Peak(s):  Manaslu 26759
Date Posted:  12/24/2019
Modified:  12/25/2019
Date Climbed:   09/27/2019
Author:  dereferenced
 Manaslaughter   

I spent the last 7 years saying that I wouldn't climb Manaslu, because I thought it was unnecessarily risky. Then I finally went and climbed it this year.

So, let's start this trip report by talking about risk. If you want to go for a safe, easy 8000m peak, there are better choices. Cho Oyu is definitely the safest. I suspect that Gasherbrum 2, Broad Peak, and Shishapangma also have less objective hazard than Manaslu.

The problem, for me, is that I'd already done trips to Tibet and to the Karakorum. I wanted to try something new, rather than repeat either of those trips. This was also a solo trip. Cho Oyu and Broad Peak would both go well as solo climbs, but G2 was out of the question, I wouldn't solo through that complicated icefall. Tibet has gotten much more expensive, in the last few years. As I understand it, you're now required to have a personal climbing sherpa, for trips in Tibet.

Manaslu was the next best choice. It's a beautiful mountain, a beautiful trek to get to basecamp, definitely a fun experience, just a little bit riskier.

Here's two overviews of the route that I used in preparing for the trip:

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The route has crevasses starting near crampon point and going most of the way up, but the route also gets fixed, from the bottom to the top, so it's fine as a solo climb. Up to camp 1, the route is pretty safe:

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Looking up from crampon point
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Hiking to camp 1

From camp 1 to camp 2, it's like a mini Khumbu icefall.


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At C1, looking up at the route
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Crux section with the most serac risk
There were some big seracs to walk under and 3 ladders to cross:

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I've dealt with serac risk on other mountains -- usually we made a point to start very early in the morning and travel quickly. Here, no one seems to care, people go at any time of day and don't seem to be in much of a hurry. Maybe this is a problem of following the crowd, where you see other people taking a risk and you assume it's fine?

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People lining up to climb, maybe 9 or 10 in the morning.
I watched some big chunks of ice fall down, one day around noon. The debris didn't quite reach the path. One week later, some other pieces came down, burying the fixed ropes. With enough time and enough traffic, someone's eventually going to die here. But I can't tell you what the odds are.

There's also some avalanche risk. Between C2 and C4, you're climbing sustained moderate snow slopes at an angle that could slide.

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Looking up the route, just above Camp 3
The upper slopes of the mountain see some very big slides. The first day after a two day storm, I saw this avalanche below the east pinnacle:



The slide had already run about 3000 feet down from the horizon before I started filming. The video cuts out because I realized the powder cloud was going to hit me, even though I was standing 9000 feet lower than the start of the avalanche, and I started running towards safer terrain. The cloud ended up just being harmless spindrift, a cold and wet wind. I guess I knew that it would be harmless, on an intellectual level, but at some base level I was scared. It's hard for my brain to comprehend an avalanche going down 9000 feet, that huge cloud coming for me looked menacing.

That slide wasn't on route, but the route from C3 to C4 is pretty much the same aspect, angle, and elevation. I'm sure it slides that big, as well, from time to time. An avalanche on that slope took out camp 3 in 2012. You can mostly avoid this risk, if you don't climb soon after a big dump of new snow. But it snowed a little bit every day in September, so maybe it's never going to be 100% safe.

Camp 3 seemed like it was probably safe from getting hit by avalanche, but it kind of depends on where you pitch your tent. In the extreme case, this guy pitched his tent right under a serac, to be totally safe from avalanche:


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And someone else pitched their tent out in the open, maybe to be safe from seracs, and they were clearly in the path of a potential avalanche. Everyone else seemed to be somewhere in between, I couldn't really tell which spots were safe or not.

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Highest camp 3 tents

I don't know exactly where the old camp 3 was, the one that got wiped out in 2012. I think it's left and up a bit from that last photo. Sherpas say that the new location is safer from avalanche. I'm not 100% sure either way.

C2 was also kind of mixed and hard to evaluate, with a lot of tents spread out on different slopes.

C1 and C4 both look totally safe.

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Looking down on Camp 1
Other than that stuff, you're just dealing with the usual altitude risks. You might die from HACE or HAPE or exhaustion or taking a fall. I think that two people died this year, but there are a lot of rumors that go around on big mountains, it's hard to know what's real or not. Himalayan Database should release names in a year, but they won't tell the stories.

I saw two people being rescued by sherpas, both were sitting and sliding downhill while sherpas controlled their descent with ropes. One had no gloves on, the story going around basecamp is that he was climbing alone near the summit, without oxygen, and lost his mind. He threw off his gloves, started taking off his jacket. Some sherpas offered to rescue him, in return for a hefty price (I heard 10 thousand dollars). I saw him between C3 and C4, I think they got him down but I'm not sure.

The other victim I saw was being dragged down from around 25,000 feet. She was wearing an oxygen mask but kind of moaning, like maybe her head was hurting badly. The story I heard later is that she was escorted all the way to C3, but then got up in the night to leave the tent, collapsed outside, froze to death, and was found in the morning. I've no idea how much of this stuff is real, rumors spread quickly at camp, all I can say is I saw 2 rescues in progress.

Anyways, big mountains are risky, and Manaslu seems a bit worse than some others. It's hard to predict risk when you're talking about rare but deadly events. Let's say there's a big avalanche or serac fall every 10 years and it kills 30 people. With all the traffic on the mountain, we're probably seeing 300 summits per year. So, that's a 1% deaths to summits ratio. Add in the baseline risk of death from falling or altitude sickness and maybe you're looking at 2% vs 1% on Cho Oyu. Historically, the death rate on Manaslu was a lot higher than that, but maybe it's gotten a lot safer with more teams on the mountain and better weather forecasting. It's definitely not some K2 or Annapurna level of danger. If you want a safer experience with a sherpa, go to Cho Oyu. If you want to do a less crowded, more independent climb, consider going to Pakistan instead. Manaslu is a good climb, and it's the cheapest of all these trips, it's just a little bit risky and it's very crowded.

