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  Jean-Christophe Lafaille: Report of the expedition of Jean-Christophe Lafaille to the MAKALU Tibetan slope


Report of the expedition of Jean-Christophe Lafaille to the MAKALU Tibetan slope by Katia Lafaille

Translations by Fabienne for EverestNews.com

INTRODUCTION: Jean-Christophe Lafaille is back in France since June 12th  after an expedition far from any civilization, in a total insulation and with a very beautiful opening on the virgin slope of Makalu 2 (7668m.) alone and of course without oxygen. Sure, Jean-Christophe did not reach the top of Makalu1 (8481m.), his objective and unfortunately the media speak about failure without measuring the width of what he has just carried out by opening this new way. For this expedition he adopted to some extent the style of the first explorers who went to the Himalayas to discovered of an unknown area, with the difference that Jean-Christophe was in alpine style, without companion with the sole assistance of his cook and the cook assistant!

A base camp without a soul if they are not Leopards of snows, butterflies, birds... The goal of this trip was, amongst other things, to leave these heavy and overloaded expeditions as one sees on the base camps without mentioning the Everest which is the door open to all and anything... that becomes shocking today and means nothing... Jean-Christophe did not want this environment "Camp base", he wanted to go on the slope Tibetan of this mountain for his exploring side  since the only information which he could collect date of a recognition carried out by a British expedition in 1921...

The location and the preparation of the new way that Jean-Christophe opened were made through photographs that the mountaineer and friend of Jean-Christophe: ED VIESTURS showed him, he took them at the time of his many ascents of the Everest from where we can see very well the Northern slope of the MAKALU. Jean-Claude MARMIER also provided information and photographs on the access to this area Thanks to these invaluable documents, Jean-Christophe could see the differences in snowing up between the seasons of spring and autumn, the sunning which this face takes, we tried to evaluate the difficulties and the delicate passages of this route by enlarging the image with a software of photo final improvement, etc... the location and the preparation of this new route were not simple but a true adventure in fact!

To conclude this introduction, Jean-Christophe is delighted and happy to have succeeded in opening this virgin route on the slope Tibetan of Makalu 2 which he dedicates to us, Tom his son and myself by baptizing this way "Katia and Tom". This route is also the most difficult rise on the technical level that Jean-Christophe never realized in the Himalayas.

THE MAKALU: Jean-Christophe and myself left France on April 5 to go to Nepal. My role was to support Jean-Christophe on the beginning of this trip, to carry out a part of the illustrated report and video before returning to France. I take the opportunity to thanks the airline company MARTINAIR which gracefully offered us our plane tickets.

The political situation with the Maoists at Kathmandu is very very delicate, atmosphere is tense and Kathmandu in strike... we are taken twice in demonstrations... it is rather impressive, the situation was not far from skidding... We were supposed to leave Kathmandu on April 8 but with the strikes all becomes complicated. We will be able to leave the capital of Nepal by helicopter only on April 10 in order to go to Kodari frontier zone with Tibet located at 80 kilometres from Kathmandu. We pass without too many problems the Népalo/Tibetan border with, like always in this Country, much paperwork for nothing... On April 10 by the evening we are at Nyalam at 3800 meters of altitude, (small sinister city) which enables us to acclimatize ourselves while waiting for the luggage and the staff remained at Kathmandu because of the strike supposed to stop on April 13.... In fact, it will continue until the 16th and staff as our luggage will also fly by helicopter to the border because the delay on the timing of the expedition is felt. The atmosphere is tense, I am not well, I do not acclimatize well, I miss my children, the situation in Kathmandu worries me and stresses me because I come back alone, by the road, while crossing an area "Maoist"...

We find finally our luggage and the team on April 14 at Tingri located at 4300 meters of altitude and approximately 5 hours of jeep from Nyalam after having crossed the collar of Lalung at 5050 meters. I am in contact with our agency of trekking in Nepal, the news on Kathmandu are getting worse... The landscape of Tibet is arid, in the middle of the morning the wind rises and continues until the night, sand forms gusts of wind preventing any visibility. The poverty of these areas, these villages, these families is terrible..., I still think of these children with whom I shared a few moments..., I will turn back to this corner of the planet in order to give clothes while trying, on my level, to bring my assistance to these stripped people... I do not want and cannot pass these areas while flying of the stereotypes photographs, showing poverty, feel sorry for these poor people and to take again my small quiet life of Western... the trips in these poor Countries change people, I reconsider my priorities and the importance which I give to the things... I found a kind of freedom

