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Himalaya

Apr 16, 2013

First Everest, now Makalu – Indian mountaineer looks to climb them all

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WRITTEN BY

The Outdoor Journal

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Arjun Vajpai aims to be the first Indian to climb all 14 peaks in the world that cross 8000 meters

 Arjun_vajpai_makalu

Mount Everest is as high as one can get- on foot- in the world. And if you have reached the summit at the age of 16, is there a bigger challenge?

India’s youngest Everesteer, 19-year-old Arjun Vajpai, firmly believes there is, and is out to further inscribe his name in mountaineering history. On April 7 this year, he set out for an expedition from India to climb Mt. Makalu at 27,765 feet (8,462 meters), the 5th highest mountain in the world as well as one of the most treacherous climbs.

This isolated, four-sided, pyramid peak is located southeast to Mount Everest on the border between Nepal and China.

At the end of the 55-day trip, Vajpai aims to be the youngest Indian in the world to reach the top. Having successfully summited three of the ‘eight-thousanders’ including Mt. Lhotse 27,890 ft (8,501 mts) in May 2011 and Mt. Manaslu 26,759 ft (8,156 mts) in October 2011, Vajpai is not on unfamiliar grounds. He is part of an international team comprising of seven climbers and nine sherpas. Currently, there are two other teams attempting the same peak.

The Outdoor Journal wishes him luck and is providing a blow-by-blow account of his expedition. Look out for it in our news section!

Fun fact:¬†Arjun keeps his spirits up by watching the American sitcom ‘Two and a half men’, during the expedition.

April 10

Kathmandu airport: Boarding a flight to Tumlingtar, which is the starting point for my Mt. Makalu expedition. From there, it will be a long 18 day trek to Makalu Base Camp. I feel the high energy levels all around me. Our team this time is super dynamic. We have real hardcore mountaineers as well as some awesome record holders, with loads of experience under their belt. We will make it!

Bye for now- I won’t be in touch for a while but look out for my satellite phone messages. Also, please pray to the weather gods for our safe return!

April 13

I was the first to reach Dobato (12,140 ft) at a record breaking time of four hours, at 1pm.¬†What a trek! There were loads of snow and all my trekking shoes are wet. I’m drying them at the lodge. We crossed three big passes, climbed up and skied down- with trekking shoes. I feel real nice. Ate plenty of food and now sipping ‘Thukpa’ (Nepali soup). Now, waiting for my team to arrive!

April 14

Started from Jark Kharka at 15,749 ft (4,800mts). From today, we’ve decided to travel only 500 mts daily, instead of 1000 mts, as we have enough time. This will help us acclimatise better. We’ll spend a night in between Jark Kharka & Hillary Step (Base Camp). Yesterday, Will Cross, who is Diabetic (type2), explained how he manages his mountaineering with his diet and medications. He is such an inspiration, even medical ailments can’t deter his spirit. He carries a small kit which monitors his sugar levels and and a syringe which is always placed in his body, to release the insulin. Thanks to medical science!

April 15

Got a frantic word from my mother to call her after she heard about the earthquake in Pakistan. Let me assure that we are all fine.
Reached Hillary Base Camp 15,749ft (4800m) at 1300 hrs. Made it here in three and a half hrs. Met up with my friends Gia Tortladze and Juan Fernando Carlos. Our stocks on porters and yaks are yet to reach. So, we have to wait till they come in the next two days. The camp will be operational only then.
Yesterday, it got very cold. In the night we had to use two blankets to sleep. But today morning was a surprise. It had stopped snowing and there was bright sunshine. We could see the valley and what a sight it was! Munched on some toast and noodles for breakfast and started trekking to Hillary Base Camp. Presently, we are a five-member team (Will Cross, Tonya Riggs Clement, Gia Tortladze and Juan Fernando Carlos and myself). We are waiting for two more climbers, Dominique Dejose, Krushnaa Patil to join us.