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My tent at basecamp. What you see here is only about a third of the full basecamp. It took 45 minutes to walk from one end of basecamp to the other.

There were something like 260 climbers registered on Manaslu this year, maybe 400-500 people total, including all the sherpas. There were a few independent climbers. But there were also Chinese tourists learning to use crampons at a very high altitude. There were people who were so uncomfortable with snow climbing that they would jug a fixed rope up a 10 degree slope. There were a lot of people preparing for Everest next year, I think maybe they were trying to acclimate to the crowd sizes there.


Choosing a company:

Okay, you're headed to Manaslu. Picking a low-cost Nepalese operator is hard.

I went with Snowy Horizon and was happy with the service, I'd climb with them again.

I actually signed up with Monterosa, who took my money but then put me on the Snowy Horizon team. The schedule changed a bit between the two companies. None of this was communicated. E-mailing with Monterosa was a chore, they seemed to barely speak English. They had trouble taking my payment, leaving me in limbo for a month as to whether or not I was signed up with them or where my payment had gone. I can't recommend Monterosa, try going directly to Snowy Horizon.

Some friends used Satori and also seemed happy with that company.

Lots of people use Seven Summits Trekking, they must be the biggest guiding company at this point. I think they're a little bit more expensive than those other two. Their team sizes are huge, 40+ climbers for Manaslu. I used them for Tibet, in 2015. In that year, they also transferred me onto another company's team without warning, then never answered any future e-mails. A few climbers on the trip asked for various upgraded services, like a single hotel room rather than sharing. Seven Summits asked for money for these extras, then never delivered and never responded to communication about this. I'd hesitate to recommend Seven Summits. Still, it's a big company that runs lots of trips, they've got to be doing something right.

Other than reputation, look at the trip's schedule. I think you want to arrive in Kathmandu no later than September 1st. We started the drive from Kathmandu on 9/3, and arrived in basecamp on 9/9. Getting to the mountain was 2 days of driving and 5 days walking. We skipped one planned rest day so that we could cross the larkya pass earlier and get our acclimation started:

9/3 drive kathmandu to besisahar
9/4 drive besisahar to dharapani
9/5 hike dharapani to surti khola (near tilije)
9/6 hike to bhimtang
9/7 hike over larkya pass, to samdo
9/8 hike samdo to sama goan
9/9 hike to basecamp

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Manaslu circuit map, stolen from some trekking agency
Good summit weather often shows up from 9/25-9/29 (I summitted on 9/27). So, that gives only about 2 weeks to acclimate, which I'd say is pretty rushed. Next year, Seven Summits is running 2 trips that arrive to basecamp 5 or 7 days behind that schedule. The latter trip would only give you 1 week to acclimate. Maybe possible if you're using oxygen, not enough time without.

If you want to go with a western company instead of a Nepalese one, I like Summitclimb. The cost is higher, but I was very happy with the one trip I did with them (to Ama Dablam).

I met one Russian team on Manaslu that tried to climb without any logistics company. They used a Sama Goan hotel as a basecamp and then climbed past the normal basecamp up to c1. They seemed paranoid about leaving any tents on the mountain, for a while I was wondering if they even had a permit. They tried to summit a week later than everyone else. Seven summits took down the ropes and ladders that they needed to finish the climb. I'm not sure if they paid seven summits for fixed ropes or not, this seems awful if they did but totally fair if they didn't.

Matt and I never paid for ropes on Broad Peak. The company that put them up threatened to chop the ropes if we didn't pay. We said "please, that'd be awesome". Broad Peak would be easy to climb without. Manaslu, not so much. The ropes are unnecessary in some places, but I'd need at least the 3 ladders. I can't jump a 10 foot crevasse, it wasn't obvious if there was a way around those.

On Manaslu, I paid a fee to Seven Summits to fix the route (I think it was $250). That's at least $60,000 they raised across all the climbers. I have no idea if the sherpas doing the work saw any of that, the one I talked to said he wasn't getting paid much. I think the company owner probably just pockets a lot of it. Anchors were mixed quality, usually single pickets, sometimes single screws. The rope was only doubled up for two crux sections, it was a single 8mm rope everywhere else.

A lot of climbers flew in and out via helicopter to Sama Goan. A few people left directly from basecamp in a helicopter. I'm not sure this saves you much time, on the way in, since you still have to acclimate. Maybe it works if you're preacclimating in an altitude tent. You could save 5 days of hiking on the way out, if you fly back to Kathmandu. Our group trekked out to Soti Khola, to see the rest of the Manaslu circuit.

If you have the time, I would definitely recommend trekking over flying. Nepal is beautiful and you don't want to miss it.

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Photo by Harald Hasslacher
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photo by Harald Hasslacher
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Never complain that your bag is heavy


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Partners:

This wasn't originally planned as a solo trip. At first I had 3 partners committed to the trip but they all dropped out for various reasons. Kush took a ground fall and broke his leg and back. Spencer broke his ankle crack climbing. Actually, he stress fractured his ankle by crack climbing for 2 months at Indian Creek and Squamish. This is especially weird to me -- when I go to the creek I get halfway up a climb and then I'm like "fuck, this hurts, I'm done". Spencer kept at it until his bones broke. Colin, meanwhile, had his first kid and decided he should stay home and help his wife, rather than run away to Nepal.

There are important lessons to be learned here. Bones heal, Kush and Spencer will be climbing again in no time. Colin, on the other hand, will be busy caring for that kid for the next 18+ years. Consider your life choices carefully.

In any case, this didn't end up being a solo trip. There were 2 other independent climbers (Harald from Austria and Lucasz from Poland) who'd signed up with the same company I used. Both were strong climbers with a lot of previous high altitude experience. We climbed on our own schedules but worked together a lot. We shared a high camp for our summit push and all managed to summit on the same day. Harald and I shared a tent at C4. We all shared forecasts and planning and kept each other motivated.


Gear:

I used two tents on the mountain. I put an ev2 at camp 1, then brought a smaller direkt 2 and carried that up and down between higher camps.

