Manaslu Expedition 2008 Dispatches
Exodus' Valerie Parkinson's day-by-day account of the Manaslu Expedition 2008
Written by Phil Crampton
DISPATCH #1 - SEPTEMBER 1, 2008 - KATHMANDU
Welcome to the expedition dispatches from the combined Project Himalaya-Altitude Junkies Manaslu Expedition 2008. Our team members are now starting to arrive in rainy Kathmandu for our first expedition to to the 8,163-meter Manaslu. This year, Jamie McGuinness will not be making his annual visit to Shishapangma or myself to Cho Oyu, as the new rules imposed by the Chinese Tibet Mountaineering Association have made it very difficult for expeditions with several different nationalities of climbers to obtain a climbing permit. Also the new 5-business day Tibet group visa application process makes all expeditions spend an extra week in Kathmandu, so we decided to try the less climbed Manaslu.
Several other commercial expeditions also decided that the new rules imposed were not worth the hassle so this year it seems as if Manaslu has become the new Cho Oyu and will have some of the same familiar Cho Oyu faces on it's slopes.
Our team this season is smaller than our usual expedition team size, as some of the Cho Oyu and Shishapangma climbers are hoping that they will be able to climb with Project Himalaya and the Altitude Junkies in Tibet in 2009.
The Manaslu expedition team consists of;
Phil Crampton (UK/USA)
Guntis Brands (Switzerland)
Valerie Parkinson (UK)
Stuart Smith (USA)
Our staff will consist of climbing Sherpas Tarki Sherpa and Pasang Gombu Sherpa and we will have Sarki Sherpa as our cook and his assistants. We are scheduled to leave Kathmandu on September 4 for the eleven day trek to Manaslu base camp and we hope you will follow our progress on this site.
DISPATCH #2 - SEPTEMBER 10, 2008 - SAMA GOAN
We have finally arrived at Sama Goan at 3530 meters where we will spend 3 nights for cautious acclimatization. The trek to this point has been truly amazing with warm temperatures and lush green fields. We traveled from Kathmandu with 40 porters plus kitchen staff and climbing Sherpas in two separate buses. We started our trek 15 kilometers outside of Arughat as this was as far as the buses could travel due to the washed out roads.
The team and porters are strong so we decided to shorten the trek by 2 days as the altitude gain was not really a problem until we reached Sama Goan. Sarki, our Sherpa cook, has been keeping us well fed and insists we break for a hot lunch each day. We take some time for the kitchen staff to catch up with our speedy climbers. We quite enjoy our 3 hour lunch breaks.
Our team are all in good health and this year we have some very experienced climbers. Stuart has summited Everest, Baruntse, Cho Oyu and Gasherbrum II and many other smaller peaks. I was fortunate enough to climb on Cho Oyu with Guntis back in 2005. Valerie has been a trekking guide for 25 years and has climbed many peaks including Stok Kangri 20 times.
We plan to arrive at Manaslu Base Camp on September 13 so we will report back from there.
DISPATCH # 3 - SEPTEMBER 14, 2008 - MANASLU BASE CAMP
Yesterday we reached Manaslu Base Camp at 4,800 meters. Last night it snowed about 6 inches at base camp and today we will relax and make our campsite as comfortable as possible as it will be out home for the next 30 days.
Camp 1 has already been established by the earlier teams' Sherpas. Camp 2 should be done in a few days, as the trail has been re-routed from an earlier route, which was incorrect. Tomorrow we will hold our puja ceremony and after that we will hopefully head up the mountain weather permitting.
We are all looking forward to getting our crampons on and making a carry to Camp 1. The campsites on Manaslu are lower than both Cho Oyu and Shisapagma, our usual autumn expeditions. So, we intend to use Camp 1 at 5,700 meters as our temporary advanced base camp. Weather permitting, we should be able to leave for Camp 1 and Camp 2 respectively by the end of next week.
DISPATCH #4 - SEPTEMBER 16, 2008 - MANASLU BASE CAMP
Today we had a deserved rest day for the team as we all made a carry to Camp 1 yesterday. The campsite is located 900 very cool meters above and around 5 kilometers in length long ways from base camp. The weather was overcast and at the crampon point it started to snow, which aided us later in the day. The Sherpas will carry another load today to Camp 1 and will take a rest day tomorrow.
We had another blanket of snow last night that dropped another 4 inches at base camp. Our Sherpas are always so attentive and clear the snow from the tents during the night to avoid any damage to our sleeping tents. We have had a cumulative snowfall over the past few days. The neighboring peaks keep us alert with their frequent small avalanches.