April 16

Good morning all ! Woke up late today. It’s a lovely sunny day here. I just had tea and biscuits. We are awaiting our mountaineering equipment. Hope it reaches today. There aren’t many climbers at Hillary Base Camp, only few sherpas. But the news from Makalu is that a summit group is already reached the Advance Base Camp. They have fixed ropes till Camp 2 and have a few of their climbers doing rotations already! Wow ! Waiting to get up there. It was difficult to sleep and we can feel the effects of increasing altitude. All of us have a little cough. Inhaled steam and gargled with warm water. It’s the dry cold, better get used to it.

April 19

Good Morning from 15,748 ft (4,800 mts)! Our team is all set to leave for the Advance Base Camp. It snowed for 2-3 hrs yesterday, so the climb will be tricky. I am told there are big boulders and lots of rocks and snow. We should take approximately 7-8 hrs to make it to Advance Base Camp. My cough was bad yesterday and thanks to Gia’s ‘magic potion’, I am perfect today. Cough just vanished. Cheers to Gia. Bye for now. More from ABCamp @ 18,700 ft (5,700mts).
16:00 hrs
Just reached Advance Base Camp. What a climb it was! Wow ! We made it in 8 hrs but not before we got lost. ¬†It took us a good one hour to get back on track. We crossed huge boulders and blocks of ice¬†en route. Also, there was no beaten track as it had snowed last night. The icy wind was also beating against us constantly. Fernando reached the Advance Base Camp at 15:30. I reached half an hour later. Trailing me are¬†Gia, Tonya and Will. They should join us in the next 2 hrs. Krushnaa and Domnic should reach Hillary Base Camp today. I was told that Makalu and Kanchenjunga’s Advance Base Camps are the highest located camps among the ¬†‘8-thousanders’. We have gained 1,000 mts in altitude today and it reflects in our stress levels. I am in the dinning tent and I guess food is the only motivation and real stress buster. Will try and update you guys after a nice meal.

April 21

Hello everybody. There is a cloud and snow cover all round us and strong winds have beating against us for the past 24 hrs. That is why I could not establish contact yesterday with my parents. Cough still troubles some of our team members and the effects of high altitude is evident. But, all of us are getting good food. Our cook Maila Dai has been making pizzas made from Nepali roti (bread). Our two other team members, Krushnaa and Domnic, reached Hillary Base Camp on the 19th. We got to know about this from porters who reached the Advance Base Camp yesterday. Krushnaa and Dominic plan to move up to the Advance Base Camp tomorrow if the weather is good.

April 22

Hi. Having a hot bowl of soup. The cough, though nagging a bit, seems much better now. My lungs also feel good. Trying my best to acclimatise to the high altitude. The weather was good today, with sunshine. We will perform an Hindu religious ceremony tomorrow. My Phinjo Dai (older brother in Nepali) also reached yesterday with Domnic and Krushnaa, the remaining members of our team. So the whole team is at the Advance Base Camp and is resting. Some climbers are going to try their rotations tomorrow. Phinjo dai and I have decided to wait for another day before we start our rotations. But, till that happens we all are looking forward to the religious ceremony tomorrow. I definitely need blessings of the mountain goddess and pray she keeps following us to the top of the 5th highest mountain. More from me very soon.
Bye all!
April 24
We performed the puja (religious ceremony) yesterday to seek blessings of the mountain goddess and everybody is now keen to get on with the rotations. (In a rotation, mountaineers have to climb up to successively higher camps and then come down, in order to acclimatise, before the final summit push).
For the puja we placed our equipment in front of a self-erected stupa (buddhist structure). We performed the rituals together with the sherpas, chanted hyms and prayed. Some rice was distributed to the entire team and the grains were sprinkled all around. The mood was very somber at that time. I wondered what went through everyones mind.
Once the ceremony ended, it was time for some Nepali song and dance around the stupa. It was great fun to try and match footsteps with the sherpas. It snowed quite heavily the whole afternoon so we had to stay indoors most of the time.
Today the weather is fine and it is time to trek to the Chago glacier, which is our access to Camp 1.¬†A 2-hr trek from the Advance Base Camp will take us to ‘crampon point’¬†where we will leave our mountaineering boots and climbing equipment. (Crampon point is the place where mountaineers get on the glacier and put on their harness and, as the name suggests, their crampons and big 8,000m boots).¬†This gear will be quintessential for the trek to Camp 1 and further ahead. The sherpas will be carrying some load to Camp 1 as they are well acclimatised. We will return from the crampon point itself.
The team is doing well. More from me once we are back. Signing off!

