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  Makalu East Face: Christian Trommsdorff and friends...

Latest News: May 29:  A beautiful performance!!

The three climbers left this morning at 10 am after a very difficult night: strong gusts of wind kept hitting them through the night.... At 8300 meters, tired by the rough night, Patrick Wagnon and Christian Trommsdorff decide to stop.  They encourage Yannick Grazziani, who still has resources, to continue to the top. Alone, he breaks the trail, very hard. At 4:30 pm, he is finally at the top of Makalu: 8463 meters! After this achievement, he joined Christian and Patrick to spend a new night to 7600 meters. Congratulations to all the team for this exceptional first ascent!!

Friday, May 28th: The intensity goes up one more notch

It is 9:30 pm in Tibet and the night is coming. This time, our friends announce: "Things are no longer as good as they were this morning!" The wind rose, a very strong wind which blew at up 100 km/h gusts. The three mountaineers are at 7 600m, they are exactly below the summit line! They placed their tent (they have in fact only the interior part!)  on a very wind exposed plateau but had no choice.  Their installation was hard, they built a platform in a kind of crevasse to protect the tent (two hours of labor!) and they have two sleeping bags for three.  They have to tie the tent with ropes and secure it with ice axes. Their biggest fear is that the tent tears apart... They once again feel like they are in a washing machine, they are not hungry and wait until the wind falls. If it does, they will leave towards the top, initially following the direct slopes above them and then joining the South-East ridge. Come on guys, only 850m left!

Thursday May 27:  new from 7 300m

As planned yesterday, Patrick Wagnon, Christian Trommsdorff and Yannick Grazziani left their camp at 6 700m and climbed up to the following camp at 7 300m. Stepp slopes, but hard snow!  "We nevertheless climbed as fast as slugs". It took them 4h30 to arrive at the small tent which they had installed before. They also took their three man tent with them. The tent which was at 7 300m was hidden under snow.  They are now installed on an enormous serac that leans against the ridge, on the Tibetan side, protected from the wind.  The only problem on the Tibetan side is that slopes are heavily loaded with snow between the South-east and East-East ridges.  Their program for tomorrow (with good weather forecasted!): go up to the Black Gendarme, a large black rock towards 7 800m and install a tent. After that, things are a little unknown, it will be necessary for them to go down in the comb and loose as little altitude as possible and hope that the tracks won’t be too deep.  The morale is very good, right now it snows a little but that shouldn’t last.  The interview finishes with the stove falling into the tent! ..without gravity.  The summit is getting closer!

Wednesday May 26:  The slow progress towards the top goes on…

8:45 pm in Tibet, Christian calls. "All is well, we are one camp higher now, the weather is pretty good, there is some snow forecasted on Friday but then the good weather should return." The three friends of Makalu are at 6 700 m at the foot of the wall which will lead them to their last camp (a two place tent installed at 7 300m). Yesterday, they had better conditions, the wind cleared the snow on the slopes (on the other hand, it buried the tents) and the tracks were easier to make then expected. They will probably take the three men tent with them to 7 300m, since they plan for another camp before the top. Overall, all is well, they taste the dishes of the English army (many beans!) and the landscape is splendid. In front of them they can see the Kangchenjunga, the terrible profile of the Lhotse and the Everest. Good night guys!

Tuesday May 25:  Towards the summit? 

Things are getting better for our three Makalu friends.  Christian’s voice is more confident.  They are three in the tent at 6 100 m and especially:  it does not snow... "it is tight in here, it doesn’t smell good, we eat pretty bad food but the weather is nice! "Our three friends are thus doing much better than yesterday and are preparing to leave for the camp at 6 700 m as soon as tomorrow. By chance the British who are leaving the mountain must go to the same camp to recover their gear and therefore there will be more people available to break the trail. Remember that they need to climb a summit at 6800m before crossing on more than one kilometer and half to join the camp at 6 700m.  This crossing in snow is difficult and with the new snow it took the English ten times more time on the way back.... The weather forecast announces a bad weather (snow) on Thursday but the three prefer to stick to what occurs on the ground and which is not always in conformity with the weather forecast.  Obviously Makalu is less protected than Everest, and collects more disturbances.  When the English leave the mountain, our three strapping men will be alone in the area.  Their base camp will be evacuated partly, only a cook with the minimum amount of gear will wait for them.  "We will be inevitably late".  On other news, Christian announces that Patrick lost a tooth in the tent and that 15 days earlier a huge rock of several tens of tons fell within fifty meters of their tent at the base camp...  Morale is getting better and better, let’s hope the weather holds!

Friday April 30, 2004: Christian calls us from Camp1 at 5800m.  They are all three in their tents, tired after 12 hours of efforts in the snow, which had accumulated in abundance during the last few days. 

