Newsletter 513 September 2011
Back down in the rain
After having spent three nights at Camp I at 5,570m (18,300ft) and climbed a bit higher for acclimatization purposes, the Himalayan Experience team has come safely down the mountain and is now back at base camp. The first acclimatization rotation went well, however, due to the unusual high temperatures, the eighth highest mountain in the world is posing a few challenges this year. “The fact that the temperatures have been very mild this season makes finding the right route more difficult this year,” said our guide Adrian.
“Our Sherpa team has done a great job at fixing the rope up to Camp II but they had a hard time placing the gear due to the soft snow,” he continued. Due to the difficult conditions, Adrian, Phurba Tashi and Lahkpa Nuru went back to Camp I a day after our first acclimatization rotation to find a better route for our team – and they were successful. “I am very happy with the new route as it is not as exposed to seracs and it is not as steep,” Adrian explained on his return.
The acclimatization rotation started on Thursday after lunch, when we left our comfortable base camp in glorious weather and walked up to Camp I, which was set up by our Sherpa team and consists of a large mess tent and 15 dome tents. The Himalayan Experience camp is a little bit lower than the traditional Camp I due to the fact that it is a more spacious and comfortable site. During the first night at the higher altitude, some members were more exhausted than others but on the whole, the team was doing well. “There are a few headaches around but it is normal when you spend your first night at such a high altitude,” Monica, our doctor, explained. “Tomorrow, all they got to do is rest and give their bodies the chance to acclimatize to the higher elevation,” she continued.
On Friday, the team woke up to glorious sunshine and most members were up at the crack of dawn doing some camp improvement. Some spent the day cutting out little stairs leading up to their tents while others were building a high wall around our toilet spot. At every camp above base camp, all Himalayan Experience members, guides and Sherpas use so-called ‘wag bags’. This means that everyone carries their own human waste back down to base camp, from where they are taken to the nearby village of Samagoan and are put into a landfill.
Other than the few building activities, the day was spent with doing very little exercise to give our bodies a chance to acclimatize. Only our guide Adrian and Sergey from Russia, who are planning to ski down from the summit, went for a little stroll and managed to do a few turns from 5,800 (19,000ft). “It is tough skiing up here as the snow is pretty challenging, but it was still fun,” Adrian said. But the real highlight of the day came at 4pm when one of our Sherpas, Ang Tshering, arrived with a pizza delivery from base camp. “Who would have thought that the pizza delivery service also worked on Manaslu,” said a happy Herbert, who was lucky enough to grab two pieces.
The plan for the following day was to follow the rope fixing Sherpas to Camp II for more acclimatization however, due to heavy snowfall during the night, we abandoned the plan due to potential avalanche danger. “I think it would have been too dangerous for the Sherpas to go up and fix the rope, so we should wait another day,” Russell told us over the radio from base camp. With the weather improving during the morning, the group went for a short walk to about 5,800m (19,000ft), which was a good outing and certainly good for our acclimatization.
On Sunday morning at about 6am, the Sherpas arrived at Camp I and continued up the mountain to get the route ready for the members, who were planning to climb towards Camp II. “We have to be careful with the rope fixing as the heat makes the snow slushy and it is difficult to fix good anchors,” our Sirdar Phurba Tashi explained. But despite the difficult conditions, our team of experienced Sherpas did a very good job with the rope fixing, making the route safe for our clients. “Finally, this feels like proper mountaineering. I feel more like a climber than a trekker,” said Francis of Walking with the Wounded (WWTW). “I have had my best ever day in the mountains, or maybe even in my life,” Wisey, also a wounded soldier, agreed. Some of our members had reached an altitude of about 6,150m while others had got to about 5,900m, when we bumped into our Sherpas, who were coming down from Camp II. “I don’t think you should carry on climbing as it is too hot and moving underneath the seracs could be dangerous in this heat,” Phurba Tashi told us.
Listening to our experienced sirdar, we decided to turn back and get off the mountain before it was getting too hot. On the way down, I was watching how Jaco from WWTW was managing the ropes with one arm and I was very impressed. “Balancing can be a bit difficult and I need more time than the others, but in general, I am fine,” he said. Most of the descent is done by ‘arm wrapping’, for which the climber has to wrap the rope around one arm to descend. “Arm rapping can be a bit difficult for me as well, as my burnt skin is very sensitive and gets easily damaged by the rope. If it is quick, abseiling is easier for me,” said Karl, whose skin was badly burnt in a petrol bomb in Iraq.
We were just about to abseil down a steep section, when we heard Wisey on the radio reporting that he had slipped into a crevasse. “I am absolutely fine, as I am clipped to the fixed rope but I am having trouble getting out again,” he called over the radio. Our guide Brian, who was nearby, quickly went down and helped him get out of his dilemma. “The problem this year is that the snow is very soft and the snow bridges that cover the crevasses are sometimes not strong enough to hold the climbers,” Russell explained. “Our Sherpas are working hard to find the best possible route. Safety comes first for our clients and the fact that the rope was in place to hold Wisey shows the experience and expertise of our Sherpa team,” he continued.
All members, guides and Sherpas were back down at base camp for a late lunch in the rain on Sunday. “It has been raining for the past three days and getting enough sun to charge all the electrical equipment for our team has been quite a challenge,” Russell said referring to the fact that all the power supply at base camp is generated by solar power.
The plan for the next couple of days is to rest at base camp, before the team heads back up the mountain to sleep at Camp II and ‘tag’ Camp III at 6,800m (22,440ft). For our Sherpas the rest period will probably be a bit shorter as they are heading back up soon to fix the rope and prepare the route to Camp III.
Billi Bierling at Manaslu Base Camp