April 27

Woohoo!!!!! Reached Camp 1 at 1 am (Nepal time). The journey was very tiring due to winds measuring 35km/hr. The route had long ice fields and glaciers with lots of fresh snow. I have taken some footage on my helmet-cam while climbing the steep walls. also, feeling thrilled as my body responded very well too. Since rest of the team is yet to reach, I wil wait in my tent, sipping hot water. We will stay here for the night and head to Camp 2 tomorrow, provided the weather is fine. Sure to say my prayers for the others to reach Camp 1 safely. Will tell you how it goes, very soon.

April 28

Hi everybody. It’s a bright sunny day up here. We are leaving for Camp 2. Will Cross was unable to leave with us for Advanced Base Camp. The remaining are here and are all in fine¬†health. Now for the march ahead. More from me once I reach Camp 2. Bye!

 

14:30 hrs

The Outdoor Journal has learnt that a Chinese¬†mountaineer on Makalu fell during the descent, and is¬†missing since April 23.¬†A search operation is underway by a team of Sherpas for¬†Mr. Xiang Yang-Liu, who “fell while climbing down from the summit” of Makalu, a Nepal Tourism ministry official said¬†on Sunday.

The expedition comprised Mr Yang-Liu, Mr Chun Feng-Yang (also from China), Mr Azim Gheichisaz of Iran and their Nepalese Sherpa, Lapka Dendi.

A total of 29 people have died on Makalu since 1954, a year prior to the first successful ascent, with 314 climbers making the summit over the years.

 

16:00 hrs

Hi. I reached Camp 2 and am in the tent after one hell of a day!  The wind was a big killer but I enjoyed the climb. My body is responding well, no headaches, no vomiting. In fact, I am feeling very hungry now. I have been drinking lots of water and taking rest whenever I can . But, there is no denying  that the effects of altitude can be felt. Moving within the tent is also a task, so you can imagine how hard it was pitching the tent. Actually, it was extremely exhausting. Krushnaa has just reached and Domnic and Gia are yet to reach.

The route from Camp 1 to Camp 2 involved some angled climbing through beautifully sculptured glacier terrain. We had to make our way across huge crevasses, so we moved cautiously along the route. There are fixed ropes to help cross the crevasses.

We will put up at Camp 2 for the night, which is 21,883ft (6,670mts) and leave for the Advanced Base Camp tomorrow morning. Ciao till then!

April 29

13:00 hrs
Reached Advance Base Camp. The rotations were successful. I am feeling just perfect.
The night stay at Camp 2 blew our heads off. Wind speeds were approximately 60km/hr; felt as if I would get blown away along with my tent. I am sun burnt badly despite the sunscreen lotions. The climb was very exhausting because of the heat that was reflected off the snow. Fellow climber, Phinjo dai(sherpa), has nicknamed me ‘red panda’!
The rest of the team should be here anytime. Till then, I’ll rest and recharge myself.
See ya!

May 1

09:30 hrs
Good Morning everyone. I have completed my ‘rotation’ to Camp 2.¬†My team is resting at the Advance Base Camp. I just had some cornflakes, bread and fruits for breakfast. I’ve lots of cleaning to do- my socks, buff, inners- all need a good wash. The sun is bright, so they should dry fast, though the winds haven’t left the mountain completely. In the afternoon, I plan to watch some movies I have carried on my PC. And if I still get time, shall do ‘yoga’!
Bye!

May 06

18:00 hrs
Hi friends!
Sorry for the prolonged silence. The mountain world is just getting wee bit boring. Life just seems to have stopped¬†here. Winds don’t seem to die down. Looks like the jet¬†streams don’t want to leave the mountains. Its been¬†snowing very hard for some time. The higher camps too¬†have got good snowfall along with winds. We are¬†receiving various weather forecasts and are trying to analyse¬†them. It seems there would be a window sometime around 18th May. So, fingers crossed!
All climbers at the Advance Base Camp are trying to find different means to entertain themselves- gambling, singing, gossiping, storytelling, the game of truth and dare. I like this game the most as many skeletons tumble out.
Will keep you posted on the developments here. Love and respect.