I used a 0 degree bag up high on the mountain and slept in my down suit on cold nights. I brought a separate bag for basecamp.

I used an MSR reactor stove. The only cooking I did up high was dehydrated meals. Gas stoves work fine at altitude, just keep the can warm. There's a lot of different brands of gas in Kathmandu, the good canisters are like 20% propane and 80% isobutane. Any mix with N-butane works poorly at cold temperatures.

I used Sportiva Olympus Mons boots, I had a two piece Montbell down suit (separate parka and pants).

I mostly climbed with an ascender and one trekking pole. I used my axe for one crux section between C1 and C2 and maybe a few times when I was passing around people. I left my ice axe as a tent stake at C2 to save weight on the summit push. The entire route is fixed, you don't really need it. I could probably get down safely even if the ropes failed.

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Steepest part of the route, between C1 and C2. An axe helps here, but you could just jug it.

I have two pieces of custom gear that I brought. I modified my ascender to be big enough to fit an 8000 meter mitten. Not essential, but it helps me keep my hands warmer.

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I also use crampons that are steel for the front half and aluminum on the back, to save a little bit of weight on my feet (I combined Black Diamond Sabertooths and Neves). A few people used full aluminum crampons for this climb. It's almost entirely on snow, you could probably get away with that. On other mountains, I'm skeptical. On Broad Peak, you'd wear down the spikes on rocky sections. On Denali, you'd be in trouble if there was any blue ice.

My gear worked fine on the mountain, but I was poorly prepared for the trek. It's incredibly rainy in the Manaslu area in September, the trek was a slog through rain and mud. I had a very thin raincoat. I tried to trash bag the important stuff inside my pack, some of the rest just got wet. I should have brought a pack cover and a better raincoat. Some people brought umbrellas. I wore ventilated trail runners (bushidos) for the trek in and they got soaked repeatedly. I did a lot of the trek without socks because wet shoes blister your feet less than wet socks do. I'm not sure on the best footwear for rain and mud.

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Some trekkers who were better equipped than me
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Prepare for mile after mile of this

Ethics:
Always my favorite thing to rant about!

I did this climb without oxygen and without sherpa support. Something like 90% of the climbers there made the opposite choice. I heard people complaining that their throat got dry from using so much oxygen. I heard people complaining that the fixed ropes were too icy and they had to climb the mountain without pulling on them.

At some level, I try to just climb the same way in Nepal as I would in Colorado. On the trek in and out, I carry my own pack instead of having a porter do it. If you were going to go hike the Colorado trail, would you go find an immigrant to carry your pack for you, to make it easier?

I did rely on the sherpas fixing ropes and then breaking trail to the summit, I don't think I could summit this kind of mountain solo if I had to break trail. This still isn't breaking with Colorado ethics, though -- we have a fine history of trench poaching in this state. In Colorado it's like:
Q:"did you see that Sarah and Dom got snowmass last weekend?"
A:"Yeah, we better go poach that trench before it snows again!"

Whereas in Nepal it's more like:
"Hey, Mingma G just summitted yesterday, guess we should go for it tomorrow!"

Okay... I would love to do this kind of trip entirely with a strong team of friends and no trench or ropes. I just haven't had that opportunity yet.

I chose not to use bottled oxygen. The main challenge of climbing an 8000m peak is the thin air. That's the appeal for me. The fixed ropes already eliminate the technical challenge and the route finding. Most days, the trail is already broken. What's left is pushing yourself to climb high enough to summit. Using oxygen reduces the effective altitude to 7000 or maybe even 6000 meters, depending on how much you use. Why not just climb a 7000 meter peak? It'd be easier, safer, a shorter trip, a chance to build confidence in your abilities.

This is all very strange, to me. Using oxygen is like signing up for a marathon because you want to run 26 miles, but then deciding that a marathon is scary, so you're going to run 13 miles and then bike the rest. Cool that you're out there exercising, but don't call it a marathon.

Climbers with and without oxygen discussed this a bit, at basecamp. I got the impression that a lot of people were just scared. They were mostly afraid they wouldn't summit, without oxygen. But they were also afraid that they would die without, or lose brain cells, or get frostbite. If you ask the guiding companies, they'll say you definitely need oxygen and a sherpa. That's because they want to sell you oxygen and a sherpa.

I think you probably don't need it. At least, I didn't need it, and I'm an average athlete. My training for this trip wasn't extreme. For the 8 months leading up to it, I averaged 9500 vertical/week. My biggest few weeks were 14000 vertical, my biggest single days were 7000 feet (things like shasta in a day, or little bear from the highway). If you're out there climbing back to back 14ers every weekend, I think that you can do a low 8000m peak without oxygen.

Steve House says that climbing a low 8000m peak with oxygen is easier than climbing Denali and climbing Everest with oxygen is about the same difficulty as climbing Denali. Lots of 14ers members have climbed Denali, I think lots of people here could do 8000m peaks without oxygen.

It seems like there's somewhat of a cultural divide here. Russian, Polish, and other Eastern European climbers often go without oxygen. Most Americans and Western Europeans go with a bottle or two, starting at camp 3. A lot of Chinese climbers (and a few of the western ones) used 6 bottles, starting at camp 2 and breathing it all the way down to basecamp, on the descent. Some people got shortroped, both up and down the peak. I don't think I met any Indian climbers on Manaslu, I think that a lot of them go straight to Everest without practicing on other 8000m peaks first.

I was listening to a podcast about the space program that reminded me about these kind of cultural differences. The Americans designed a system of straps to do CPR, should some astronaut have a heart attack in zero gravity. Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, saw the system and laughed, saying "In Russia, we just send healthy people into space".

Point being, you can take 6 bottles of oxygen and a gamow bag for emergencies and hire a team of sherpas to carry all that shit for you. But you're still not getting rid of all the risk, and you're shifting some of it onto other people. Or you can spend a few years learning to climb well, hit the mountain in the best shape of your life, and trust your self and your abilities.

I'm pretty sure that many of the clients using my logistics company could have made it without -- some of those people did camp 4 to the summit in under 6 hours, on oxygen. It took me closer to 9, without. I think a lot of people could have just slowed down a little and done the same.

