Disappointment, despair, depression, darkness and downright sadness. That could pretty much sum up the mood in our not long ago happy little ABC.
After over a week of patient waiting, recovering, meticulously preparing for the ultimate challenge of summitting, all of our hopes have been beaten into the ground. Adrian, Chad and I have been fastidiously poring over our daily weather forecasts, agonising and longing for them to show a break in the jet stream winds, but we have finally been forced to accept what has been staring us in the face for the past 48 hours. There will be no remission in the extreme winds at 8500m for at least the next two weeks; and beyond that, all there is is uncertainty.
The team of expert Himalayan meteorologists in Bern assure us that as far as their forecasting can predict, the winds at the summit of Makalu will be 80-100km/hr, with gusts in excess of that. Temperatures are dropping and there is no sign that the jet stream will shift off the Himalaya any time in the next two or three weeks.
What does this mean? It means that we must renounce our goal and leave the mountain without attempting to stand on the summit.
Trying to climb above 8000m is something that pushes the physiological, psychological and emotional boundaries of every climber, even in the most perfect weather conditions. Trying to do so in 80km/hr winds with windchill temperatures approaching the -40’s, is foolish to say the least. There is no way to justify an attempt at the summit in such adverse conditions. The risk of frostbite, accidents and even death is huge, and in no way a risk we are prepared to take.
So it is with great sadness that today we made the decision to turn our energies to cleaning the mountain, breaking down high camps, bringing down unused oxygen bottles and tents, and leaving here within our scheduled dates.
Had there been any indication of a potential lull in the winds over the next week, we were ready to change logistics and stay in order to get a shot at the summit..but when your meteorologist suggests chocolate and Swiss cheese to cheer you up because the forecast is so bad..it’s kind of hard to keep pretending that things might improve!
The timing of climbing 8000m peaks in the autumn is not easy. The season begins before the monsoon is over and the early weeks are overshadowed by difficult decisions regarding snow safety (as was so tragically illustrated by this year’s avalanche on Manaslu). There is then usually (!) a short period at the beginning of October when the weather allows climbers to make their summit attempts. This period is rapidly shut down as the jet stream moves south onto the himalaya and generates wind speeds well in excess of what it is possible to climb safely in. This year, that small window of windless days came at the end of september and, rather than offering another few days later in the first two weeks of October, it has been slammed shut by a ferocious jet stream that is sitting firmly above Nepal generating serious winds across the mountains….and showing no intention of shifting at all.
We are all sad and frustrated. We had everything in position for a solid summit attempt. The team was well acclimatised and well rested. The Sherpa were ready to go forth and fix the route to the summit of yet another of Nepal’s giants. Equipment at our various high camps was in position and accounted for. The conditions underfoot on the mountain were unbelievably good. Yet, the final piece of the puzzle is just not going to fit…and in this game, if things don’t fit perfectly there is simply too much to lose.
So, we shall all put on a brave face and mumble things about being glad to have all our fingers and toes but all the time quietly dealing with our own private disappointment and all of its convoluted ramifications.
Tomorrow, our team members will go up to camp 2 to collect their personal equipment. Adrian and Sergey will spend the night at camp 2 in order to go to the Makalu La the following day (if the winds allow which is not at all certain) to help the Sherpa to bring down some equipment. The Sherpa will take two days to bring down everything that is on the mountain and after that we will break down ABC and head down valley to catch our helis to Kathmandu on the 11th.
Sorry also to all of you for not having been able to bring you good news of success on the summit of Makalu. We all know that climbing these peaks is an incredibly difficult feat, but nonetheless, the bitter taste of disappointment is hard to swallow.