Makalu Expedition needs to have prior altitude experience of around 8,000m. Climbers who have achieved ascents of mountains such as Cho Oyu, Everest, Manaslu, and Shishapangma could consider Makalu as a tougher and more challenging climbing Expedition. Summit day is much longer and more serious than on any of these more frequently climbed 8,000m peaks, and overall the route is more crevassed, avalanche prone and technical. In summary, Makalu is a considerable step up from the popular 8,000m expedition.
All team members therefore need to be in excellent physical condition if they are to have a realistic chance of staying strong right up to the summit. The 1,000m summit day from the top camp will be a tough test of endurance; both physical and psychological, so you need to make sure that you are prepared for the effort required to sustain the duration of the expedition, and then to be able to perform on summit day. To join Makalu expedition team members must have: Previous high altitude experience, preferably to 8,000m, the ability to jumar and abseil/rappel fixed ropes unsupervised, the ability to move between camps unsupervised, crevasse awareness and experience of crevasse rescue techniques, the ability to carry loads up to 20Kg at high altitude, the ability to climb on consecutive days at high altitude and the ability to look after one self whilst in high camps on the mountain. Exceptionally, we will consider climbers without 8,000m experience who have experience on technical 7,000m climbs.
Makalu (8463m) is the 5th highest mountain inn the world and the first ascent of Makalu in 1955 by French and British team via the north side route. The mountain has had less than 300 ascents by individual climbers and fewer than 10 British ascents. Attempting to climb Makalu are both a challenging and serious undertaking and its remoteness and difficulties make it a big step above many other 8,000m peaks. Just 22Km east of Everest and 80Km west of Kanchenjunga, Makalu (meaning great black) has a distinctive pyramid shape, with its South East and North Western ridges being most prominent. The latter provides the normal route of ascent for the majority of climbers attempting the summit. From a base camp at the foot of the Chago Glacier, we will use 5 camps on the mountain, including Camp 3 on the Makalu La at 7,400m and a high camp on the North Face at approximately 7,600m.
The trek to Makalu Base Camp (4,800m) is an eleven day trek from Tumlingtar in the Makalu Barun National Park. From just over 400m, the trek gradually gains height and passes through a variety of vegetation and some of the most striking rhododendron forests in Nepal. As this remote trekking area has few T-houses, we will be camping all the way through to base camp. It will be very hot on the first few days of the trek, so bring your shorts and appropriate sandals.
We will use five camps above base camp during the expedition, the highest being at 7,600m. Here is a summary of the route and the camps that we will use.
The route from base camp to Advance Base Camp (ABC, 5700m) is across glacial moraine and boulder fields, to a campsite on a rocky promontory. The centre of gravity for the expedition will be from here, once the team has made their move up from base camp. Above ABC, we walk to the edge of the Chago Glacier where we will put crampons on and rope up. The glacier is crevassed in places and there is some avalanche danger from falling seracs, though these can be avoided with good route choice.
From Camp 1(6347m), easy angled snow slopes lead in a north eastern direction in and around seracs. At 6,550m there is a steeper section of blue ice and a complex area of wide, open crevasses and snow bridges, which will be fixed with rope. Camp 2 (6670m) is located in a small, flat sheltered area by some ice walls.
Above Camp 2, the route goes straight up to where a higher Camp 2 is sometimes placed. A snow slope leads to the bottom of rocks at 6,990m and a technical section of mixed climbing to 7,250m. From here, an open snow slope leads to the next mixed section and eventually the Makalu La at 7,450m. Its 300m of flat walking to Camp 3 (7450m).
From Camp 3 the route traverses to the left, before following snow slopes to a serac band at 7,600m where tent platforms can be cut in the slope to make Camp 4 (7600m).
On summit day, a steep ice band is traversed and then a huge snow ramp leads to a heavily crevassed plateau. This is crossed to the base of the French Couloir, a 300m high gully bounded by granite rocks and the key to reaching the summit ridge. The summit ridge is extremely exposed, with summit towers which need to be negotiated en route to the top. You can expect summit day to take more than 16 hours return journey back to Camp 4. Ideally, members would descend to Camp 3 after the summit climb. Descent is by the same route, with nights spent at Camp 2 and ABC. The descent from Camp 3 down to Camp 2 requires you to abseil and can feel very difficult and serious when exhausted.
