NEWSLETTERS - Manaslu 2010

Newsletter 25 September 2010

A wet glimpse of base camp

Samagoan, 5 September 2010 - The Himex Manaslu team is finally reunited after most of the members had taken a helicopter to the village of Samagoan on Sunday, 29 August, and Monica, Lacchu, Phurba Tashi and I had walked all the way from the roadside town of Arughat. The heli team was very lucky with the weather as Sunday was about the only day when it was clear enough fly to the village, which is perched in the midst of steep hills at an altitude of 3,530m.

“The flight was amazing and I could not believe the stunning scenery and the astonishingly green fields below us,” said Mat from Perth. The Himex team set up their temporary home, the last camp before settling down at base camp at 4,700m, at the very top of the village in a green field, which is currently becoming more of a swamp with all the rain that has been falling in the past few days.

While the walk-in team was enjoying amazing views, great hospitality and delicious meals of Dhal Bhat (the Nepali staple diet consisting of rice and lentils) for five days, the crew at Samagoan used their time to explore the area around the village. “I love being in a new area. It is so beautiful and even though I really like the Everest region, where I have been many times, it is very refreshing to see different ethnic groups and a completely different scenery,” said two-times Everest summitteer Ellen Miller from Vale in the United States.

It was also interesting to walk to Samagoan and see the huge potential of the Manaslu Trek, however, a lot has to be done to make this beautiful area a full-on trekking region. “Some of the teahouses are still very basic and one night we had to sleep on a bed that simply consisted of a plank,” said Monica stretching her back.

The variety of food was also pretty simple as the only meal we were served was Dhal Bhat, which is not necessarily a bad thing. “Dhal Bhat comes in so many different varieties. Sometimes the lentils were black, sometimes green and sometimes yellow, and sometimes it came with tomato sauce, sometimes with vegetables and sometimes with meat,” Monica, who utterly enjoyed her big portions of the Nepali meal, explained.

As it is still very early in the trekking season, we did not see any other western tourists and when I asked Phurba Tashi, our Sirdar and Russell’s right hand, whether it felt weird for him to come here rather than stomping around his home turf, the Everest region, he said: “The people here are very nice and friendly but I also feel like a bit of a tourist.”

Finally on Thursday, the whole group was reunited and it was great to see the good team spirit between all the members, the guides and the Nepali staff. As most of our climbing Sherpas are still on their way from Kathmandu to Samagoan, Lacchu, Phuri and Kur Bahadur are making our lives as comfortable as possible by waking us up with a hot towel, serving us bed tea at 7am and cooking delicious meals for us. And of course there is Russell, who is always very good at entertaining the team with stories about the good old times as he is like an encyclopedia when it comes to climbing tales from Nepal.

Work for the village

On Friday morning, we woke up to blue skies and sunshine –the first time since everyone had arrived in Samagoan – and it seemed like the perfect day to go on an acclimatisation trip to base camp and transport a large part of our gear to set up camp.

“We have 100 barrels to go up today, another 100 tomorrow and approximately another 30 the next day,” Adrian, one of our guides, explained. For the villagers of Samagoan, the expedition season brings work and money to their community. “We involve the whole village and one or more members of every household are helping us carry our gear to base camp,” he continued.

The loads are 30kg each and Himex pays 1,500 rupees per load. Some of the loads are carried by one member, usually the strongest of the family, and others are split between husbands, wives, aunts, uncles, cousins, children etc. If a household gets more than 30kg we pay an excess fee per kilogram,” Russell explained.

The transport of the gear, which consists of food (about 3 tons), tents, climbing gear, communication equipment, tables, chairs, climbing gear etc. is organised by Phurbu, who is the main coordinator of the village. “We have used this system before but this year the villagers gave me a typed list with all the names of the people who would work for us. They are quickly learning here in Samagoan and it is good to see that they are benefiting from the commercial expeditions that come here,” said Russell.

This is Himex’s third year on Manaslu* and after having come here for the first time in 2008, Russell noticed that the path to base camp, which is very steep and strenuous, was in a bad condition and could actually be a hazard for many porters. For this reason, Himex has already given 200,000 rupees (around 2,500 USD) to the local community to improve the path and this generous contribution has certainly been used for the right thing. “It is amazing to see how much the trail has improved since last year,” Adrian said on our way up. This year, Himex is donating another 100,000 rupees for the improvement of the path, and Russell has just agreed with other teams to pay 1,000 rupees per climbing member to the community for building a little bridge to cross the raging river, which is on the way to base camp.

A wet day

As mentioned before, our trek to base camp started off in the basking sunshine and some of our team members even braved the steep approach in shorts, however, the joy of warmth and sunshine did not last very long. “I got to about halfway when I had to exchange my shorts with thermals and water-proof trousers,” said Aaron from Utah. This was certainly for the better as the weather had turned very cold, windy and wet and it was very different from hiking in the dry weather of the Everest region. “This is like walking in Scotland, it is horrible,” a soaked Monica lamented. And the rain did not stop for the rest of the day.

It took the team about four hours to reach base camp, where they had a snack, a quick look around and those who still had some dry clothes in their packs, had a change of clothes before we descended back to Samagoan, which was more of a mudslide than a smooth descent. The river crossings, which were already pretty iffy on the way up, had become even more treacherous as the rivers had swollen due to the relentless rain that had been falling since about 10am.

Some of the villagers were still on their way up when we were coming down and we were worried about their descent, however, it all went well and everyone arrived back in the village safe and sound. And despite the rain, the Himex team seems in good spirit and is certainly looking forward to getting further up the hill.

Phurba Tashi, Adrian and Woody stayed at base camp to set up the tents for our arrival on Sunday, however, our departure from Samagoan has been delayed for another day as it is currently impossible to send anyone up carrying a load. “It has been raining all night and the trail, even though it has improved, is too slippery. Crossing the rivers would also be too dangerous for the villagers so we will have to wait for another day,” said Russell.

While Adrian, Woody and Phurba Tashi are working hard to set up our base camp at 4,700m, we are tucked up in our tents waiting for the rain to stop so we can finally dry our all our wet gear and get ready to ascend to base camp. Our Puja (the Buddhist ceremony for good luck on the mountain) is planned for 12 September and we hope that, like last year, the weather will improve once the local lama will have blessed our expedition. But until then we might have to put up with the rain and keep our positive attitude despite the continuous rain that does not want to stop.

Once we have set up base camp and all our communication equipment it will also be easier to send the newsletter on a more regular basis, however, in the meantime I hope you will enjoy the news I am able to send you from Samagoan.

Before I close, I would like to inform you that Dominik from the UK had to leave the expedition for personal reasons. It was sad to see him go so early in the season and we wish him all the best for his arrival back home.

* In 2008, one guide, three members and five Sherpas summitted Manaslu with Himex and in 2009, two guides, four members and five Sherpas reached the summit with Himex.