I left for Nepal on August 30, 2011 and arrived in Kathmandu the following day. I was joining an expedition to Manaslu, the 8th highest peak in the world, led by Phil Crampton of Altitude Junkies. Phil did an exceptional job for us - the best base camp and food I've had on any of my climbs. On September 2 we drove for about 4 hours in a small van and then another 7 hours in the back of a large Indian 4x4 dump truck over a very rutted and muddy road.
Manaslu from Sama Goan
Driving to Arughet
Once we arrived in Arughet (1,500' elevation) there was some last minute loading of the last of our 175 porters and then we headed north to Sama Goan on a six day trek. The scenery was varied and beautiful, but the weather was oppressively hot. I found I couldn't drink enough to keep up with the losses through sweating and was pretty dehydrated much of the time. Once at Sama Goan (11,500') and the weather was cooler, I felt much better. We spent three days in Sama Goan for safe acclimatizing before ascending to base camp at 15,900'.
Trekking to Sama Goan
Local kids on the trek
Porters choosing their loads
Manaslu, from base camp. The true summit is hidden from here.
The local lama blessing our climb at the puja ceremony
Preparing to ski from Camp 1, early in the trip.
We made a few acclimatization climbs to crampon point at 16,800', Camp 1 at 18,700' and Camp 2 at 20,700' before making our first unsuccessful summit bid on September 23/24. We were forced to cut this short due to too much snow and we sat at base camp in miserable weather for several days. Things finally cleared up, but we needed to both wait for the new snow to consolidate and for an appropriate good weather window.
Camp 1 on failed first attempt after big snowfall.
View down-valley from base camp
Manaslu from crampon point
Phil decided things were good for an October 1 departure with an October 5 summit. Eight of the team members left on 10/1, but I and Anne-Marie (a professional marathoner from Finland and prior Everest summiteer) waited to the 2nd and went directly to Camp 2, thus avoiding an extra night up high with it's associated lack of sleep and food.
Leaving for the summit push
The tradeoff is that you are pushing yourself harder. Fortunately the plan paid off and we spent a total of 6 hours and 50 minutes climbing vs 12 hours total when we weren't
very acclimated two weeks prior. The weather was quite warm and I climbed in
I slept pretty well at Camp 2, but food was a big problem and I lost most of my
breakfast. The climb on 10/3 to C3 only took 2:20. The snow looked ripe for
Looking towards Camp 3 from Camp 2
Tents at Camp 2
Tents at Camp 3
We hung out in our tent all day (my teammate on the mountain was a friend
from the Czech Republic named Karel Masek. I met him last year on Everest.)
which we shared with Pasang Gombu Sherpa. He made water and generally helped us,
along with being a fun companion.
Pasang Gombu Sherpa making water
The next day we headed up to C4. This was described to us as being not much
harder than the C2-C3 day. I doubted this for several reasons and boy was I
right (unfortunately!). The climb seemed endless, was very cold and at times was
very steep. I was wearing ski boots and my feet became very cold. Two times I
stopped, removed my boots and warmed my feet by putting them into either Karel's or
Pasang's jackets under their arms. Yes, not something you relish, but when you
are desperate... I thought I had them under control, but then in a very tough,
steep area we found ourselves caught behind a very slow Japanese lady and my
feet got too cold. I was desperate to warm up and finally took a chance,
unclipped from the fixed rope, pulled out and passed about 7 people. I finally
started to warm up, but it took a huge amount of my reserve. Upon finally
arriving at C4, I vomited again. During the night I coughed so hard that I
vomited yet again.
Climbing from Camp 3 to Camp 4
Climbing from Camp 3 to Camp 4
We were scheduled to head for the summit at midnight, but it was very windy and
the group all felt we should wait. Things improved at daybreak and everyone but
me left around 6 am. I decided to wait till 8 in light of my cold feet issues.
(Mountaineering boots are dramatically warmer than my ultra lightweight
ski-mountaineering boots). Pasang Gombu and I took off, but it was very slow
going. I felt that now that I was wearing my down suit and was using oxygen,
my feet would be okay. The problem would be that we may not have enough time,
especially if the weather started to change.
Pasang Gombu (PG as I nicknamed him) carried a second oxygen bottle for me plus
my extra water and also my skis - I did carry them up to C4! - and yet I
couldn't go as fast as him, this in spite of him not using oxygen. The Sherpa
people are truly super men at altitude.
Pasang Gombu heading to the summit from Camp 4. Yes, I let him carry my skis for this last part!
After two hours, my hypoxic brain is doing the math and I realize we won't reach
the top till 4 or 5 pm, much too late to be safe. I gambled and had PG crank up
the flow rate from 2.5 liters per minute to 4 lpm. Immediately I was going
faster; almost double the rate of ascent. It seems like my body requires oxygen!
