Makalu No 02 Didi Initiative


Posted on Thursday 11th April, 2019

So let me introduce you to our Makalu No 02 Didi Initiative expedition from my Hotel room in Kathmandu! Since the Lhotse expedition I have wanted to climb high again without the use of supplementary oxygen but to be honest after three attempts on Lhotse I was looking to try another mountain. It is very busy on the Lhotse route due to the fact that it shares much of the same route as Everest. So why Makalu? Well it is the fifth highest mountain in the world, just 35 meters lower than Lhotse. I have looked towards it many times on expeditions and treks in the Khumbu (Everest) valley and stared in awe at it’s beautiful granite summit pyramid. It is a mountain that stands alone and rises above all the other peaks in its’ region. Apart from it’s aesthetic appeal, I wanted to climb an 8000er that was a similar height to Lhotse but not as crowded.

Vibeke and I met at Everest/Lhotse Base Camp as I have described in my blog two posts back. We shared the same Base Camp dining tent. Mariano, Vibe and I were like the crazy ones in the tent that did not stop laughing and telling jokes together. We had so much fun, her and I got on really well and became friends almost instantly. During the course of our expeditions we shared good times and bad, laughter and tears. In a short amount of time we got to know each other pretty well. We climbed together from Base Camp to Camp 2 and we climb in a similar way in terms of safety. At the time she climbed Everest and Lhotse using oxygen with a Sherpa. She is very strong and I trust her judgement. We started coming up with a plan to climb together at the end of 2017. I knew she had not made the Makalu summit so we decided to climb the mountain together. We also wanted to support Nepali women guides in the process. Firstly we discussed climbing with one on the mountain. However we eventually changed our minds and decided to climb just the two of us together.

Vibe and I arriving at Camp 2 Everest after climbing from Base Camp.

So what is the Didi Initiative? I have been supported by The North Face for quite a few years now and I was lucky enough to get invited to an event with Conrad Anker in the Megalong Valley last year. Conrad was doing a speaking tour and his wife Jenni had come with him. The North Face had organised a camp fire and dinner for them and invited athletes and colleagues to join them. I was stoked to meet Conrad as I had looked up to him for so long. I got talking to Jenni about the Khumbu Climbing Center which is located in Phortse in the Everest region of Nepal. It is a place where Sherpa and all Nepali go to learn technical climbing skills to be safer while guiding in the mountains. The Center was founded 15 years ago by the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation which was established by Jenni in memory of the late renowned mountaineer. She said that I should go teach there some time, which got me thinking. Upon doing some research, I discovered that it is difficult for many Nepali women to attend the training courses due to the costs of travel and accomodation. I met with Conrad and Jenni once again in Bozeman when my husband Nathan and I were ice climbing there last December. We talked about my idea of wanting to help support Nepali women attend the KKC course so they can have new opportunities for employment in Nepal. Jenni thought it was a great idea and came up with the project name “Didi Initiative”, didi meaning sister in Nepali. She then also partnered with The North Face female athlete Dawa Yangzum who was a student of the KCC and is now a fully qualified mountain guide that works all over the world. Dawa is an inspiration to all Nepali women. This is the perfect cause for Vibe and I to support and we both hope you will too!

If you would like to help Nepali women through the Didi Initiative Program and find out more about the Khumbu Climbing Center please go to this website: http://www.alexlowe.org/ 

Click on the Donate Now link and specify your funds go to the “Didi Initiative”. Guiding and climbing has changed my life and given me so many opportunities that I had never thought possible. I believe this is an important cause for women in Nepal to help give them the opportunity to start a career in the mountains.

And so we begin! Tomorrow Vibe and I fly to Lukla. We will trek for just over a week in the Khumbu region to acclimatise for Makalu Base Camp, visiting the KCC along the way. Then we will fly into the Base Camp from Lukla in a heli. We will have access to internet during our trek but not during our climb. We will however get messages out via our satellite phone so my Facebook will be updated with our progress. We also have a Garmin Inreach so you can follow our climb on this link: https://eur-share.inreach.garmin.com/VIBS

You can follow our trek via instagram, be sure to check my stories: https://www.instagram.com/alliepepperadventures/  

And here is my Facebook for updates to the expedition: https://www.facebook.com/pepperclimbs/

My main sponsor for this expedition is The North Face. I also have support from the Australian Geographic Society in the way of a project grant. I am a Petzl ambassador for Spelean Australia.

