I left for Nepal last spring to challenge myself at high altitudes, without oxygen, in the troposphere. This type of environment has intrigued me since 2008, when I tested 8000 m summits on Baltoro Glacier in Pakistan.
Many people speak of altitude’s intoxicating effects, but i never felt any of these symptoms. On the other hand, what I experience is indescribable. To me, it’s magical; I escape from time, alone with my thoughts. The view is like a fairytale and the atmosphere fulfills me.
Physiologically, it makes sense for me to spend time at altitude; as I benefit from the acclimatization. Then, I move faster and with less fatigue. I prefer to play the game this way.
On April 10th, I left the Num Valley on a wild trekking to Makalu. I arrived at the Base Camp (5700 m) to start my acclimatization. The weather was unpredictable, with a mix of wind and snow every afternoon. Reaching Camp 2 was not a big deal, but the climbing became more complicated reaching Camp 3 where the face swept by wind and snow continuously. It was not possible to spend a night there before the summit push.
On May 9th the weather forecast improved with a short window to climb. Despite my poor acclimatization above 8000 m, the wind had decreased and we had had to go for it.The snow diminished that day while we watched and waited in our tents at Camp 3. By that evening, the sky had cleared and the view of Everest, Lhotse and the full moon overhead was simply magic. Adrenalin and excitement seized me. Let’s go!
The silence on those huge mountains can be unsettling, but rather than being doubtful, I appreciate the privileged moment.
It was very cold as we climbed up the glacier. I fought to warm up my extremities with every step. At the base of “couloir des Français”, the wind picked up and froze me immediately, but from there the route becomes more technical and my body warmed as I climbed on the ridge and the sun rose above the peaks.
We decided to stop on the north summit of Makalu.
The next part of the route was dangerous due to the fresh snow, cornices and wind. Our adventure stopped there but the disappointment of not going to the summit was compensated by the magic atmosphere…
On May 20th I arrived at Lhotse Camp 4 for another trip into the thin air. My goal was to summit Makalu and Lhotse in one push. I left my tent at 9:30 am. There were few people on the route, as most of prefer to go on Everest nearby. I was feeling good.
The wind was still strong as I climbed up the narrow, 700m couloir. It was beautiful and I enjoyed every meter.
Everything was perfect, except the wind screaming and raging on the ridge. I knew that it will be my enemy. But step by step I kept going towards my goal.
Finally, I reached the top, crouching to avoid the wind. I was happy.
On May 26th, I returned to Lhotse Camp 4, but to summit Everest. A “last minute”, unplanned project.As the highest point of the planet, and a lifelong dream, it could be a beautiful answer to my questions regarding high altitude. I have already climbed up to 8500 m and I know what happens with my body. But further than 8500 m is uncharted territory for me.
Unfortunately, during the night of May 27th bad weather came in and the wind and snow obscured the summit of Everest.
The cold seized me shortly thereafter. Despite the physical effort of the ascent, my body got cold. I had all my layers on but it was not enough!
Each gust of wind froze me, deeply. My back contracted as I fought the shivers.
There I lay, just before sunrise around 4am-5am, the cold part of the night at 8500m, in a storm. I had little time for deliberation.
I decide to give up my dream and to listen the voice of wisdom and safety!
The world above 8000m is complex and intimidating. People go there for many reasons, and can follow their own route. For me, this spring was simply an opportunity to discover this new environment, test myself, and get new ideas of what is possible or not...
But for everyone, it a place to have strong memories, make your own route, confront doubts, and experience magic.
A place to go!