Doubts would come and go as I watched the time vs my altitude. At one point, a
member of the team that left a 6 am gave up and this almost caused me to return,
but I decided to not turn back until 2:30, weather permitting. About 600' below
the summit I found two of our team rescuing a stranger who had collapsed and
lain in the snow for perhaps an hour or more. Anyway, Anne-Marie gave him an
injection of dexamethasone directly through his down pants (we all carried this
medicine). Ian, another team mate from Wales, gave up his own oxygen tank and mask and went down without it. This is highly dangerous as his body was depending on it and the shock of suddenly losing your oxygen can kill you. Greater love hath no man than to lay
down his own life. Truly an amazing thing to watch.
Anyway, all that drama ended well and PG and I hit the afterburners and went as
fast as we could for the summit. We were blessed with unbelievable weather and
reached the final short ridge at 2:25. Another small gamble and we went up the
final 15 minutes thus breaking my 2:30 rule. We savored our summit. I felt like
crying. We took pictures. We were overwhelmed by the beauty. For about ten
minutes we were the two highest people on the planet.
The final few yards to the summit
Annapurna Range and Dhaulagiri from the summit
Finally made it to the top! Woohoo!
Self-portrait with Pasang Gombu Sherpa.
We couldn't push our luck any more so we started down. PG had left my skis about
50' below the summit and with enormous difficulty I put them on and headed down.
The snow was mostly rock hard, some ice, lots of wind ridges, breakable crust
and a tiny bit of avalanche debris. Not good when you can breathe, really tough
when you can't. It was also very steep in places and of course you need to be
aware of crevasses. I needed one hour to ski the 2,800' down to C4.
Preparing for the descent.
Partly down from the summit to Camp 4
I rested and tried to eat for an hour and decided to carry my skis down the
dangerous part on the way to C3 and then light permitting, ski to C2. I was so
tired and slow that it was well and truly dark by the time I hit the skiable
portion and I walked all the way to C2. I slept pretty well and headed down
again at 7 the next day. I skied part of the way to C1, but down climbed much
of it. I was really beat. I then skied all the way from C1 to crampon point (the
place where the snow and ice ends and you remove your crampons). I put my skis
on my pack and slowly walked down the rocky trail to our base camp, completely
Our team of awesome Sherpas.
Hanging out with Pasang Gombu Sherpa
During these five days, I vomited four times, ate one cup of soup, 1/4 of a
freeze dried dinner and perhaps 4 or 5 candy bars. I drank maybe five liters of
water in total. Towards the end I went almost 24 hours without going to the
bathroom. I was so thirsty my tongue hurt, yet I couldn't eat or drink other
than in tiny portions.
Five of our team turned back anywhere from C2 to above C4 for various reasons.
Karel who summited Everest last year says he would rather climb Everest 10 times
than Manaslu once because it was so hard. I don't know if his memory is faulty,
but it is an indication of the difficulties involved.
I know all of this doesn't sound like fun, but somehow it all is good and I had
a wonderful trip. Your brain has a way of minimizing the pain and maximizing the
pleasure. The beauty was inspiring, the group got along very well and our base
camp was about as good as you could reasonably expect in such a high, remote
location. Phil was an amazing leader.
On 10/7 we walked down to the village of Sama Goan and the following morning we got
up early and caught three helis to Kathmandu. I was able to claim the co-pilot
seat and had a wonderful ride. After 42 minutes of flying we were in Kathmandu.
Twenty minutes later, Karel and I walked into the Hyatt to take full advantage
of their all-you-can-eat breakfast. We made it like our climb with the first
trip through being base camp, the second trip being Camp 1, etc. BC, C1, all
the way to the summit meant six laps through with a full plate each time. We
were hurting after that, but were so craving good, tasty food after 37 days away
from civilization and 28 days at or above 16,000'.
Local kids in Sama Goan. You have to love their choice of playthings!
Back in Kathmandu, visiting my daughter's half-sister
I firmly believe that anyone with even a passing interest in mountains owes it to themselves to make the trip to Nepal. The mountains there are so much larger and more spectacular than anything in the US. I felt like I needed to "re-calibrate" my neck the first time I went as I wasn't accustomed to looking up that high. But beyond the mountains, the Nepali people and especially the Sherpas, will blow you away. Their quiet strength and endurance plus their tremendous sense of humor will leave you in awe. The country is cheap to travel to, cheap to live in, has great food and offers limitless adventure. To paraphrase Warren Miller, "if you don't go to Nepal this year, you will be one year older when you do."
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