4/17/2002: Makalu 2002 Second Progress Report from
Maoists demand money from the Makalu teams!
there, we’ve all arrived safe and sound at our
permanent basecamp just below the NW ridge of Makalu.
It’s a spectacular sight in all directions. Here’s
a capsule summary of our situation: all twelve of our
team arrived on April 11th after spending a day in the
lower basecamp at 4800 m. We flew to this basecamp by
Russian helicopter on April 10th after a rest day in
Lukla which was our destination from Namche Bazaar. I
filed my first report from Namche after our team
successfully summited Island Peak (6128 m) on our
acclimatization climb. Not all of our members went
with us to Island Peak however, and that’s where an
interesting story developed of Anna Czerwinska and her
trekking team; Grażyna Kuchowicz, Ewa Goliszewska,
Andrzej Kurowski; plus our Italian members Floriano
Castelnuovo and Diego Fregonia; and also both other
international teams whom I will later describe who did
the Makalu basecamp approach by trekking Barun Valley.
a nutshell all of these people encountered Maoists who
appear to be thriving in the area around Num, Sedua
and Tashi Gaon, and each group had to pay 10,000
rupeas per person to keep their cameras.
More about this later. The good news is that we are
all here safe, in good spirits, and we have met both
the Spanish expedition led by Carlos
Pauner and the Swiss expedition led by Norbert
Joos, and many of their members. We’ve just had the
Pujah ceremony, some of Anna’s trekkers are heading
back today, and our main trekking group are all
leaving tomorrow, some by helicopter and some by
trekking back down the Barun to Kathmandu. In the next
few days all team members will carry loads up to
establish Camp I (in fact today Piotr, Jay, Vlado,
Peter and Dariusz and one of our trekkers, Sławek
carried loads up to a cache at 600 m, just 300 m below
Camp I. The rest of us will repeat this experience
tomorrow), and shortly thereafter Camp II on Makalu
La. Snow conditions are very light, weather pattern is
good. We have very strong team members (on all three
expeditions) and we are optimistic about our chances
for the top, within the next month, weather
permitting. After that we return to lower basecamp and
then via helicopter to Kathmandu.
let me add some details to the above recent events,
summarize our morale, current condition, future
schedule and add a few personal glimpses.
Details and Recent Events
The encounters I mentioned were a bit of a
surprise. We all asked during the Ministry of
Tourism briefing if the Barun Valley was safe for
trekking. The answer was “no problem”. Well,
certainly no tourists have been killed by Maoists
and all those involved agree that confrontations
appeared non-violent – in the case of our 3
expedition members, a group of 5 Maoists, 4
wearing special jackets and carrying grenades
along with an armed Maoist carrying an automatic
rifle came to the expedition in Tashi Gaon after
breakfast on April 5th. At first they wanted 5,000
R plus cameras (binoculars and altimeters), then
after some discussion settled for 10,000 R per
member. It was clear that 5 Maoists were not
alone. In the surrounding forests many hundreds of
their comrades could be seen. After our expedition
paid and were given a receipt for money received,
the Maoists went to the Swiss expedition and
repeated the exercise. The Spanish expedition were
approached the night before (April 4th) in Sedua
at dinner time. Same demand. Same result.
of our trekkers said the Maoists were very young
and well armed. They insist they don’t want any
outside disturbance in their goal to control certain
areas in Nepal, hence their intimidation of tourists
passing through. Since their intentions appear
non-violent to outsiders, an optimist would conclude
this incident simply add an element of adventure to
trekking in regions controlled by Maoists. Others
will say we are crazy to be here at all and should
have known better. The conclusion of all three
of our expeditions is we are very safe now.
However, for future seasons, we are not so optimistic:
Fact: The Maoists
killed two government park officials in their offices
two days before meeting with our expeditions, and rumors
here in basecamp are that another person has been
killed in the same area Sedua, since.
The Maoists are very young, nervous and heavily
armed – who knows what discipline or organization
they have. Armed confrontations are not friendly
The additional fees, which came as a surprise, add to
the existing Nepalese peak fees, and taken together
will significantly diminish interest by climbers and
trekkers where the Maoists are active. From our
experience they are very active and in control in the
Num, Sedua and Tashi Gaon region. Who knows where
On a brighter side:
weather has been extremely good. Snow every other
day and 2-3 pm, but only lasting for a few hours.