"It felt like pedaling in sauerkraut, we had snow to the ears. It snows all the time, in two days we had 40cm of snow fall. Tuesday April 27 we went up, seeking a direct route to arrive at the foot of the Eastern Ridge at 6000m. We carried gear up in the bad weather and, on the way down good weather came around;  there were seracs everywhere, we didn’t find a direct passage, therefore we came back to our first recognition outing, back to the Japanese route and we installed our Camp1 towards 5800m (which corresponds to Camp 3 of the Japanese).  We went down to the base camp to rest and we made the puja (Buddhist ceremony with the mountain) yesterday morning to attract the favors of... everyone.  The weather was nice, miraculously!  We had good weather for the first time at the base camp.  This morning we set out again to go up to Camp1, it took us 12 hours, we had to break trail the entire time, in particular there was a  400m long gully in which we had snow to the hips!  We plan on trying to take foot on the ridge for the next few days and to pass the main difficulties of the route between 5800 and 6600m. In terms of acclimatization, we’re doing OK... at least now that we are under the tents, we’re feeling better, but two hours ago, we were cooked!  It’s a little harder than we thought because of the snow.  The climb to Camp1 it is really a slug, 1300m elevation gain with 1000m of trail breaking.  For the moment we’re sticking to this option.  But if within a week we don’t reach our objective, we will see.  The weather is nice for the next three days according to the forecast.  We will finally be able to move forward, that is if the forecast reveals to be true...  Because up until now, forecasts and reality haven’t really been matching…  The normal pattern here appears to be either bad or beautiful mornings, and at midday it starts to snow, and it continues to snow through the night."

Their moral is not so good:  the three of them are badly shaken up by the death of Patrick Berhault, but also by that of two other guides which had the bad idea to leave us this week.  "We learned all the week’s bad news at once and we were really shocked.  Tell everybody that our thoughts are with them, with all the Chamonix "family".”

Makalu East Face reports: We will follow during a few weeks the adventures of Patrick Wagnon, Christian Trommsdorff, and Yannick Grazziani who will attempt a first ascent on the Eastern side of Makalu (Tibetan side). An exceptional expedition for a light and solid group on a very little known slope which presents nearly 3,500 m of elevation gain. The three friends who are certified mountain guides achieved astonishing things on Annapurna, as well as on Indian and Pakistani summits, left on April 7 for two months. As a training for the expedition, Yannick and Patrick Wagnon repeated recently the Goussault-Desmaison route on the Grandes Jorasses north face. All the medias will be directed on Makalu since in this same period Jean-Christophe Lafaille will climb his twelfth 8,000 m peak.


Update 2: Monday, April 26th: It is always emotional to be speaking with those who are so far away, lost at the bottom of a glacier somewhere in Tibet.  Our three Makalu climbers, after three days of snow (30cm/one foot of snow at the base camp), have made huge progress towards the East ridge. In one day, with beautiful weather, they achieved a (in very deep snow) 1000m elevation gain (from 4500 to 5500m), joining a hump located roughly between camp2 and camp3 of the 1995 Japanese expedition.  The continuation of the route along the edge is long and complicated.  It should be known that the heavy weight Japanese expedition had spent one month to join the camp3 and the 6800m altitude...  "There is a long horizontal section which is really narrow with some sorts of huge ice-flutes and also some rock sections.  And then it goes up further and after there is still a very complex section with seracs around 6500m."  The three climbers slept on this beautiful view-point from where they could see Kangchenjunga, Jannu, Chamlang...  In the morning, with weather conditions not as perfect, our friends explored another sector which would allow a more direct access to the East edge. "We thought that it was nevertheless a long route, therefore we wanted to go look at other options.  In fact, we are seeking a route that avoids the horizontal part full of bumps and ice-flutes; but each time it snows and a new track has to be made. We descended to do a traverse, then went up through some more direct rock corridors; but the bad weather caught up with us, we ended up leaving our gear and descending back to base camp ".  The idea is to find a fast access to the East Ridge and setup a camp1 where the Japanese had installed a camp3. It is now clear that they eliminated one option: "the southern spur of the East Ridge is splendid but dangerous, it goes up directly on the left, it is really steep and avoids all the ice-flutes to arrive directly at 6800m on the East Ridge.  It would be ideal, very direct, but the bottom is too exposed to seracs.  Another option remains: to join (fairly easily) the southern col of the south-eastern ridge to join the South/South-East Ridge, at the border with Nepal.  It is the route which Doug Scott and Dan Mazur had climbed. After that, we would join the traditional route, but apparently there is a heavy English expedition climbing that route."  If the weather is good, tomorrow, the three climbers will go back up... "Either we find an opening, or we will have to re-evaluate the Easter edge option. Higher up, there are large serac mazes to go through which are exactly on the edge, at around 6600m and the bottom is technical too”.  What about the health?  "Health is excellent. We have pushed it for two days in the deep snow, we are quite tired from that... (then, after a short pause)…We have really a fantastic view from up here? and that is really cool!" Thanks! 