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Day 1: Arrive in Kathmandu.
Meet at the airport and taken to Hotel. We will be waiting you at Kathmandu airport with your name. For those joining the expedition in Kathmandu, all team members should aim to meet at the hotel on this day.
Day 2: Kathmandu leisure day.
There will be time for us to explore the bazaars, shops and monasteries of this fascinating city. The expedition leader will also examine everyone climbing equipment so that any shortfalls can be purchased in Kathmandu prior to flying to Tumlingtar.
Day 3: Fly Kathmandu to Tumlingtar and drive to Chichila.
After a short bus ride to the Domestic Airport we find ourselves on board a twin propeller aircraft with the rooftops of Kathmandu disappearing beneath us. It is about a 50 minute flight before touchdown on a bumpy grass airstrip at Tumlingtar (400m). The team is picked up by jeep and it is bumpy 2.5 hour drive before we reach our first camp at Chichila 1,850m. This is also a gathering place for all of the porters.
Day 4:Trek to Num.
It is our first day on foot and a relatively steady walk through the picturesque villages and lush forests of the foothills. Eventually we meet a ridge line with great views on either side and perched on the end is Num at 1,505m. Almost every evening Num experiences a dramatic display of thunder and lightning, which makes life here that little bit more interesting.
Day 5:Num to Seduwa (1,530m, 4-5hrs).
We start the day at Num with a great view of our campsite at Seduwa, on the opposite side of the valley. This can only mean one thing; a steep descent down through the forests and terraced plots of land all the way to the Arun Khola (river). Then it is a winding ascent up the other side again. It’s often quite hot, so the forest on the valley sides offer a bit of shade on this quite challenging day. This is where the Makalu National Park starts and we register our permits with the local Rangers. Camping right at the top of the village we can enjoy a beautiful view looking back towards Num and the ridgelines bounding the Arun Valley
Day 6:Seduwa to Tashi Gaon.
From Seduwa we ascend the ridge, which is bounded by the Ipsuwa Khola on the west and Kasuwa Khola to the east. It is an easier day today after yesterday exertion. The path cuts across the hillside contouring through quiet villages along the way. You will see the locals using buffalo to plough the small paddy fields as every piece of land is being utilised for farming. Finally, we climb 500m to reach the busier village of Tashi Gaon 2,065m. Along the way we pass a local school that was built by funding from the recent British Services Makalu expedition in 2008.
Day 7:Tashi Gaon to Khongma.
The pace needs to be slow and steady today as we trek upwards towards Khongma at an altitude of 3,562m. Khongma is the last opportunity we have to stop before crossing the Shipton La and dropping down into the upper sections of the remote Barun Valley. It is an interesting walk today as we leave the green forests behind, which are replaced with the more remote scrub and rhododendrons that cover the lower reaches of the mountains.
Day 8:Acclimatization day at Khongma.
At this point in the trek, we take a well-earned acclimatisation day. This gives us a rest and allows our bodies to catch up with us before gaining more height the following day when we take on our first challenge, the crossing of the Shipton La (4,200m).
Day 9:Climb over the Shipton La and descend to Mumbuk.
After a good rest it is time to climb higher towards the summit of the Shipton La at (4,200m). It takes a few hours to reach the top of the pass, from where we can enjoy the views back towards Num. We then drop down the saddle for a rest by the lake, Kalo Pokhari, before passing over the Keke La (4,152m) and an easy descent towards Mumbuk (3,550m). Along the way we have the opportunity to enjoy fantastic views of Chamlang 7,319m, Peak 6 (6,524m) and Peak 7 (6,758m). This day is key for acclimatisation as it gives us the opportunity to climb high and sleep low.
Day 10:Mumbuk to Yangri Kharka.
