Expedition Watch: Climbing Makalu


Makalu. Photo: Ben Tubby/Flickr

Mountaineer and journalist Billi Bierling drops a pretty impressive list of names while witing about her attempt to climb Makalu, the world's fifth highest mountain. She regularly assists Elizabeth Hawley, the high priestess of Himalayan record keeping. She often writes expedition newsletters for Himex leader Russell Brice. She is friends with a pretty famous triathlete, whose name she lets loose in the middle of a revelation about high-altitude hydration and excretion:

“Drinking, however, is a different story and those who know me also
know that my daily fluid intake is way below average. My friend Chrissie
Wellington used to call me a camel when we were biking from the Tibetan
capital Lhasa to Kathmandu six years ago. And things haven’t changed
since then, which of course poses a real problem for me up high. I don’t know how much I managed to drink up there but I am still
feeling dizzy 24 hours after my return to base camp and despite drinking
regularly all day, I have only peed once.”

The references are nice, but you'll want to follow Bierling's dispatches for another reason. She's pretty honest about the experiences of climbing an 8,000-meter peak. For example, in her latest entry she shares that none of the Sherpas on her expedition have climbed Makalu before. They planned the route based off of pictures. As a result, they recently took a wrong turn that ended up costing Bierling's crew a chance at the summit. In the end, Bierling was glad it happened. “For me, this decision was initially a disappointment as I felt so close
to the beautiful summit, however, I also knew that my legs would not
have been strong enough to carry me to the top the following day,” she said in a dispatch.

Here's a bit more on her attempt to bag Makalu.

WHO: Bierling joined a team of 10 people led by Swiss outfitter Kobler and Partner—and their Sherpa team.

WHEN: Bierling left Kathmandu on August 30 and arrived at Base Camp in early September. She hopes a summit push will take place on October 7 or October 8.

WHAT: Climbing Makalu, the fifth highest peak in the world, with an elevation of 27,825 feet.

WHY: “Like many 8,000m peaks in Eastern Nepal, the success rate for Makalu
is definitely higher in the spring, however, my commitment to write the
Newsletter for Russell Brice
during his Everest expeditions makes it hard for me to attempt this
8,485m peak earlier in the year. I am already leaving him in the lurch
this autumn as he will have to write his newsletters for this year’s
Manaslu expedition.”

“This time I will be joining an expedition run by the Swiss operator Kari Kobler,
who I got to know very well over the past few years working for Miss
Hawley. Kari has been leading expeditions to Everest and other 8,000m
peaks for more than 10 years and has a lot of experience under his
belt. Our expedition leader will be Suzanne Hüsser, a very strong Swiss
mountain guide who spends about six months per year guiding in New

“Our expedition will be made up of 10 people (four women/six men)
from Germany, Spain, Mexico, Switzerland, Austria and Russia and will,
of course, be supported by a strong Sherpa team. It will be interesting
for me to see how I will do in a new team as my last four expeditions
have all been under the watchful eye of Russell Brice and his Sirdar,
Phurba Tashi.”

“I am also excited to go trekking in a new region and explore the
Barun Valley, which will take us to Makalu Base Camp (4,820m) from where
we will start the expedition.” —

SPONSORS: Valandre, Outdoor Research, and more

FOLLOW ALONG:, Kobler and Partner

—Joe Spring