This year's Himalayan climbing season is in full swing, which to most people means one thing: Everest. Already this season the world's highest mountain has seen the first cellphone call from the summit, a record number of patients at the basecamp ER, and a few deaths. Often these stories overshadow other expeditions in the area, which are often just as exciting and physically demanding as Everest. We'll be posting updates and summaries from other moutains worth watching. Here are the first two....
The world's fifth-highest peak, 8,481-meter (27,824-foot) Makalu is a classic in the annals of of Himalayan climbing. The first summit attempt on the mountain was made by an American team in 1954. Climber, physicist, and physiologist William Siri lead the expedition, made up of Sierra Club members and dubbed the California Himalayan Expedition to Makalu. Their summit bid that spring was unsuccessful, but so was a team from New Zealand that included Sir Edmund Hillary, who was the first to summit Everest the year before. Lionel Terray and Jean Couzy of France got the first ascent of Makalu a year later, in 1955.
More recently, Makalu, which sits 12 miles southeast of Everest, was the first Nepalese 8,000-meter peak to be climbed in winter, when Simone Moro and Denis Urubko knocked it off in 2009. Moro and Urubko, along with Cory Richards, also notched the first winter ascent of 26,360-foot Gasherbrum II in Februrary, surviving an avalanche during the descent. (See "Partly Crazy With A Chance of Frostbite," in the May print edition, by Grayson Schaffer.)
First Ascent Mountain Guides and climbers Melissa Arnot and David Morton are currently attemping a summit bid on Makalu. Having summited Everest multiple times before, the pair were drawn to Makalu not only because the peak is cleary visable from Everest, but for the technical skills required to summit."There's quite a bit of rock climbing on Makalu as well," Arnot says. "It's fun to be able to go out and train rock climbing in Mexico and then use those skills on big mountains." Arnot and Morton are currently pinned down at Camp III waiting for strong winds to abate.
Situated along the traditional southeast route up Everest, this peak also stands alone as the fourth highest mountain in the world at 27,940 feet. Looming over Everest Camp 3, the Lhotse face is also a popular pitch for skiers on Everest.
In 1970, Japan’s Yuichiro Miura was the first to ski down the face. A speed skier by training, he deployed a drag chute to slow his descent and, after losing an edge and skidding 1,320 feet, managed to self arrest. Cameras captured Miura ’s fall, which later became part of the 1975 film The Man Who Skied Down Everest, which won Best Documentary at that year’s Academy Awards.
This year The North Face athletes Jaime Laidlaw and Kristoffer Erickson, along with Camp 4 Collective's Hennie van Jaarsveld, plan to summit and ski Lhotse's west face. According to their most recent blog post, the team is in base camp after a acclimatization rotation to Camp 2. This week they also released a video dispatch of their arrival last month in Nepal.
Ski mountaineer Chris Davenport and climber Neal Beidleman—the latter of whom proposed to his wife on a '94 expedition to Makalu and was on Everest during the "Into Thin Air" season of '96—also made some turns on Lhotse last week during their second acclimatization rotation en route to an Everest summit bid. The two are acting as co-guides for a climbing client.
"We of course brought along our skis 'just in case,'" Davenport said at Powdermag.com. "We skied the face in stages, stopping to catch our breath, regroup, and admire our surroundings. At every one of these stops we would look at each other with these 'holy sh*t' grins, half scared and half in disbelief about where we were."