Weather permitting, we plan to all sleep at Camp 1 tomorrow and after a couple of nights there, we will move to Camp 2 at 6,200 meters. The line has now been established to Camp 2 by the earlier teams' Sherpas. We may even climb to Camp 3 after spending a few nights at Camp 2 if all the team feel well.
DISPATCH #5 - SEPTEMBER 19, 2008 - CAMP 1
What a difference a few days make on Manaslu. We made the climb to Camp 1 on the 17th starting in beautiful weather conditions, which turned to light snowfall just before we arrived at the camp. Overnight, it snowed around 6 inches and the 18th saw more light snowfall all day. Our plan was to spend 2 nights at Camp 1, and then climb to Camp 2 and spend the night there on the 19th. This plan is obviously being aborted as the route to Camp 2 has received a lot of snow, around 1-2 feet, and the avalanche danger is too high at the moment.
We had achieved our 2 nights acclimatization at 5,700 meters, so the morning of the 19th, we decided to descend to base camp. After descending around 150 meters, we decided that the whiteout conditions and the lack of visibility of the bamboo marker wands made it too dangerous to continue. The trail had been completely obliterated and we made the climb back to Camp 1 retracing our footsteps in a full scale blizzard.
We are all safe and sound at Camp 1 where we are sitting out the storm. We have enough food and gas here for a week, but we are really hoping for a break in the weather so we can have more of Sarki's cheesecake at base camp!
DISPATCH #6 - SEPTEMBER 20, 2008 - CAMP 1
We woke this morning to find our tents completely buried in fresh snow. After coming out from inside the vestibule we cleared the tents to review the damage caused by the 3 days of continuous snowfall, which had dumped around 2-3 feet of snow. Unfortunately, 2 of our 3 tents have received some damage and will need fly sheets and poles replacing. We have taken turns when clearing the snow from the tents and all the tents in Camp 1 are now buried completely by the heavy snowfall.
The weather forecast has mixed reports of improving and worsening conditions over the next few days. Our Sherpas had hoped to climb to Camp 1 this morning with Sherpas from other expeditions sharing the task of breaking a trail, but the weather at base camp is similar to Camp 1. Meanwhile we are content to sit and wait out the storm as we feel the conditions for glacier travel down to base camp are still not ideal. We originally planned to spend 5 nights away from base camp, so we still have plenty of food and humor remaining.
UPDATE - 4 PM
We heard through radio contact with base camp that 2 Western climbers were heading towards Camp 1. With a slight lull in the snowfall, we decided to descend and meet them halfway. We broke the trail, which was knee to waist deep in some sections descending around 300 meters until reaching the heavily crevassed section, where visibility once again became zero. There was no sign of the 2 ascending climbers so using our GPS system and bamboo marker wands we once again climbed back to Camp 1. We are now safely back at Camp 1 hoping for better weather tomorrow.
DISPATCH #7 - SEPTEMBER 21, 2008 - MANASLU BASE CAMP
This morning the view from Camp 1 was fantastic with clear blue skies and mountain views galore. It snowed again last night about 6 inches and the only visible tent around was the large Spanish dome that was bent out of shape and had lost its dome appearance. Camp 1 had housed around 60 tents before the storm and now all that was visible was our footprints on the flat campsite with all the tents buried. It was a surreal sight. We estimate around 4 feet of snow had been dumped at Camp 1 in a 48 hour period.
Once again we broke trail and started to descend where we met 8 Sherpas from Himalayan Experience at the halfway point to base camp. They had the arduous task of breaking the trail for all the foreign expeditions who were happy to stay behind in their foot stream. The lead Sherpa was pleased that we had broken the trail for them on the steep sections ahead and we were grateful that they had negotiated the crevasse section for us.
We passed many climbers ascending asking about the condition of their tents at Camp 1 to which my reply was, "What tents? They are all buried." We had lost one of our tents and this was constantly maintained by us digging it out and so I am expecting there are a few broken poles and damaged nylon once the Camp 1 excavation has been completed.
The weather forecast for the next few days predicts more snow but at the moment we are all happy to be at base camp enjoying the elusive cheesecake.
DISPATCH # 8 - SEPTEMBER 23, 2008 - MANASLU BASE CAMP
Our second full rest day at base camp sees glorious sunshine for a brief moment before the snow clouds roll in. There was a mad dash to do laundry, shower and shave before the temperature dropped once again. We are now waiting for the snow to start falling lightly this afternoon and tomorrow, the forecast predicts more snow.
