THE 1980 American Makalu Expedition arrived in Kathmandu 1 March, 1980, intending to make the second ascent of the West Pillar climbed by a strong, eleven-man French team in 1971. Our objective was to climb the Pillar without bottled oxygen and without Sherpa support above base camp. The four of us, Chris Kopczynski, Kim Momb, Dr James States and myself would rely only on our experience and determination to overcome the difficulties on one of the world’s most difficult routes.
Our small expedition of four members, a Sirdar, a cook, cookboy, two mailrunners, and sixty porters left Dharan in southeast Nepal on 11 March, taking the long route to Makalu via Tumlingtar because of airline problems and expense. The lowland porters were slow, but steady. Only the Tibetan contingent gave us problems until Sedoa where we changed porters to the stronger, better-dressed, highland people.
Unlike the French in 1971, we had little difficulty in reaching base camp at the foot of the West Pillar. By 1 April we were camped at 17,100 ft and beginning exploration of the ridge. The condition of the route looked excellent and the snow conditions around the base were ideal. The frequent storms we were encountering left only inches of snow and soon melted in the spring heat.
The start of the ridge was straightforward and easily followed to Camp 1 at 19,350 ft. An easy angled boulder and scree slope led to a ramp system of solid, polished metamorphic gneiss under the lowest glacial tongue. Another thousand feet of loose slabs and easy scrambling brought us to the well protected camp at the beginning of the ice-ridge. Six days of carrying supplied the camp enough for States and Momb to occupy the camp to work on the long, exposed ice-ridge above.
Using 7 mm and 8 mm fixed line, they constructed a route over ice humps, through seracs, along the steep, often 60 degree razor- edged ridge to the broad plateau at 21,500 ft. This mile long technical section used up rope that would later have to be removed and used up higher. Their effort was made more difficult by the extreme winds that were tormenting every effort daily. Kopczynski and I moved to Camp 1 on the nth to help ferry loads to Camp 2. By 16 April, States and myself were ready to move a-nd work on the route above Camp 2. Kopzcynski and Momb would recuperate below from the daily carries and pounding winds.
The ridge turned up ferociously, twisting and humping the route which hugged the rock, occasionally crossing short, steep icefields. States and I began fixing the 8 mm and 9 mm rope anchoring to rock walls and outcrops. The two faces, one south and one west, dropped away alarmingly from our sometimes vertical path. After several days of early starts and long hours, States descended, replaced by Kopczynski to help me finish the route to Camp 3. Carrying heavy loads of rope and hardware, Kopczynski and I ascended the lines to the high point, then began climbing icefields and rock bands on the South Face. An easy snow and rock ramp led back to the ridge crest which we ascended directly to the last difficult chimney before Camp 3 at 24,200 ft. We were exhausted and had difficulty staying awake.
 See HJ. Vol. XXXII, p. 13—Ed.
With Camp 3 established, but difficult to carry to in one day, we alternated carries from Camp 1 to Camp 2 then from Camp 2 to Camp 3. Hurricane winds forced us to rest on several days, while deep snows and blizzard conditions made passage up the route harrowing and dangerous with each passing day. It wasn’t until April 29th that Kopczynski and I were able to move to Camp 3 to work on the vertical huMirni above,
After a slow start at the lower altitudes, Kopczynski began to feel stronger with the higher altitude of Camp 3 and above. Having climbed together for 16 years, we made an excellent team leading pitches quickly over technically difficult ground. Three working days in marginal weather were all that were needed to fix lines close to our last till camp. Difficult mixed rock and ice climbing which followed broken, blocky gullies and steeply angled ramp systems led us through the blank walls of granite. Webypassed the old French bivouac camp (Camp 5) overcoming one of the more difficult pitches on the route. We retreated having fixed he ropes to within 500 ft of Camp 4.
Extreamily bad weather and injurie s to several of the team forced us down for a recuperation period of four days. On 9 May, Kopczynski and I, followed by States a day later, began the last push for the summit. While waiting for States to catch up, Kopczynski and I carried loads of camp gear to Camp 4, fixing four more pitches in the effort. Momb,s knees were injured enough to end his attempt early.
Carring heavy packs, Kopczynski, States and I moved to Camp 4 a dug out pereh above the difficulties of the vertical buttress. We left the tent at 2 a.m. on the morning of 15 May following steep snow gullies to the crest of the West Ridge once more, As sunrise on Everest added to an already awesome spectacle of jagged, ice-encrusted peaks, we, ascended steeply through blocks of granite and short towers. The ridge sharpened and corniced as we followed it to its collision point with the Southeast Ridge. Several hundred feet further we stopped for a much needed rest. It was 1.00 p.m. and we had reached 27,300 ft.
Wr were confronted with a rock buttress impassable from head on, but climbable possibly from either side. The east snow slope looked more feasible, but waist-deep avalanche-prone snow stopped us dead in our tracks and forced us back to the ridge crest. With time running short, Kopczynski and States decided to return to Camp 4 leaving me to go for the summit by the west side.
The west side of the obstacle dropped 10,000 ft down the unclimbed West face. I scrambled up a left leaning ramp for fifty feet before spotting a rappel sling to my right and near the top of the buttress. Several tense balancing moves over ice encrusted blocks took me to the sling and then to the top of the buttress. I had again joined the Southeast ridge, although it had narrowed to pencil width and was steep on both sides. Deep snow and exhaustion hampered my progress, but by 3.30 p.m., I was on top of the pointed summit of Makalu. Three ridges connected at my feet jaggedly cutting the clouds below as they disappeared into Nepal and Tibet. My flags joined other mementos on top which included three used oxygen bottles, a bamboo wand and a package of rye crisp crackers. After taking a few photos, I collected my gear, a summit rock and slowly backed off the route. More than once I fell asleep on the descent, but the thought of freezing to death in a bivouac kept me descending into the night until I reached Kopczynski and States at Camp 4. Four days later we were in Base having had to leave our lines fixed because of gigantic loads and exhaustion. We left Makalu on May 21st for Tumlingtar having accomplished our goals of climbing without oxygen and without Sherpa support.