Makalu ( 8481 m) towering above the Sherpani or East Col Glacier (5700 - 6100 m)
One of the highest crossings in Nepal is from Makalu Base Camp near the Arun Valley to Baruntse Base Camp in the Everest Region. This is not a trekking route like the popular 5750 m Trashi Labtse Pass from Rolwaling to Everest Region, 5400 m Mera La, or the 5800 m Ambu Labtse, but a 4-5 day mountain climbing crossing, best combined with climbing Baruntse. It requires climbing Sherpas and high altitude porters, and members must be very fit with previous experience at 6000 m as it involves a long day crossing two passes around 6100-6150 m, a steep rocky climb to reach the first pass and two 100-200 m rappels at each pass.
From Makalu Base Camp at 4900 m a rocky trail along the SW side of the Barun Glacier leads in only 4 hours to the first camp at 5200 m just below Makalu with views at Lhotse and Everest to the NW. The advanced base camp of the easiest NW route up Makalu is across the valley. An extra day of acclimatization at this location is recommended but we did not do this. The camp site has a clean stream and between big boulders several level sites are carved out for pitching tents. With such magnificent views and high altitude sickness striking hard, a day of panoramic rest is a must.
The next camp at 5700 m takes 5 h along a poor and partially steep and tiring trail marked with Cairns. It is dominated by loose boulders, many of significant size so you are often jumping from one big boulder to another. Test each boulder before you continue a step else you may have a surprise rocky slide. The camp at 5700 m is very scenic sitting at the tip of a white glacier coming down from the East Col. Another rest day is needed at 5700 m to get ready for the main crossing.
The day of crossing the Sherpani/East (6100 m) and West Col (610035 m) requires careful planning and is a 10 hour trip. The biggest problem is not how to get the members across, provided they have past experience at this altitude, but to haul the camping gear and 20 kg duffels bags with personal gear across the two passes.
During our trip, the fastest members took only 7-7.5 hours non-stop but the normally very quick kitchen staff took even 9 h and some porters even longer. There were long delays across the 6100 m East Col as the last 100 m up is partially a grade 3-4 rock climb and going down a 100-150 m rappel (abseil) of a 45-60 degrees snow and rock face. The multi-pitch rappel at this altitude is a very tiring if you do it following the safety rules, an eight for lowering (ATC could not handle the thick rope), a prussic for safety, and a safety sling for passing the knots of the multiple pitches.
Rappel and lowering equipment down the Sherpani or East Col at 6000-6100 m. Height of snow and rock face about 100-150 m.
The equipment was lowered along a nylon rope system resembling a cable car and this was slow.
It is only one hour across the 3 km wide glacier to the 6135 m West Col and you walk at the base of the 6700 m Little Baruntse (no official name). We already had camp 1 established at the West Col. Jacco and I got here after 4-5 hours between 11 and 12 AM, but many members did not get here until 4-5 PM as they took went up slower, enjoyed the magnificent views and had to wait for their turn at the first rappel.
The last part from the West Col to Baruntse Base Camp at 5450 m is a gentle 200 m rappel along a 30-45 degree snow and ice slope and 3-4 hours down along a glacier and boulder fields.
West Col with 100-200 m rappel
The trail across snow and rocks is well-marked by cairns but very tiring at the end of such a long day due to the high altitude, between 5500 and 6100 m is
Baruntse Base Camp
Going up Little Baruntse requires 200 m fixed rope along the direct route due to many new crevasses since the late 90's but this is not recommended. Only when teaming up through camp 2 at 6500 m of the main Baruntse Expedition it is feasible. However, the originally 2 day trekking peak now becomes a 4 day mountaineering climb. In 2004, we concentrated on main Baruntse and the attemps by Steven and Claudia to climb Little Baruntse failed.
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