A lot will have been written and read on yesterday’s tragic earthquake, for which the death toll will undoubtedly rise in the coming days. On Makalu, ironically due to the fact that fixing the mountain is somewhat behind schedule very few of us were up the mountain when it hit – 10 of us descending to ABC at 5700m after spending the previous two nights at Camp 1 together with some others heading up to Camp 1 to drop some loads. Thus, possible places where disaster could have struck were absent of any climbers of indeed infrastructure. Camp 1 is apparently intact; the few tents at C2 unknown.
Regarding the earthquake, in the whiteout descending to ABC all I could think was that was one heck of an avalanche. However, unlike with avalanches where the direction is usually obvious, this seems to be all around us. Only when we reached ABC did we learn of the quake and only when I went on-line the severity of it.
The steep ice wall heading up to Camp 1, which I descended an hour before the quake, was avalanched when it hit – our two Austrian team mates, heading up to C1, were on it at the time, Hans Wenzel in the middle and Gunter Unterberger at the bottom. Both were very shaken when they got back to ABC and, for Gunter, the incident has left him sadly pulling the plug on Makalu this year. He says he has lost too many friends in the mountains the past five years and his head is not there now.
For the remaining 45 or so climbers from on Makalu this year- from 20 different nationalities grouped into 10 teams or sub teams - we wait. Thankfully, few of the Sherpas have been directly affected and the show will go on in a few days we expect. Whether that is right, with so much death in the rest of the country, is another thing of course. Respect is of the utmost criticality – we will only climb if the Sherpas want to. So far there is no sign that they won’t.