Back to Manaslu Base Camp

My previous blog, I believe, made it clear that the ones to follow it would take on the format of expedition diaries. It will be unusual for me to share with my readers such unprocessed emotions as I fear I will do, but I expect it to be interesting – for me personally, at least. I forget or leave out too much in my final accounts, after I have had the time to analyze and re-analyze my climbs. Thus, in my memory they become too perfect, too polished – quite dissimilar to what the expeditions felt like as they were taking place. So, my final account of the Manaslu expediton (with photos) will be posted later; the posts to follow will be expedition diaries.

As I climbed the steep muddy path from Samagaon, gaining 1400 meters in elevation to reach Manaslu base camp, I was falling to pieces. I walked with some of the slowest climbers in our group but even their pace was hard for me to keep up with. My legs, whose unfailing strength I have always been so proud of, seemed to have turned to cottonwool, drenched in cold sweat. The few times we stopped I would look at Birendra Tal, the grand turquise glacial lake, where I had gone for a swim more than once before leaving; trekking up now I felt like fish out of the water – out of my place and out of breath.

It took me over 3 hours, as opposed to last year’s 2.5, to get to the Altitude Junkies base camp. The welcome was warm and pleasant, the place – familar, but I felt nothing except for my overwhelming weaknness. I hated myself for coming back. I chose at first the same tent I was in the year before, but couldn’t stay there – my eyes began to swell up with tears as I sat down on the green crapet covering the tent floor. I moved, and instantly felt a little better.

In the evening my head began to ache, which was not at all unexpected given how much altitude we had gained and how little water I had been able to drink on the way. Skipping dinner, I took an Aspirin, buried myself in my -40 down sleeping bag, and tried as hard as I could not to torture myself with too many memories from last year.

The days 11 and 12 of September were uneventful. The team spent them eating, resting and planning the first acclimatization outing – a carry to Camp 1 (5750m), which an expedition normally does only after the traditional pre-climb prayer ceremony – a puja – as been performed at base camp.

Today was our puja day. It was raining rather heavily when the preparations started at 6 in the morning. The stone puja was decorated with prayer flags, khatas, tormas, and other offerings to the spirits of the mountain, and juniper was being burned, releasing thick smoke into the heavy, humid air. The moment the three lamas began chanting from the holy Buddhist books, the rain ceased, and the sky began to clear. As per tradition, the prayer ceremony was followed by a celebration, with chang (local alcoholic drink) and beer flowing freely. As a non-drinker (but a self-proclaimed Red Bull jukie) , I felt increasingly out of place as the smiles got wider, the dancing – less coordinated and the jokes – raunchier. I enoyed watching my team mates and the Sherpas have fun, leaving the scene occasionally to get my backpack ready for the upcoming carry to camp one.

I packed light, only taking with me my down suit, a -20 sleeping bag and a mug. Weighting the very light pack in my hands, I remembered Khan Tengri and the new wound it left me with. Can I carry this much? Ought I not to go home instead? It is, after all, high time to stop pretending that I am a climber, that I deserve to be doing what I do. It is not my physical weakness that makes me believe I should leave – it’s the fact that I cry every night in my tent out of… I don’t even know what. I just sit there, bent double with the pain I can’t name, suffocating, shivering. I think I will die of I keep climbing, but I know I will if I stop. Does tis sound too daramatic? This I’m afraid, is just how it feels.

And so it’s Camp 1 for us tomorrow…

4 thoughts on “Back to Manaslu Base Camp

  1. I don’t know much about high-altitude climbing, but I would dare say it is not the number of summits reached, nor the time needed for a climb, nor anything measurable that makes a climber.

    You climb. Despite the fear, the exhaustion, the pain, you climb. Whether your head is filled with thoughts or empty in meditation, you climb.

    Should you turn around and head home tomorrow, or some day after that, it would not change a thing.

    You are a climber, my dear.

    I won’t pretend I am any position to give you advice – I cannot begin to imagine what you might be going through, and I don’t even know you. But I can tell you that there is no such thing as “deserving to be doing what (you) do”. Who is to judge whether you deserve or not ? There is only “doing”, and that is enough.

    So do what you need to do, do what you feel you should do.

    Stay safe, climber.

    1. Your comment was beautiful to read! Thank you!
      You are right: it is not comparing oneself to other climbers (writers/doctors) that makes one a climber. If it is the love of climbing and the act of climbing that make one ‘a climber’, than, perhaps, I am one, indeed.

  2. Strange your comments made me think of how almost every artist has felt and feels …not worthy of where they were or are…questioning the next stage…all this makes me know you are a climber…and I would imagine all real climbers feel the same way whether or not they would admit it…Be safe!

    1. Perhaps, the problem is that my ‘climber’ facade is not as solid as those of other mountaineers. Appearances, however, are deceitful – so much so, we are sometimes deceived by our own public masks.

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