MANASLU EXPEDITION

September, 2018

I arrived in Kathmandu on the 29th of August. It was 10 days before the official starting date of the expedition. I just relaxed and enjoyed life in Kathmandu, and bought the last things I needed before going to the base camp.

I organized the journey to the base camp with the Uruguayan climber Vanessa Estol, a friend of mine who I had met 3 years ago on her way to climb Island Peak.

The monsoons hadn’t finished yet. There was incredibly heavy rain every single day. We were planning to trek from Besisarar to Base Camp, but two or three land slides made us change our minds and we decided to fly by helicopter to Samagaun. We booked a helicopter for the next day.

The weather was not very good, but we had a flight in the end of afternoon when the conditions got better. It was the last flight of the day; the next morning the very same helicopter crashed, killing 5 people and injuring 1. We hadn’t wanted to walk because of the land slides, but the danger was everywhere.

We arrived on the 7th of September in Samagaun (3.650m), a small and very quiet village just below the base camp.

We spent the next day walking around, and visited the monastery and the lake not far from the village.

 

On 9th September we decided to go to visit the base camp and return to Samagaun to sleep. As we had the full day to go to BC we walked very slowly, enjoying the forest and trying to find as many types of mountain flowers as possible. I remember that Vanessa found one that looked like an orchid.

When we arrived at the BC, we just loved it, and after eating we visited our tents. We decided that on the next day we would come up again with our equipment to stay in BC instead of spending 3 nights in Samagaun.

The next morning on September 10th we left Samagaun crossing a gate, making the promise not to cross it again before summiting Manaslu… We were very determined and felt strong.

 

BASE CAMP 

Probably the best way to describe my first day in base camp was like feeling at home. In fact, that tent was to be my house for almost a month.

The base camp was the size of a small village. Actually, it was bigger than most of the villages around with 200 hundred climbers from all over the world and dozens of yellow tents.

Around September 12th, Temba Sherpa lent me his boots and I went up to C1, and back again to base camp to sleep.

What I didn’t know was that the helicopter companies were having problems both with getting permits to fly in this region, and with the weather conditions. That meant I would receive my Duffle Bags only 8 days later, on 15th September.

During these 8 days I saw most part of the climbers going up to C1 and C2 and I was still only able to walk until Crampon Point, 5000 meters, in order to get acclimatized.

Actually, I think that this time in the base camp at 4 810m helped me a lot to acclimatize. I never had a headache or felt fatigue. I always felt physically well.

I was one of the last one of the team to get my equipment.

I remember when I received my Duffel bags, I went into the tent with them and tears of happiness came out.

I was so happy that I organized to go on the next day to sleep at C1, then C2 and C3.

C1 & C2

On September 16th we finally left Base Camp to sleep at C1.

The day was great, no wind and the sun was shining. Everything was going well, until suddenly we heard a quite big avalanche on the East pinnacle of the mountain, just below C2. My heart instantly started to beat faster and harder. Temba said: “No worries, that it’s a small one, it’s not dangerous, we are in a safe zone”. I calmed down and we kept walking again.

For me it seemed a big avalanche, and a very impressive one. But probably for Temba Sherpa it was just one more in his many years in the mountain. When we arrived in C1 a lot of tents were already pitched and were almost entirely covered by snow.

 

The next day, on September 17, we woke up around 5am, and around 7 am we saw two guys leaving from camp 2 to camp 3. When we arrived at C2, around 12 pm, we heard that a Western climber and a Sherpa had been caught in an avalanche. They were trying to reach the camp 3 but they hadn’t found the fixed ropes, and sadly a small but very dangerous avalanche caught them. They were lucky to survive, and just had small injuries, and they walked down to base camp by themselves.

For me it was my second day sleeping above the BC and the second avalanche. It’s incredible how alive we feel in these dangerous situations. wW always try to manage the risks. But we know that the unforeseen can happen anytime.

We slept at C2 at 6320 meters. It was another beautiful night. The sky was full of stars and we could see the lights of C1 and the Base Camp.

 

C3

On the next day, the 18th of September, I was determined to walk a little bit more up to C3 and then get back down to Base Camp. Which meant probably walking to where the avalanche had happened the day before.

I left first, and Temba Sherpa caught up with me 20 minutes later. After a while we reached a big wall of ice. We couldn’t see the fixed rope because it had snowed a lot a few days ago and had buried all of it. The face of the mountain was covered with quite a lot of fresh snow and it was a little bit scary.

We kept climbing this wall and, at some point, we saw a part of the rope which was left uncovered by the snow. We used it to climb the last section and arrived exactly where the avalanche had happened.

