Success And Sadness On Makalu In The Himalaya

The spring climbing season is now  in full swing in the Himalaya with dozens of climbers in base camp on Everest, Lhotse and various other mountains across the region. Most of them will spend the next few weeks acclimatizing to the thin air and preparing their bodies for the challenges of high altitude. If past history is any indication, they will be ready for their summit attempts sometime in mid-May. While the majority of these mountaineers still have several weeks of work ahead of them, one team has already completed its climb, bagging the first summit of the season in the High Himalaya. Late last week a team of international climbers successfully reached the summit of Makalu, the fifth highest mountain in the world at 8481 meters (27,825 ft) in height. Located in northeast Nepal, just 12 miles from Everest. Makalu is a formidable mountain, towering above the surrounding countryside with an imposing pyramid shaped summit that presents plenty of logistical and technical challenges to climbers. Those challenges were first overcome by a French team in 1955 and their route is still followed by most teams today. That includes the group that reached the summit on Wednesday of last week.

That team included Iranian alpinist Azim Gheichisaz who claimed his 11th 8000-meter peak. He was joined by Chinese mountaineers Mr. Chun Feng-Yang and Mr. Xiang Yang-Liu, as well as  Lapka Dendi Sherpa of Nepal. The four men took advantage of a weather window that granted them access to the summit. Their climb followed a series of strong storms that deposited heavy snow across the region including more than a meter of fresh powder on the slopes of Everest.

Sadly, not all members of the team made it back to base camp alive. While details are still a bit thin, it seems that  Yang-Liu slipped and fell on the descent, tumbling to his death in the process. His passing is the second death in the Himalaya this year. A few weeks back a Sherpa fell into a crevasse on Everest while coming down from Camp 2. Despite their best efforts, his teammates were unable to retrieve him from the crevasse in time.

Danger is inherent in any mountaineering expedition to the Himalaya, but that doesn’t make the loss of a climber any less painful. The climbing community is a closely knit one and I’m sure the loss of Yang-Liu is being felt in Makalu base camp and beyond.

Congratulations to the three climbers who were successful in their efforts and condolences to the friends and family of Mr. Xiang Yang-Liu.

[Photo Credit: Ben Tubby]