Puja, Party and Acclimatisation Routine – Manaslu Dispatches #4 & #5

September 12-14th, 2019

I’ve grown accustomed to falling asleep to the patter of rain on the tent roof, as it’s still the tail end of the monsoon season in the Gorkha district, where Manaslu is. It’s rained almost nonstop from 8pm to 8am, causing rivers to run through the base camp and some of the tents to flood. Thankfully mine has stayed dry but I’m not taking anything for granted with this amount of rain!

Yesterday (Friday the 13th) at 6am my alarm went off for the puja – the traditional blessing on the mountain. Almost as if it was planned that way, it was a beautiful morning, with sunshine bearing down and the east pinnacle of Manaslu coming into view. As the Buddhist lamas chanted in Tibetan for about an hour, asking the mountain for its blessing for us to climb, I drifted off into a meditative state. It’s so strange to contemplate the path it took me to get here, the choices I’ve made and people I’ve met and places I’ve been. But yet at that very moment there was no where else I wanted to be. I felt incredibly privileged and lucky and content. A nice way to feel. When the colourful prayer flags went up, it really felt like our journey to 8000m was underway. We dusted each other’s faces with flour to say good luck, and the ceremony was finished.

Following the puja was a big party! An unexpected touch of fun. Nims had invited a few other teams from base camp and there was lots of dancing and a fair amount of drink flowing even at 8am. There is a great sense of camaraderie and friendship on the mountain – since everyone has the same goal, there’s no real sense of competition. And everyone wanted to stop by and say hello to Nims – the true celebrity of the mountain (even if he would hate me for saying that!). The party continued well into the afternoon and by the time dinner finished I was as exhausted as if we’d climbed to camp three!

I’ve jumped around the days a bit, but before and after the puja day we’ve also been doing a lot of training on the mountain. A few people on the trip are using Manaslu as a way to prepare for bigger expeditions (I am still TBC on that front!) so it’s been great to use the expertise of Nims and his team to learn how to move on the mountain. They set up a fixed line on a nearby steep section of glacier, so we practiced using the jumar to climb and then abseil back down. We even did some practise ladder crossings and climbs. Even though it’s not been too cold, I did all the training in my big thick gloves, attempting to replicate conditions up high. It was actually great fun (in addition to hard work!) to be on the side of the mountain. It definitely boosted my confidence for later in the trip.

Manaslu has been noisy and active – serac falls thundering around base camp. There is apparently a fair amount of snow above us but not so much as to bury the lines that have already been fixed. Tomorrow we are hopefully moving to camp one to start our acclimatisation routine but it’s all dependent on the weather! Until next time…

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Acclimatisation routine – Manaslu Dispatch #5

September 15-17, 2019

Maybe one of the strangest aspects of mountaineering is this need to head up and down the mountain to acclimatise, following the same paths you will eventually use to get to the summit. You become familiar with the route but also all too aware that any tough sections you have to do over again in the coming weeks.

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting from Manaslu – again, Aconcagua is sort of the only point of reference that I have. We set off from base camp wearing our big boots, harnesses, and carrying enough food and gear for three nights but the likelihood was that we wouldn’t need ropes and a jumar on the way to camp one. Still, I hadn’t climbed with such a big backpack in a while (even training seemed like a distant memory at this point) and I could feel the pressure of the weight on my neck. Setting off with a headache is never fun, and we had a little ways to go yet.

It did feel good to finally get on the mountain, and we soon reached “crampon point”, where the snowline started. It was blazingly hot, and most of us had stripped down to a single layer. Even with that, I felt like I was melting.

About 5 hours later, when we reached “lower camp one,” I was so done. Emotionally and physically exhausted but not entirely sure why – I know that I could walk a lot longer and further than that. (We’d gone about 5.5hrs and maybe 8km). Still that last 1/2 hr slog up to our camp was made through a sheen of tears. The mountain is definitely humbling. Trying to cut myself some slack, an 880m to 5800m height gain at this altitude isn’t to be underestimated. Camp One here is higher than we ever slept on Aconcagua. This is why you acclimatise, so that hopefully the next time you so the route, you are stronger.

I had a surprisingly OK night (and didn’t have to stomach rehydrated food yet, so ate well), and woke up with a lot more energy. We could already see a line of people snaking up the mountainside – it looked a lot steeper and more technical than the previous days’ walk, so we ditched our walking poles for ice axes and jumars. This is actually the kind of climbing that I prefer – steeper but not such a long slog. That being said, there were some extremely tricky sections where I really felt like I was using all my energy to haul my body up the steep cliffs and I didn’t have much energy to begin with! At one point we had to wait to climb one at a time, or else snow and ice hailed down on our helmets. I was concentrating too hard to be scared, and I didn’t rest much after. I just wanted to keep plodding on, and after a while ended up leaving some of the team behind.

For a few hours, I walked alone with Tenjin Sherpa, surrounded by this eerie half light where the sun was obscured by snowy cloud (though absolutely not to be underestimated – I’m ashamed to say my face is badly burned despite constantly applying factor 50 and wearing a buff up to my eyeballs. I don’t understand what I did wrong and, yes, I cried about that too. Don’t go thinking you’re reading the blog of some strong mountain woman here! Most of the time I feel incredibly pathetic). Strange shapes loomed out of the snow, huge arcs of glacial ice – sometimes that piercing blue but most of the time just ghostly white. We crossed several ladders over yawning crevasses, the bottoms of which were swallowed up by darkness. I fell into a rhythm of clipping in to the line, clipping out – fingers fumbling with the carabiners in my thick gloves and feeling sure that I was the last idiot on earth able to work those fiddly devices. But when I looked up and around, I could see no one but Tenjin’s bright backpack in front of me. I kept plodding on.

Stefi soon caught up with me, but then it wasn’t long until Camp Two. After arriving it was tea and toilet breaks, until the rest of the group arrived about 45 mins later and we had dinner. I still can never quite stomach those rehydrated meals, despite being hungry. The sunburn was catching up with me too, and it wasn’t long until I retreated to the very cosy three person tent! (Me, Stefi and Deeya). The plan was to touch camp three, spend one more night at camp two and then back down, but the snow fell heavily overnight so we ended up heading back down to base camp today – a 12 hour trip up but half of that on return, with a long stop for tea. Also we had a few good reminders not to take that fixed line for granted – we watched one guy (not from our team) abseil straight into a crevasse (he wasn’t looking behind him) and needed rescuing, and a few booted feet went through snow bridges on the way. Still, I was sort of amazed by my own turn around – from last into camp on day one to first on day two, but Mingma David Sherpa kindly reminded me that I seem to find my strength at 6500m! Let’s see how I do at 8000…

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