A further descent from Mumbuk through the Rhododendron forest eventually leads to the Barun Nadi River and the upper reaches of the valley. It is a pleasant walk, slowly gaining altitude, until we arrive at Yangri Kharka. Yangri Kharka is a very small village situated in a meadow at the base of the valley. It is a relaxing place to stop for the night at 3,610m.
Day 11:Yangri Kharka to Shershong.
The trail now climbs up the valley, emerging into yak pastures and impressive boulder fields. We stay in a pleasant campsite at Shershong near a small stone hut at 4,650m. The local people graze a lot of their Yak and goats in this area.
Day 12:Shershong to Makalu South East Base Camp.
We trek onwards and gain height as the valley opens up a little before we veer off to the right. At this point the mighty pyramid of Makalu 8,463m comes into full view. After a great photo opportunity with Makalu on the left and Chamlang on the right, we continue on until reaching the Makalu South East Ridge base camp at 4,800m. From here we can see the route of the South East Ridge, still unclimbed in its entirety, despite several attempts by the British Forces.
Day 13 /15: Acclimatization at Base Camp.
Rather than use the North Ridge Base Camp, we will stay at the much nicer South East Ridge Base Camp. During the first few days at base camp, we will take our time to acclimatize further, whilst our team of porters and Sherpas carry loads to Advance Base Camp (ABC) at 5,700m. ABC is where we will take up residence a few days from now for the rest of the expedition. Moving to ABC is a big jump in altitude, so after arrival in base camp we will spend the next few days organizing our equipment and taking short walks in order to acclimatize to this new altitude.
Day 16 /49: Makalu Climbing Period.
When everyone is ready and ABC is established, we will strike base camp and head up the Barun Glacier, passing the impressive West Face of Makalu, until we reach the point where the West Pillar Route of Makalu descends onto the glacier. Here we turn northwards and continue on Glacier moraine up to Advance Base Camp, which is located on a rocky promontory at 5,700m. Sheltered from the wind and from any rock fall, this camp will become home for the next few weeks. It can be very cold though, so if you intend to bring 2 sleeping bags (one for the mountain and one to leave in ABC), make sure that both are rated 5 seasons. It takes about 7 hours to make the journey from base camp to ABC.
After our important Puja we can then take our first foray onto the mountain and walk up to the Chago Glacier that gives us access to Camp 1. About 45 minutes from camp, we will establish a crampon point where we can leave our mountaineering boots and climbing equipment, which are essential for travel to Camp 1 and above. Our Sherpas will be busy fixing ropes on the glacier to ensure our secure passage and carrying loads to make sure our first camp is established.
Once the leader is comfortable that the team members are acclimatized, we will make our first visit to Camp 1 (6,347m). From the crampon point, the route takes us across some crevassed terrain on an easy-angled glacier to a steep wall which we ascend for 150m on a fixed line. From the top of the wall it is a short walk to camp along the flat plateau, situated on the Chago Glacier. On the first visit, the journey to Camp 1 will take around 5 hours, but as we become further acclimatised, this time will be reduced. Later on in the expedition, some team members may decide to move straight through to Camp 2 at 6,670m, rather than stop at Camp 1 for the night. We will want to make this journey early in the day, as it can get very hot on the glacier in the afternoon.
The route from Camp 1 to Camp 2 involves some easy-angled climbing through beautifully sculptured glacier terrain. Winding around the huge crevasses care is required to follow the correct route. Fixed ropes will be put in situ across crevasses and snow bridges. Tucked under a serac band, Camp 2 has fantastic views of Everest, Lhotse and Barunste. Once acclimatized, the trip to Camp 2 should take around 2 hours from Camp 1 or 6 hours from ABC.
