NEWSLETTERS - Manaslu 2015

Manaslu Expedition #14 September 2015

Hi All

The Manaslu team had a slow start from Kathmandu, trying to fly into Samagon by helicopter, however the clouds were too thick and so the first flight had to return to Kathmandu. This is the first time since 2008 that we have not been able to fly in on the planned date, so we cannot really complain, especially as we were all able to return to a very nice BBQ lunch at the Hyatt Hotel. The following morning we were much more successful and so by lunch time everyone was enjoying the sunshine and lunch cooked by Kul Bhadu (Mamma) and Phuri in our kitchen tent in Samagon. The afternoon was spent walking to a small lack at the bottom of the icefall that comes down from Manaslu.

Manaslu

As one of the first expedition teams to come back to Nepal after the earthquakes in April, I am sure that many are interested to know a little about conditions in Nepal, so I will do my best with a few observations along the way. As I have mentioned on several previous occasions, the Nepalese people are very resilient so it would appear that good progress has been made on repairs in Kathmandu, remembering it is sometimes difficult to know what is actually earthquake damage and wat is normal. The electricity and telephones were back to normal, with load shedding and the phone system overloaded. There were still tent camps in various places, but many that were here immediately after the earthquake have now gone. But talking to taxi drivers and various locals it appears that only about 25% of these tent dwellers actually need to be in these tents. The other 75% are staying there because it is cheaper than renting property, plus they still get food hand outs and the like when they are in the camps. You cannot really blame them for taking advantage of this situation. There has been good progress on various temples and the like, but to reconstruct these places to their forma glory will take considerable time. As an electrician I also noted that there is considerable work being done on the 11,000 volt reticulation system. This is well needed, but at last it is looking like there is some good workmanship being carried out. However the nice new wide roads already have many large pot holes in them. The local newspapers are making quite a lot of noise about these, and the lack of maintenance.

I read in a well-respected local paper that the general population were most concerned about:
Cost of Inflation
Unemployment
Corruption
Then further down the list was:
Lack of coordination in reconstruction of infrastructure after the earth quakes
The new constitution

Which is a little puzzling as since the government has at long last passed the new constitution which has been 12 years in the waiting, there have been several violent protests in areas of Nepal, with various strikes and the like. But I dare say this is all just part of Nepal, and of course will mean much more talking by the political leaders.

The helipad in Kathmandu is still crowded with the Turkish Airlines plane being stored there, now looking somewhat battered and without jet engines and front landing gear. From sources at the helipad it sounds like this aircraft will be scraped here in Nepal. But also the helipad now has 5 of the large MI-17 helicopters that are on contract to the World Food Program and are carrying supplies into remote villages until the end of September.

During our flight into Samagon we flew above the Budi Gandaki river where we lost 4 of our local porters in a land slide during the earthquake. There are still numerous tent camps in the Arughat and Jagat areas, and all around the mountain sides there are brightly coloured orange and blue specks that indicate that tarpaulins have been making it to these farming communities along the way. There is ample evidence of landslides on these steep sided mountains and in many places the normal trail is no longer visible. But I already knew that this trail was not really passible as we have been sending our loads to Samagon by mule via the Malakandi Kola the river system that is on the west side of Manaslu and then over the high Larkya Pass and then back down the upper reaches of the Gandarki to Samagon. This takes an extra 3 days to get our loads in, but is much easier and safer for the mules.

However in Samagon itself there was practically no evidence of an earthquake. I was surprised to see just how little damage was done, even in the old village where I was expecting to see many of the old houses collapsed, but there was just two or three buildings with any damage at all, and these were government or authority buildings. Not even the 300 year old monastery had received any damage. I did not even see any cracked windows in buildings. This is probably due to the recent construction of many of the buildings here, and private construction. I suspect that the government buildings were constructed at a cheaper price hence the damage to them. But what I also noted was that every family had received a large aid tent, many of these were standing, but were empty inside. During our stay in Samagon we witnessed several WFP flights coming into Samagon with 50% of what our normal loads would be, and many sheets of corrugated iron being unloaded, and then transported to various building sites, building sites that were under construction a year earlier. So I suspect that there is some very effective lobbying being carried out by Samagon people in Kathmandu.

We met two trekkers who were the first to travel up the Gandarki and they told us how surprised the locals in the lower villages were to see them. They reported how badly damaged these villages were, and how little aid was getting to them. They also made the same observations as myself in Samagon. They reported how difficult it was to cross various landslides and how much work will be required to open this trekking route in the future. But we must remember that I never bring my groups up this route immediately after the monsoon due to the mud slides that sometimes cross the path, hence our option to fly by helicopter. So combine normal monsoon mud slides with earthquake slides, then I can understand that this path will need serious attention.

In the meanwhile once again we had to discuss the cost of porters from Samagon to Base Camp. Apparently the community had held a 3 day meeting earlier in the month where they decided to once again increase prices despite the promise last year that the price would remain the same this year. So now we are paying Rupees 2,500 (about $25) per load for the 3 hour trip to Base Camp. This is more than double than any other area in Nepal. Once again we asked for this price to remain the same for the next 3 years, and once again the community agreed to this, but refused to put it in writing. But what is encouraging is to see that now many of the loads are being carried by yaks and horses, which is faster and more efficient. So our cash donations over the years for track maintenance has paid off and has made load carrying much safer.

Our team of:
Nick Cienski Canada
Sandy CIENSKI Canada (who will stay at Base Camp)
Tracee METCALFE USA (Doctor)
Greg PAUL USA
Juan Pablo Sarjanovich Argentina
Shinji TAMURA Japan (Guide)
Lisa WHITE USA
Russell BRICE New Zealand (Guide)

Have all made it to Base Camp two days ago. Yesterday we held our Puja inside a tent due to the pouring rain. But today we had brilliant sunshine and so all the Sherpas from Himex and Altitude Junkies fixed rope to Camp 1 while all the members went to Crampon Point for a walk. Tomorrow we plan for all Sherpas to take loads to C1 and all members to climb through the crevasses to C1 and return to BC.

We also look forward to the arrival by helicopter of our last member Maria Gordon who is from Russia. Unfortunately she has been attending an important meeting and so was unable to join us at the start of the expedition.

Conditions on the mountain look good, with very little new snow below C1, the route up to the Hour Glass looks a little broken but above is looking in good condition, but of course we will see once we start climbing there. The notorious active ice cliff has still been active, but the upper bowls where this debris falls appears to be smaller now, so the subsequent wind slab avalanches seem to be smaller, but still travelling down to near C2 where they make a natural turn and fall into the lower glacier. All evidence of avalanche appears to be some weeks old, and of course there are the normal small slabs from the North peak of Manaslu. Several people have been saying that Manaslu must be more dangerous since the earthquake, but I see no evidence of this, and the mountain looks pretty much as normal. But we will report as we make progress.

Regards Russ