ExWeb Makalu interview with Colin Scott: the South-East Ridge

Posted: Sep 04, 2014 02:17 pm EDT

 

(By Correne Coetzer) A British Armed Forces mountaineering expedition team, under leadership of RAF Wing Commander Colin Scott, will be attempting the notorious South-East Ridge on Makalu (8,463m / 27,766) in the Himalayas this Autumn. 

 

Colin Scott checked in at ExplorersWeb. Three time before he attempted this route but were thwarted by the weather. This time he goes post-monsoon. The major challenges on this South East Ridge, Colin told ExWeb, are its length and the fact that the major technical difficulties are high on the mountain – above 7000m.

 

ExplorersWeb: Colin, you have the support of Chris Bonington, what have you learned from him that you take to the mountain? 

 

Colin: Makalu is one of the few mountains in the greater ranges that Sir Chris has not attempted. However, as an expedition leader, his preparation was second to none and this is an aspect that I have tried to emulate for Makalu 2014. 

 

Furthermore, the routes that he chose to attempt were always extremely challenging – he was never afraid to try something that had not been done before. 

 

ExplorersWeb: You have been to Makalu three times before. Which time of the year was it? Extreme weather conditions prevented successful summits. Is there a good-weather / better-weather period?

 

Colin: The three previous expeditions have been conducted during the pre-monsoon season. The post-monsoon period is generally slightly cooler with potentially clearer weather. However, we must ensure that we make good progress to maximise summit opportunities when they arise.  

 

ExplorersWeb: How do you visualize the climb? In particular the South-east ridge. What are the difficult parts? 

 

Colin: The major challenges of the South East Ridge are its length and the fact that the major technical difficulties are high on the mountain – above 7000m.  The ridge is over 10km long which means that the distance between camps, particularly C1 and C2 is significant in comparison to other mountains of similar altitude.    

 

ExplorersWeb: What involve your "alpine style”? 

 

Colin: From Camp 2 (c6800m) we will move capsule style, moving in a continuous push up the mountain towards the summit. This will involve carrying everything we need for several days without recourse to fixed pre-established camps.

 

ExplorersWeb: Will you have Sherpas trail breaking? Will there be fixed ropes? 

 

Colin: We will have a team of Sherpas. My philosophy has always been that the Sherpa are part of the team and work with us - not for us. We will fix rope to Camp 2 to facilitate the lift of food and equipment high enough to support our summit bids downstream.

 

ExplorersWeb: Will you use bottled oxygen? 

 

Colin: Yes. We have bottled oxygen. 

 

The climbers will need to spend a considerable time above 8000m. The ridge from the Black Gendarme rises gradually to the subsidiary summit at 8010m and then drops to a col at 7900m where the summit team will spend a few hours resting prior to the summit bid. 

 

The final 500m to the summit is believed to be technical (according to a 1970 Japanese report on Makalu) and the summit is a long way back from the top of the West Ridge, thereby requiring a summit day of potentially 18 hours and a further night at 7900m on the way down.

 

ExplorersWeb: How do you prepare for 8000 m altitude? We have seen in a story on ExWeb about high altitude gyms in the US. Do you use anything like that?

 

Colin: The expedition has been working with Leeds Met University to fine tune physiological preparation and individual training packages for each climber have been designed by our Base Camp Manager and fitness coach (Chip Rafferty). I am aware of high altitude gyms as well as other means of preparing for expeditions to altitude. However, our expedition budget and service commitments do not support our use of such facilities. We will therefore follow the tried and tested method of solid and steady acclimatisation and trust that our extensive physical preparation will be sufficient.     

  

 

At 8,463m / 27,766ft, Makalu is the firth highest mountain in the world and one of the 14 8,000m peaks. 