The Sherpa Sirdars from the various expeditions are meeting to decide on a plan for most groups to establish Camp 2 at between 6,400 and 6,700 meters. There has been a lot of snowfall above Camp 2 and we must all be patient and allow the snow to consolidate before climbing higher. We are still waiting for that last dumping of snow and the good weather to decide when to get on.
A couple of expeditions have attempted Camp 2, but we are unsure of their status, as during the recent storm many teams have damaged tents at Camp 1. Due to the recent snowfall, they are unsure if they will even be able to locate their campsites. With the possibility of more bad weather hindering our progress, we may decide on placing Camp 2 at 6,700 meters and high camp at 7,450 meters using 3 camps instead of the traditional 4.
The German commercial expedition is leaving to Kathmandu in a few days as well as the French Canadian group. Some of the other commercial groups are now also getting close to their departure dates and are deciding whether to extend their expeditions and reschedule their return flights from Kathmandu. We are not scheduled to be back in Kathmandu until October 20 at the latest and we have the option to extend our expedition if needed. We think this will be unnecessary as we are confident the weather will turn in our favor with the conclusion of the monsoon drawing near.
I want to thank all those people who have sent messages of encouragement to our team members. They are a tough bunch and are all looking forward to getting higher on the hill.
DISPATCH # 9 - SEPTEMBER 25, 2008 - MANASLU BASE CAMP
We had planned to climb to Camp 1 this morning in anticipation of making a carry to Camp 2 tomorrow. Yesterday, it snowed all afternoon and last night we received another 6 inches of snow accumulation at Base Camp.
10 Sherpas from 2 separate commercial expeditions spent the night at Camp 1 yesterday and they reported heavy snowfall with freshly deep snow in the camp. These Sherpas contemplated moving higher but with the consistent snowfall, they are staying in Camp 1 today and hoping to move higher tomorrow.
Today, it snowed all day at Base Camp and we are now just waiting for the snow to stop. When it does and the conditions are safe, we will climb to Camp 1 again and then place our Camp 2 at 6,700 meters. It is going to be a long day's climb from Camp 1 at 5,700 meters to 6,700 meters with fully loaded packs. We have consulted Sherpas and climbers from the other remaining expeditions and the general consensus is that a campsite at 6,400 meters is deemed too unsafe this season with the present weather conditions.
This time we will have the company of our Sherpas, Pasang Gombu and Tarki, on our next acclimatization climb, as they have been getting restless at Base Camp with all the bad weather delays we have encountered so far. The monsoon officially ends in Nepal September 25, I think, so we are hoping for a break in the weather and a nice summit window in early October.
DISPATCH #10 - SEPTEMBER 27, 2008 - MANASLU BASE CAMP
It looks as if the monsoon is going to keep its promise as today, we awoke to a beautiful cloudless blue sky. We are keeping our fingers crossed that this is going to be the norm from now on.
The most frequently used words on these Manaslu expedition dispatches are snowfall and accumulation and I am using them both again today. The latest news from Manaslu is pretty much the same as the previous week's report apart from today's beautiful weather.
Another expedition has reported what they believe are traces of a large avalanche that has destroyed Camp 2 located at 6,700 meters, as seen through their scope. Fortunately, this campsite has been vacant for some days and everyone is safe. One team has a Camp 2 located on a small safe protected area at 6,400 meters which is unaffected by the slides. This campsite is somewhat small, hence the other teams avoiding the exposed slope near to it, and opting for a higher campsite at the 6,700 meter level. I have personally not seen this avalanche debris but the information comes from a very reliable source.
We believe that all climbers including all Sherpas are now at Base Camp waiting out the terrible weather conditions that we are encountering this season. Camp 1 has received another heavy snowfall accumulation according to our Dutch friends Katja and Hank, who have just returned from another night at Camp 1. The top of our Trango 3.1 tents are just visible above the snow line, so we will have to send our Sherpas to Camp 1 tomorrow to dig out again and assess any further damage to our tents.
We send our thanks to Keith Sanford from the Canadian Manaslu expedition for the email regarding the poor conditions we are encountering. Keith's team attempted Manaslu last season and encountered similar weather and we appreciate his advice on the conditions of the route from Camp 1 to Camp 2. It seems as if this is not a new weather pattern for Manaslu, and it is refreshing to see so many different teams working together this season in the face of such adverse weather. We all have the same goal and hope to achieve it safely.