And then, there were a handful of less fit people who probably couldn't have made it. Some folks were being short-roped up and down the mountain. Others were doing this climb as their first expedition.

If you're an experienced climber and you still prefer having sherpas and oxygen, that's your valid choice. I think what worries me most is the way that guiding enables and encourages some very inexperienced people to climb these peaks.

I get e-mail from a number of expedition companies. Here's an ad I got from one company:


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Why train for Everest when you can learn on the mountain?

This ad was even better:

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I know that we don't all agree on climbing ethics. Can we at least agree that no one should be climbing K2 just because they did well in glacier school?


Acclimation schedule:


Different teams used different schedules, mostly based on how much oxygen they were using. The people using 2 bottles of oxygen slept once at C2 and touched C3 once. I think that the teams using 6 bottles never went higher than C2 before the summit push.

If you're going without oxygen, the typical recommendation is to sleep once at C3, come down to basecamp, then begin your summit push. For various reasons, I didn't do that, I touched C3 but didn't sleep higher than C2. Here's my full acclimation schedule:

9/9 arrive at BC
9/10 rest at BC
9/11 up to C1, sleep. 5 hrs up.
9/12 down to BC, 2 hrs down
9/13 rest, puja
9/14 up to C1, sleep. 4.5 hrs up
9/15 up to C2, sleep. 4 hrs up
9/16 up to C3, down to C1. 2 hrs up, 3 down.
9/17 down to BC, 2 hrs again
9/18 rest
9/19 rest
9/20 up to C1, sleep. 4:10 up
9/21 halfway to C2, 2:30 up, then down BC
9/22 rest
9/23 up to C1. 3:45 up
9/24 up to C2, < 4 hrs up.
9/25 up to C3, maybe 3 hrs.
9/26 up to C4. Very hard day, 9 hrs up.
9/27 summit and descend to C3.
9/28 descent to base from C3. 5 hrs maybe.
9/29 rest
9/30 up to C1 to retrieve tent. 3:20 up.
10/1-10/5 trek out.

Prior to the summit push, I slept at C1 5 times and C2 once. I touched C3 once. I made an aborted effort to acclimate higher on 9/20 and 9/21, but turned around because I wasn't feeling healthy (TMI: got diarrhea, became dehydrated, felt too weak to climb). Also, I'd started getting a forecast for good summit weather, and decided to adjust my plans to be well rested in time for that.


Summit push:

I had a nice, leisurely summit push, stopping and sleeping at every camp on the way up. Others that hadn't planned ahead for the weather window had to skip some lower camps to get back up high in time.

I slept well at C1 and C2, and even slept a bit at C3. Harald, Lucasz, and I all continually debated whether or not we should try to summit from C3 or C4. I figured that I wouldn't sleep at C4, so maybe I'd be better off just doing a longer day from lower down. After a lot of debate, we all agreed on camping at C4 and making the summit attempt from there.

Carrying a tent up to C4 was one of the hardest, most demoralizing days of the trip. The route is relentlessly steep, I was moving slowly, it took me a full 9 hours to get up to camp. It got dark and cold as I kept heading up. We'd split up the gear to minimize weight, I had one of the two tents. I was freaking out, I wasn't sure if Harald was stuck outside or if he was sharing Lucasz' tiny one person tent. I arrived to find that Harald was borrowing an empty tent set up by our logistics company. Harald and Lucasz had already made water and were trying to get some sleep. I needed water but I didn't want to wake them. I tried to eat a bit of dinner, had a few bites of a protein bar and immediately got very nauseous, couldn't eat any more.

I laid down and waited for the morning. Maybe I could make water later on. I was skeptical that I'd be able to summit. If getting to C4 was this hard, how would I be able to go 800 meters higher? I sent out some whiney inreach messages to friends saying that I might give up. Kush told me it was no big deal, I could go all the way down to basecamp, rest, and then try again. I think Kush's suggestion of doing a whole new summit push scared me more than just going for it.

The night wasn't pleasant. When I tried lying down I would feel like I couldn't breathe, after a few minutes I'd sit up to breathe more easily. I was tired, I felt like I could maybe sleep sitting up if I could lean against my backpack or something, but I couldn't find a way to make it comfortable. Another climber later suggested propping myself up at a 45 degree angle with any spare gear you have, I'll need to try that next time. I tried to rest for about 5 hours, but didn't sleep at all. Then Harald and Lucasz started getting ready around 1 and left at 2. After they left, I got the stove out and started to make 2 liters of water.

I tried to eat breakfast, some bland hershey's chocolate, but it tasted awful, I still had no appetite. I could only digest very simple foods that high. I filled my pockets with some sugary snacks -- my summit day diet consisted of swedish fish, watermelon sour patch kids, and mike & ikes. I'd have a handful of candy every hour or so to keep my energy levels up.

While I hadn't really rested that well, it was enough of a break to get back my motivation. I had no idea if the weather would hold. I didn't want to climb the whole mountain again. I didn't know if it'd be any easier the next time around. It's less than 800 meters to the top, let's see what I can do.

I cracked 4 handwarmers. My hands get really cold, I think I have Raynaud's. I put one inside each of my liner gloves and then another between the liner glove and my mittens. I sometimes take Nifedipine pills to help keep my hands warm during winter climbing, but I didn't take one on summit day, it didn't seem that cold out and I had no idea what the side effects might be at high altitude.

I felt okay, as I started climbing. I think I left the tent around 4 AM, still 2 hours before sunrise. In general, I have mixed feelings about alpine starts. Some mountains need them, others do not, just depends on the local weather. This isn't Colorado, there aren't daily thunderstorms. Weather does tend to get snowier in the afternoon, but we're talking an inch or two of precipitation most days. Most guided groups on oxygen left camp around midnight or 1, and summited in the early morning. If you follow this schedule, you're more likely to end up in a traffic jam of others climbers near the summit. If you're going without oxygen, it's harder to stay warm in the dark. Starting late and summitting around noon isn't crazy. 4 AM was pushing it a little, but I'm not convinced that a midnight start is necessary. The one big downside to summitting later is that the views are best early in the morning. I didn't get much of a summit view compared to the people that summitted that morning.

