NEWSLETTERS - Manaslu 2013

Newsletter #719 September 2013

The Sherpas are rushing back down from Camp 1 and we follow the route down to Base Camp for a couple of days of rest. The weather is turning back to freezing drizzle and chilly wind. Nothing dries. Tents are cold and damp. At dinner, Russell takes pleasure to narrate his daring experiences around the world like a little kid sharing the Brothers Grim adventures. He does not hesitate to scratch some personalities and to give his personal perception of some climbing records. He is caustic, entertaining and it keeps us warm when shared with a great leg of lamb roast and a few glasses of red wine.

A plan is set, another day of rest and then we will be climbing to Camp1 again. We will spend the night at altitude and touch Camp 2 before coming back to Base Camp for 2 days of rest. The weather forecast is good and the Lama from Samagon has come to the camp today for the traditional Puja ceremony. From early in the morning, the Sherpas have been preparing the Stupa, a raised-squared-rocked edifice from where prayer flags are deployed throughout the surrounds of the camp and where juniper is burnt. Relics, drums, bowls and offerings have their specific place for this special Buddhist ceremony filled with offerings, chantings and mantra recitations to guard us from the fearful demons haunting the mountain. Climbing gear is deposited around the Stupa along with pastries, fruits, flowers and a bottle of fine whisky, all symbolising the 5 senses that should enable us to climb with humble, respect and reverence to the mountain. The old Lama chants ancient mantras in traditional language while his young assistant is presenting the offerings. Sit in line facing the mountain, we embrace the solemnity of the moment filled with respect. The bell resonates and Purba Tashi is asked to stand up with a kitchen knife in one hand and offerings raised in the air to threaten all evils. There were a few hidden laughs from the Sherpa crew, but it seems to work! The sky suddenly opens and the Manaslu peaks appear from the clouds. Rice is thrown in the air, sweet offerings and alcohol are shared among us and the ceremony ends with a dance performed by the Sherpas. We are all good to climb now!

The team spirit is at its highest peak and we form a good group of well-fed and cared climbers sharing personal stories at dinners while listening to good music. Russell and the guides have organised a training session on our last day of rest to get familiar with our abseiling devices and the ascender. Nice little toys on the harness, but we should be able to use them with confidence when on the mountain. Under Russell's supervision, we firmly grip the rope to climb the 15 metre training slope. Our show has attracted attention and members from other camps start to take pictures or to film our 'monkey business' on the rocky slopes.

The Gods are with us, it is a bright sunny day for our day trip to Camp 1. Russell has planned that we reach Camp 2 to let the body adapt to altitude. We are all excited to leave Base Camp, ready for the challenge. After an early lunch, we pass Crampon Point and walk along the glacier. Within a few hours, the group arrives at Camp 1 where the tents are lined up facing the glacier tongue and the green valley. No headache, just the pleasure to be here.

05.30 am, the first rays of sun touch the tents. Gear is checked, water bottles are filled, crampons are on and the radio communication with Base Camp is tested ... Our guides, Hiro, followed by the Japanese group, Bruce and Shinji lead the way to the impressive glacier that towers in front of us. A few days earlier, with difficulty, the Sherpas had found the way through the changing glacier and fixed ropes with pickets and anchors along the muddle of ice, crevasses and seracs. A second rope was put down to ensure an up and down route between the camps. The work requires close team work between Russell and his Sherpas which includes knowledge of the terrain, experience of the mountain and an intimate feeling to find a way on that mountain reputed for its high avalanche risk. On several occasions, Purba and his team, guided by Russell watching from Base Camp with the binoculars, had to refine the route to manage the safest way across the massive glacier. Our ascent is long and strenuous. We repeatedly have to clip the Jumar on the ropes to pass icy obstacles and open crevasses. We follow in line, walking in slow pace on the hanging glacier. As the group stretch between the fastest and the slowest, we make sure that we are all in contact via the radio 'Bruce to Base Camp, arriving at Hour Glass'; This straight in line icy couloir is the unique way to reach the above section of the glacier named by its shape several years ago. Today it is more like a contorted jumble of broken ice. We slide the ascender up the rope, take a step and hang on the device that is clipped to the harness via a locking carabiner. It is one step after another but every step means a huge effort that leaves us out of breath.

The rope fixing is a sensitive subject to all companies that organise commercial expeditions either on Everest or Manaslu. For years Himalayan Experience has organised, supervised and often financed the system that allows climbers to climb through the safest route possible with the safety of ropes and ladders to the summit. As usual there was a rope fixing meeting that was held at the Himalayan Experience camp this year in order to discuss the logistics involved. It was decided between the various Sirdars and expedition leaders that each climber would be asked to provide 100 meters of rope, plus 2 snow bars or 100$. '18 teams were present and the meeting went very smoothly' Purba mentioned. After the avalanche of last year, teams also agreed to supply name lists for each team to be held in one place. This should be the work of the Liaison Officer but of course there are none to be seen...

Camp 1, 2 and 3 rotations... back again to altitude for acclimatisation.This time we have to reach Camp 3 at 6900m, except for those who have decided to attempt the summit without oxygen, as they will have to spend an extra night at the Camp. After a morning practicing transceiver training, we once again prepare to head for one night at Camp 1 and 2 nights at Camp 2. The jagged glacier pays its toll on our physical and mental strength between 1 and 2. As we arrive at Camp 2 by mid-day, the camp is hit by gusty winds that undermine our determination. We get into our tents and make water for the tea to end the day. The sun goes down and the 5.30 radio call to Base Camp gives the latest news. Most of the group will leave tomorrow to Camp 3 but some will just give a try. Acclimatisation is the main objective on this trip. As the sun goes down, we find sleep from the most beautiful sunset platform over Nepal and Tibet.

On the 17th, we had completed our acclimatisation program and we head back down to Base Camp, exhausted but happy to return to the delight of the Camp. Beers and showers waiting for us...