September 6, 2019
I am feeling thankful for small blessings at the moment, especially an unexpected extra rest day in Kathmandu. Our planned chopper was grounded due to inclement weather, so we got to relax and enjoy another day in the fancy Fairfield by Marriott hotel. The extra time also meant I could meet with the Himalayan Database, who noted down my details so my climb could be recorded for posterity. I’ve spent a lot of time researching and reading about Himalayan mountaineering history, so I felt a jolt of excitement at having my name entered into the database. It’s been recording climbs in the Nepalese Himalaya since 1903, so truly a rite of passage for mountaineers.
The hotel was on the edge of Thamel, so I went for a little explore in the afternoon. Thamel is the tourist district of Kathmandu – think the Khao San Road of Bangkok or Piccadilly Circus in London. Its winding network of streets is crammed with souvenir stalls, bars, restaurants and Internet cafes; pedestrians and scooters and taxis all vie for space on the narrow roads. Amazing how quickly you get used to having cars brush past your elbow, or jumping out of the way of rickshaws. It’s chaotic but it works – tangled-but-somehow-still-functioning, not unlike the myriad wires that twist their way around the telegraph poles on every corner. Colourful prayer flags are strung across the roads, and at night there’s a dazzling array of neon lights, plus music blaring from every corner. It’s not for everyone – I certainly wouldn’t want to spend more than a couple of nights there – but the food options are plentiful and delicious, inexpensive, and I was able to find a cafe to write in for a few hours – with great coffee. Bonus.
September 7, 2019
But, let’s face it, I’m not here for the coffee! The next morning was an early start and we were all praying that the helicopter would fly this time. I was itching to get to the mountains. Thankfully, we weren’t disappointed, and by 9:30am we took off from the airport and flew low over the sprawling city of Kathmandu. The jumble of houses soon gave way to rippling green terraces and dense jungle as we followed the meandering river below, dodging clouds and rain. Every now and then, the green was punctuated by the sky blue tin roofs of dwellings – even though it wasn’t exactly clear from the air how people accessed those remote homes! After a brief pitstop to change helicopters, the scenery shifted again: this time to stunning pine forests and mountain ridges as we headed higher in altitude, waterfalls cascading from the rock on either side of us. Honestly, I think the views from that helicopter alone were worth the price of admission!
Our destination was Samagaun (approx 3500m), the main village at the base of Manaslu. It’s a village that’s growing rapidly with the popularity of the mountain, so there is lots of construction going on. There were quite a few teams already getting acclimatised, so we settled into our busy teahouse Mt Manaslu Hotel, and I had my first meal of garlic soup and dahl bat – of course! Acclimatising is also all about staying hydrated, so taking in lots of water and tea. Thankfully there is a bit of WiFi so I could get out this dispatch! Apparently there is internet at basecamp too, but it is likely to be very slow.
Deeya and I took a short walk up to a convent, and watched some painters painstakingly add decoration to the inside of a newly built monastery. They’re planning on finishing by 2020 – and according to the monk it’s been a process already six years in the making!
It doesn’t yet feel quite real that we will be mountaineering in a few days. We haven’t even seen the mountain, as it hides stubbornly behind a bank of cloud, this being the tail end of monsoon season. But the anticipation is building. Lines are already fixed to Camp 3 on the mountain – good progress this early in the season.
September 8, 2019
This morning being an early bird paid off again, as I had an incredible view of the mountain at 6am! Wow – it’s a great feeling to have the target in sight. After breakfast we set off on an acclimatisation hike up to just over 4000m, following the path up to base camp but turning off to follow a steep woodland path to the top of a lookout. The walk was astonishingly green, punctuated with bright indigo flowers and startlingly red berries. As we reached the top, the forest thinned to a meadow of baby pink wildflowers. So delightful and unexpected. We rested about an hour at the top, generating those red blood cells. Himalayan vultures soared overhead, but Manaslu remained hidden behind a cloud. We did have a great view of a glacial lake – Biendra Tal – and the glacier itself, active and gushing water.
We’ll be trucking all the way up to base camp tomorrow and then the hard work will really begin!