able to go along for the ride. Our helicopter could only lift two people and gear in addition to the pilot so our cook and his helper were left to walk out.

    Fly 2.5 hours or walk 8 days. Here we are flying over a lake formed by a nearby glacier.

    The snowy peak up there is just east of Shipton Pass that we trekked through six weeks earlier.

    Refueling in Yangle Karka Meadow. The helicopter deposited the plastic jugs of jet fuel here and near the village of Tashingoan during its flight in.

    Locals try to catch dripped-fuel for their cooking stoves.

    2.5 hours later: Kathmandu!

    --Steve House

    Our thanks go out to Steve for sharing these photos and taking the time to call on his sat phone. Should another attempt at the west face be in his future, we hope the weather cooperates.

    Previous posts from the trip:
    Makalu Again
    Getting Acclimated
    High Altitude Pulmonary Edema
    Back to Normal
    Greetings from 24,300 Feet
    Collapsed Kitchen
    Makalu 2, Steve 0

    All photos © Steve House

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