Makalu 2002 Dispatch Two April 7th, 2002

Hi.  I'm RD Caughron from Berkeley California, currently on the Makalu 2002 expedition being led by Piotr Pustelnik and this is my first progress report.  Hopefully more will follow if there is any outside link available. 

In a nutshell right now 10 out of 12 members and some trekkers are in Namche Bazaar just having returned from a successful ascent of Island Peak for acclimatization.  Day after tomorrow we're leaving from Lukla by helicopter to Makalu basecamp. We're definitely in good spirits and good to go. 

Here's more  detail. We're here to climb Makalu (8463 m) via the NW Ridge which is the route normal. Piotr Pustelnik from Poland is our leader and he is the common link between many members on our team. This will be Piotr's 11th 8000'er in his quest to climb all 14 of the world's highest mountains.  Other members of our team include me, RD Caughron and Jay Sieger from USA; Anna Czerwinska, Ryszard Pawlowski, and Dariusz Zaluski from Poland; our team doctor Piotr Klepacz also from Poland; Floriano Castelnuovo and Diego Fregona from Italy; Martin Gablik, Peter Frankovic and Vladimir Strba from Slovakia; and Gonzalo Velez from Portugal.  We also have some trekkers who have been with us from the start:  George Natkanski, Magda Lakomiak and Stavomir Lachowski all from  Poland.  These great folks have fit right in.  I'm sure in basecamp you would be impressed to listen into our expedition table discussions in 4 different languages.

We arrived in Kathmandu around March 27, and by the time we got organized left on March 30 for Lukla in the Khumbu.  Our group actually split up with Anna, Floriano and Diego doing the normal approach up to the Barun Valley, and the rest of us going from Lukla to climb Island Peak for acclimatization, which we just did on April 5. The reason for the split is that some members have been many times to the Khumbu, have already done Island Peak and wanted to see the Barun. Let me tell you about our current morale and condition.  First, this Khumbu area is simply one of the awesome destinations in the world. Its just stunningly visually impressive.  Of course the big appeal is Mt Everest with all that implies, but for us, the combination of views and being able to acclimatize and be active and climb something was just the best.  Our idea to acclimatize and get to know each other was to go climb Island Peak (6189m). After trekking from Lukla to Phakdung, Namche Bazaar, Khumjung, Thangboche, Demboche to Island Peak Basecamp just across from the Amphu Lapcha Pass near Baruntse.  Brilliant.  From the top the full panorama was awesome:  Cho Oyo, Nuptse, Lhotse, Makalu, Baruntse and Ama Dablam to just name a few.  All glistening in the sun with beautiful blue skies and no wind.  Wow.  It was just great for team bonding and trusting the body. Not everyone made the top, but reacting to their body adjustments stopped at various elevations in excellent form and everyone returned to basecamp in great health and great sprits. Those on top were Piotr, Richard, Martin, RD, Gonzalo, Jay and George. (Note our Polish trekkers seem to be quite strong. George has also summited G2 and spent a winter on Nanga Parbat several years ago).

Here are some glimpses from our climb.  We had breakfast at 5am, and were off at 5:30 on April 5. About 9am we were able to reach the snow level and could see a German team making the final few steps to the top.  Wow, it really looked like a long way away, both up and in distance.  Around 10am we were at the base of the 200m vertical wall below the summit ridge.  As we jumared up a fixed line left by the German group, a German guide down climbed the fixed rope using great ice climbing technique, mostly by using his hands on our line for balance.  Awesome.  Several more highlights.  Martin recorded our climb on a  digital recorder and no Hollywood opening has had a more favorable review after we returned to basecamp for a showing.  This climb in my mind is especially memorable because of Richard [Ryszard Pawlowski]. Richard won the mano a mano climber award in our group with this one climb. He led the final pitch, and as the consummate guide checked everyone's rappel setup before we could descend.  He is going to make us all better climbers in the end. Together he and Piotr are such an impressive climbing team.  I think Richard has around 12 8000m peak ascents to date, and Piotr has 11 ascents overall. On Island Peak, a Sherpa on the German team forgot his pack and as we were waiting for Richard and Piotr to rappel  I told him he was witnessing one of the really fine climbing teams in the world.  He agreed and was thankful to get his pack back too.  Since many on our team have done multiple 8000'ers I'd say our accomplishment on Island Peak was consistent with our current hopes and expectations to climb Makalu coming up.  Island Peak was definitely a great climbing experience for us.

Here's some other tidbits:

1. Our stomachs are intact. No small achievement.  Someday there will be a definitive gallery of toilet portraits in the Khumbu, but for now no one has identified any sponsors to do this much needed task.
2. If you like lemon tea, veggies, rice and dahl you will love the Khumbu.
3. Trekking up the Khumbu is better people and yak watching than a Paris boulevard will ever be.
4. Everest is a big money attraction.  I expected and we have met several climbing guides who are guiding there this season.  They are truly the "stars" of the climbing world which is not unexpected due to the money from the promotional interest and fame of Everest. The good news is that they and their clients are not "rhinestone cowboy" climbers I had expected to see. You know, the sort of folks who talk the talk, but can't walk the walk. The flip side is the commercial emphasis Everest is getting.  It has changed the challenge of climbing Mt. Everest.  Huge resources and support is available on this mountain like no other. Even with this, the problems of congestion are an unusual risk.
5. As for the trek itself, someday people will be able to journey up the Khumbu with only a sleeping bag, jacket, a toothbrush and some Cipro....and most importantly a Visa.  But that doesn't detract from the friendliness of the locals or the stunning appeal of this area.  Truly a spectacular visual and friendly destination by any measure.
6. I'm still adjusting  to sleep with a pee bottle...
7. Martin is one hell of a good guitar player, and he can sing....  So we are off to Makalu basecamp.  Two other teams are there and those reading this know more about them than I do.  Hopefully more news will be available to you from Makalu.

Best wishes to all our families and friends.  For now we're off and good to go. For To the top, 

RD Caughron

Makalu 2002


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