Newsletter #49 September 2013
We are all acclimatising well and being on the mountain early in the climbing season helps everyone to adjust to altitude. We all enjoy the morning walks that are a good training exercise and a great way to discover the valley. The surroundings are not new to all of us as Stuart has already trekked through these high routes before and Susumu is on his second attempt of Manaslu with Himalayan Experience. We leave the village after breakfast and head uphill on the other side of the river through thick vegetation and muddy trails towards a nearby waterfall. As the clouds are reaching us, the drizzle starts to fall and most of us have to shelter underneath huge umbrellas. We definitely got soaked but we enjoyed the time taking photos and sharing stories together.
The valley is recovering from decades of timber trade with China. For many years, the main income of the valley was the supply of wood to Tibet. This neighbour that shares its borders with Nepal to the North does not benefit from the monsoon rains coming from the Indian ocean as clouds tumble onto the Himalayan peaks, leaving Tibet dry, hence no vegetation and exposed to strong winds. Samagon local population has cut its forest to a level that has dramatically damaged the environment. Trees no longer retained the water of the heavy monsoon rains and flooding becomes a major concern. Endemic plant species and the natural habitat of protected species like the Musk Deer or the Assamese Monkey have become endangered. The government along with conservation programs banned the trade of timber to Tibet and enforced an education program to help preserving the incredible biodiversity of the region. Education of women helped to provide better understanding of the richness of the mountains, they gathered in organisations and slowly got their children out of the field to bring them to school instead. Women now have a great impact on decision making for the protection of the valley whether on cultural or ecological changes, initiating projects about trail and bridge maintenance, micro-hydo construction and school support. 'The ban had a greater benefit to the valley, as the Head master of the Sama school likes to demonstrate 'it has contributed to stop the import of bad quality alcohol from China that was responsible for sudden deaths and the increase of health problems. With the first expeditions coming into the valley, drinking and gambling problems became a major social issue, pulling families apart. Women took many important initiatives for the village, urging men to stop drinking and gambling.'
Today we take another walk to higher altitude. We pass through the old village on the slippery trail, climb up across the deep forest and follow the banks of an impressive ragging torrent. As we get higher, a thick mist shrouds the landscape. Russell is walking ahead, leading the way, cracking jokes at every snack stop on the way. In early afternoon, we reach a tiny monastery where a Tibetan monk in traditional clothes is standing by the door. He knew we were coming. A few branches of juniper are burnt and we are invited inside the monastery for photos. It is cold and damp, the lunch break doesn't last long and we slowly head back to the camp for the afternoon tea. At dinner, Russell likes to refer to the old days when he was fixing ropes with the Sherpas on those high altitude routes. Although Sherpa lacked technical skills at that time, they proved their high altitude ability and in jest always made him carry the last coil of rope to the high point. With this bonding, he recalls how he has been able to teach them about safety and rescue operations. He shows pride when he refers to Phurba, his lead Sherpa that he has been to the summit of Everest 21 times, giving him the ability to be recognised by his community, his people and far beyond the scope of Nepal when he gets invited to Europe to make speeches about his personal story. Russ introduces us to what is now 'his' close team, a team that has become the backbone of Himalayan Experience, all working around a single objective, safety, safety, safety.
Nima Sherpa is the last add on to the team. It is a young 30 year old expedition Doctor originated from the Kumjung region of Nepal. Nima is an outgoing young professional that studied in a medical school in China and travelled to the US to study Wilderness First Respond training in Wyoming. After his graduation, he flew back to Kathmandu and worked in a private hospital near Buddhanath. He first met Russell in 2012 at Everest Base Camp, introduced by Phurba. Russell interviewed him and asked Nima to be part of the Himalayan Experience team as the Expedition Doctor on the 2012 Manaslu expedition. It was his first experience in the field with Himalayan Experience and a chance to prove his skills. 'I was at Camp One when the avalanche struck last year. I received an early morning call from Russell asking me to come back to Base Camp to help with the rescue operations. We set up a medical facility at the helipad for the initial treatment of the rescued climbers before sending them to the Himalayan Experience medical tent for further treatment, warmth and oxygen. It was a long day' he says with a long sigh. Today, he feels excited to come back to Manaslu again with Himalayan Experience 'I have performed the first medical check up with all the members and everyone is in an optimistic mood and is in good shape. That is good!' He now plans to perfect his knowledge and has applied for a 2 months scholarship in the US to learn about travel related diseases, vaccination and travel medical advice. 'I'd like to work on the mountain as often as I can to practice medicine in a mountain environment.'
Caroline from Manaslu BC
The Himalayan Experience team has been very fortunate in the last few days. On the 29th we flew in to Samagon by helicopter, which was the day planned, then the rain came during our acclimatisation in the village but on the day we walked to Base Camp, it was clear and dry. The rain returned but on our first day we wanted to go to Camp1, it was perfectly clear. This clear day, not only enabled us to established Camp1 and for all members to take a day trip for acclimatisation, but also allowed me to see the mountain for the first time this season. As usual, I was looking at the various indicator slopes so as I could make an opinion about the safety of the slopes and the route to be taken. Of course, I am particularly concerned after the heavy monsoon season and the large avalanche last year. What I observed, in my opinion is that it has actually been raining to high altitude hence the lower slopes are washed clean of snow up to about Camp 1. Higher on the mountain, it appears that no so much snow has fallen during the monsoon. Surprisingly, the large avalanche last year, I thought at the time, had released loaded snow in a bowl below the upper icecliffs, however what I see this year is that the avalanche actually went to ground and is now exposing rock similar to the main slope a little further to viewers left of the route. In my opinion, this is actually making our route a little safer however caution must still be expected. I also observed two smaller avalanches in locations that I would expect to see each year. Both of these have small headwalls which would also indicate that there has not been a lot of snow this monsoon season. I can also still see some of the larger blocks from the 2012 avalanche around the camp 2 area. Further more, I can still see indication of the trail from last year leading to the North Col. I have attached photos to explain the above.