Makalu 2014 Expedition Journal
Apr 15th, 2014
Greetings from the beautiful Himalayan's and welcome to the Makalu expedition.
Makalu is the fifth highest mountain in the world and stands at an incredible height of 8,481 meters or 27,825 feet. Makalu is one of the most difficult mountains in the world to climb and is notorious for its knife-edge ridges and overwhelming steep pitches.
The team is an international team made up of several countries, Canada, Serbia, China, Japan, Spain, Norway, India, Greece, France, Nepal and Germany. Including myself we are a total of 15 international climbers and 17 Sherpas. A colorful bunch I might add.
We arrived at base camp three days ago and everyone is in fine spirits. Tomorrow we will hike to advance base camp, that should take us about seven or eight hours and that's where will call home for the next six weeks or so.
Thank you so much for following along, its going to be an exciting expedition. So sit back in your favorite chair and lets climb this mountain together.
With much sadness and a heavy heart I write this dispatch.
Apr 22nd, 2014
In the early morning hours of April 18th just below camp one in the Khumbu ice fall on Mt Everest an avalanche released itself killing 17 Sherpas and injuring several others.
Everyone here at Makalu base camp would like to send our condolences.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of the lost ones . We wish a speedy recovery to those injured .
Strains of the mountain
Apr 30th, 2014
Hi everyone , I am so sorry for the late dispatch's . The truth of the matter is I have been overwhelming busy with day to day operations of the Makalu expedition and also with the climbing of the mighty mountain. I will do my best to bring you up to date. Thank you again for following along .
On April 15th we had a small puja for the rope fixing team Sherpas . We are still waiting for some members to arrive at ABC advance base camp , before we have our big puja . We took advantage of the small puja and on April 18th team members started climbing Makalu and acclimatizing.
On April 21st the team and I had our big puja , by this time we already had camp two established with many team members rotating between camp one and two spending the nights.
April 24th we had a team member evacuated by helicopter for a lung infection.
April 27th another team member is evacuated by helicopter for knee problems. The rest of the team members are doing great. We continue to move up and down the mountain , at times the winds are high and the cold penetrating every fiber of the body, the strains of the mountain itched in everyone's faces , determination set in the eyes. We continue to climb.
April 30th, team members are still working the mountain . Camp three is established and one more camp to go before a summit push . "Inshallah" if God wills it.
"Have we vanquished an enemy ?" asked Mallory. And there was only one answer :
"None but ourselves. "it is not the summit that matters , but the fight for the summit ; not the victory , but the game itself .
Tragedy strikes Makalu
May 4th, 2014
Yannick in black jacket
On behalf of Seven Summit Treks, myself all the team members and everyone here at Makalu base camp we would like to send our condolences, our thoughts and prayers to the family of our team member Yannick Claude Sylvain Gagneret who lost his life on May 2nd.
Take this kiss upon the brow for I leave you now, life is but a dream.
Makalu summit push is on
May 12th, 2014
In the early morning hours five climbers and eight Sherpas will move up the moraine , each one I am sure will be lost in his or her thoughts of what is to come.
Our team has been divided into two groups with the second moving forward and upwards on May 15th.
The first group is part of the rope fixing team . We have been watching different models of the weather for quite some time and feel its now or never. Because of weight I will have to leave my satellite phone and PDA behind. I hope to have contact in six or seven days. Wish us well.
There are two Canadian's on the team, Monique Richard and myself . We hope to stand where no other Canadian has stood.
Creativity is maximized when your living in the moment .
To my late Mom, thank you for giving me life and a foundation.
Canadian Climbing History has been made in the Himalayas
May 24th, 2014
Photo credit: Monique Richard
On May 18th at 8:39 Nepal time, Monique Richard of Montréal, Quebec and Al Hancock of Edmonton, Alberta summited Makalu the fifth highest mountain in the world, at the same time becoming the first Canadians to do so in the history of the Himalayas. We are so proud to have summited and to have the honor to fly the Canadian flag high above our heads and represent every Canadian from coast to coast.
