File image of Jean Christophe Lafaille, courtesy of (click to enlarge).
Makalu: Lafaille's tent spotted from helicopter - no sign of life

Posted: Jan 31, 2006 01:46 pm EST
( According to Le Monde, a helicopter reached Makalus BC earlier today. The chopper crew met only three Sherpas there, who apparently had heard nothing from Lafaille since the climber left BC on his summit bid last Tuesday. The helicopter continued up to scout the mountains slopes, and spotted Lafailles tent in his highest camp - but no sign of the climber.

Team gives up hope

Apparently, Lafailles team has given up all hope to find Jean Christophe alive.

Serge Koening, mountain advisor with French ministry of Youth and Sports, told media the chopper had searched the area several times, spotting the tent at about 7000m. The helicopter crew also checked other camps Lafaille had set along the route.

According to Koening, if Lafaille were alive, he would have heard the chopper and would have managed to signal his location. Koening also said it would be very difficult to launch a rescue operation due to the current extreme conditions on the mountain.

Katia flying to BC "to say good-bye"

After the reconnaissance flight, the chopper picked up two of the Sherpas - the third remains in BC to meet Lafailles wife Katia, who is currently on her way to Nepal. Le Monde stated Katia is traveling to Makalu BC to say good-bye to her husband, retrieve his personal belongings and build a memorial chorten.

French Jean Christophe Lafaille is reported missing on Makalu. Lafaille, who has already summited 11 8000ers, was attempting Makalu the hardest way: Solo and in winter.

Jean Christophe left Base Camp on Tuesday, January 24th on his definitive summit bid. Katia Lafaille, his wife and supporting manager, last had contact with the climber on Thursday, over satellite telephone. Jean Christophe was at 7600 meters, and planned to leave for the final summit push on Thursday night, hoping to reach the summit on Friday and be back at BC Saturday. The climber has not been heard from since.

All first winter ascents of 8000ers were made by Polish climbers - in what is known as 'Calendar winter'. The first ascent was on Everest in 1980 and the latest on Shisha Pangma in 2005.

Simone Moro changed the Polish monopoly on winter climbs when he and Piotr Morawski summited Shisha Pangma last year on January 14 at 1.15 pm (local) after a fast 5 hour climb in very strong winds. This was the first calendar winter virgin climb of a 8000+ mountain since 1988, and the first ever made by a non-Polish climber. In 1988, Fernando Garrido made another historic winter climb - by completing the first solo winter climb on an 8,000er - Cho Oyu.

Up until now, only 8 out of all 14 eight-thousanders have been climbed in winter. Except for Makalu, Pakistan holds the remaining five big dares, since none of the country's 8000ers has been climbed in winter.

Frenchman Jean Christophe Lafaille has accomplished some remarkable climbs in the Alps and the Himalaya, frequently alone. He has summited eleven 8000ers the latest Shisha Pangma last fall. If he succeeds on Makalu, he will only have Kangchenjunga and Everest to finish all fourteen 8000ers.

Lafaille is not new to Makalu: He attempted to solo a new route on the peak in the Spring of 2004, reaching the summit of Makalus secondary peak, Makalu II.

At 8485 meters high, Makalu is the fifth highest mountain on Earth. Its name means The Great Black. It is a four-faced pyramid, with a secondary peak - Kangchungtse or Makalu II (7678 m) - separated from the main summit by a narrow saddle, known as Makalu La.

Makalu was first climbed 51 years ago. Jean Couzy and Lionel Terray, two climbing celebrities from the 20th century, members of a French team led by Jean Franco, stood on Makalus sharp summit on May 15, 1955.

The first solo of Makalu was made in 1980. American John Roskelleys other team members aborted their expedition due to lack of high altitude porters. But Roskelley refused to leave. Left alone, he completed the first repetition of the West Pillar. In 1982, Polish climber Czok soloed the West face-NW ridge. In 1989, Pierre Beghin soloed the South face.