NEWSLETTERS - Manaslu 2016

Manaslu Expedition #823 October 2016

23rd October 2016

Our return from Manaslu was without incident, all the loads were taken down to Samagon over two days and put into our store there, so the Sherpas were able to start their walk back out very quickly. The members spent one night in Samagon before climbing aboard the two helicopters which took them directly back to Kathmandu along with their personal equipment. There they spent two nights before heading back home to their respective partners, jobs and normal home life. I stayed in Ktm until the Sherpas had returned and made sure that they all got flights back to the Khumbu. Phurba Tashi was very anxious to be back home for the first year Puja after the death of his father, which is an important occasion. This he managed to do and he reports to me that it was a very good Puja.

The day before the team members and Sherpas were leaving BC for the summit push, we heard that the younger brother of Tenjing had died in Namche. This was a sudden shock and so we wondered what to do. In the end Tenjing, the other Sherpas and I decided that he would continue to climb, but that he would return to Ktm by helicopter with the members and then catch a flight back to Lukla the following day. But in the meanwhile Phurba and I organised money to get to his parents place for the Puja for his brother. This all seemed to work well and Tenjing was home in less time than if he had just left the expedition immediately and had started walking home. So a somewhat sad note to end the expedition on.

However what is even more sad has happened since the completion of the expedition to Manaslu this year. Really nothing to do with me, but I am unfairly implemented, only for trying to be of help on the fringes.

Apparently in Desnivel a Spanish publication and also on Explorersweb it incorrectly says that I organised for a Japanese team to throw away the equipment of Alberto Zerain and Federico Sanna on the East ridge of Manaslu. An absolutely outlandish claim that was never fact checked by any of the reporters who apparently interviewed Alberto. I really do not like it when various people do not tell the truth about their adventures, and it also seems to me that there are various reporters who also do not really care if they tell a true story or are able to distort the real facts just in order to make a more sellable story.

But just for the record maybe I can tell what happened from my side, just in case anybody is actually interested: Normally teams do not share Climbing Permits these days. Several years ago the cost of a Climbing Permit was on a sliding scale for the first 7 members and then it was the same price from 7 to a max of 15 members. However the MoT changed this so as there is one charge per person no matter how many members are in the team. This was to encourage each team to take responsibility of its own members, rather than passing this responsibility onto another leader. However there is still a difference in how the cost of the Liaison Officer is split, so larger teams pay less per person than does a small team.

So this season Parajuli Dumbar from Prestige Expeditions asked Himalayan Experience if we would mind accepting 4 members onto our team to try and help this small 4 person team. Normally I would not accept to do this, but as I spend a lot of time working with Parajuli as he is the President of the Expedition Operators Association (EOA) I figured that I would try to help him, and his 4 members. As I have already mentioned, the cost of the permit stays the same, but the cost of the LO which is $3,500 can be reduced by the number on the team.

$3,500 divided by the 4 x Prestige team would be $875 per person
$3,500 divided by the 7 x Himex team would be $500 per person
$3,500 divided by the 11 x combined team would be $318 per person

So by the Prestige team members joining the Himex team I actually helped each of those members by $557 per person.

Now this is all not a problem so long as everyone goes the same way and there are no complaints and there are no accidents, this is the risk that I have to take as the actual Climbing Permits stated leader. But when someone wants to change route from the stated route, then this does cause a problem with the MoT and the LO. And this is what happened on this occasion. Despite Federico spending considerable time in my camp visiting Juan Pablo, he never introduced himself to me and never mentioned that he was going to try a different route. However when I did find out that he and Alberto had gone up on the East Ridge, I did go to the Prestige Base Camp to discuss this with the members. There I met Mariano Galvan and Valerio Annovazzi both from Italy, we said hello but I never said anything about why I had come to meet the team. Of course I also mentioned that the Spanish and Argentinean climbers were on a different route to Parajuli, but in this email to him I also mentioned that I did not really think that it would be a problem so long as these guys kept quiet, and did not have an accident as there were no Liaison Officers at the BC. Apparently Parajuli did call their friends and sponsors and discussed this with them, and suggested that they get another separate permit. But in the end they did nothing about that.

But now the real problem comes about, although I never mentioned anything about these climbers being on a different route, (and I have ample opportunity to do so via my normal newsletters), however they themselves want to be great hero’s and want to make publicity about their “new climb”. Now that does not go down very well with the MoT making publicity when in fact climbing illegally. But still I did nothing about this, I did not approach either climber, I did not visit the teams BC. However I did watch their activities very closely through my telescope, why, well because effectively I am responsible for them, so I also need to know where they are in case something does go wrong.

I can only describe what I observed:

Now I did see the two of them going up to a camp which I would have thought was their C2. This was at the top of a large snow slope (that actually avalanches regularly) and stopped just under a very large bergschrund. It seems that they made a camp here which is an obvious place to do so, but this was still a considerable distance below the East Ridge where the Japanese team was climbing. It seems that they both came back down to BC from this camp due to bad weather. Now the next time that anyone went back on this route I was surprised to see only one climber, and this turned out to be Federico. At the time that I saw him he was now a considerable distance along the bergschrund where he could obviously cross and get onto the snow slope above so as he could gain the true East Ridge. Now if Alberto had gone back up to this camp and had then decided to go back to BC I have no idea.

