Makalu Expedition

The year 2014, a cursed year for mountaineering fraternity. Mountain lovers from around the World were shocked by the heart breaking news of the death of 16 sherpas while route opening at Khumbu glacier of Mt Everest,in a lethal avalanche at the beginning of the year.

Another  painful news arrivedsoon after. The promisingmountaineer Chanda Gain along with two Sherpas went missing during the climb of treacherous Yalung Kang after successfully climbingthe impassable Mt Kanchenjunga. Chanda had createda sensation just a year ago when she climbed Mt Everest and Mt Lhotse simultaneously.But now she was lost in the kingdom of snow. The depressing news came as rude shock to the mountaineers.

Amidst such depressing news there came the cheerful news like bubbles of joy- Debasish Biswas had summited the famous peak Mt Makalu.

Debasish, a resident of Kolkata, the city of joy frequently sets off for Mother Nature leaving behind his familiar surroundings. An Income tax officer by professionbut a prince in his dreams. Already he has many trophies in his cabinet- Everest, Kanchenjunga and Annapurna, after climbingvarious Indian peaks. He missed the summit of Dhaulagiri by only a few meters.

On a lovely evening,sitting by his window among the hustle and bustle of the busy urban life, Debasish planned his next mission. Mt Makalu.

Makalu – 8,463 meter or 27,766 ft,the fifth highest peak in the world located only 19 kms away in south east direction from Everest, situated on the border of Nepal and China.

Makalu was first climbed on the 15th may, 1955 by Lionel Terry and Jeane Couzi under the leadership of Jeane Franco of France. Their climbing route was through the North and North East Ridge via Makalu-la. But, because of its tricky pyramid shape, very few climbers have successfully scaled Makalu till date.

Debasish :
My journey started on 11th April 2014, from Kolkata’s Sealdah station by Darjeeling Mail at 10:00pm. A large crowd of friends and well wishers were present there to wish me success.

Reached Siliguri, the next morning. A large group of members of HNAF were waiting there to receive me. Spending some time there, I proceeded for Kakarvita at Nepal border. Pemba Sherpa was waiting there. By road we can reach upto Num via Itahari, Dharan, Hille and Tumlingter.

From Kakarvita we reached Dharan via Itahari by a hired vehicle. Night stay at Dharan. Next morning westarted for Hille and reached there at 11am. After changing vehicles, we moved along the river Arun koshi and first reached Tumlingter. ThereafterKhadbari in the evening. Stay at Khadbari the next day.

We reached Numon the 15th by car. The road ends here. Next day we take rest at Num. The trek route starts from here. But we didn’t take the trek route. The same evening a group of foreign climbers arrived there by helicopter.

The next day the helicopter dropped us along with the foreigners at Yangle Kharka. Height is 3,540m. We left Arun Koshi at Num. Barun Koshi – a tributary of Arun koshiflows here.

After reaching Yangle Kharka, the same day weascended slight uphill. Helicopter had taken us to quite a height already. It is almost 12,000ft. The day was spent loitering aimlessly in order to acclimatize.

Friday 18thApril,after breakfast, trekkingstarted at about 7 am. Makalu expedition literally took off. Trek is along the left side of Barun Koshi. This route will take us first to the Hillary Base Camp and then to the Advance Base Camp.

We take a path through the Jungle. A steep massive black wall at the right side followsusall along the path. Makalu is behind this gigantic wall.

Numerous birds can be seen in this jungle trail. Their recital concerts are pleasurably audible.

As the path  gradually gains heightthe jungle becomes sparse. Two huge black hills stands at the other side of Barun Koshi, just side by side. Local belief is that the left one is Lord Shiva and the right one is the pregnant Parvati. It seems Lord Shiva has placed his left hand over Parvati’s shoulder. Figure of Shiv-Parvati or Har-Gouri.

The entire area is believedto be Shiva’s region. The name Makalu probably has come from Mahakaal or Giant Black Peak. Baruntse peak is visible just ahead.

Further ahead a large gaping hole is visible in that black wall on the right side. From therea spring is coming out. It is believed that this isanother wonder of Lord Shiva. The Lord created this hole with his trident after hearing local complaints about the scarcity of drinking water. It is believed that this spring has no source.

After a four hour trek we reach Lamangle. Only one shop cum hotel, run by an aged couple exists in that place. Taking a cup of tea, wemove further. Then gradually walk uphill . On the way Barun Koshi is always on the left side.

On the way off and on we take reston boulders during trek. On this way the first glimpse of Makalu is seen behind from the right side slope.

The route is downhill just before the base camp. Plain fields follow. After crossing Barun Koshi we reach base camp. Height 4,800mt.

