NEWSLETTERS - Manaslu 2012

Newsletter #1210 October 2012

After the frantic packing at BC and our orderly departure to Samagon for one night and then the helicopter flight back out to Kathmandu, members have now all departed in one direction or another. Personal equipment was walked out by porters under the supervision of Lachhu, the Sherpas managed to take all the BC down apart from 4 large tents before the snow started falling again, and these loads were carried by local porters to my store in Samagon. The Sherpas then walked out to Kathmandu arriving last night, before they catch flights back to the Khumbu. So even though we thought that we were going to have an early summit and would all be on our way home before the end of the month, weather, snow conditions and external circumstances ensured that we were back just four days early according to our original program. This tends to suggest that we have a very small weather window in which to climb Manaslu in the Autumn, and that our early arrival is worth the effort as we see a pattern in the weather and snow conditions that we need to work around.

But as usual it has been a season of learning. For sure we are seeing a change in the route, but this makes some parts safer and other parts more dangerous, but in general, all mountains are dangerous so it is for us to take these points into account when we are pushing the route and placing camps. I have always placed 4 camps on this mountain, and this years massive avalanche reinsures me that this is the correct strategy. The first time I came to Manaslu 5 years ago we positioned C3 on the North Col, however this tends to be more windy, so not so pleasant to camp there. We then started camping just 100m lower in the shelter of a small ice cliff, but this is proving to be not a good place as we keep losing equipment that is buried by drifting snow. This year we once again went back to the col. This means taking a longer and more convoluted route from C2 to C3, but is for sure safer than where many other Sherpa teams continue to put the route.

Once again, despite the increased numbers on Manaslu this year, and dispute the normal "rope fixing meeting" several teams did nothing to contribute and as usual we ran out of rope and funds for this work. For the cost of just 100m of rope or $100 per person, we can make the rope fixing project efficient and fair to all members, and increase safety on the mountain. Even for people who say they are not going to use the rope, as they still climb in the same path that has been originally put in by the rope fixers. In the end this leads to various Sherpas being angry that they have not been compensated for their communal work, but in fact it is the companies who are absorbing these losses.

The team work by so many Sherpas and members from various teams at the time of the avalanche was tremendous, and for all those critics who say that Himalayan climbers are selfish and do not help one another, this was a clear demonstration to the contrary. There were so many people who selfishly put themselves in danger to carry out the unenviable task of searching and recovering bodies at the scene of the accident. They will all suffer in different ways, and this suffering will go largley un-noticed by many, but they should be proud of their work. The Himalayan Experience team at BC were not effected directly, so of course we were insulated from the hard reality of the avalanche. For many climbers and Sherpas, the avalanche spelled the end of their expedition, and rightfully so. For us we were fortunate to be able to continue. Since I first reported the numbers who died and were missing, I have now heard that one more person died in hospital in Kathmandu, and that one more body has been recovered, during a subsequent search, so this makes a total death toll of 10 and 2 missing a total of 12.

After I decided that conditions were not safe enough for Himalayan Experience members and staff to continue on Everest this Spring, I vowed to discuss various points with several organisations here in Nepal to ensure that we make progress towards better safety on Himalayan expeditions. So during the extra days that I have had here in Kathmandu, I have engaged in discussions with helicopter companies (including a debrief about the Manaslu rescue operation, and how to make such rescues better in the future), insurance companies, several local agents, the SPCC and most importantly with the Ministry Of Tourism who is charged with issuing expedition permits. The rules that govern expeditions are now 35 years old, and there are several clauses that are not appropriate to modern day mountaineering, and these rules effect our safety on the mountains. There is always a problem dealing with the Ministry, we had a similar meeting some two years ago, where there were many notes taken, there was a lot of head nodding and a promise to review the Rules and Regulations. However by the time that we came back to Nepal a few months later all of these officials had been changed, so nothing progressed. The Expedition Operators Association have been lobbying the Ministry for the last few months, as the Ministry has refused to pay back the Garbage Deposit to any of the Everest expeditions. But this seems to be moving forward in its normal corrupt way. To have Western participation along with the EOA seems to command a better hearing……but watch this space….. we will see if there is any progress. Thanks to Garret from Alpine Ascents International who also attended this meeting. At least the EOA will now accept the various Overseas Operators as associate members to the EOA, so some progress.

Topics discussed included the use of radios, satellite communications, trekkers staying at BC, long term staff staying at BC, garbage, helicopter landings, use of GPS, rope fixing and Liaison Officers.

The latter topic was of big interest after the accident on Manaslu. For many years we as operators have been asking the Ministry to supply 1 or 2 LO's at each BC of each mountain being climbed, and that these LO's would spend the entire season at the BC in order to resolve any issues. But as it happens, the Ministry continues to send one LO per team. Each team has to pay about $2,500 for their respective LO who may or may not actually turn up at BC, and then normally just long enough to get a photo and then disappear again. There were in excess of 30 teams on Manaslu this last season, so more than $75,000 was spent on LO's. In the event probably less than half of these LO's actually reached the BC. On the day of the avalanche there were 5 or 6 LO's staying in the camp, however immediately upon hearing that there was an accident they all ran down the hill back to Samagon so fast that there was a cloud of dust trailing behind them (despite that the trail was wet). Our own LO was in our kitchen tent getting ready to leave, but I asked him to have a good breakfast and to prepare to stay for a long day, as I would need him to communicate with the Ministry. But when I was not looking as I was on the helipad, he also ran away, so in effect we lost our means of communication with the Ministry, just the one time that we really needed this. I complain, but we do need to progress in the future, and to make more workable rules.

Finally many of my past clients received unsolicited publicity from one of my previous employees promoting his new services in competition with me. I am sorry for this, as Himalayan Experience does not promote in this way, and we especially do not use a stolen address list. My apologies for this unethical behaviour.

Now it is time to leave Kathmandu and get back to preparations for the coming Spring season on Everest and Lhotse.