On April 15, we leave Tingri for the last stage in the jeep which carries out us to Karta at 3700 meters. It is here that Jean-Christophe will leave by foot with the Yaks which carry his equipment, the cook it and the kitchen boy. We meet another French expedition on the spot going on another slope of the MAKALU also. April 17 is the day of our separation with Jean-Christophe... it reigns here an odd atmosphere, not the hubbub of commercial expeditions which invade all spaces of silence and peace, nothing of  that, an environment of small village which wakes up a quasi palpable pressure invades this peace... I feel and measure the engagement, the loneliness in which Jean-Christophe will live during several weeks, the separation is tearing, oppressive.

The road between Kodari and Kathmandu is plenty of check points, the army, omnipresent, is in position rifle out of cheek at each control... nice environment... On April 18, I arrive at Kathmandu after having drove for two days. The situation is still very tense, I changed hotel in order to have all near, restaurant, store, etc...

On April 20 I fly away for France, on the 21 I tighten my children in my arms. This same day, Jean-Christophe arrives at the place where he decided to install his base camp at 4900 meters. The trekking was overall well. He does not waste time since on April 23, he goes up to find the place where he will install the advanced base camp. The route to be followed is dangerous and committed. He installs it at 5600 meters, he is almost at the foot of the virgin spur which he will climb... a very beautiful line, pure and aesthetic! The altitude of the advanced base camp is very well for his acclimatization. The weather is rather capricious because the area is very wet... it will have almost snowed every day during the expedition to the base camp with a fog preventing any visibility.

After having spent the night of the 23 to the 24 at the advanced base camp, Jean-Christophe begins his ascent on the virgin spur as of April 24 and take advantage from it to deposit there material at the place where he will install the camping at 6500 m. The 24 at the end of the afternoon he joined the advanced base camp. He made during several days heavy bearings to this camp in order to have enough to eat for the phase of his acclimatization as well as for the final attack, he also deposits material of replacement, cartouches of gas for its stove, a tent, a sleeping bag, a mattress out of foam, etc... "the spur" the first part of his new way comprises frozen passages very stiff, of the zones of mixed difficult also (rock and ice) of which the passage of the "Yellow Turn" (baptized by Jean-Christophe) a 60 meters height of in mixed difficult and delicate  to climb. He took 2 hours to arrive to the top of this tower!! He told me that he never climbed such a difficult passage in the Himalayas. This spur made uneven of 1000 meters.

The advantage of this route is the absence of objective dangers (falls of serac, stone falls, avalanches, etc...), the danger lies in the technical and very demanding difficulty of this route which does not allow any error on behalf of Jean-Christophe. My concern during this expedition was on this point mainly, I know how much difficult and tiring is to remain concentrated at a "normal" altitude in the sport or work. In the Himalayas, the concentration is a kind of "life line", it should not be released. The effects of the high altitude cumulated with the very technical ground that Jean-Christophe chooses to climb joins together all the difficulties which one finds in the Himalayas with moreover: complete loneliness, a route as solitaire on a completely virgin slope in alpine style... I believe that, in the history of the himalaysme, never a mountaineer was in this configuration of requirements and difficulties?

Once acclimatized to the camp installed at 6500m., Jean-Christophe moves his camping (principle of the technique in alpine style) to the top of the spur at 7200 meters. He will not be able unfortunately to go to locate the second part of his new way because the route made up of: large cornices (he will have to cross them to dig two tunnels to pass between the rock and snow) of air edges which he will sometimes astride pass suspended in full vacuum, of stiff passages in rock, etc... does not leave him the possibility of coming back. On my side and in spite of the unstable situation which reigns in Kathmandu, I decide to go to Nepal to join Jean-Christophe with our children Tom and Jérémi. Jean-Christophe needs this support, to know us near... I organize a trek in the valley of the Everest, the "Khumbu" because it is easy to organize with children and then especially there are no Maoists. 

I leave France on May 14 and I arrive at Nepal the 15. I thank the airline company KLM with which we collaborate for some time now because it always did the utmost to organize us our flights via Delhi, the USA, etc... To often travel, the service on board is impeccable and the personnel very accessible. Tom, our little boy three years old wants really to see his dad very quickly and it is not obvious to manage on the spot... On his side, Jean-Christophe is ready for the final attack. He leaves the base camp of Makalu on May 13 to go to sleep to the advanced base camp. The 14, he leaves the advanced base camp to go up directly to the camp at 7200 meters of altitude.