19th April. To acclimatize with the weather we proceed towards Advance Base Camp (ABC ) for a couple of hours. We return to the base camp before lunch.

21st April. Movetowards ABC. The route is between boulders and moraine area. Barun Koshi is now on the right side down below. Keeping Makalu on the right side the path is first towards the North West direction and then gradually turns towards North. A relatively tough trek. Loose boulders lie on hard ice. So we step on the rocks with extreme caution. There is fear of slipping at every step.

After base camp Barun Koshi is always on the right, diminishing in sizegradually.

Glacial pools are seen on the way.Pools formed from the melting ice in between the boulders and hard ice but now all frozen due tothe cold. Trek is now on this hard ice.

Relentless and laborious march. The route is gradually turning towards right. After trekking through a steep slope of loose boulders we reach ABC, at5,800m height. Magical evening glow shines all around. Many groupsare already there. Colourful tents pitched all around. Our agency is Seven Summit Treks. Large number of climber groups hailing from different countries, hence numerous tents of different variety. Tents for members, sherpas, dining tents, kitchen tents, toilet tents. These worldly colours bestow a mystical touch to these divine mountains. A Chhorten or prayer temple is built from stones stacked atop a gigantic black boulder in between these tents. Prayers were offered just this morning.  Prayer flags are strewn all over around this chhorten.

Other members have already reached ABC a few days earlier. Next day 22nd April they proceeded to camp one. We have reached just yesterday. So will stay here today. But to acclimatize I accompanied the others without any load. I will now moveupto the Crampon Point just further on. The route is strewn with boulders and stones. Numerous large ice towers on either side. Icy slopes starts where the rocky path ends. Marching with trekking shoes is possible only upto this point. For further movement Mountaineering Boots are required. Crampons have to be fixed under these boots from here. Hence this point is called crampon point.I return back from this point.

24th April Thursday.Started for camp one at 08:15 in the morning. Two sherpas accompany me-Pemba and Phurba. Route is towards north keeping Makalu on the east.We reach crampon point in one and a half hours. Three tents are pitched side by side. There we change into mountaineering boots with crampon fixed under them. Icy slopes begin from here.

A longicy slope. We march on with the help of crampons. It takes long to cross it. Plain snow fields areafter this slope. Tents of some other team can be seen here. But we will not stay here, our camp one is still further, so we move on.

Then another steep ice wall. Ropes are already fixed there. Putting Jhumer in that fixed rope and kicking in the ice wall with crampons we moved upwards. After that wall, the route now bends right towards east. Pathway through gradual snowy slope.

At 2 pm we reach Camp one, height 6,400 Mt. Pitch tent there for night stay.

Next day, 25th April. We proceed to camp two. Distance of camp two from camp one is not much, only one and a half to two hour’s journey. Hence, we start a little late, at around 10’ o clock. The slope of Makalu is in the east side of camp one. So Sun rises at camp one in a bit later, around half past eight.

After camp one, the trail weaves through the gradual slope of snow. Then wemove along a fragile icy wall. On right side is that ice wall. Steep icy slopes down on left. Ropes are already fixed. Movement uphill, fixing jhummerin that ropes.Then another steep ice wall. Some crevasses in between. Marking flags were fixedafter regular intervals to mark the route. Following those marks we reached camp two in two hours, height 6,600 Mt.

Several tents were pitched. The great slope of Makalu is in the east. In the west two giant hills are peeping behind a rocky ridge, Everest and fourth highest Lohtse.

Next day, 26thApril. Rest at camp two. Preparation of food going on inside the outer of tent.

Makalu is at the east. One ridge is coming down northwards from Makalu. After going north, it turns again first towards west and finally turns towards south west. In the west side Everest and Lohtse are visible from above this ridge.

Baruntse is visible at South-west. Several other peaks are beside it. Some part of the route tocamp three is visible from there.

On 27th morning, we began to descend at 10’o clock. A few climbers meet on the way. They were going uphill. Again wedescend after bidding them good bye. Reach camp one within half an hour. But do not stay there. Aftercrossing the ice slope and crampon point, reach ABC. Time is 12:30pm. Another few groups have reached ABC in the meantime. Hence ABC is now livelier.

Then a few days of rest at ABC. Meanwhile the other climbers visit and return from the higher camps for acclimatisation. Sherpas ferry the essential loads in small groups to the higher camp. Simultaneously they also open routes for higher camps. To prepare the higher camps for the members is also one of their responsibilities.

ABC is now full of sherpas, members and other crew. Plenty of idle time. Various activities are  in full swing inside the tents.Time passes merrily. Lots of delicious foodand wine. Also lots of food strewn around so variety of birds also visibleat the camp site.

Weather is also playing hide and seek. Sometimes it’sbright sunny,other times gloomy and cloudy.