I have been asked on several occasions if Manaslu can become a popular 8,000-meter peak, say a new Cho Oyu, as all the new restrictions placed on today's expeditions are making climbers look for other objectives. It is a difficult question to answer with such bad weather at present on Manaslu, but I am told from another reliable source that both Cho Oyu and Baruntse are also experiencing extreme weather conditions this fall climbing season. All I know at the moment is when we are fortunate enough to get a clear view of the roof of Manaslu, it is beautiful, looks challenging but also looks attainable for most.
DISPATCH #11 - SEPTEMBER 29,2008 - CAMP 2
Yesterday saw beautiful weather for our trip to Camp 1 and halfway up the glacier we were actually hoping for the weather to change to clouds to cool it down. We all climbed to Camp 2 today with snowy conditions, which suited us fine. We originally planned to place Camp 2 at 6,700 meters, but upon reaching 6,400 meters, the site of the traditional Camp 2, we decided to make camp as the snow was getting heavier and visibility to Camp 3 was poor.
Upon reaching Camp 2, we witnessed a large number of climbers trying to locate their tents. The intense snowstorm that Manaslu received on the 18th through the 20th of Septembr had buried Camp 2 at 6,400 meters and Camp 3 at 6,700 - 6,900 meters. Originally, these groups had thought that an avalanche had destroyed the camps but with more snow there is no sign of avalanche debris.
Two of the large commercial expeditions have suffered heavy losses of equipment and the Sherpas from these respective expeditions tried in vain to locate their equipment with avalanche probes but to no avail. All those climbers who had climbed to Camp 2 with us had to return to Camp 1 as they had no shelter or provisions to be found.
Tomorrow, Stuart and Guntis will climb to Camp 3 for a night. Pasang Gombu Sherpa plans to leave early morning and establish our campsite at around 6,800 meters. Valerie, Tarki Sherpa and I will descend to Base Camp, as the idea is to break the group in to 2 teams of 3. With so many tents and equipment being lost at Camp 2 and 3 respectively, we want to have extra tents available in case we suffer the same fate. We will take a few days rest and climb back up again this time for a summit push, weather permitting.
DISPATCH #12 - OCTOBER 1, 2008 - MANASLU BASE CAMP
The weather forecast starting today is looking good supposedly for around 4-6 days so tomorrow, Valerie, Tarki Sherpa and I are making the climb to the respective camps for the summit push. The wind speeds higher on the mountain are meant to drop to a manageable level for the next few days although this morning the wind was howling through base camp.
Stuart has just returned from spending an acclimatization night at Camp 3 at 6,750 meters and this morning Guntis decided to climb a little extra distance to the col at 6,900 meters and will return to Base Camp this evening. They will both spend a few days at Base Camp before following us 1 or 2 days behind with Pasang Gombu Sherpa.
We plan to spend the night at Camp 1 at 5,700 meters, reach Camp 2 at 6,400 meters around lunchtime and don our down suits for continuing the 3 extra hours to reach Camp 3 at 6,750 meters for the night, and finally Camp 4 at 7,450 meters before making the summit push in the early hours of October 5. Obviously this plan could change and the weather almost certainly will, but it's our best chance for topping out this season with all this bad weather over the month of September.
We have donated 200 meters of Korean 9 mm rope and 120 meters of good quality static 8mm rope plus snow pickets towards the rope fixing equipment pool, so hopefully the earlier teams' Sherpas have enough combined gear to fix the route accordingly. We believe the first summits are planned for October 3 and thereafter.
We hope to keep everyone informed with regular reports from the high camps via our General Dynamics Go Book MR1 palm size computer connected to our satellite phone.
DISPATCH #13 - OCTOBER 3,2008 - CAMP 3
Yesterday, Valerie and I had a rather long day. We left Base Camp mid morning for hopefully our final climb to Camp 1 as we are on our summit push. We arrived at Camp 1 one and a half hours earlier than expected so we decided to continue to Camp 2 at 6,400 meters. That's an elevation gain of 1,600 meters for the day as we decided the longer days lower on the mountain would benefit us more and we would have shorter gains above 6,400 meters.
Today we arrived at Camp 3 at 6,750 meters in just over 2 hours and are looking forward to climbing to high Camp tomorrow at 7,450 meters. Guntis and Stuart are climbing to Camp 1 today and hopefully tomorrow will be at Camp 3. Today we are seeing the first Sherpas and climbers heading to Camp 4 and if the weather cooperates, they will hopefully reach the summit tomorrow.
