Snow Falling on Canvas – Manaslu Dispatch #6

September 18-21st

The snow has been falling heavily at base camp, coating everything in a blanket of white. Periodically throughout the night, my tent would shake as the Sherpas attempted to keep it clear of heavy snow – tent collapse is a real hazard, and our cook was almost a genuine casualty! We will have a few days, maybe a week, here at least – which for me means reading and writing a lot, just like at home, only without the distraction of Twitter! Some people might head down to Samagaun but I’ve aggravated a bit of an old knee injury so I’m staying put to give it as much rest as possible. I didn’t fall but just twisted a little in my crampons – so I’m hoping a bit of rest is all it needs. We shall see. I seem to have brought with me a lifetime supply of Cadbury chocolate for the trip (and then panic bought more at the airport!) so I’ve made friends by sharing it around as we play rounds of President (at one point we had 14 players!) to pass the time. Our base camp is quite sociable, with lots of people from other camps stopping by, and often some quite famous climbers from all over the world. All these people I’ve read about on mountaineering forums and websites and in books coming to life in front of me – pretty cool.

On 20 September, the skies finally cleared and the sun shone brightly. Almost everyone was up at 5:30am to look at the stunning views. The sky now was as blue was I remember it from the Annapurna Circuit, an impossibly deep cerulean, the colours made even crisper by the altitude. It also meant sunshine, which meant heat, which meant we could shower! My first high altitude shower! I cannot tell you what bliss it was to wash my hair after 15 days of it turning into a grease ball beneath my tuque. Combined with some mega sunburn across my nose and cheekbones, I was truly looking my best. Mountaineering is not for the super vain that’s for sure (although vanity meant I walked around base camp for two days with a buff over my face covering a second-skin layer of aloe vera – probably for the best frankly as now I’m mostly healed and look more human!). The shower consisted of a bucket of hot water and a scoop in a steamy tent, but it was good enough. It was also hot enough to do some much needed laundry and hang everything to dry in the blazing sun. This kind of admin day was sorely needed (not just because of smell!) as it definitely lifted everyone’s mood. The power of feeling fresh! (I still hesitate to say clean).

The other positive of a blue sky day is that the fixing team have been able to return to the mountain. They’d reached camp 3 early in September but hadn’t been able to move beyond owing to the snows. Their plan now is to hit camp three straight away, then fix lines to camp four and the summit by 23rd most likely. Our EHA Sherpas will be following behind to deposit our oxygen supplies at camp four. Then the client team (including me) will follow in four/five days, stopping off at each of the four camps along the way for a night – with a potential aim for summit on 27 or 28 September. We’d then descend to camp two, and then base camp the following day. So in 10 days, it could all be over! Why the wait and then the gradual altitude gain if the lines will be fixed by 23rd? Because there are so many people on Manaslu at the moment, it isn’t really advantageous to be among the very first teams to summit. For one, if we allow a few teams to go ahead then the route will be more trodden down and we won’t have to worry about breaking trail. The weather window looks so far to be quite wide, so we don’t have to rush. And taking extra time allows us all the best opportunity to summit. One of our team is attempting without oxygen, so she wants to minimise the time spent in a queue above 8000m. And finally, we want to wait for Nims for as long as possible. Obviously we will move if the timing is right, but it would be great if he could be with us.

So for now, it’s the waiting game! We’ve occupied time by hiking to WiFi mountain (aka another branch of base camp about 15 mins away) to check in with family and friends. Honestly the sight of all of us huddled in the snow around a tiny router (sometimes under an umbrella if it is snowing hard) is pretty hilarious! Like little internet hungry penguins. The team over there takes pity on us and feeds us tea. We’ve also spent some afternoons learning about crevasse rescue and moving on glaciers – not so much of an issue here since there are fixed lines, but it’s been great to take advantage of the expertise of our Sherpa team to learn how to behave in other alpine situations.

And of course – there’s the eating! Oh so much eating. And the food here is really quite yummy, filling and happily diverse. No endless rounds of dal baht like I was expecting but pizza, pasta, potatoes, fried rice, stir fried meats and lots of green leafy vegetables. Yum.

How fancy is this? We even watched a movie last night. There was popcorn with dinner and we huddled in a corner of the dining tent to watch a truly terrible X-men movie, but it was fun. I know these next few days are going to seem so long, and yet I will appreciate every moment’s rest once I’m on the mountain and making that summit attempt. Trying to have a little patience! And to occasionally step outside, stare at the beautiful mountain, and remind myself that this is a true once in a lifetime experience… so I shouldn’t simply wish the days away.

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