1st May. Heavy snowfall starts since morning. It continues through the rest of the day. Thick blanket of snow covers all around. In the evening an American climber informs from camp two on the walkie talkie that one member from our team Yannik from France is dreadfully sick. He was trying to climb in Alpine style without oxygen and sherpa. He has caught high altitude sickness.


The next morning a big group of sherpas set out to rescue Yannik. He has to be brought down as soon as possible. The sad news arrives in the evening that Yannik is dead. His body was kept at the crampon point.

4th May. Helicopter has come to pick Yannik’s body, from the crampon point back to Kathmandu. That was the end of thelast three day’s anxiety.

Then a long wait. It seems the weather will never get better. Fierce winds blow on the summit. News of a storm brewing in the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean which resultsin this whimsical weather. In the meantime sherpas have opened route upto French culloier above Camp four.

Finally good news came. Expected fair weather may arrive on the 17-19th.A little wind with less snowfall. It was decided that we divide and move in two groups. First group will start on the 13th and try to climb on the 17thof May. The others will start on 14th and try to summit on 18th.

As planned the first team starts on the 13th. Extreme test, hence prayers offered at the chhorten before leaving.

I start the next day and reachCamp two on the same day. There I meet the group, who started the day before.

Woke up at 5:30am the next day, which is the 15th. Light snow inside the tent formed from the vapour of breathing. Phurba has made breakfast. I get ready instantly and places oxygen from here. Set out at 7:00 am. Destination is camp three or Makalu-la.

Turningback, we can see in the west side Everest and Lohtse are peeping out from above the rocky ridge. Unknown, perilous  path  awaits us. Makalu’s most treacherous climbing route starts from here.

A steep icy slope begins here. Rigorous gruelling climb. Meanwhile, the Sun rises  and lights up the morning sky. Proceedingtowards the east. Makalu stands tall in the east. Sun peeps from just behind this wall hence late sunrise, at about 8:45am.

On this route there are 5 slopes – two icy, others rocky. The first one is icy and snowy slope. The next one is a steep wall of hard bluish-green ice and rocks.

This wall ends and a long steep snowy slope begins. Againanother steep rocky slope. Frozen ice in between the rocks. At the end of this slope is another icy slope. Weather gets worse while crossing this last slope.  Strong winds start blowing along with soft snow. Amidst this rough weather, we reach camp three or Makalu-la at 4:00pm. Height 7,600m.

Thick blanket of clouds everywhere. Few tents are seen here. Severe, biting cold. Things turn worse due to the strong winds. Winds that started the previous evening continued till the next morning. Vapours from the breath have frozen in the tent.

Weather becomes fair after sunrise. Winds have mellowed.I start at 10:00am. Camp four is only a little distance from camp three. Hardly a couple of hours.

Kanchenjunga is seen in the far east of Makalu-la. Kangchungtse or Makalu-2 is in the north. Everest and Lhotse in the west. Makalu is at the south and southeast.

Even in this fair weather strong winds on the Makalu’s is being seen.

At the beginning we traverse towards the east through an icy slope. Then come a rocky slope. Thereafter,another  hard icy field. Dangerously  slippery. Camp four is at the end of this field. Height 7,800m.We reach camp four at about 12:00 noon. Sherpas have set tents on the rocky field. The other teams have pitched their tents on the adjacent ice field.

The entire route from camp four to Makalu summit can be seen from here. First the route is along the ice slope towards the south east. Then the path gradually turns towards the east. After crossing this slope one has to reach at the base of the French collouier in between the rocky wall. As per the information from ABC, ropes have been already fixed upto the base of the French collouier and another 200m of rope have to be fixed at that collouier. A further 150m of rope will be required after the collouier.

Strong winds have started after noon. It has slowed down towards the evening. Amidst these winds we start off at about 7:00pm. We are now a group of four Indians. Arjun from Delhi, Asish and Anand from Pune and I. Eight sherpas are along with us. We arecarrying additional 300m long rope along,in addition to the required 350m. Seeing the path in the light of the headtorch we start our climb. Then a magical moon rises. Buddha Purnima has just passed on the 14thand it is almost full moon.

Ropes are not fixed on most of this route.So we climb cautiously with ice axe. Sherpas are marching and fixing ropes simultaneously. It is time consuming as we  sit and wait at that time of fixing ropes. The route is first towards south east. After a long climb we turn towards east gradually.

Slowly the morning lights appear in the sky. Crimson lights in the horizon. The majestic sunrise enthrals us. The golden sunrays light up the crowns all around. We have now reached at the base of the collouier. Then Sherpas have started to fix the ropes at the collouier. After the ropes are fixed we proceed together one by one.