Update 1: Monday, April 12th: team is in Lhasa, Tibet

Wednesday, April 14th: The Makalu team of Christian Trommsdorff, Yannick Grazziani and Patrick Wagnon has just called us from a hotel in1 New Tingri in Tibet where they arrived today. A great hotel says Christian, much better than the rotted lodges of Old Tingri... They were positively surprised in Katmandu to meet one Japanese of the former 1995 expedition (the only ones to have tried the eastern edge of Makalu), he was able to give them good information on the base camp. While flying from Katmandu to Lhasa, the mountaineers could take a picture of Makalu of the eastern slope of Makalu (soon on the site); they have only this document and the photographs of a Japanese book to discover their route up the mountain.

In one or two days they will leave into the valley of Kharta in truck, then they will hike until the end of the glacier of Shakietang Lho where the base camp will be installed. In one or two days only, because the mountaineers did not recover their luggage which will  arrive by the "road of Friendship" from Nepal. A little concern as the situation is tense with the Maoists; the latter intercepted yesterday a bus of tourists close to the border with Kodari (about thirty armed maos). In Katmandu, the three men also met Jean-Christophe Lafaille who also will go through the valley of Kharta but will then move towards the Kangshung side of the Everest before also turning towards Chomolunzo for another first ascent project on Makalu. The morale of the climbers is good while they await the invaluable luggage.

Monday, April 19th: Christian just called from the middle of the jungle.  Our three friends have been hiking for the last three days since they left Kartha, the last village on their way to the base camp of Makalu. They left Tingri with their luggage Saturday April 17th and passed a col at 5300m which offered amazing views on Kangchenjunga, Makalu, the Everest, Lhotse, Shishapangma, Cho Oyu and Gyachung Kang!! Descending from the col, they arrived to Kartha, located at the end of the road in the valley that comes from Rongbuck.  This valley was discovered by the British at the time of their first exploration of the Everest region. In Kartha, the group met with Katia and Jean-Christophe Lafaille, and their common liaison officer Zuwang Ja. The Lafaille party then hiked up to a different valley, and the liaison officer remained in Kharta. Based on his previous Makalu experience the officer advised Christian, Patrick and Yannick to engage porters rather than yaks because snow would likely have been to hard for the animals.  A choice which proved not so judicious after a few days. The porters of Kharta, although very sympathetic turned out to not be very effective.  They drank Tchang at breakfast, smoked a lot and were not trained for this type of effort which resulted in them suffering from altitude sickness, and ophthalmia… Christian, Yannick and Patrick therefore ended up carrying more weight to help them out: each one had a 30 kg backpack. In the evening they turned into male nurses to massage the tired legs of the porters. At first, they had 20 men and 20 women to carry the weight, but the men preferred to replace the women and according to Christian, it was not a success!  "We got up at 7am but ended up leaving camp only at mid-day! Other than that, the morale is good, we are a little frustrated, but there is still a wine bottle for this evening, so all is well!"  In three days they nevertheless climbed two cols at 4500m and 5000m and went back down to 3200m.  They are now at the bottom of the Shakyetang glacier valley, 2 days (if all goes well) away from their future base camp.  "We hope to be at the base camp in two days. The camp is higher up in the valley, around 4500m, but timing will really depend on the porters.  From base camp we hope to explore a little the Eastern ridge and do a section of the Japanese route.  And then we will see.  Either we will climb the Eastern edge directly, or the Eastern basin, or we could join the normal route depending on the conditions we will encounter."

Wednesday, April 21st: The "Makalus" are at the base camp. From the slopes of Makalu, the voice of Christian is smiling. We can see why he is happy: they arrived at the base camp. A splendid base camp at the foot of the east ridge. The tents are on grass between bolders and at the time of our call, it was dusk. The three mountaineers are from now on alone with Bim the cook and his young Tibetan assistant-cook, who got hired on the road - at Zangmu. Only one small concern: Bim, who is not sherpa, does not speak Tibetan, the only language his assistant speaks! The 37 carriers of the valley of Kartha left, and Yannick Grazziani, in the small text which he wrote tells us all the goodness he sees in that... For Christian, this valley is one of most beautiful they ever went up. They went from the primary forest with rhododendrons, through immense and flat tundra plaines before reaching the first moraines. "This trek is splendid, one did not expect it at all because Japanese had put their base camp on the other side of the East ridge. Moreover, it is a valley which turns and as we advanced, the East ridge revealed itself to us." Their base camp is located at the end of the moraine of the Shakyetang glacier. Now, at the foot of the "problem", their morale is excellent. "We hoped to arrive at the base camp in a maximum of 5 days. We had heard a lot about the local population. But we preferred to eliminate all prejudice and judge for ourselves. On Lonely Planet, it was said that locals would be drunk at breakfast. And well - it is true. Only now, the fifth day, that they are out of Chang, have they made good progress. Alcohol is a prerogative for men, it is in their habits...The girls are much more sympathetic and powerful. They never complain and make progress at a good pace. All in all, most of our thirty porters were young and rather arrogant, but we nevertheless reached the base camp at the appropriate time. We are now at 4565m of altitude. We settled for a comfortable and quiet afternoon."

More to come soon!

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