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Aspenite summits world’s fifth-highest peak

Todd Hartley

Three Aspen mountaineers made several attempts to conquer the 27,820-foot tall Makalu in Nepal last month. Only one – Dave Bridges – finally reached the summit on May 16.

The mountaineers were part of a 10-member team that traveled to the Himalaya Mountains to attempt the world’s fifth-highest mountain. Makalu is also widely regarded as one of the world’s most difficult 8,000-meter peaks.

The Aspen team consisted of Bridges, an instructor with Aspen Paragliding; Chris Davenport, a professional free skier; and Bob “Slowman” Sloezen, a climbing guide and ski instructor at Aspen Highlands.

The Aspen climbers were part of the joint American-Australian 1999 Makalu Expedition. They were accompanied by Cherie Silvera of Aspen-based American Adventure Productions, who was there to film a documentary on the expedition.

A 12-day trek brought the climbers to base camp on April 10. They established three camps on the mountain, the highest at 26,000 feet.

After finishing the camps, the team became stranded at base camp when bad weather and high winds moved into the area, adding to the complexities of an already difficult ascent of Makalu.

“Makalu has some really tough, technical climbing above 8,000 meters,” said Bridges. “So it doesn’t get climbed very often.”

Bridges said that many 8,000-meter peaks, such as Everest, don’t require a vast array of technical skills. And they also don’t suffer from the winds that regularly howl around Makalu.

“It would be so windy on Makalu you couldn’t climb,” he said, “and meanwhile people were summiting Everest just 10 miles away.”

After two aborted summit attempts, the team was finally able to take advantage of a brief break in the weather on May 16. Climbing without supplementary oxygen, Bridges and Australian Michael Groom, a veteran

Himalayan climber, made their way up the mountain’s northwest ridge and reached the summit at noon.

Sloezen and Davenport were halted at 24,500 feet in an area known as the Makalu-la, but were instrumental in the overall success of the expedition, said Bridges.

Bridges carried a video camera with him on the climb and was able to shoot about 40 minutes of footage above 8,000 meters, including some shots on the summit.

The documentary of the climb will air this fall on the Outdoor Life Network.


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