In the next few days I will write the summit push from May 13th to May 20th. You will not want to miss this; I promise you that you will be sitting on the edge of your seat as I take you to the top of Makalu and eventually back down to advance base camp. The experience was very intense and at times scary, not only did Makalu change me physically (I lost twenty pounds) but spiritually as well. Life is fragile and beautiful.
Makalu Summit Push
June 11th, 2014
Making History. The first two Canadians to Summit Makalu
Trying to figure out the weather, even though you are getting different forecast from meteorologist from around the world is still like trying to find a needle in a hay stack. The window for good weather to make a summit push can be the smallest of margins. This year here on Makalu the weather is all over the place, looking up towards the summit the winds look hellish, to pull the trigger now would mean certain death, you would freeze or be blown away.
Different teams are planning different strategies, one thing is for sure everyone is in a position for a summit push. For the last month climbers have been moving up and down the mountain. Letting their bodies adjust to the high altitude (acclimatization) and setting up different camps. We will use a total of four camps for our summit push. In early May I had been putting together the strategy for our team, we would be in two groups. The team and I would talk about the weather for hours and felt that we found a pocket of good weather. On the 12th of May the decision was made, the first group would leave on May 13th and the second group would leave on the 15th. The gossip around base camp would swirl around the weather and the rope fixing team. Ropes still needed to be put in place for a safe summit bid and other teams were depending on them. Some team members, Sherpa’s and myself would be the rope fixing team
In the early morning hours juniper smoke drifted through the air from the puja altar, as team members shouldered their back packs and silently moved up through the moraine and onto the toe of the glacier. The weather lower down on the mountain is good but up high the winds are hurricane in force, we hope that they will die down as we climb higher and the gods will give us safe passage.
Climbing up through the glacier and up the head wall everyone looks strong and we arrived at camp one in good shape. We would spend the rest of the day hydrating our bodies and resting. Tomorrow would be a new day and take us to camp two (May 14th). Camp two is only a couple of hours away from camp one but our strategy is to climb with efficiency and be effective as a team, we all arrived at camp two feeling great. Another day of drinking as much fluid as possible to keep our bodies hydrated, eating and resting. In the early morning hours on the 15th the sound of the zipper on my sleeping broke the silence and the cold air came rushing in to greet me as I reached for the small stove to begin melting snow for water. To reach camp three one must climb up through a massive snow field and then through two different and very steep rock bands, it would be a super long day and take us about ten hours.
The weather at times was intermittent from good to bad. Arriving at camp three reminded me of my time in Antarctica. The cold penetrated every pore of the body and the wind forced you to lean into it but it still slapped you in the face leaving a sting. Putting up tents was a challenge of its own. Throughout the night as if hell came for a visit the tents shook with such violence and thunder that one team member said that he was scared. The fabric pushed in as if we were in a wind tunnel the poles bent to the point of breaking. Our very survival depended on this thin fabric that lay between us and the wrath of Mother Nature. It would be a long and cold night before daylight revealed the first glimpse of the damage. Some of the tents outer linings were torn as if a wild beast had tried to penetrate through the fabric. We had hoped to move up to camp four on the 16th but the weather gods had other plans. I would call on the radio to advance base camp and let them know our intentions, we would stay another day at camp three.
On the morning of the 17th we packed up and ascended to camp four, everyone using bottled oxygen. This would be our last camp. From here it’s to the summit “Inshallah, if God wills it.
Today everyone is lost in her or his own thoughts. Everyone is so focused.
No need for words, I can see it in their eyes, the pain etched across their faces. Everyone has fought so hard to be here, we all look so fragile.
Tonight at 9am we leave, strapping on my crampons I heard a faint hissing sound, I must be hearing things. No there it is again, every time I move my head.” O No” it cannot be I have a leak in my hose that connects my mask to the regulator. I have requested that we have a spare mask / regulator set up at camp four in case of an emergency. To my horror I am told that it’s not here. How can that be, my summit attempt. My mind races, I reach for my ski pole where I keep a couple of feet of masking tape and tape up the leaky hose. No person is more dangerous than a person that can harness his emotions, his fear…put them in a box and get on with the job. It will be a long cold night. First up through a huge snowfield; up we climb where no person belongs through a massive ice band and another snowfield. Then up the French Couloir, at one point three fingers on my left hand got so cold that I could not move them and a team member had to massage them back to life. Once we reached the summit plateau we still had to fix the ropes to the false summit across a knife-edge ridge and then to the main summit.