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Morning views, looking north from Manaslu
I had no idea what my speed would be like. I planned a turn around time of maybe 3 PM.

My GPS data is noisy, but it looks like my uphill pace was pretty constant throughout the day. I averaged 270 vertical feet per hour.


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Making progress above 25,000

I'm afraid that I'm going to get HACE on one of these climbs, lose my mind, fall unconscious, or otherwise be unable to get down safely. I don't know if there's some way to monitor yourself, to keep this from happening. HACE is frequently preceded by a bad headache and my head felt fine. I occasionally tried asking myself mental math questions or things like that, to see that my brain was still working. At first, this was easy. Nearer the top of the climb, I stopped doing this. It wasn't so much that I couldn't answer questions anymore, it was more like I'd ask the question and my brain would respond: "fuck you, math is stupid".

More than anything, I was in a dreamy state, things didn't feel entirely real. I might start daydreaming for a moment and then later snap back to where I was on the mountain. I was climbing in low visibility at times, fog coming in and out, everything was white, I'd only get occasional views up or down the mountain. I think the sensory deprivation here contributed a bit to the unreal feeling.


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I often listen to music while I'm climbing, but didn't do that on summit day. Music sets the tempo. But you're moving really slow on summit day, so it would have to be, like, 10 beats per minute. What would that even be like? Dubstep cut to 1/7 the speed? (Would that be 7 times more retarded?)

It's easier to just sync your steps to your breathing. On flatter areas I could do one step per breath. On some of the steeper slopes it was more like one step for every three breaths.

A lot of random songs got stuck in my head during the trip. My subconscious likes to earworm me with ironic songs sometimes. On one day when I was carrying too much stuff from camp to camp, I kept thinking about "Everybody Hurts" by REM. I don't like the band, I haven't heard the song in years. Some sick part of my brain thought I'd enjoy it. On the descent from the summit, it was Lenny Kravitz, "it ain't over until it's over".

On summit day, it was a lot of random things. Some of biggie's lyrics. One song that kept showing up was Desire, by Years and Years. Just something from a scene in a movie I'd recently watched. Yeah, I'm chasing Emily Ratajkowski around Las Vegas. Shit, daydreaming again, I'm still climbing some huge, cold mountain. One step, three breaths, repeat.

Around noon, I was starting to get worried I wasn't going fast enough and might not make the summit. Elevation on my delorme made it seem like I was getting close. But Lucasz and Harald started earlier than me, so I expected to see them descending and then to have to climb at least another hour after that.

It looked like I was approaching some kind of peak, maybe a false summit. I didn't know if there was a long summit plateau or something. Maybe I'd have to traverse for an hour?

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Near the top of that steep climb, I asked someone descending how much further it was and he said "a few hours", which was incredibly disheartening. But I went 20 steps higher and then I could see the summit:

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Nor sure if that guy was very slow or if he was fucking with me -- very obnoxious if it was the latter. I instead gave other people encouragement when I was on my way down.

I dropped my pack once I could see the final climb. I changed layers so that I'd hopefully be comfortable on the summit, not too hot or cold. I thought I was lucid, but then I couldn't find one of the two straps I needed to close my backpack. That should be a pretty simple task, but I was having trouble, just staring at the pack and trying to figure out which strap went where... I knew I'd just open my pack again on my way down, so I gave up after 10 seconds and figured I'd try again later.

Other than that... I felt normal? I guess it's hard to know just how impaired you are. I was climbing efficiently, not staggering or anything. I ran into Lucasz and Harald near the summit, they'd just been hanging out there and taking photos for over an hour. I had a reasonable conversation with them, congratulating each other, we briefly made a plan to clean our camp 4 and go lower that night. I talked to two other people on the summit, it felt like I was having normal conversations.

I topped out around 1 PM, for about 9 hours ascent from camp.

19981_28
Photobombed by my own mitten

19981_22
Looking back down the end of the climb at one false summit
I was a little worried about my mental state, so I only hung out for a few minutes and then headed lower. I made it back down to camp 4 in maybe 2 hours. It took another 3 hours to get down to camp 3. Lucasz descended further that night, to C2. I discovered that I'd somehow lost a tent pole and couldn't set up my tent. Harald was kind enough to let me share his, otherwise I would have had to get down to C1. It still wasn't easy, sleeping at 6800 meters, but I was tired enough that it wasn't that bad, I probably got 5 or 6 hours of rest.

So, I did it! Three trips and I finally got an 8000 meter summit*!


Asterisks:

First asterisk: Explorersweb says that the point I reached isn't the true summit. And maybe no one reached the true summit, this year.

This bugs me, mostly because I thought I'd done my homework properly before the trip. A few people said "there's a false summit and then a real summit". I also heard "stop 2 meters below the summit, the highest point is a cornice". So I Googled the issue and went to the first hit, this Mark Horrell blog post.

And I saved a few of Mark's images to my phone. Okay, you skip 2 bumps, and go to one in the back:

19981_23
Mark Horrell's photo
You stop at the point marked 2:

19981_24

And he said to avoid the final 2 meters, since it's an unprotected cornice.

So I hit the summit plateau, went to his point marked 2, and I stopped there. There were footsteps going 2 meters higher from where I stopped:

19981_20
And I didn't go up those steps. Looking sideways along the ridge, it was clearly corniced on that side:

19981_21


I shared the summit with one Sherpa and one German climber. I was sort of staring at those footsteps, the sherpa told me not to go higher. I figured it was all good. I was up in the clouds, I wouldn't get any more view if I went up there. And I might fall through a cornice.

Anyways, after the trip I saw some different info. It sounds like you go up those steps, then traverse a corniced ridge for 60 feet, then there's another point that's a few feet higher. I'm not sure. Mark Horrell wrote another blog post where he's looking at old photos and convincing himself that the summit looks different than it did in 1956. He thinks there's more snow now and the point he was on is the true summit, just with more snow on it.