DISPATCH #14 - OCTOBER 4, 2008 - CAMP 4
Today we arrived at Camp 4 at 7,450 meters. Tarki Sherpa, Valerie, and I have had a long day as we have gained 700 meters elevation from Camp 3. The climb was uneventful except for a sick climber who was being lowered by Sherpas in a sleeping bag. We also witnessed another two climbers who fell and were stopped by the fixed rope.
Stuart and Guntis should be in Camp 3 this evening and they will move up to where we are tomorrow.
There have been numerous summits of the central summit but at the time of this dispatch the only true summits we are aware of are two Italian climbers, and this we are told from a reliable source. Tomorrow early morning, we leave for the summit with the Japanese and Spanish and we are hoping to reach the true summit.
DISPATCH #15 - OCTOBER 5, 2008 - CAMP 3
There has been trouble with Thuraya Satellite phone services for the past 3 days, so therefore there was a delay in dispatches.
This morning, Valerie, Tarki Sherpa and I summited Manaslu at 9:30 AM local time. The climb to the summit took 6 hours and we are now hydrating in Camp 3. The summit this year is decorated by prayer flags bearing an exposed corniced ridge that leads to the true summit, which many teams have avoided.
The Spanish expedition was first to summit this morning followed by the Japanese using supplementary oxygen. Both of these teams went the extra distance and reached the true summit so we all decided to climb to the true summit over Manaslu along with our Mexican friends both Yuri and Laura. We have to say a huge thank you to the Spanish team for putting in the route along the exposed cornice ridge.
Guntis, Stuart, and Pasang Gombu Sherpa are all in Camp 4 at 7,450 meters and will be leaving for the summit in the early hours of tomorrow morning. We believe that Valerie has become the first British woman to summit Manaslu without supplementary oxygen. Tarki Sherpa and I did not use oxygen. Guntis, Stuart, and Pasang Gombu Sherpa are also not using oxygen.
DISPATCH 16 - OCTOBER 6, 2008 - MANASLU BASE CAMP
Guntis, Stuart, and Pasang Gombu Sherpa all departed Camp 4 for the summit around 3:30 AM. The weather conditions have changed for the worse somewhat since yesterday and they have experienced high winds and snow. This weather pattern was not meant to arrive until the 7th according to the European weather forecast services.
They battled in vain against the fierce wind until reaching just below the summit and had to make the decision to turn around as none of them were using supplementary oxygen and the risk of frostbite was too high. They broke down Camp 4 as a precaution as not to have the camp destroyed and descended to Camp 3 at 6,750 meters where they are all safe. They will spend the night there and are hoping for a break in the weather tomorrow that will give them another shot at the top. Unfortunately, the weather forecast is not looking good for a few days so we may see them back at base camp tomorrow.
UPDATE 1 PM
Stuart decided to descend to Base Camp around 1 PM. He arrived at Base Camp around 8 PM later than anticipated as he assisted 2 German climbers who were fatigued and without headlights descend from Camp 1. Guntis and Pasang Gombu Sherpa will descend and will arrive at Base Camp tomorrow lunchtime.
DISPATCH #17 - OCTOBER 7, 2008 - MANASLU BASE CAMP
Stuart departed Base Camp today for the trek to Kathmandu. Gunther, one of the German climbers who was assisted by Stuart, came over to thank him for his help in his absence. Guntis and Pasang Gombu Sherpa are all back safe in Base Camp and in good spirits. We have ordered our porters for Sama Goan to arrive on the 9th and hopefully we can get our porters from Kathmandu as the Dashain festival is in progress.
DISPATCH #18 - OCTOBER 15, 2008 - KATHMANDU
We are back in Kathmandu and are enjoying the post expedition food and drink. We have had a good and safe expedition but feel dissapointed that Stuart, Guntis and Pasang Gombu were turned around by the weather so close to the summit.
Unfortunately the Thuraya satellite network was down once again, similar to the Everest season this past spring, for October 5th through 7th. We apologize about the delay in reporting the summit success and hope this did not cause anyone too much concern with our silence. All expeditions at base camp had the same problem and we were only able to communicate with the outside world from October 8th onwards.
Our members will return to their respective countries while I will be heading back into the mountains with a fresh new team attempting the 7,000-meter Kang Guru.