Sunset on Makalu

Sunset on Makalu letter

Sunset on Makalu letter

The photograph below was taken at about 5:30 p.m. on October 24, 1981 by Christopher Pizzo, M.D., a member of the American Medical Research Expedition to Everest. He had reached the summit of Mt. Everest at about noon with Sherpa Yong Tensing, and collected physical and physiological data there. On descent they were met at the 28,500 foot level by teammate Peter Hackett, M.D. who was climbing alone. After a brief conference, Hackett decided to make a solo attempt on the summit and Pizzo agreed to wait for him a bit lower on the ridge. Tensing descended to their camp at 26,500 feet to melt snow for hot drinks.

As darkness descended and with it the realization that neither of them would likely survive without the other, Pizzo completed another set of physiological measurements on himself and left instructions for the disposition of his data. At that time he also took this photo of the last rays of sun on the neighboring peaks.

Just then Hackett came into view above him, having summited himself over an hour before. They rendezvoused at around 5:45 and descended in the gathering darkness to the safety of their tent.

Makalu, at 27,766 feet, is the world’s fifth highest mountain. In the distance is Kangchenjunga, 28,169 feet, the third highest after Everest (29,028) and K2 (28,251).

The prominent ridge dividing light from shadow on Makalu also forms the border between Nepal on the right and Tibet on the left. Kangchenjunga is 80 miles east of Everest and lies on the border between Nepal and Sikkim.

john talking to Chris on Makalu

John talking to Chris on Makalu

Pizzo was carrying both a tape recorder and a hand-held radio to talk with John, who was at Camp II and was also keeping Base Camp informed of the events unfolding above.

A good record of the drama of that afternoon may be found in the 3-minute tape below, starting with Pizzo’s 3 o’clock dictation into his tape recorder while descending from the summit. This is followed by a radio exchange between John at Camp II and Pizzo, still very high. Next you will hear a very hypoxic Pizzo again dictating into his tape recorder, and finally a radio segment in which John informs Base Camp of the happenings high above.


Sunset on Makalu from Mt. Everest.

Sunset on Makalu from Mt. Everest.


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