Once we have acclimatised to sleeping at Camp 2 the leader will decide when it is time to explore the route up to Camp 3 onto the Makalu La. This is very much a landmark in the expedition and is one of the most technical sections of climbing on the mountain. Before we venture onto the climb between camps 2 and 3 the Sherpas will have ensured that the fixed lines are in place. Climbing to the Makalu La involves movement over rocks covered in ice and snow to an angle of 50 degrees. From Camp 2 we climb the easy-angled glacier to a height of 6,950m from where the rocks start and continue for 300m to 7,250m. At this point there is a snowfield to cross, which can be subject to avalanche danger and in deep snow it will certainly test your strength and determination. After a further 200m the next section of the route is interspersed with sections of blue ice and rocks, which provide interesting climbing. At the top of the Makalu La, we will cross the glacier for a further 200m to where Camp 3 is located at 7,400m. The decision to fix camp and to ascend to the Makalu La is very weather dependent. The jet stream winds can scream across the La, dipping temperatures to well below minus 30 degrees and can destroy any camps that have been established. Consequently, careful consideration at this stage of the expedition is essential for a safe ascent and also further progress on the mountain. Some members may wish to use oxygen on the final section to reach the Makalu La. Depending on temperatures, team members may need to wear their down trousers and jacket from Camp 2. We will also be aware of how much gear to carry to Camp 3 on the La, as it is difficult descending from there with very heavy loads.
From Camp 3, Camp 4 is established at 7,600m, which is the launch pad for the summit. Tent spaces at this altitude are limited, so is the time you would want to spend here. Reaching Camp 4 from the Makalu La involves traversing a large, flat glacier, with many hidden crevasses, towards the gigantic North Face of Makalu. Camp 4 is perched in a serac band protecting it from avalanches from the slopes above. It takes only 3 hours to climb from Camp 3 to Camp 4, the only feasible resting spot before the summit.
From Camp 4, the route traverses steeply across an ice band, before coming to a huge snow ramp, which leads to a heavily crevassed plateau. After crossing the plateau, the bottom of the French Coulouir is reached. This is a 300m high shallow gully, bounded by granite buttresses, providing excellent mixed climbing. Though never too steep, the couloirs is climbed with interest to a height of 8,350m, where the summit ridge is revealed. This flattish shoulder of ice leads to some very exposed summit towers, which are negotiated with great care, to get to the small summit area of Makalu - the 5th highest point on the planet!
Summit day is a very long and demanding climb, with an equally difficult descent returning the way you ascended back to Camp 4 and preferably all the way to Camp 3. At 7,400m, Camp 3 is still very high on the mountain and you must retain enough energy and concentration to negotiate the difficult descent, abseiling over technical ground from the Makalu La to Camp 2 and finally back to ABC. Once back at ABC you can relax and know that you have attempted and either succeeded or not on one of the most beautiful mountains in the world.
Day 51:Pack up base camp and ready for departure.
Time to get the gear organized and the porters loaded up ready for tomorrow departure.
Day 52:Descend down to Yak Kharka.
There is quite a lot of ground to cover as we descend back down the valley and take our last glimpse of Makalu before turning the corner and eventually reaching Yak Kharka.
Day 53:Yak Kharka to Mumbuk.
Continuing with our descent we eventually reach Mumbuk. As you walk, you will notice that as we have spent time climbing Makalu, the landscape beneath us has changed. Life is a lot greener and made colorful by blossoming Rhododendrons, a welcome relief from the snowy landscape endured on the mountain.
Day 54:Mumbuk to Tashi Gaon.
A big day back across the Shipton La, and then cutting across the hillside to eventually reach the Sherpa town of Tashi Gaon.
Day 55:Tashi Gaon to Num.
A day you will still not have forgotten from the way in as we follow our footsteps all the way back down to the river, only to be rewarded with a climb back up the opposite side of the valley to Num.
Day 56:Num to Chichila.
It is quite a distance to cover en route to Chichila, but the walking is easier overall.
Day 57:Chichila to Tumlingtar.
The final return leg of the trek will see us overnight at Tumlingtar, ready for an early departure to Kathmandu the following day.
Day 58:Fly Tumlingtar to Kathmandu
We complete the journey with a flight to Kathmandu. In the evening, we have our farewell celebration and expedition dinner!
Day 59:At leisure in Kathmandu.
A final chance to buy souvenirs or perhaps just to relax by the pool.
Day 60:Kathmandu airport
Final transfers to Kathmandu airport to get fly back to home.