According to explorersweb, neither Mark, nor I, nor anyone in 2019 touched the true summit. I'm guessing that they're right and Mark's wrong. But I honestly have no idea.

I'm still happy with what I accomplished but I'm genuinely confused on the summit topography. If you ever go up there, take some photos for me that make this all clearer. And tag the true summit if you can. It's possible you'll need to carry some rope up with you to safely navigate the final corniced ridge. It's also possible that the true summit can only be reached safely in the spring season when there's less snow.

Second asterisk: I took drugs to stay awake better.

I failed to summit Broad Peak, in 2017, turning around at 25,000 feet. It seemed mostly like an issue with sleep deprivation. On Broad, I slept poorly for 2 nights at basecamp (waking up before dawn, trying to figure out if we were going to start our summit push). Then I barely slept for 2 nights at C2. Then we climbed to C3, and started a summit push at 7 PM without even trying to rest. 11 hours later, I gave up.

This year, I made plans to stay awake better. I brought two caffeinated clif bars for the summit push. But I could barely eat at camp 4, eating two clif bars without throwing up sounded impossible, so those stayed in my bag. I also got some stimulant pills (100 mg modafinil) from my doctor, he usually gives them out to patients for dealing with jetlag. I took a pill at camp 4, that helped me wake up on summit day. I'm not sure if that's a cheat. I don't know if it's any different than drinking coffee or a 5 hour energy. I drink soda every now and then, I don't like coffee, I've never tried 5 hour energy, caffeine gives me heart palpitations sometimes. Either way, summit day this year was a lot more fun than falling asleep on my feet, in Pakistan.

I also took a lot of ambien on this trip, for sleeping at altitude. I'm an insomniac, even at home, and being at high altitude makes it a lot worse. On previous trips, I've just taken some reasonable dose like 5 or 10 mg a night to sleep better at altitude. This year I took some really huge amounts (up to 35 mg in one night) which always either knocked me out or made me high enough that I didn't really know or care that I was awake in a tiny tent at high altitude. Ambien only makes you hallucinate a little bit, at those doses:


19981_25
So, I think that was helpful. I slept twice at 6800 meters, before and after my summit, and it wasn't that bad. I always got enough hours in that I didn't get any cumulative sleep deprivation. At camp 4, I only took 5 mg of Ambien, which didn't knock me out, but helped me relax a little instead of just being nervous about the summit push. I didn't want to be groggy the next day, wasn't sure when I would start the summit push, didn't want to mess with my brain too much at that altitude.

I took tylenol on a few nights when I had altitude headaches or muscle pain. This is sure proof that I'm getting old -- I didn't even bring painkillers on my first expedition, 9 years ago.

I think I took diamox once. I bring it on every trip, but I usually find it disappointing, it doesn't really make me feel better, it just makes me pee more often. Some climbers swear by it, though. If you're going to try it, I'd say start with small doses. Doctors will prescribe 250 mg pills, but I think you only need a quarter of one of those to have an effect.

A lot of guidebooks tell you to avoid depressant drugs at altitude. I'd just say figure out what works for you. Try things out before the trip. Ambien is probably dangerous if you're not used to it. I use way more than the average person would use. Some people might go sleepwalking. I've experimented with it on enough trips that I think it's safe for me. I don't think it drops my heart rate very much, other depressants like benzos or opiates are probably more dangerous. Most things are safe in moderation, though. I've gotten drunk at 5600m. Experiment carefully with your own body -- your tolerance for fun may vary.

Some people think 6 bottles of oxygen is okay. Some people need diamox every night to avoid headaches. I need handwarmers and lots of sleeping pills. Maybe I need stimulants on summit day, maybe I could do without. Harald told me that he lives cleanly and would never take drugs. He also drank so much beer and chang that he passed out, at every teahouse we stayed at.

Okay, a few people have asked why I succeeded on Manaslu and not on Broad Peak. The main thing I did was manage sleep deprivation better, with some pills, with better planning, and doing everything I could to sleep more comfortably.

The other big difference is that I camped higher on Manaslu. Summit day was only 760m gain, I did that in 9 hours.

On Broad Peak, we set C3 at 7000m and aimed to gain about 1050m. I made it 700m uphill, in 11 hours.

There are trade-offs between camping lower or higher. In general, I'd say it's best to summit from the lowest camp that your fitness allows.

On Aconcagua, I camped at Nido de Condores and climbed from there. Not that bad, took me 7.5 hrs uphill. Moving camp up to Berlin would have been a hassle and a waste.

I've summitted Denali twice, both times starting at 14000 feet. That took longer, at least 10 hours uphill. But the 17000 foot camp on Denali sucks. It's windy and cold. People get frostbite there. They get their tents shredded by wind. I'd much rather hike a few more hours.

When Matt and I went to Broad Peak, we went with the same mentality, starting from 7000 meters made sense, we even thought it would be possible to start from lower. We thought there was no point in camping higher (some people will make a higher camp, maybe 7300 or 7400 meters).

Well, it turns out that climbing gets really slow above 7000 meters. On Manaslu, I considered going from C3 at 6800 meters to the summit at 8163. Adding up my split times, it took me 18 hours from there to the summit. Without carrying camping gear for half of that, maybe I could do it in 14 or 15 uphill? We're talking about starting at 9 PM. That's a really big day... I guess I'd recommend using Camp 4 for most people.

If you're really fit, the rules don't apply. One friend on Manaslu, Anthony Marra, started his summit push from Camp 2, all the way down at 6400 meters. I think it took him 12 hours for the ascent, then he skied back down. Anthony is a bad-ass, though. He spent the summer biking around Kyrgyzstan, climbing 7000 meter peaks. He skied Muztagh Ata, summiting in a single push from basecamp. Then he headed off to Manaslu, well acclimated and fit.

And of course, there was someone even fitter there, this year. François Cazzanelli set a speed record, climbing from Base Camp to the summit and back again in 17 hours, 43 minutes. I never saw or met him, just heard about it later. Blink and you miss someone like that. Kilian set the speed record on Denali one summer while I was there. Never saw him, I probably slept in that day.

