NEWSLETTERS - Manaslu 2008

Newsletter 111 September 2008

On the Hill and Moving

Hard to believe it has already been two weeks since our Manaslu team met for the first time in Kathmandu. The last two weeks has been a whirlwind of organizing gear and people, and progressively moving from Kathmandu to Pokhara to Sama Gaon to Manaslu Base Camp, and finally onto the mountain itself. Here are a few highlights from these last fourteen days that now find us poised to begin sleeping and climbing high on the hill.

Kathmandu at the end of August was still rainy with the finish of the monsoon. But with almost no other tourists or trekkers yet in town, it was a great time to visit the famous Buddhist and Hindu temples like Bodhanath, Pashupatinath, and Syambunath. The 12 of us (9 members and 3 guides) also enjoyed as many great meals as we could before leaving. From there we used the first of numerous forms of transport to begin our approach to Manaslu. On August 30th we took a 30 minute plane ride in our own private team plane to the city of Pokhara. West of Kathmandu, Pokhara is much quieter, and was a great place to spend two days while waiting for the clouds to lift and rain to abate.

From the closest road, it takes seven hard days to trek into Manaslu basecamp, and we had heard from locals in the area that heavy rains meant the trail was washed out in numerous places, as well as being very muddy and frequented by countless leeches. Based on this information, we made the decision to fly by helicopter to the final village below Manaslu, Sama Gaon. And on our third morning in Pokhara, the clouds lifted and allowed us to fly. The 40 minute flight by Russian M-17 helicopter was stunning, if you could squeeze your way close to a window. Each of three flights for our team carried up to 2500 kilograms (5500 lb) of gear and people, so most of the windows were blocked by barrels, ladders, kit bags, or legs of yak - all of the supplies we would need for up to 5 weeks on the mountain.

Sama Gaon, sitting at 3,600 metres (11,800 feet), is a village out of Nepal's past. Despite aid projects that had brought a non-functioning satellite dish and a dozen bare lightbulbs run off solar panels, the village and people are almost solely agricultural. Since this part of Nepal is only recently seeing tourists again after years of being labelled a Maoist area, it was fantastic to interact with the local children, porters, and monks from the nearby gompa. We easily passed 4 days of acclimatization while visiting the monasteries, reputed hot springs (which we never found) and some of the hanging valleys above the village.

And then, Base Camp! During our acclimatization, local porters carried upwards of two hundred 35 kilogram (75 lb) loads to Manaslu Base Camp, and our team of Sherpas spent the days building what is easily the most comfortable and impressive camp on the mountain. The four hour walk up to 4,750 metres (15,600 feet) was easily worth the challenge, as we were welcomed with hot showers, fresh baked bread and cakes, access to internet, and even the occasional glass of red wine with dinner. Don't let anyone tell you we suffer while at a Himex basecamp!

Despite all these comforts, we have been getting serious about the mountain over the past 4 days. After a Puja blessing ceremony led by a local lama under blue skies and inspiring views of our planned route and Manaslu's false pinnacle summit, the Sherpas began moving loads up to Camp 1, and with the help of Himex's guides and a strong Austrian guide, pushed the route through what might well be the technical and routefinding crux - the icefall between Camps 1 and 2. This section of the route included steep neve climbing, wandering through serac towers, and even some ladders over unavoidable crevasses. It was one of my best days of adventure in quite some time.

At the same time, the members of our team climbed with Russell to Camp 1, making their first real foray onto the mountain. The route to Camp 1 includes rock slabs, crevassed glacier, and even some small ice steps to negotiate, and was a good challenge for all. Camp 1, at 5,700 metres (18,700 feet), is an accomplishment in itself and offers amazing views of the surrounding peaks, basecamp, and our planned climbing route as high as Camp 4. It was a full day round trip back to basecamp, and we are enjoying a well deserved rest day today - eating our cook Lacchu's creations, drinking lots of coffee, and reorganizing to move back up the hill, this time to sleep for 1 or 2 nights in Camp 1. All of the team is healthy, and looking forward to this next challenge.

Check back soon for details from Camp 1, and, if weather allows, Camp 2!

Adrian Ballinger, Manaslu BC