Manaslu Update 25.09

Dear Readers,

This is the last blog I will write at Manaslu base camp during this expedition. The next one will be posted after the avalanche hype has died down.

A lot has been said in the media about the avalanche on Manaslu on 23.09. It hit at around 4:40 am. It wiped Camp 3 off the face of the mountain, killing over 8, leaving 3 missing and injuring a large number of climbers. Our team was at higher Camp 2 when the freak accident occurred. Still in our tents, we were thrown down the slope by the avalanche blast towards lower Camp 2, and showered with debris of snow and ice. It seemed like we fell forever, although, the whole incident lasted, perhaps, a minute. Our gear was scattered on the slope, and we were a little bruised and shocked, but otherwise unhurt when we emerged from the tents into the cold morning air. Immediately, rescue efforts to assist climbers at Camp 3 started…

The rest has been reported – more or less accurately – in the media. I have no wish at this time to contribute my impressions or opinions to the all-too-many others that have already been voiced. Therefore, I will write about the avalanche and the expedition outcome when I return to Kathmandu.

Most importantly, I would like to offer my heartfelt condolences to the families of the climbers lost on Manaslu on the cold autumn morning of the 23rd of September. I pray for them as well as for the safety of those of us, who remain on the slopes of the Spirit Mountain.



The Trail

The trail I follow
In melting, frail snow
Will fade tomorrow
Like a snake on starved rocks
Today – step off it,
Today – fall through,
Today – be damned
And tomorrow – pure
I’m held by nothing;
I’m tied to naught;
Countless, deep steps
Over the hungry void
Smell strong of sweat
Brought to boil by fear –
They mark the safe way –
Not the way for me
Thus, I move away from
The well-trodden trail
Into the swelling whiteout,
Which has called my name
I do not leave
Behind me a path:
I walk alone;
First step, second… last

The First Rotation

The rain was falling monotonously onto the orange tent. I was trying to read – ‘The Life of Pi’, a marvelous book, by the way – when, suddenly, I remembered why it was that I, too, had been as tearful as the weather at Manaslu base camp, weak and alienated, these past few days. The orange fabric, the quiver of water, quiet but persistent, the cold… – surrounded by these familiar sights and sounds, my mind traveled from Manaslu back to the base camp of Khan Tengri, where, I think, a part of me was destroyed permanently in the course of just three nights of extreme pain and utter helplessness. I couldn’t cry then. Now, I could and I did, without realizing why. However, now that my tears had a reason and a name, I would cry no longer. And the rain, too, would stop when the day warmed up a little.

Yesterday, on the 14th of September, our team left base camp to do a carry to Camp 1 at 5750 meters. We left after breakfast, and were on the glacier by about 8am. Immediately, I noticed a stark change from last year: the glacier was a good deal drier than I remembered, darker, and the gaping crevasses were wider and greater in number. The route, too, had changed a little: it seemed to me to have veered somewhat to the left of where it had been the year before. When we started moving up, I lowered my head, and, focusing on my breathing and pace, followed the fixed rope towards Camp 1, where tiny yellow tents were visible already. I tried not to look up, not to think, not to count, not to hope, not to fear – just walk , for as long as need be across any terrain I might encounter. The slope leading up to Camp 1, neither too long nor too steep but utterly annoying, took the remains of my breath away. At the top of the slope our Sherpas were busy making platforms for the tents. I was very happy to allow myself to sit down next to the future campsite and rest at last. Soon, the rest of my team mates joined me, looking tired but pleased with their good performance.

After treating ourselves to a long rest and some snacks, we headed back down to base camp for lunch. The weather was changing and we seemed to be descending into a cloud as we crossed the glacier once again. When we reached crampon point, it began to rain. In the evening, as I lay in my tent, unable to sleep, I finished ‘The Life of Pi’, and listened to the rain until early on the morning. My eyes were dry that night – not because I forgot about Khan – I never could -, but because I was no longer afraid to remember.

In a few days we will head back up the hill for another, much harder, acclimatization rotation: we will spend a night at Camp 1 and Camp 2, and return to base camp, ready for our summit push. See how it goes…