Makalu Expedition 2019 | No Comments


Lhotse Wrap Up


Posted on Thursday 4th April, 2019

Firstly I apologise for not finishing my story from my 2017 Lhotse expedition. When I came home I was exhausted from being sick with gastro for 14 days where I lost 6 kilos and I was disappointed in how our expedition ended. Then a few weeks later I was shocked and devastated by the loss of my climbing partner Mariano Galvan on Nanga Parbat. Mariano was training for his Nanga expedition by climbing with me on Lhotse. He wanted to help me achieve my dream as he had previously climbed Lhotse and also Everest solo without oxygen. He went to climb the Mazeno Ridge on Nanga with Alberto Zerain and they died on June 24 2017 in an avalanche. It still doesn’t seem real to me that I won’t ever see him again but I feel it is important to finish our story and highlight what an amazing and inspiring climber he was.

So starting where I left off on my last blog, Mariano and I returned to Base Camp and it was a very hard walk for me. I had no energy and I still had gastro, perhaps even worse than when I left Base a week earlier. I had to do the hike in two days instead of one because I was so weak. We had both lost a bit of our high altitude acclimatisation as well because we had been at 4400m for a week. I honestly was not feeling very optimistic about the summit at this point. Of course I could choose to use oxygen to aid my ascent and increase my success chances but I was not interested in giving up my main goal. I went to Everest ER again for help and they all decided that I had not been taking the correct antibiotics. I must have had a giardia or some type of parasite infection. So they gave me four doses of a tablet for Giardia as well as two extra anti biotic tablets. I had 6 tablets at once and it was like a bomb. I was up all night with stomach pain but then the next morning miraculously my gastro had disappeared FINALLY. It was a huge relief but also disappointing because I had spent 14 days with the illness and had lost 6 kilos in the process, had not eaten much and lost most of my fitness as well. Despite all of that I still wanted to climb as high as I could and see how I would go.

As Mariano and I both knew the reality that I would probably not make the summit, we came up with a plan so he could get some good acclimatisation in for his Nanga Parbat expedition. He would leave Base Camp at 5pm and make a push up Lhotse and see how far he could climb in one attempt. As we had lost a fair amount of our acclimatisation to extreme high altitude, we didn’t know if he would be able to climb to the summit or not. However he was going to try! Either way it would be great training for him.

Mariano cracking jokes as always before he heads up for his push on Lhotse- photo credit Aleix Villadebo

The plan for me was to go the next morning through the icefall alone and meet him at Camp 2. We would then go up again together and see how far I could get. I was a bit worried about going through the icefall alone as I had not done many of the long ladder crossings without someone holding the ropes over them for me. This helps to keep you stable while you cross the ladders and stops you falling off them! I was nervous to do this alone with my pack but also excited. The Spanish climbers at Base were worried about me so I borrowed a radio and my friend Tendi Sherpa said that if I needed a rescue to call him and he would organise people to come and help me! That was a great back up. Mariano headed off at 5pm and I got ready to leave Base at 2am to head up alone as well.

It was awesome climbing through the ice fall by myself. I was not as fast as I normally am due to my sickness leaving me weak. However I did pretty well considering. There was a crevasse with three long ladders joined together to span it. This was the one I was most worried about doing alone. I actually tightened the ropes so they weren’t loose when I went to cross it. I basically held my breath the entire way to not lose my concentration or balance. Once I reached the snow on the other side I was relieved because I knew that was the biggest one. I reached Camp 2 exhausted to our tent and I was expecting Mariano to be there. However he wasn’t there. I asked around if anyone had seen him. They said that he had gone to Camp 3 on the Lhotse face to rescue an Argentinian climber called German who had been left by his Sherpa. Apparently he had frostbite from losing his mitts high on the mountain and had not eaten or drunk for 2 days trying to get down on his own.

It wasn’t long before Mariano came to the tent full of stories of his ascent up Lhotse and also of the rescue. He was absolutely exhausted. He had managed to make it to 8050m in one push up the Lhotse Face in around 20 hours from the Base Camp. At that height he realised he was not acclimatised enough to continue up so turned around. He went all the way back to Camp 2. Then mountain guide Willie Benegas asked him to help rescue an Argentinian climber called German who was at Camp 3. He had been missing for 2 days on the mountain apparently. No one was available to go get him because all of Willies Sherpa team were tired from guiding the Everest summit. So Mariano, even though he was exhausted, turned back around and went up the mountain again. He found German in Camp 3 7200m, he gave him food and water and then helped him back to Camp 2 basically saving his life. A helicopter came when I had arrived and took German back to Base then out to a hospital in Kathmandu. This superhuman performance of endurance and also of caring for others pretty much sums up who Mariano was. A climber who was extremely talented at high altitude and strong. Over the years he has been the only one strong enough to help in these types of rescues at high altitude and has saved many lives in the mountains. He was exhausted but he still went to help a fellow Argentinian climber regardless. He had no ego about these types of things, just wanted to help save German.