May 11

Watched Family Guy, Prison Break and Grey’s Anatomy. Now hooked on to¬† Breaking Bad (all seasons). Thanks¬†Manek Malhotra from all of us at Advance Base Camp for¬†the sitcoms. This is the only entertainment before dinner¬†and, well, even after dinner. I just hope that the skies open up before the collection of sitcoms come to an end, Once¬†the skies open up,¬† we can start planning for summit push, or else all of you be ready¬† to send us some new¬†series by speed post all the way here.

From what we hear about the weather,  the jet streams will reduce by the 14th/15th May. Fingers crossed.

May 16

15:15 hrs

The Outdoor Journal has been updating readers with Arjun’s journey up Mt Makalu for the past 30 days.¬†There have been days of constant chatter when he could tell us about the icy winds he faced from base camp to advanced base camp and days of silence and boredom when he could not move out of his tent due to heavy snowfall.
So, it was a pleasant surprise when editor-in-chief Apoorva Prasad got a call via satellite phone yesterday from India’s youngest Everesteer for a status quo report from the world’s 5th highest mountain:
Hey guys! The rotations are over. We are at the base camp now and are waiting for weather clearance for the summit push. Wish us luck.
Bye.

May 17

16:00 hrs
At last, so much of waiting has come to an end. The weather God is smiling on us. We have finally decided to go for the summit push.
The tentative plan is as below:
May 18: Camp 1- 20834ft (6,347mts)
May 19: Camp 2- 21883ft (6,670mts)
May 20: Camp 3- 24278ft (7,400mts)
May 21: Camp 4- 24934ft (7,600mts)
May 22: Summit- 27766ft (8,463mts)
 Makalu-Route
Last week we received weather reports from various agencies and sorting out between indications of jet streams, strong winds and heavy snowfalls was a huge task.
The team is all geared up. We have packed all our luggage. The oxygen mask drill is done. I have checked all my gear. Socks, clothes and medicines are all sorted out. Our cook has given us our rations – chocolates, dry fruits and noodles for me! I am well acclimatized and feeling very strong and happy.
My prayer book (Hanuman Chalisa) is placed in my jacket’s inner pocket. We shall have our last dinner together today…God willing, we shall all meet after our summit!
I don’t think I’ll get sleep tonight, but will get into bed early….Do keep us in your prayers.

May 18

14:00 hrs

I have reached Camp 1. We started from Advanced Base Camp at 9am and reached here at 1pm.

The rest of the team is awaited..
More to come. Cheers!

May 19

14:44 hrs

We reached Camp 2 at 01:30pm. We are all extremly tired…the sun was very bright and that took us 4 hrs to reach and the heat dehydrated us a lot.
The route from Camp 1 to Camp 2 involved some angled climbing through beautifully sculptured glacier terrain. We used fixed ropes across crevasses and snow bridges. A lot of care was required in winding around the huge crevasses.
Tucked under a serac band, Camp 2 has a fantastic view of Everest, Lhotse and Barunste. On reaching here we saw that all our tents, which we set up during our rotation to Camp 2, had been uprooted and torn…maybe due to bad weather. Although our water flasks were empty and we were dehydrated, we first had to pitch our tents all over again!
I just got into my tent and have put on the gas burner to melt the snow. My mouth and throat is very dry….but do not worry, the team is fine and has reached Camp 2.
More after I get hydrated…..

May 20

04:00 hrs

Good Morning!

It’s 4am and we are leaving for Camp 3. It’s going to be a very long and tiring day today. We should take approximately 12-13 hrs to reach Camp 3. I have packed lots of water and am keeping myself warm with some hot tea. Had a good sleep yesterday.

