Makalu, the world’s fifth highest peak rising to 27,765 feet (8,463 meters) situated just 14 miles east of Everest in the Khumbu region. Its size alone is impressive, but its perfect pyramid structure with four sharp ridges makes this mountain all the more spectacular. It is interesting to note that the summit ridge is the demarcation point indicating the border between Nepal on the Southern side and Tibet to the North.
The name of the mountain was probably taken from the Sanskrit word Maha-Kala, which means Big Black and is a by-name of Shiva – one of the most important gods of Hinduism. Shiva is sometimes an evil, cruel destroyer but at other times he tends to be gentle and kind-hearted. The mountain has another name in the local dialect – Kumba karna, which means The Giant.
Makalu has proved to be a challenging climb, as only five of its first sixteen attempts were successful.There are no easy routes on the mountain with the South East Ridge being one of the most dramatic and challenging. At over ten kilometres long and with much of the ridge knife-edge, it presents a challenge to rival any on the 8,000m summits.
In 1970 a Japanese team were the first reaching the summit via the South East Ridge. In 1976 a Spanish/ Czech team climbed via the South-West buttress and continued along the South East Ridge to the summit.
Madison Mountaineering with Garrett, myself and our sherpa will climb parallel to a british team at the mountain. This is a bigger team which we are dependent on especially in terms of logistic. We will follow their rhythm at the mountain.
The approach to Base Camp will involve an internal flight from Kathmandu to the airstrip at Tumlingar (510m) followed by a 7-10 days trek through the rugged and remote foothills of the Makalu-Barun region. So begins the all important acclimatisation process, gaining height steadily until Base Camp is established at 4,800m.
Once at base camp, several days will be spent acclimatising before an Advanced Base Camp (ABC) is established on the ridge at 5800m. From here we will get our first views of the route ahead as well as the peaks of neighbouring Tibet. Three further fixed camps will be established as we move up the mountain, the highest of these being at the col at 6700m. Beyond this point we will climb alpine style, carrying sufficient provisions and equipment to support an extended period above 7000m as we push for the summit.
Guarding the route to the summit at 7500m is the Black Gendarme; a steep and formidable rock buttress that straddles the ridge. It is the key to the ridge and summit slopes beyond. Here the climbers will be exposed to freezing temperatures and the full force of the unrelenting winds, resting only at two high altitude bivouacs before climbing the final ridge that rises steeply to the summit at 8463m.