It is almost 8:00am by the time we reach the top of the collouier. Then we climb further. Reached about 8,350m by 9:30am. Everest and Lhotse are on the west side,and Kanchungtse at the north. Although Kachungtse is now down below. Numerous  peaks on the Tibetean plateau are visible just above Kanchungtse. Kachenjunga isin the east and is not visible from here due to the rocky barrier of Makalu.

It is a totally rocky region. Everyone is dog-tired due to continuous climbing. So everyone sits on boulders to take rest. Great length of time passed there. Initially we thought, sherpas are fixing the ropes on top. But surprisingly we noticed that the sherpas were also sitting beside us. When enquired, irritatingly they informed that no one could proceed further as the ropes have exhausted.

Alas!!! We have carried more ropes than required. Then how could this happen.

Sherpas informed that in the lower section they had to fix ropes in many places, where they had not planned initially and so now we areshort of ropes. Still some rope is left but we needed another 150m to reach the summit.

I propose to proceed as roping up. Proceeding with ropes tied across our hips after every 15 to 20 feet is called rope up. Sherpas agreed to this proposal. But the other three members refused to carry on. They doubted the safety of this rope up climbing. It would be of extreme risk at this height.

Without any other option, I suggested to remove the lower ropes and fix them above. But the collouier is just beneath us. Removing the ropes from there would prove to be fatal during decent. So sherpas outrightly rejected the suggestion.

After an hour of futile discussion with heavy heads and broken hearts we started to descend. Although it is very tough to accept to return from that heightfor such a trivial reason. It was may be only about 100m from the summit, maybe an hour at the most from the top. Sheer bad luck.

Descends to camp four the same day. Next day leaving at 7:30am we reach ABC around 3:00pm.

19th May Monday. News comes via walkie talkie informingus that the other members had summitted on the 18th and 19th morning.

Knowing about the shortage of ropes, they had carried additional ropes and had successfully summitted thedangerous Makalu. Hearing this I became extremely upset. This glory should have come to us first.

The weather deteriorated from then on. It will be fair again only on 24th and 25th May.

Knowing this I decided to attempt again on 25th. Accordingly I packed the essentials-oxygen cylinder, cooking gas and food.

After all preparations, we started again on 22nd May at 8:30 am in the morning. Same day we reached at Camp two. Pamba informed about our arriving to the ABC in the evening by walkie talkie. Then we got the shocking news. Our well known Chhanda Gayen and her two Sherpa – Dawa and Temba slipped andhad a fall at the time of climbing Yalung Kang, the adjacent peak of Kanchenjunga. They were now missing.

Next day we reached Makalu-la or camp three. Makalu-la is open towards the east west direction. Night stay at camp three.

The day after we set off at 6:30pm from camp three. The target is to summit directly from here. Ashish from Pune is accompanying me. Reaches camp fourareas within 2 hours. We continue without pausing.

Reached above French collouier at about 4:00am. Horizon is now crimson gold. Above the collouier the path is now through loose boulders and ice. Snowy slopes thereafter. At the end of this slope is a peak like structure.

This is not the main summit. It is called the False Summit.

The sun rises now and paints the peak golden. In the west Everest and Lhotse wear golden crowns. In the far east is Kanchenjunga.

Then another snow slope. Then the main summit. Top of Makalu.

At about 6:30am Ireached to the top of Makalu. Hoisted the tricolour. A proudmomentfor me indeed.I become the first Indian civilian to scale 4 eight thousand height  peaks.

Makalu’s summit is a very narrow place. Quite steep. Too small to accommodateeven two persons together. Not possible to stand for a long time. We click pictures one by one and soon the descendstarts.

Same day we descended to camp three at around 11:30am. The weather starts worsening from noon. Winds howl along with heavy snowfall. It continued relentlessly throughout the night.

Next morning amidst this terrible weather we started to descend again. We come down to ABC directly.

Weather is getting worse. Heavy snowfall continues unabated. Without stopping we descended to base camp on 27th.

Blanket of snowof 4 to 5 ft thickness covers all around. Next day we descend to Lamangle in this bad weather.

29th may. We first reach Yangle Kharka by helicopter. Same day reach Num by helipcopter. We reach Tumlingter by car on the same day.

At last on 1st June,I reachKolkata via Siliguri. Home sweet home.

The Makalu expedition ends for the time being. Like the previous expeditions of Debasish, we have gone together with him on his journey. We also entered at the hiddenvicinity of Makalu along with him. We have experienced the beauty and mystery of Makalu through his eyes. Wecould see Makalu’s calm beauty and violent face too.

Debasish has returned to his apparently tranquil daily life. But his restless mind still hunts for his next expedition.

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Debasish Biswas
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