We had a rest for 15 minutes. Then Temba Sherpa, who already worked many years in the Fixed Rope Team and in many rescues in high-altitude mountain, started to analyze the situation, then walked inside the avalanche debris, through the blocks of snow. He told me to wait until he passed through, because there was still a slight risk of avalanche on the left side of the passage.

I was waiting, and that strong awareness of being alive came unbidden to my mind once more. That was another situation that we could not manage at 100%, but we had to take the risk. I remember that the first blocks of snow were quite solid and good to walk on, but after crossing them, Temba started to walk through fresh snow up to his knees. When he called me, I started to cross the avalanche debris, keeping my eyes to its left side, where there was still some risk of it sliding down.

Yes, it was very scary, I took a deep breath and started to walk through it. After 50 meters we faced another ice wall. This one was much lower, but there was about 80 centimeters of snow. Temba saw a small piece part of the fixed rope and he made a new anchor. He held the rope for me to climb it. It was not a hard climb despite the deep snow. Using the fixed rope, we arrived in C3.

We were the first climbers to reach it at 6 730 meters after the avalanche had happened. It was an incredible moment, just me and Temba at that altitude. It was very quiet, no wind and clear, blue sky. We were happy to be totally alone in that moment. We found a place to sit, drink something warm, and enjoy the amazing view of the Himalayas. We were really proud of ourselves.

We left a tent, gas, and a bottle of oxygen that I would carry on the summiting day in case of emergency. After an hour there, we started to head back down to base camp, where we spent the night.

 

BASE CAMP AGAIN

On September 19th the weather was still good, but we knew that following that it would be bad till 23rd. Some of the weather forecast were even announcing the possibility of one meter of snow during this time. In the end there would be 70 centimeters of snow.

Everybody knew that the 26th, 27th and 28th until 12 pm would be the moment to summit. The window days were settled.

I stayed 3 days resting at the base camp, and on September 22nd I started to make plans with Temba Sherpa and Sergi Mingote to start the summit push from BC on the afternoon of 23rd. Vanessa and her guide decided to wait for the weather to get better. Sergi is a Spanish Professional Climber who is trying to summit the three highest 8000s meters in less than a year, without using oxygen supplement. He will break the World Guinness Record.

That meant the plans were settled:

on September 23rd : C1

on 24th walk to C2 and then to C3 to spend the night,

on 25th walk to Camp 4, rest during the day, and then summit from C4 and back to Summit-C3.

We left base camp on 23rd of September at 16 o’clock and arrived at C1 before 19 o’clock. That meant less than 3 hours. We were very well acclimatized.

 

THE DAYS BEFORE

The night on C1 was amazing, and one of the best moments I’ve had so far. The sky was clear, the moon was almost full, the moonlight illuminating everything around us, and the snow helping to amplify the light. We couldn’t see the end of the horizon. Sergi and I didn’t want to go sleep, we spent a lot time contemplating that beauty, and commented how lucky we were to be there, to be alive. Gratitude!

The next day we left C1 early morning to go to C2, where we spent an hour, before continuing to C3. The way was once more difficult, with a lot of fresh snow. We spent four hours getting there.

We saw that the snow between C2 and C3 was quite deep and hard to walk through. This meant it would be even harder from C3 to C4.

We had another option too. We had talked before about summiting directly from C3, and then descending again back to C3, depending on how we felt in the moment.

We knew that the Fix Rope Team had already fixed until C4, but after many days of snow the rope would be completely covered and impossible to find.

Temba is a very experienced high-altitude Guide and Expedition Leader. He already worked in the Fixed Rope Team, and Everest Winter Expeditions, as well as organized many rescues above 8000.

I had already been in more than 80 countries, most part of the time trekking, climbing a few 4000, 5000 and 6000 meter mountains, and been rock and ice climbing too, but this was my first time trying to climb an 8000 meters mountain without oxygen (I ended up using it at 7600m). I was so glad to be with these two very experienced mountaineers.

In those conditions it was not easy. But we decided to take the risk. It was a great opportunity to work together and see how they opened the way, fixing the ropes in high-altitude mountain. It was an amazing experience.

Sergi and Temba were feeling good. They asked me how i felt, having in mind the idea of trying to summit that night from C3. I was feeling well and strong, but I decided to take a bottle of oxygen in case of emergency. I said: “let’s try guys! I would like to try tonight!”. We hugged each other, exchanged motivation words. Then Sergi said: “let’s go to sleep” because it was already 6 pm and we had only three hours to rest before the final ascent.