At 8:39 Nepal time Monique Richard and I became the first Canadians to reach the summit of Makalu. I am so proud to have shared the summit with her, at around 9am her good friend Arvid from Norway would also share the summit with us. Arvid became the second person from Norway to stand on its summit. The summit of Makalu is very small, with the three of us on its summit at the same time it was a little tight.
Getting down would be an eerie journey all in its own. We would have to retrace all our steps making no mistakes. The first step depends on the last. We are all so tired, so very tired. Sometimes when we push the limits the limits push back. A team member descended the French Couloir ahead of me; I knew that my oxygen was running low. I could see my team member on the glacier below exiting the rock band. I continued down climbing and onto the massive snowfield. I checked my oxygen tank…God I am running on vapours. Then I see it in the distance, it’s a fox, a red fox. It can’t be it has to be an oxygen bottle. Poor fox, what’s he doing up here all alone. No…No my brain cries out your hallucinating. He must be cold, poor fox. Up here alone...what is he doing here and looking up at the mountain. This went on for what seemed like a long time until I reached the fox and it was an empty oxygen bottle. I shook my head, I need to stay focused. I continued to climb down the snow field towards camp four and then…"what’s that sleeping bag doing on the glacier?" It’s my mind again, playing tricks. My brain is starving for oxygen. I stop and lean on my ice axe and try and focus. It looks like someone is trying to scare me…like its Halloween or something. Am I hallucinating again? I must be. No…No it is a sleeping bag. Then as I get closer it’s still there but not a sleeping bag but a person. It’s my team member who I had last seen about thirty five minutes ago.
Kneeling down face into the glacier with no gloves on. My heart starts to race; I can see the yellow tents at camp four. I try to get my team member up, they look at me. The member stares at me and puts their hand across their throat to let me know that they cannot talk. I do not understand and say please help me help you. I am scared; I need to get my team mate to safety. I do not understand what is happening. I call out to them over and over. Finally I try to get them mad at me to get them moving. Nothing is working then I take them by the harness and my team mate stands we take four or five steps and fall on the glacier in a pile. I am so exhausted and out of oxygen, I try again. We both stand and two or three steps later it’s me who falls first. This seems to go on for eternity, finally my team mate stands and we make it to our tents. My team mate curls up in a fetal position, I see two back packs outside another tent, it’s only ten feet away but no matter how hard I try I cannot hit it with a chunk of snow. I call out…help. Help…please help. A Sherpa hears my pleas and comes to help. I need oxygen; he goes back to his tent and gets a bottle as I remove my team mate’s crampons. I change their oxygen for a fresh bottle and with his help I get my member into the tent. I cover them up in a sleeping bag and find a half bottle of oxygen for myself. The last thing I remember is curling up next to them and passing out. Latter when I awoke, Arvid was sitting outside of the tent. I got him more oxygen and moved back into my own tent that I was sharing with a Sherpa.
The next morning after everyone was ready we started to down climb from camp four to camp three. I was out of oxygen and moving very slowly, my two team mates wanted to stay with me but all I could do was wave them on. I knew that to survive they needed to get lower down the mountain. As they moved forward, I was so tired that I sat down and just wanted to go to sleep. I felt very peaceful and could have just stayed there. A Sherpa caught up with me and asked if I was ok, I told him that I had no oxygen; He took off his back pack and had a spare bottle with a third in it. We changed out my empty bottle for the little spare he had and I continued to down climb. I was tired when I reached camp three and continued on towards camp two. I actually arrived at camp two feeling great with the air filled rich oxygen. My team mates and I would spend the night at camp two and on the 20th we arrived back at advance base camp where it all started. We were greeted with hugs and happy faces, people remarked that it was great to see us; we had spent an incredible eight days at high altitude.
I would like to thank all my team mates for their bravery, there unwavering sprit. To know and believe in themselves that tough times don’t last but the tough will never give up.
In the end there are no conquerors…only survivors