I first saw MAKALU in a parking lot of the Chamonix’s ice rink … As in red dilapidated sign adorning a grim grey building of ENSA’s dormitory… Standing next to PUMORI, another scarface high-rise tower. I gathered it was a mountain… somewhere far.
That was 8 years ago and that’s where my journey to this project began. Like a child learning a mother tongue, I was absorbing the ABCs of alpinism with the names of fourteen 8,000m peaks. Much like a child, I would recite in my head the tongue twisters that were yet to acquire a tangible meaning: Kanchenjunga, Manaslu, Makalu…
Then – a year ago – coming down from the summit of Everest, I fell in love… with its giant pyramidal shape and a great wing of the northerly ridge… chiseled to a perfect symmetry by nature. The visions of the peak began haunting me in my dreams. Much like Edmund Hillary who wrote: ‘While standing on top of Everest, I looked across the valley, towards the other great peak Makalu… it showed me that, even though I was standing on top of the world, it wasn’t the end of everything for me, I was still looking beyond to other interesting challenges.’
After my Guinness record my lay friends wondered whether K2 was the next challenge I would set my eyes on. Unlike Mallory’s ‘BECAUSE IT IS THERE’, their reasoning must have been ‘BECAUSE IT IS DEADLY’, a casual send-off of a friend to a battlefield where the odds of not making it back is 1 in 4… in the name of scoring another ‘first’.
This project for me has few meaningful firsts. I may become the first Russian female to summit the mountain… digging deeper I can surely frame another formidable fit grouping various climbs together… to form ‘leopards’, ‘big fives’ or another breathless epic… but this project is not about this… it is personal as in being the next stage in my alpine growth journey and in that I relish that challenge.
Now to the mighty, meaningful and somewhat meaningless math. World’s 5th highest peak, Makalu was first climbed in 1955 by a French team. Some 400 climbers stood on its summit since – vs. over 5,000 for Everest – with just 30 women. It has mortality rate 5x greater than the big E but 2.5x smaller than K2. It is by all accounts a more challenging climb than the normal route on Everest… with interminable cold summit day, much of it spent on the northern windswept ridge.
This will be the first 8,000m expedition that I am putting together. With that there are new questions and worries and an adult sense of ‘the buck stopping here’. Much comfort comes from being with a tested climbing partner and an experienced mountaineer. Joshua Jarrin and I have been reborn together on August 25th 2016. While crossing the Nantillons glacier on the Charmoz-Grepon traverse we suffered an air raid attach of a rock avalanche with boulders the size of small cars hurling down with a 10 second delay warning. Tied together on a rope and rolling down steep moraine, I have experienced a definition of traveling to the end of your life and back. Two months prior to that we spent a week zipped up in a tent weathering a whiteout storm on Denali and then going on to climb the Cassin ridge in a four day epic. On the last day – with no food left – we shared one remaining Cliff bar between us. I trust his skills, judgement and character. Above all, I can picture being with him in a tent for a week weather watching … comfortable with silence, sharing occasional laugh and music… Along the way in the past week we have added another member to the BC team, Dani Castillo Lofthouse who will undoubtedly will add his Iberian charm and quick wit to our dynamic duo… Our journey commences on April 10th… stay tuned…at the very least in 6 weeks time you won’t be asking ‘Makalu? And where is that?’