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 Winter Makalu 2000/2001             1-15-2001 Dispatch

This is the end 

- Camps 1 and 2 destroyed 

- The Winter Crown of the Himalayas still awaits its conqueror!

The Heck of a Windstorm

Makalu still unconquered in winter

PHOTO MONIKA ROGOZINSKA

On Saturday morning Krzysztof Wielicki, the head of the Polish Winter Expedition to Makalu, officially announced the retreat and the end of the expedition. Very bad conditions did not give the climbers the  slightest chance. On the morning of Monday 15 January, weather permitting, a helicopter will come to the base to pick up the members of the expedition.

Krzysztof Wielicki informed everyone about his decision via radio-phone from the extended base. Three teams of Alpinists were still at the western slope of the eight-thousand-meter mountain.

The previous day one of the teams, Gia Tortladze and Krzysztof Liszewski found the tent of camp 2 a few hundred meters below its location. It was put up a week earlier. The wind took our shelter and rolled it down the slope. The masts were broken but the material along with complete equipment remained untouched. The tent was too damaged to be pitched again. It belonged to Tortladze and was made in Russia. The Alpinist claimed that it has never failed him. Due to the windstorm climbers could not pitch a shock tent they brought with them. "During the climb a blow of wind elevated me and threw to the ground, Krzysztof flew two times, I think. - said Tortladze - We decided to come back".

The War of Winds

The camp at the height of 6200 meters was also destroyed. American equipment failed us again. "The North Face" tent appeared to be too gentle for winter time in Himalayas. The blizzard crushed the masts, which made holes on the walls and tore the material. Jerzy Natkanski and Maciej Pawlikowski had a difficult bivouac there. They were assigned a task of providing help for the teams of two attacking the summit.

The Alpinists lost a lot of equipment which was indispensable when climbing. Wielicki, who was preparing for the final attack together with Dariusz Zaluski, appealed to his colleagues via radio-phone. He asked them not to risk their lives in order to save the equipment and not to go up. The noise caused by the walls of the tent in the extended base made his words illegible. A wind from hell raged in the upper parts. During previous 24 hours, depending on the direction of wind, temperature changed from minus ten to plus two grades and back within the span of an hour. When the Alpinists started their last attack, there began a real war of winds. Thick, scattered clouds hit the three-kilometer long precipice of the southern slope of Makalu with great might after which they came back taking stones with them, like a wave. Differences in temperature caused an avalanche of rocks. The rain of stones accompanied us day and night.

Bonus at the pass

The Alpinists were very exhausted. Further stay gave no chances to conquer the summit. "Great effort of climbing makes an organism use up its own resources - explained Doctor Roman Mazik, the physician of the expedition. - It is not possible to supply energy with good food - the digestive system does not take in nourishment because of the height and lack of oxygen. After about 4 to 5 weeks resources of the organism are drastically low. Further stay at such height leads to destruction."

And thus Makalu still remains one of eight-hundred-thousand meter mountains of Nepal which were not conquered in winter. A bonus awaits those who reach the couloir leading to Makalu La pass. The new "North Face" shock tent is tied to the balustrades there along with a small ice axe which belonged to Maciej Pawlikowski. He got it from Jerzy Kukuczka.

History repeats itself

The current expedition was the third Polish Winter trip to Makalu. Winter attempts to conquer the mountain were begun by Reinhold Messner at the break of 1985/86. He managed to get to the couloir leading to Makalu La pass. Hurricane winds made further action impossible. Events of the expedition were filmed and caused great emotion and controversy. A French climber died. His body was pushed into a crack in the ice. The Poles applied to the Nepalese authorities for the permission to attack Makalu in winter in the season of 1987/88. That was the first time. Andrzej Machnik was the head of the expedition. There were no helicopters then. The expedition employed four Nepalese carriers. Six Poles and two Americans walked with a caravan until the foot of Makalu. It took them two weeks. On 10 December 1987 the main base was set up at the southern slope. After that they set up three camps at the Chago glacier and at the entrance to the couloir which led to Makalu La pass. The history repeated itself. A change of weather and windstorms allowed them to reach the height of 7400 meters. Alpinists sheltered in caves in ice cut out with saws. On 28 January 1988 the Polish expedition surrendered.

Four people formed the next expedition led by Krzysztof Wielicki ten years ago. Anna Czerwinska, Ryszard Pawlowski and Ingrid Baeyens from Belgium were with him. At the time Wielicki was among the best of climbers in the world. His achievements included winter conquests of Mount Everest, Kanchenjunga and Lhotse, marking new routes from bases into the peaks of the Himalayan giants within 24 hours. He also got acquainted with the route of the first conquerors of Makalu leading through Makalu La.

"We aimed really high - said Wielicki - we thought that everything was possible, even a four-person winter attack of so vast and windy mountain. We chose the classic route through Makalu La, which appeared difficult due to its length. We got lost in a blizzard. In mid-January we had enough of it. This was however a great school of Himalaism. Every one of us stood at the top of the Everest".

The 2000/2001 Winter Expedition to Makalu will be remembered as one more unsuccessful attempt to conquer a virgin, eight-thousand-meter high mountain in winter. There exist fourteen giants. Makalu remains one out of seven which have not been conquered yet. The Winter Crown of the Himalayas still remains the greatest challenge of the highest mountains.

written by Monika Rogozinska, "Rzeczpospolita",
transl. by "TRANSLATOR" Technical Translation Agency
http://www.rp.pl  ("Rzeczpospolita") and
http://www.translator-warsaw.com.pl ("TRANSLATOR")

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