On May 15 he leaves the camp at 7200m. to start the second part of his new route which leaves at the top Makalu2. Jean-Christophe is very very charged, his bag weighs approximately 25 kg and at the present time he must weigh 50 of them!!! the figures speak!!... His route, very technical, requires many efforts from him and time, he bivouacs around 7400 meters on a mini platform in an immense and stiff face. On May 16 at 14h00, he calls me, he is happy but exhausted, he is at the top of Makalu 2 at 7668 meters, he finished and made a success of the new part of his route. Too much tired to join the collar of the normal way of Makalu, the "Makalu la" at 7400m, he decides to install the tent of against bottom of Makalu 2 and to rest. The descent to join Makalu-La is delicate and stiff. On May 17, he is still tired, moreover he caught cold, he coughs and spits... the coughing awake him several times the night... He joined the "Makalu La" and decides to install the tent at this place to rest. He crosses finally men, including one with whom he shared a base camp last year in Pakistan: Inaki Ochoa de Olza Spanish climber who has just succeeded, by the normal route, the Makalu.

On May 18, Jean-Christophe leaves at 2h00 in the morning in order to try the top of Makalu. After 2h00 of effort, he decides to turn back, he is too much tired. He could have made the forcing and have reached  the top of Makalu but with much of chance not to return... wise decision... On my side, I do not really want to make a trekking with the children whereas the expedition comes to an end. I decide to return to Kathmandu more quickly than envisaged and to make a surprise to Jean-Christophe while going to await him with the children on the Bridge of the Friendship at Kodari. On May 18 at the end of the morning, Jean-Christophe goes down again on the slope of the normal way of Makalu and finds people for a few moments of exchanges. He wanted to rest two days at the base camp of the normal way and then try again the top but unfortunately present expeditions were leaving  the camping as of the following day of the arrival of Jean-Christophe. On May 19, the adventure continues for Jean-Christophe since he must now pass by again the border with Tibet by borrowing a completely unknown route, no information, nothing of nothing only one vague chart!

The weather is really awful, it snows, there is no visibility, Jean-Christophe is  very tired and stills at a altitude relatively high between 6000 and 6500 m. He has the impression to be on the ice-barrier and not in the Himalayas, he moves on an immense frozen plaque several hours during and finally reached the advanced base camp at the end of the afternoon where he plunges in his sleeping bag by eating the last square of his TOBLERONE... On May 20, he arrives at the base camp and begins the arrangement of the equipment while waiting for the yaks which do not arrive... On May 23, he decides to leave alone, to return to Kathmandu and to find us. On my side, I am back to Kathmandu which I leave on May 25 by jeep to reach with the children Kodari.

On May 26 after a short night, we are at 8h00 in morning on the Bridge of the Friendship. At 9h00, I see Jean-Christophe who is coming, we approach... Jean-Christophe does not believe it when he sees his small Tom running to jump in his arms... there is much emotion, these moments are magic, unique and strong.

We go back to Kathmandu by jeep, to sort some details before leaving for a few days in family! Translations by Fabienne for EverestNews.com

Katia Lafaille.

Thanks to: Our weather router: Yan GIENZENDANNER and Our partners: ASOLO, BEAL, Mutuelle CCM, JULBO, KLM, GORE-TEX, LESTRA, MILLET, PETZL et VIBRAM. Thanks to the French Federation of the Mountain and Climbing which financially helped us on this project. A particular thanks to GROUPAMA ASSENT MANAGEMENT our new partner who allowed us to close the budget MAKALU. Also a big thanks to: MOUNTAIN HARDWEAR which equipped Jean-Christophe in tents, excellent products. OUTDOOR RESEARCH for their gloves, excellent products also. The Laboratoires Equilibre et attitude for their very powerful products the Ea-FIT.  To MARTINAIR for the one-way flight of our trip.

Dispatches

Read the dispatches from Spring 2002 here: Dispatch April 3, 2002 Bonjour

His Site in French

In 2003, Jean-Christophe Lafaille, summited Dhaulagiri, Broad Peak and Nanga Parbat.

His dispatches from Dhaulagiri this year are here.

His dispatches from Nanga Parbat this year are here.

Follow along here for dispatches from Broad Peak here.

Jean-Christophe Lafaille 2003: Broad Peak Photo Show

Jean-Christophe Lafaille: Annapurna 2002

 

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