We woke up at 9 pm. It was just a short nap. We ate some food even if we were not hungry, prepared everything, and left C3 around 10 pm of the 24th of September 2018.

 

THE WORST HOURS

The C3 is quite protected from the wind. When we left the wind wasn’t very strong, but after reaching the Col just below it, it started to be, averaging around 45-50km/h. We were exposed to it until C4. It was not fun, and was very hard.

After leaving C3 we walked for more than three hours until we found the first fixed rope. It was just before we started to traverse to the left inside of the Manaslu Glacier. From there we used the fixed ropes until C4, where we arrived around 4:30 am through dismal condition and a strong wind.

We arrived 4:30 am to C4 at 7450 meters. At 7am we were still at 7600 meters. That meant we spent more than 2h30m climbing 150 meters.

 

From C4, we probably strayed from the way a little bit, which made us face an ice wall with an inclination of approximately 50°, where we spent too much time trying to find the right place to fix the rope to climb up. It was a critical moment: we faced that terrifying wall at 7600 meters, just below C4.

My feet were very warm all the way up to C4. I had a very good socks, which in this case was probably a problem, because my feet usually sweat too much. In those 3 hours, all this sweat froze inside my shoes. I felt a big blister form on both my big toes. They were big, and my toes were almost frozen inside. It was very painful, but I endured it, until after some time I didn’t feel my feet anymore. It was around 7am, at 7600 meters, when I started to feel symptoms of frostbite. So,I took the decision to use the oxygen to try to warm up my feet quickly. It took me around 20 minutes to start feel them again.

Then we met three Sherpas from the Fix Rope Team. One of them was Gyalje Sherpa. I never met a man as strong has him.

The last 300 meters were the hardest ones. The snow always reached above the knees. It was two hours of effort to ascend around 100 meters.

SUMMIT!!

When we saw the final edge on the left, I realized only at this moment that I was above 8000 meters. The edge had a certain danger and only Gyalje, Sergi and I ascended it, but the success was for all of us, including Mingma Tenjing Sherpa, Tenjing Chhombi Sherpa, and Temba Bhote.

It’s not because we were the first ones, but we were alone, just we six, in that incredible, wild nature; it was scary. We had opened the way, with a lot of determination and eyes fixed on the summit. We left C3 at 10 pm (on the 24th) and arrived in the summit next day around 4 pm, after 18 hours walking.

I can resume all this gigantic effort in 3 words:

Determination: keep going, one more step, one more.

Focus: put all your energy, your mind body directional to present.

And Love: you have to love what you do in life.

We spent around one hour at the summit. There was no wind and a blue sky. It was amazing to be there with that stunning view surrounding us. It was the biggest challenge I had ever undertaken in my life, the biggest effort to conquer a dream. There are no words to describe that moment. I contemplate it.

THE WAY DOWN

After all this, we knew after a while that we had to get down, and it was the hardest part. We had done 50% of the work, and now was the time for the other half, the way down. I don’t remember who actually spoke the words, but the sentence remains in my mind: Climbing up to here was an option, but getting down was a necessity.

It was around 5 pm when we started getting down. The sun came down quickly, the Sherpas had already left, and Sergi and I were still around 7700m high walking down in the dark. We almost lost our way near C4 but managed to find the path again. Every time I stopped, I wanted to sleep for few minutes, but I kept telling myself: “you are strong, you are strong, you need to walk…” I knew that if I took a nap, I would never wake up again, and my name would be added to the list of Manaslu’s tragedies.

I had used oxygen from 7600 meters on the way up to warm up my feet. I don’t know what happened but when I started to use it, Temba said the bottle was of 190 bars. Usually the full bottle has 300 bars of oxygen, which meant this one was missing 110 bars. When I arrived at the summit it was almost empty, with only 10 bars remaining. I knew that was not much, so I kept it in case I needed it later. I used it just before C4 when Sergi and I almost missed the way.

We arrived at C3 around 10 pm. That meant we had walked for 24 hours. It was the hardest thing I had ever experienced in my life. I’m so glad that I did it! We never imagined that we could spend so much time walking. We were very strong, very determined.

Next day we left C3 for Base Camp… and some well deserved rest.

When I was training in the Alps, sometimes I had the impression that the dream of climbing the Manaslu was a long time away. Now that I arrived back from the Manaslu summit to Kathmandu, an enormous feeling of happiness invades and feels my heart. I realize that I am inside my dream, in the future of that past Moeses who, four months ago, imagined this whole situation.

I also realize that the future is no longer a future but a present. And I think: Breathe and be thankful!!!