I summitted Manaslu the same day as Nirmal Purja. Never saw him. Is he real? I suppose he would have just looked like any other sherpa, coming down. I only stopped and chatted with people who didn't have a mask on. Okay, 14 peaks without oxygen would probably be too much for anybody. I was tired for a few weeks after this trip.

I also ran into Stefi Troguet, she's instagram famous. I spotted her earlier on the trip. Kind of hard to miss, she was headed to camp 2 while wearing full make-up and bright red lipstick.

I laughed, like, come on, are we climbing a mountain or is this a fashion show? But I ran into her again higher up, she summited without oxygen and moved fast. I chatted with her on summit day, as she was descending. She gave me some encouraging words, something like "it's not that much further, but it takes forever without oxygen".

Anyways, she's a good climber, she also got up Nanga Parbat this year. Personal branding is tough. Lots of pro climbers share selfies every day.

I support photography and video projects, but posting daily selfies on Instagram just seems weird to me. Is that inconsistent?

The way I see it, photography is a tool to take the cool experience you're having and let you re-experience it later. It's an augmentation of memory. Sometimes it even improves your perception -- you look around the world and try to find things beautiful enough to frame.

Instagram, on the other hand, is a tool that takes you out of the present to think about your social relevance. It makes you think less about what you're doing and more about how you look while you're doing it, how important the thing is in other people's eyes.

And all I can really say about that is:


19981_27
Inspirational text placed on an image. I believe that you kids call this a meme.

Thanks go out to Amy, Chris, and Grace for giving me beta before this trip. To Matt, Melissa, and Kush for keeping me psyched while I was on the mountain. To Chris Tomer for getting the weather forecast right, yet again. To Lucasz and Harald for climbing with me, sharing gear and keeping each other entertained. I'd like to thank the academy. And I'd like to thank you, for reading.




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46


Comments or Questions
greenonion

Love it...
12/24/2019 16:11
"Climb the mountain so you can see the world, not so the world can see you." (haven't read your TR yet, but way to go on a biggie!)


jeep1212
summit
12/25/2019 20:58
what are your thoughts on this video? It appears the climbers went up the steps but were still short of the actual summit.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9W9iNNn4nI


seano
Good report, good style
12/26/2019 05:40
I admire your "playing fair" style of climbing these big peaks, and appreciate your taking the time to write it up. I tend to keep my views on mountaineering ethics to myself online to minimize poo-flinging, but I think we're on the same page there. I don't have the money or desire to visit the Himalaya, so the highest I'll get is 6800-6900m in the Andes, which makes your description of your experience moving and sleeping above that particularly interesting.


dereferenced
Summit ridge
12/26/2019 14:08
Jeep1212: thanks for that video! Those guys definitely went further than me, maybe up the steps and halfway along the narrow summit ridge. There's obviously a point beyond them that's a bit higher, but I still don't know if that point is the true summit or not (it doesn't have the rock features like in viesturs' photo or the first ascent, but maybe that's spring vs fall).


PaulVee

Really enjoyed your report
12/27/2019 02:47
Thanks for posting! Loved all of the details. Not sure I would ever have the wherewithal to do something of this magnitude, but it's great to read your account giving an honest assessment of everything. Oh! and congrats on a great job making the summit!!


Eli Boardman

Inspirational
12/27/2019 10:25
Awesome pictures and narrative! Your style is very impressive; I particularly appreciate your defense of good mountaineering ethics.


Chicago Transplant

Congrats!
12/27/2019 10:29
Thanks for posting, I don't think I've ever seen any detail on climbing Manaslu before. Not that I am likely to do so, but it was fun to read about your trip


ctlee

Love the gritty details
12/27/2019 16:40
I admire your mountaineering style and your honesty in relating the details of your adventure. "Fuck you, math is stupid"-awesome! I'm reading a book called "The Bond", about a Mt. Huntington ascent that has the quote: "I admired climbers...who used alpinism as a vehicle for personal challenge and self-discovery rather than for vacant pursuit of fame or attention"--I think you've nailed that! Congratulations on a hard-fought for 8000er!


Tim A

Incredible
12/27/2019 23:18
Really enjoyed your Broad peak report a few years ago and it's so impressive to see you made an 8000er summit without compromising on your climbing ethics when it seems like everybody else is fine climbing with O2 and finding success more easily. After reading all of Mark's articles you shared on the "true" summit of Manslu and watching that video of the Chinese climbers on the summit ridge, it really changes how I view the difficulty of that peak, even if the climbing to that point is relatively non-technical. I wouldn't touch a cornice like that in any circumstance on a 13er or 14er, much less at 8100m with an oxygen-starved brain. I'm curious too to see what it looks like pre-monsoon and if anybody has ever traversed that bit of ridge in the fall.

I always appreciate your introspection and self-awareness of how functional your brain is at those elevations. I'm fascinated by descriptions of climbers spending the night in camp 4 on all the big mountains when nobody is really sleeping or talking or eating and is in an odd walking-dead phase of meditation on one's own vital signs and motivation. That camp-4 night sounds horrible and anxiety-inducing in every trip report I read of 8000ers but it's always the most compelling part of the story, moreso than any technical climbing or the summit pano.

That summit ridge plus the objective risk with those middle camps means that if I ever reach a level of fitness and means to contemplate an 8000er, I'm gonna go with Cho Oyo. Thanks for writing this so I could climb Manaslu vicariously instead. Looking forward to seeing what you do next.


kushrocks

Proud of you!
12/29/2019 07:46
Sorry I had to bail for that lame excuse of breaking my leg and back and had to bail on this trip. Great details and honesty of what it takes to get up an 8000m peak without oxygen. I would love to try this peak but the growing crowds and people "learning to use crampons" make it less and less appealing. Way to keep after it. Back to Pakistan 2021?


dereferenced
Thanks all
12/29/2019 19:48
@kushrocks, there was a guy with only one leg climbing Manaslu this year. Your leg was merely broken. I think you're just lazy.

