Shop Eddie Bauer: Men Women Kids Outerwear Gear Sale
Melissa Arnot Descends From Camp I Amidst Avalanche Conditions
Posted on April 29, 2011

Story by Melissa Arnot; photos by David Morton and Melissa Arnot

“I don’t always feel lucky, but I am smart enough to try, because humility has buoyancy and above us only sky.”

This quote, from one of my favorite artists, is running through my mind as the wind whips the tent into my face for the 20th straight hour. I am at Camp I on Makalu, at 6,400 meters. I am inside of a tent that I inherited from Ed Viesturs in 2004, after he finished climbing all of the 8,000-meter peaks. The tent is single wall, built for function over comfort, and small (as in, my bathtub at home is bigger). A single wall tent means that I have to cook inside since there is no vestibule.

It has been snowing for the last 10 hours, and even venting the tent to cook results in a pile of snow accumulating on the floor. Everything is wet, either from my breath or the snow coming inside.

“I don’t always feel lucky, but I am smart enough to try.”

I think of all of the amazing things about being here. I am totally alone on the mountain. Dave went to base camp to get a load, and all the other teams (that is, the two other teams) have descended. This feeling is amazing. The vastness and the vulnerability are equal. I talk to myself out loud, knowing no one is anywhere near to hear me. In the afternoon, the snow lets up, and the wind dies enough for me to crawl out of the tent and dig out the accumulated snow. This is a beautiful scene; all of the peaks are out of the clouds, jutting into the sky like they have somewhere to be. The calm lasts a few minutes before the wind blows the new fallen snow into my face. Time to get back into the tent.

The climbing up to Camp I was beautiful, but the weather made it harder then expected. The final slope approaching the camp is steep and coated with blue ice, making the fixed lines a necessary anchor between the earth and me. As I spent three nights sleeping at Camp I, listening to the snow falling, I kept wondering if the steep slope below would be prone to avalanches. My answer came soon enough.

After my third night up high, Dave and I talked, and since he was feeling good we agreed he would meet me at the base of the face and we would head to base camp. We had spent enough time up high for now. I packed up our tent and tucked everything in so it would survive a few days up here without us. I literally took 10 steps from our tent and promptly fell into a crevasse up to my waist. It was just covered with enough snow that I couldn’t see it. I struggled to reach my ice axe and ascender to climb my way out—a reminder to be extra cautious on the descent.

Immediately as I crested the face, I could see Dave, more than 700 feet below, watching for me to safely descend. I had to dig out the fixed lines that were buried under snow, a task Dave had also done two days before me. Halfway down the slope, as expected, a small avalanche broke the top layer of snow from under my feet. I was glad that Dave and I had expected this, as I was securely anchored and backed up with him spotting me from below. Still, even that small amount of snow moving around you gets your heart beating. In what seemed like no time, I had rejoined Dave and we were headed, together, to base camp.

The things I am able to find gratitude in are simple, but they are important. They are the motivation to get me through the tough nights up high. I am thankful for my family and friends and the thoughts of being with them that fill my time and mind. I am thankful for seeing places in the world that few people see. I am thankful for the sweet treats that are in my snack bag (and the ones I steal from Dave’s), and the hot water bottle that I can tuck into my sleeping bag. And today, I am thankful to be at base camp on Makalu, in a tent that I don’t have to dig out of the snow, back with Dave, hoping to beat him at Scrabble again.

Author: - Friday, April 29th, 2011

  1. T-Dawg

    Great story, Melissa! Glad you are safe at BC. Crazy the last question I had was about crevasse. Guess that would be a YES, in that there are crevasse at Makalu. Be carefule up their!

  2. Harriett morton

    Melissa, I love the description of vulnerability as well as awe when you are completely alone there. On your return to base camp, I smile thinking of Dave spotting you from below. Best wishes for this next trip up.

  3. Lance Austin

    Mellisa, I’m glad to hear you made it down safe. It was amazing reading about your inner thoughts as you introspectively described them. I feel as though I went through some of the same internal battles that you did but on a much much much smaller scale. I was laying in my tent devoid of any sounds coming from my climbing partner or from the mountain. Just alone but feeling grateful for every moment. I hope you continue to have a successful and safe trip!! I will definitely be keeping an eye on your blog to hear about the rest of it!

Write A Comment

Sorry, no posts matched your criteria.