So climbing conditions are excellent. From
Island Peak we could see the entire route and it
appears the upper part of the mountain has very
little snow built up.
always great to meet fellow climbers in the
mountains. Almost always we share friends in
common. For example, the leader of the Swiss team
Norbert Joos has climbed in Yosemite with my
friend Jim Bradwell. Small world. Norbert’s team
consists of: Jakob Preichen, Renata Odoni and
Alfred Beetschen. They will be with us on the
normal route. The Spanish team consists of Carlos
Pauner (Spanish / Leader) along with 3 Basques:
Edurne Pajabar, Joseba Gutierrez and Ricardo
Valencia; and 2 Italians: Silvio Mondinelli and
Mano Morelli. Pictures are worth a thousand words
when meeting people like this. Their energetic
smiles are infectious. Everyone is in good
spirits. The Spanish team has a basecamp 300 m
below ours and will attempt a much more difficult
route on the west face/west rib.
Pujah is a Buddhist ceremony which solemnly
recognizes higher influences and asks for good
luck and safety for all concerned. Today, in
brilliant morning sunshine we all shared a
beautiful, colorful, incemefilled, flag draped,
good luck charmed, ceremonial feast. We had
offerings of rice, prayer, scarves, chocolate, a
butcher knife, all sorts of personal emblems, coca
cola and I added a bottle of Guiness. It was a
really feel-good experience. Hugs and handshakes,
all amused, Martin played the guitar and many
Sherpas tried their hand too. All the heart. Good
speed. To the Top!
some personal glimpses:
of our members have been to Makalu La and beyond. For
Floriano has been to 7600 m in 1993. He got cold and
retreated, then hit his partner soloed to the top. He
has great pictures of the route to the top.
Jenspolo gets the prize for most personal barrels in
Both Swiss and Italian members are very stylish in
their expedition outfits. They win the fashion
Makalu – the pictures don’t show the wind which
seems to gust all night long. Nothing like an evening
of tent flapping and listening to Frank Sinatra in my
headphones. Other favorites: Chopin, Rachmaninof and
Mozart. Music travels well. Note this is not an
expedition survey, just my own taste. Richard in fact
has some great Jeanne Panek tapes, which we all enjoy.
Anna Czerwinska has a lot of spirit. I can’t imagine
how she dealt with the Maoist incident. “Big
Peter and Vlado from Slovakia have more treats to
share than anyone else. Sliced bacon, tea, and Slovaki
drink (sprite, don’t believe it). Great.
Our trekkers were great and we will miss them all.
Warm hats are necessary, but all hats itch.
You can never drink enough fluid. Have a drink for us,
whenever you can.
Our route works great.
More reports will be available every week or so.
We are safe, in good shape, warm and in good spirits.
We know many of our friends are thinking of us and
this feeling is mutual. Warm thoughts your may!
Makalu is a beautiful mountain, a great climb and we
are all into it, together. Summit expected between
wishes from basecamp.
Caughron, Makalu, 2002.
EverestNews.com has CONFIRMED this story, before going
to press. Others updates on this will be added soon...
note that there is a second Spanish expedition led by the
famous climber Juan Oiarzabal. Our climbers in base
camp have not spoke about this expedition, and we
assume they are not yet at base camp. We are not
following receiving reports from the Juan Oiarzabal
EverestNews.com, I was in touch with Silvio Mondinelli
who reported that during their stop in Sheduwa - in
the approach march to Makalu BC - they were
caught by men armed with rifles and grenades who
claimed to be Maoists; they robbed some cameras,
binoculars and some money (5.000 rupees per person)
before they released them unharmed.
reported that also some kids were in the armed group.
It is the first time I hear of Maoists' to attack
tourists, especially in a so eastern part of Nepal,
having been more active in the western regions so far.
I guess that if this had to happen, it had to be
in the Arun Valley, since it is a very remote area
with very little connections to the rest of the
country and an almost absent police corp. Actually
Mondinelli's team was even alerted by the Kathmandu
agency this could occur during the approach. Now
everybody (a total of 20 persons) are in Makalu ABC,
fine and healthy. Weather is pretty good and
mountaineers are starting the climb. Best regards