But to say that I had called the Japanese team to tell them to throw this camp away is ridiculous. To start I have no idea who the Japanese team was, although I do understand that they were from a Tokyo University. I had absolutely no contact with this team by telephone, radio or even by semaphore (a very old way we were able to communicate by flags in my early days of Boy Scouts). But also there is no way that the Japanese would have spent considerable time, effort and manpower to descend to a camp that I suspect that they did not even know existed...just to throw it away. So somebody is telling lies !!!

Now when I did see the lone climber, climbing above the bergschrund and almost on the ridge, 5 of the Japanese climbers were still above him and had spent the night in a camp just a few meters from where Alberto joined their route. The very strong Japanese climbers had spent the previous day climbing higher and had been right across that main Manaslu face under the very large ice cliffs that are at the top of the face. In fact they had been so far across the face that they almost joined the normal route just under where the normal C4 is located. The Japanese seemed to deposit some equipment there before returning to this high camp on the ridge in the dark the night before. But in any case, Federico was moving very slowly up as all 5 of the Japanese descended, I assume to their BC as then bad weather came in that afternoon. Of course with this bad weather which lasted for all afternoon and the following day I could see nothing. But early the following day I saw lights just a short way up from where the Japanese had stayed a few nights earlier, so I can only assume that Federico must have stayed at or near this camp. But I do not even know if there was a tent there or not. However I watched the antagonising slow progress of Federico as he continued to climb up towards the rock and snow face just to the left of the ice cliffs. He seemed to spend more time sitting down than actually climbing and was not showing any of the strength of this so call legendary altitude climber so I suspect that there must have been something wrong. He took more than 5 hours to travel less than 200m, and then early afternoon he decided to stop by some rocks where he prepared to stay for the night.

Again on the morning of 01 Oct I looked all over for Federico and at first I could not find him, and thought that maybe he had climbed during the night and was now out of sight, although I could not see any new tracks. Then I eventually found him, but just a short distance higher but further right, and now directly under the ice cliffs above. I could see where he was aiming, a weakness between the rocks and the ice cliffs, but this route will not go easily unless we have very special dry conditions as the snow is far too deep. And this is exactly what Federico was experiencing, and he was often waist deep in snow. By this time even his cooks and BC staff had come over to my camp to see how he was progressing as they were all very worried about him. Eventually, and too all our reliefs he turned around and started heading towards the normal C3 on the North Col. A short time later Juan Pablo from our team who had been to the summit and had returned to C4 was now on the way down to C3 and he also saw Federico and wanted to “run over” and “rescue” him. Of course that would have taken many hours and I told JP to just keep going down to C3. They in fact both reached C3 at almost the same time and so JP did walk out about 50m to “Rescue his hero Federico” giving him his (or is it mine) oxygen, water and food. They both went down to our C2 together with JP talking nonstop.

Now with Federico safely off the mountain I no longer bothered any more about him or the Prestige team, until some others actually pointed out the interview with Alberto. Now these people who want to do something new, surely gain my respect and support.... that is what I did when I was younger... But if they want to be hero’s at the same time, then they also need to consider how to do this legally like all the rest of us operators have to do. You cannot just go flouting the laws of countries and then go about make false comments about others. Especially when in fact those others were in fact also helping in a very quiet unsuspecting way. And journalists should also do some fact checking before they make articles public. Enough from me about this.

What sort of ladder is this?

And only goes halfway

But on another point about telling the truth. As I had already mentioned in my newsletters, Seven Summits had the contract to do the rope fixing on Manaslu this year. I tried to be positive in my reporting about their progress on the mountain. As I mentioned, I have been in this position of fixing rope for many years and I know that it is very easy to criticise from afar, but it is much harder to actually do the rope fixing. But I did mention that Seven Summits continually told us lies about how they were progressing with the rope fixing. Again this telescope of mine allows us to see what is actually going on in so much detail. So when Seven Summits tell us they are just below C4 and I actually see that they are just below C3 I figure that there is something wrong. We did go and complained that they had fixed the rope in the wrong place between C2 and C3, and they said that they would change this.....but never did. I did complain about the way they had fixed the ladders between C1 and C2 and they told me on many occasions that they would replace these.....but never did.....and I know of people who fell off. And before our teams left C4 to go to the summit we asked if they had fixed rope to the main summit and they told us that they we never took any extra rope. But in fact they had not fixed to the main summit. They fixed to the final ridge...but not the main summit.

So in fact for a second year in a row.... nobody actually reached the true summit of Manaslu Despite Seven Summits making big claims that so many of their members and Sherpas reached the summit of Manaslu... they told lies and none of their members reached the summit. Nor did anyone else.

But what is even worse...I have heard that one of the Japanese members from the East Ridge trip actually tried to continue the last 20m or so from where the fixed ropes finished to the real main summit and fell to his death through the cornice. That is why we have been so careful fixing this very last 20m in the years that we have fixed rope on Manaslu, we know that this section is very dangerous. Now a man has needlessly died because those in charge of fixing this year never completed the job. Why does this team continue to try and drag us operators down to their low level of Nepal safety standards rather than try to aspire to raise these standards to an internationally recognised level.

Why when we discuss with their Sherpas that if they fix cheap Indian ladders the way they do, they will break, so we need to fix in a more secure way...but they just look at you with hatred and go off and do things their way. We all put a huge effort into trying to help Nepal and the people of Nepal, but sometimes corruption and greed gets in the way and so Nepal does not progress. How sad.

But hey...let’s look forward to the next Everest season, let’s see if we can make this safer and more successful. In the meanwhile we have a trip to Vinson, and I am also going to attempt Aconcagua.

Regards Russ