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Makalu summit is getting closer
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May 28, 2004 15: 32 EST
This just in from Michael Trommsdorff who's brother Christian is part of the last team on Makalu. Yesterday they reached 7300m and plan to set one more camp at 7800m near the Black Gendarme.

Here is the latest from the past few days:

Tuesday May 25: Towards the summit?

"Things are getting better for our three Makalu friends. Christian’s voice is more confident. They are three in the tent at 6100 m and especially it does not snow, 'it is tight in here, it doesn’t smell good, we eat pretty bad food but the weather is nice!' Our three friends are thus doing much better than yesterday and are preparing to leave for the camp at 6700 m as soon as tomorrow.

By chance the British who are leaving the mountain must go to the same camp to recover their gear and therefore there will be more people available to break the trail. Remember that they need to climb a summit at 6800m before crossing on more than one kilometer and half to join the camp at 6700m. This crossing in snow is difficult and with the new snow it took the English ten times more time on the way back.

The weather forecast announces bad weather (snow) on Thursday but the three prefer to stick to what occurs on the ground and which is not always in conformity with the weather forecast. Obviously Makalu is less protected than Everest, and collects more disturbances.

When the English leave the mountain, our three strapping men will be alone in the area. Their base camp will be evacuated partly, only a cook with the minimum amount of gear will wait for them. "We will be inevitably late". On other news, Christian announces that Patrick lost a tooth in the tent and that 15 days earlier a huge rock of several tens of tons fell within fifty meters of their tent at the base camp. Morale is getting better and better, let’s hope the weather holds!

Wednesday May 26: The slow progress towards the top goes on.

8:45 pm in Tibet, Christian calls. 'All is well, we are one camp higher now, the weather is pretty good, there is some snow forecasted on Friday but then the good weather should return.'

The three friends of Makalu are at 6700 m at the foot of the wall which will lead them to their last camp (a two place tent installed at 7 300m). Yesterday, they had better conditions, the wind cleared the snow on the slopes (on the other hand, it buried the tents) and the tracks were easier to make then expected.

They will probably take the three men tent with them to 7 300m, since they plan for another camp before the top. Overall, all is well, they taste the dishes of the English army (many beans!) and the landscape is splendid. In front of them they can see the Kangchenjunga, the terrible profile of the Lhotse and the Everest. Good night guys!

Thursday May 27: new from 7,300m

As planned yesterday, Patrick Wagnon, Christian Trommsdorff and Yannick Grazziani left their camp at 6700m and climbed up to the following camp at 7300m. Stepp slopes, but hard snow! "We nevertheless climbed as fast as slugs". It took them 4h30 to arrive at the small tent which they had installed before. They also took their three man tent with them. The tent which was at 7300m was hidden under snow.

They are now installed on an enormous serac that leans against the ridge, on the Tibetan side, protected from the wind. The only problem on the Tibetan side is that slopes are heavily loaded with snow between the South-east and East-East ridges.

Their program for tomorrow (with good weather forecasted!): go up to the Black Gendarme, a large black rock towards 7800m and install a tent. After that, things are a little unknown, it will be necessary for them to go down in the comb and loose as little altitude as possible and hope that the tracks won’t be too deep.

The morale is very good, right now it snows a little but that shouldn’t last. The interview finishes with the stove falling into the tent! The summit is getting closer! The English are at the base camp and must leave on the 30th."

Christian Trommsdorff, Patrick Wagnon, and Yannick Grazziani original plan was to attempt a first ascent on the Eastern side of Makalu (Tibetan side). A feat only once before attempted. After deciding against the the Eastern route they are now climbing along the traditional route, the same one that the British services guys were climbing.

A team of 14 mountaineers drawn from the British Royal Navy, Air Force and Army were on Makalu this spring to climb the often attempted but rarely completed SE Ridge.

The British Services Expedition hoped to summit without bottled oxygen and with minimal Sherpa support.

Makalu was first summited by a French expedition in 1955 via the North Face and NE Ridge. Though the SE Ridge was unsuccessfully attempted by the first expedition to Makalu – an American team in 1954 – the first complete ascent did not occur until 1970, when a Japanese team pushed a route to the summit. Since then, only three other successful ascents have been made by the steep and narrow SE Ridge – the longest ridge on Makalu.

Until this season began, 206 climbers had summited Makalu and 22 had died. The overall summit/fatality rate was thus about 11%, a little more than Everest’s overall summit/fatality rate of 9%. Statistically at least, the world's 5th highest mountain is the 7th most dangerous of the 14 8000+ giants.

Image of Peak 3 on Makalu courtesy of British Services
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