Heading up the Lhotse face on my way to Camp 3 for our summit attempt.

We decided to have a rest day the next day so we could both recover. On the way down from Lhotse Mariano had not been able to locate our tent and supplies at Camp 3. This was bad news as we thought we had no tent to use up there. Thankfully one of our friends Victor had just come down on our rest day from summiting Everest without oxygen. He said he still had a small summit tent at Camp 3 we could use. Our friends at Alpine Ascents gave us some food to take up. So thankfully we could still go on our summit push. The next morning Mariano and I started towards the Lhotse face together. He then went ahead to find Victor’s tent and make sure it was still good to use. I was very slow going up the face because I was so weak. I took probably twice the amount of time to get to Camp 3 than I usually would and arrived exhausted. Mariano had spent the whole time while he was waiting for me making a tent platform and fixing Victor’s tent which was a mess. Finally we had a shelter after a lot of extra effort digging snow and fixing tears in the tent.

We planned that I would start at 2am to head toward Camp 4 Lhotse which is at 7800m. I would take a long time at the pace I was going. Mariano would then leave about 6am but probably overtake me. He would carry the tent and stove and I only had to carry my personal gear. I woke up very early and got ready. I was positive about everything until I started walking. I realised very quickly that I was going very slowly because I was just so weak and exhausted from being so sick for so long. I struggled uphill for just over an hour using all my energy. I thought I had gone a fair way until I turned around and the tent was literally 50 meters away. I was suffering more than I ever had before on a mountain and at this point I knew if I continued to ascend I could not turn back without help. So I decided to turn around and go back to the tent and then down. Expedition over. I did not want to be the reason people had to put their lives in danger to rescue me. Mariano had already done his rescue this expedition and he had more than carried his share to help me realise my dream in my weak state. Back at the tent I rang my husband Nathan back in Australia in tears because my dream (or perhaps nightmare) was over. He had wanted to tell me to turn around a lot earlier but knew I had to come to the decision myself. Of course it wasn’t easy for him to hear my disappointment but he was very relieved he didn’t have to keep worrying about me everyday.

Before we left to go down I wanted to find our gear which I believed was buried. We had argued about this as Mariano thought that it had been stolen. As most of it was mine, the tent, shovel, stove etc. and it was expensive, I wanted to double check. So we went to the site of where we left it. Mariano started to dig and I thought he was in the wrong spot. I actually dug where I thought it would be and to our surprise under a meter of snow we found our cache. We were both excited to get the gear back! However it meant we had even more to carry down as we also had to take Victor’s tent down too.

Mariano headed down the fixed lines towards Camp 2 at speed. I was the total opposite and was struggling with my big pack. I went very carefully as I was so tired I didn’t want to make a mistake. He waited for me at the Base of the lines and we headed to Camp 2 together. I tried to find someone at Camp 2 to help carry our gear down because I was so tired. Obviously I wanted to pay them however no one wanted to help. So Mariano loaded up a 40 kilo pack while I had 20 kilos and we headed towards the icefall. It was very hard for him through the icefall on the ladders with so much weight but once again he proved how strong he was.

Mariano fully loaded in the icefall as we retreat off the mountain

The Base Camp staff had been waiting for us to come down so we were lucky enough to have a great meal on our arrival. I managed to negotiate a flight out of Base Camp on a helicopter back to Lukla for a good price the next day with all our gear. We were stoked to not have to walk out as we were both pretty exhausted at this point!

Waiting for the heli at EBC with the icefall in the background.
We were both so happy to be flying out in the helicopter, we felt like rock stars.

I don’t know how to end this post because it brings back many memories of our time together and it is very sad for me. We shared so many jokes and talked about our dreams of adventure during the weeks we had together. With me being sick for so long we had plenty of time to talk. He shared his goals for the future and many stories from his past climbs. I am fortunate that I got to spend that time with him before his Nanga Parbat climb. He was a true friend and he genuinely wanted me to achieve my dream of summiting Lhotse without oxygen. He did everything he could to help me and we shared a love of the mountains and climbing high. We were both stubbornly ambitious and that is why we got along so well. I learnt a lot from him and I will be thinking of him when I climb on Makalu this season, remembering all he taught me. Que maestro. He is gone but he won’t be forgotten. He continues to inspire all who knew him to reach great heights in themselves. He believed in us.

“Mas importante que la cima es el camino, y mas importante que el camino son los principios que mueven tus pies”- Mariano Galvan

You can read a tribute to Mariano here: https://www.alpinismonline.com/mz-notas.asp?id=10691

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