 

Team: 

• Expedition Leader: Wing Commander Colin Scott MBE (Royal Air Force) 

• Climbing Leader: Captain Dick Gale (Army) 

• Team Doctor: Wing Commander Jon Naylor (Royal Air Force) 

• Equipment: Trooper Chris Andrews (Army Reserve) 

• Communications: Able Rate Carl Stubbs (Royal Navy) 

• Food: Trooper Gareth Steel (Army Reserve) 

• Photography & Video: Marine Tim Taylor (Royal Marine Reserve) 

• Base Camp Manager / Performance Coach: Paul Rafferty (previously Army Physical Training Corps) 

• Nema Sherpa 

• Lakpa Sherpa 

• Angkami Sherpa 

• Dawa Sange Sherpa 

• Pe Chumbi Sherpa 

 

Makalu info courtesy of the 2014 British Armed Forces team:

 

Makalu, an isolated mountain, is rarely climbed due to its remoteness and technical difficulty. It has many steep pitches and narrow ridges with a highly exposed summit pyramid. To date, there have been less than 300 recorded ascents of the mountain by any route since the first successful ascent in 1955. In contrast, the summit of Everest has been reached over 4000 times since the first successful ascent in 1953. 

 

The South-East Ridge of Makalu is immensely challenging: only five individuals have reached the summit of the mountain via this knife-edged route, the last of which was in 1976. No one has ever climbed Makalu via the complete South-East Ridge or "route integral" in climbing terminology. 

 

The Makalu 2014 tri-service expedition team is led by RAF Wing Commander Colin Scott, MBE, and includes six individuals from across the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, Royal Army, and Royal Air Force - both regular and reserves. Royal Engineer Captain Dick Gale is the team's climbing leader. Six high-altitude Sherpa - with whom Colin Scott and Dick Gale have climbed extensively before - and one ex-serviceman Base Camp Manager / Fitness Coach complete the group. 

 

The team will fly to Kathmandu from London on 10 September 2014. On arrival in Kathmandu, expedition members will fly to the remote airstrip of Tumlingstar (510m) to begin the eight-day trek to Makalu Base Camp at 4800m. From there, the climbers will begin a lengthy process of acclimatisation and establish a series of camps. The highest will be Camp 3 at 7200m and beyond this the team will climb "alpine style", with bivouacs at 7500m and 7900m, before making initial summit bids from mid-October 2014. 

 

Makalu 2014 has three official patrons: legendary mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington, CVO, CBE, DL; The Rt Hon Lord Michael Forsyth of Drumlean, PC; and The Rt Hon Lord Selkirk of Douglas, PC, QC. Expedition leader Colin Scott said: "Our primary objective is to put at least two team members on the summit of Makalu - and for them to return safely to Base Camp. All of our climbers, including Sherpa, will have the opportunity to summit. I have led three previous British Services expeditions to attempt an ascent of Makalu via the South-East Ridge in 2004, 2008, and 2010 but extreme weather conditions prevented a successful ascent each time. However, with the experience we have acquired, we are absolutely determined to achieve our objective in 2014 and record both a British - and world-first."

 

The team is raising money for our chosen charity, SOS Children's Villages.

 

 

Previous/Related

 

Fall 2014: Lhotse South Face, Makalu SE Ridge, Shishapangma Attempts and the Busy Mountains

 

British Armed Forces Makalu 2014: 

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Camp 3 during 2010 attempt. Colin: "From Camp 2 (c6800m) we will move capsule style, moving in a continuous push up the mountain towards the summit." (click to enlarge)
courtesy 2014 British Armed Forces Makalu Expedition, SOURCE
The team of Royal Navy and Royal Marines, Royal Army, and Royal Air Force - both regular and reserves - doing last preparation before leaving on for the climb on September 10 (click to enlarge).
courtesy 2014 British Armed Forces Makalu Expedition / Tim Taylor Photography, SOURCE
Colin Scott: "The ridge is over 10km long which means that the distance between camps, particularly C1 and C2 is significant in comparison to other mountains of similar altitude."
courtesy 2014 British Armed Forces Makalu Expedition, SOURCE