@Tim A, thanks for reading both trip reports. One frustrating thing about these trips is that you can't go back frequently. If you do something wrong, it takes years to try again and get it right. In that sense, I get why people take every precaution to succeed. But still, there's so much bullshit in Himalayan climbing, I have to call out some of it.

I hope that these trip reports would at least give the idea that an average person can climb to low 8000m without oxygen. And hopefully I put some details in here that will help someone avoid the mistakes I've made. I'm not sure about high 8000m peaks, K2 and Everest without oxygen are probably a lot harder. But I bet there are people on this forum who are fit enough to do it.

@Eli Boardman, cool that you're going on high altitude trips so young, I wish I'd started 10 years younger. It'll be cool to see where that + ultra running fitness takes you.

@seano, I glanced at your blog, cool that you're getting after peaks in South America right now. Nepal is actually a cheap place to travel, if you don't pay for permits and logistics. Maybe plan a long trek sometime? I think you can traverse almost the entire country on high altitude trails, that would be an amazing trip and I think you could do it for like 10 dollars a day.


astrobassman

Congrats Peter!
12/30/2019 07:59
After three 8000m attempts you got it, and never compromised your style in the process. Thats really cool.
Thank you for the excellent write up on your adventure.
Also thanks for all the advice on mountains an training over the years, I've certainly appreciated it and its helped me a lot.


HikerBox
Great writeup!
12/30/2019 11:55
Thanks for the great write up and awesome work on the climb!

Something I've always wondered about on the 8000m peaks - no one ever talks about sweat. Winter multiday trips for me are usually limited by sweating up my sleeping bag, layers, etc. Are you just not generating much because you're forced to go so slowly due to altitude or is there some other technique?


dereferenced
listen sweaty
12/30/2019 17:49
@HixerBox, good question. There are days when the sun's out and the wind's low and the glacier feels like it's 90 degrees. There's lots of stuff you can do to deal with that better.

I strip layers often when I'm overheating. Sometimes that's not enough and my baselayers still get wet.

My second layer above my baselayer is always something that stays warm when wet. You can use fleece or a softshell or a synthetic puffy for that. But don't wear a down jacket touching your baselayers.

I use separate baselayers for sleeping and for hiking. Hiking baselayers should be wool, sleeping ones can be synthetic or wool. When I get to camp, I change. I bring baby wipes to clean myself off a bit while changing. Ideally, you get to camp in the middle of a warm afternoon, so that the temperature is actually comfortable for this. I might bring like 100 for an expedition (but I bring several small packets with ~10 wipes, so I can keep them warm in my pocket. If you bring a package of 100 it'll just become a frozen brick).

I bring a few pairs of socks and try to always have dry ones. This time I put a pair of dry socks in a ziploc bag at basecamp and brought those up to high camp to change into for the summit push.

You need double boots for this kind of trip. You take the liners out at night and put them in your sleeping bag, your body warmth helps dries them out. The good double boots (spantiks, olympus mons, etc) are expensive, but you could get by with some old plastic boots for Colorado multiday trips. I think Baffin also makes some cheaper double leather boots, not sure if they're any good.

You can also sleep with wet clothes in your bag. Steve House puts his wet socks against his chest to dry them overnight. Kinda gross but better than losing toes.

Put your sleeping bag outside, hung over your tent, every sunny morning you get to keep it dry.

That should get you through a few weeks somewhere cold (i.e. Denali). The Himalayas are easier than Alaska because you can get hot water at base camp and do laundry, then hang it to dry. That actually went poorly for me, on Manaslu -- I washed my clothes on one sunny morning, then it rained and snowed for the next 2 weeks. I hung a line inside my tent and stuff eventually dried out, but it took days.

Our dining tent on this trip had a gas powered heater in it. It could dry out clothes, but it was always a fight between climbers to use the space in front of it.


HikerBox
Sweaty here
12/31/2019 20:14
Awesome thanks for the comprehensive reply! I figured there was something I was missing- the sun ha. No Himalayan aspirations for me but maybe Denali someday so good to know. Ideally on skis though so the downhill is more fun.


I Man

Incredible!
01/02/2020 14:33
Amazing write up, man. I imagine I will read it many times. I cannot convey just how proud of you I am. Climbing with you has been one of the great honors of my life. Not being able to go with you was tough - knowing that you would be solo and that I wouldn't be there was not easy. Ask Mrs. G, I almost quit my job and came. I will never forget the 24 hours that I didn't hear from you and the scream of joy (despite being around coworkers) when Mel texted me the news. You are an inspiration to many. Looking forward to seeing you sometime this year. Keep it up!


jbchalk

Halfway thru reading this, but hell yeah...
01/02/2020 15:31
Incredible! Love the 8000m reports. A HUGE congratulations man!


MatB

Very nice!
01/03/2020 11:40
Great write up and congrats on doing it with the right style. I appreciate your transparency and enjoyed your rant section. Although I have no desire for 8000m peaks I found it pretty interesting how you kept making comparisons with our environment in Colorado.


koeffling

Great report, congrats!
01/04/2020 10:51
I enjoyed your report, gorgeous photos, and all the details of the trip. Thanks for the candidness and openness in your decision making and climb. Great read. Congrats on a huge climb!


FireOnTheMountain

Dubstep Math Seems On Point
01/05/2020 20:52
I enjoy your unbiased and matter of fact descriptions Peter.

Cool writeup, insight and trip overall. Congrats on the summit! Very refreshing to see training and will put to the test these days without the easy way out every time, I commend your scruples man. Personally don't ever see myself going to the Himilaya however despite that I enjoyed your comparisons between Broad and Mansula in terms of the readiness and lessons.

I must ask tho, was that allllll the drugs consumed on the trip (less we forget the time off the mountain)? Haha


4thPlaceAtFieldDay

Thanks and congrats!
01/21/2020 21:18
Thanks for writing such an amazing and informative trip report. I always love reading the reports on the big peaks and yours made me feel like I was along for the climb!



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