Camp 3 is also called the ‘Makalu La’. This is very much a landmark in the expedition and is one of the most technical sections of climbing. Camp 3 is at a height of 24,278 ft (7,400 mts) but the distance covered is very long with steep phase. Will get back to you in the evening. Do pray for our team’s safety.
Bye for now!
17:15 hrs
We reached Camp 3 at 24,278 ft (7,400 mts) and what a climb it was! Gia, Fernando, Krushnaa and myself have reached safe and sound. We are waiting for Tonya Riggs Clement, who’ll join us in an hour. After reaching here at¬†10:30 am, I had just enough energy to call mom and say I was fine. We had to pitch some tents again and remove snow off others.
We melted lots of snow for ourselves and others following us so that they can be hydrated well on reaching camp. My Daju, Phinjo & Nima, were also very tired. Phinjo and me were running a high temperature due to over exertion. So we took some medication and went off to sleep.
The climb was very treacherous. I have started using supplementary oxygen.
Climbing to the Makalu La involved movement over rocks covered in ice and snow to an angle of 70 degrees. From Camp 2, we climbed the angled glacier to a height of 22,800 ft (6,950 mts). The rocks started from there and continued 985 ft (300 mts) further up. At this point we had a snowfield to cross, which is prone to avalanches. The deep snow certainly tests your strength and determination. The next section, another 656 ft (200 mts) ahead, is interspersed with sections of blue ice and rocks, which provide for a challenging climb. Atop Makalu La, we traversed another 656 ft (200 mts) where Camp 3 is located.
We got a comparatively good weather on our arrival. Sometimes jet stream winds can scream across the La, dipping temperatures to well below minus 30 degrees and can destroy camps that have been established. Consequently, careful consideration at this stage of the expedition is essential for a safe ascent and also further progress on the mountain.
Its snowing and the winds have also picked up. We checked with the meteorological department in India and have been assured that this would die down in a few hours.
Keeping our fingers crossed for a sunny day tomorrow. Bye for now and hope you all are praying for us, we all need positive energies up here!

 

May 21

11:30 hrs
We have reached Camp 4. Feeling great! My teammates, Tonya Riggs Clement, Fernando, Gia and Krushnaa Patil are all fine. We will rest and move for summit tonight at 8pm.
Just remembered- I had climbed Mt Everest on May 22nd, 2010. And three years hence, with 3 world records, I’m now inching closer to my 4th world record, that too on the very same day!
I still remember the night when I told my sis,”I cant sleep. All I see in front of my eyes are the mountains. I can’t stay here. I have to go back”. This was after my Everest climb.
I have lived every moment of this journey, because this is who I am and this is what’s within me. There was never a Plan B!

 

May 23

09:22 hrs

The Outdoor Journal has been following Arjun Vajpai on his journey up Mount Makalu through heavy snowfall, around large blocks of ice, bellowing winds and hot bowls of ‘thukpa’ and we wish it could have ended in exhileration but the mountain weather swept that reality away. Stormy conditions did not allow the young Everesteer to summit this peak even though he could see it, just 300 mts from his reach.

His last statements are full of despair, but he hasn’t lost the spark and is waiting to chase his dream another time.
I could see the day break… just like I saw it on Everest. I told myself I am almost there… it felt like a five year old child was jumping inside me… and then what happened, I will never ever forget. We had to fall back just 300m away from the summit. The mountain was in no mood to entertain us. The five year old inside me felt like he was being ripped apart from his favourite toy.
Through the night we had walked in light snow and breeze. But the weather had soon turned bad.The worst was not yet over. We ran out of ropes and could not climb further and there was no time to go back for more ropes because a storm was approaching. My stomach, my mind, my heart, my soul just tore apart.
Sitting at Advanced Base Camp right now, I want to believe it was all a big bad dream and that I still have to leave for my summit push. But reality is hard to accept.
I have to face it. We cannot move up again because time is too short for the next weather window (25th May/26th May) and then the season ends.
Whatever I have achieved ( as a climber) is because of the mountains. I respect them. But they don’t know what a stubborn boy I am. I will cling on to the mountains how a little boy does to his fathers shoulders to convince him. Some day..one day…I’LL BE BACK….I WILL…I WILL…
I hope you will continue to support me…because I need your support the most. Thank you all and respect.

 

Place: New Delhi


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