2 am – 12th October

Ben wakes me from my hypoxic daze …. "Mal – I’ve run out of oxygen …. What do I do?"

I look at him a bit confused, "You’ll just need to deal with it bro, sit up, try to relax, don’t panic. You’ll be ok. We’ll be starting to get ready to go in a few hours." I lie back down and try to relax myself. It’s very cramped in the tent and I’m pressed up against the door and it’s cold. Very cold. The inside of the tent is covered in frost, any movement sends tiny snow showers down on us. My sleeping bag is frozen on the outside and a quick glance at my watch shows a temperature of -28 degrees.

3:30am

RIMG0625Time to rouse myself and start getting more water ready, fill my water bottles with so called boiling water and stuff them into my boot shells, get my feet warm and try to eat some food. It’s still windy outside and the tent is shaking. Every 15 minutes or so I put my oxygen mask to my face and draw on a flow of 2 liters a minute for a while – it clears the fog from my mind and makes me feel warm. In the glow of my headlamp I can see Sidi Mama, Phemba and Ben all curled up and trying to stay warm and to doze.

My MSR reactor is now charging along, sending out a warm glow and slowly melting water in the deep freezer that is C4. We’re sitting at 7450m – it’s still windy – it’s damn cold but we’re all keen to go for the summit.

4:45 am

RIMG0690There is suddenly a sound of somebody outside the tent. It’s the first of the 3 Sherpa’s bringing up the Bangladashi climber – they’d started from camp 3 at 10pm the night before – it must have been a very cold and windy climb at that time in the morning. We’re all now moving around – getting into our boots getting our packs ready, drinking fluid and trying to cram food into our mouths – it’s hard to eat. The wind is still strong but there are no clouds to be seen anywhere – we make the choice to wait a bit longer to for the early morning sun and to see if the winds drop.

6:00 am

Outside – the air is bitingly cold and it tears at the back of my throat. We’ve climbed into our harnesses, put on our crampons and are just about to head off. A quick check of our packs, and turning on our oxygen systems and we’re ready to go. Sidi Mama is climbing without using oxygen, Phemba is on a flow rate of 1.5 liters a minute and Ben and I are using 4 litres a minute – it’s still hard work.

6:20 am

RIMG0694We’re off – slowly walking away from C4. I’m out the front walking through some very nasty breakable crusty snow – at times almost up to my knee. My feet are already cold and very painful – so long as they stay painful I can keep going – if they go numb I might have to turn around. The horizon is getting slowly brighter but we’re walking in the shadow of the summit ridge. We all look longingly towards patches of sun …

The summit ridge of Manaslu rises in 3 separate plateau’s before coming to the final summit ridge crest. We come across the Bangladash team on the second plateau. They are moving pretty slowly and seem to almost be about to turn around. We give them a silent nod as we walk past them, moving up a short slope of pretty hard slab and finally into the sun. My feet almost start to feel merely cold – they still hurt. Ben is about 10m behind me and Phemba about 15 behind him. Sidi is sitting down in the sun and waves us on. He’s moving slowly without using oxygen but I’ve worked with him a few times – I trust him to make the right choice for himself and to not push himself beyond his limits.

RIMG0695I’ve been breaking trail now for almost 2 hours and I can finally see the remains of the old track that the previous summiters had made. We start to make our way towards it and Ben takes over the lead for while – it’s a relief to be walking in somebody else’s track. Ben and I occasionally exchange glances – we’re both looking pretty haggard but give each other the thumbs up – we’re still good to go.

We’re not measuring time via our watches but instead by the amount of pressure we have left in our oxygen bottles. We’re more that 1/2 way to the summit and we’ve still got more than 1/2 of our first bottle of gas left. The sun is now out – and we sit down for the first time to have a rest, drink more fluid and cram some chocolate into our mouths. We’re sitting at the final steep slope that leads up to the summit and we estimate about 2 hours to go.

The Bangladashi sherpa team want to turn back – we can see their client gesturing towards the summit and they shout up to us to find out what we are planning – we point up!

Ben has this look to him – it’s almost like he can’t believe where he is. What looks to be the summit is about 150m above us – I keep on comparing it to the hill behind my house in Wanaka, Mt Iron. It’s only as high as that – we can keep going.

The wind is quite variable and the snow is covered in sestrugi and wind slab – I keep looking around to evaluate if I could have made an attempt to fly. The wind is all wrong, the snow looks horrible to ski, I put my questions and regrets out of mind and keep on plodding.

We’re now at the base of the what looks like the summit – I know that it’s actually a false summit and that beyond it there are a series of small sharp crest and cols before the final 30m high knife blade ridge that reaches the true summit. Most people only reach the final col but this year the Himex team had fixed lines all the way to the top – it’s a very exposed final 15-20m. RIMG0707But there are still obstacles to overcome. The winds had again buried the fixed line – I spend some time trying to clear it before giving up – I look down at Ben, shrug and then continue to go up. His footwork is good enough for this and Phemba is right behind him. Sidi can be seen below us – he’ll take about another hour.

We’re now sitting on the final ridge, at the Col that is normally regarded as the summit as the final ridge isn’t normally fixed. Ben is happy to sit here and call this his summit – Phemba and I keep going. It’s very very airy and from this final short climb you can look out to the west, down on almost 8000m of air to the plains far below.

11:20am

RESIZED 2The very final push to the top is a short, narrow steep series of steps and the summit itself has just enough room for two people to stand. Phemba and I exchange a handshake – we call the news that we’re on the summit back down to basecamp and it’s great to be able to talk to Sophie on the radio. We take off our masks and take pictures of each other. The view is simply amazing. The wind is still quite variable but it seems to have calmed down. It’s time to start making our way back down off the steep, exposed summit ridge and back to the relative safety of the Col where Ben is.

RESIZED 3

Ben and I exchange handshakes – but we have to start getting down. Oxygen bottles changed and were moving down the hill – it’s so much easier than going up but in many ways far more dangerous. We pass the Bangladashi team and Sidi Mama. I stop for a bit to ask him how he is and he’s got a smile on his face – he’s still keen to keep on going. A quick handshake with him and then we’re off again.

RIMG0735

Down back through the old hard tracks and then back into our foot prints and broken snow from hours before. Back down over the short drops until we’re finally back at C4.

12:45

Back at C4, 6 1/2 hours after we had left it. Time to again get some more fluid into ourselves and try to eat, pack our gear and get ready to descend to C3. What is probably the most dangerous part of the whole day lies just in front of us. The hard blue/green ice of the start of the ramp. A small error here and you could easily be back at C3 a bit faster than you’d like. The wind is still blowing across and down the hill. Sidi arrives at C4 just before Ben and I leave. He’s got a huge grin on his face! He also made the summit.

1:45pm

As I lead off down onto the ramp Ben reaches down to clip the first of the fixed lines – he manages to knock out the anchor! It wouldn’t have held a thing. He tells me this AFTER we had reached basecamp…… The descent back to C3 takes about 1.5 hours – all the way down the fixed lines and finally back down to a flat ledge. The air here is thicker and it’s slightly warmer but the wind is still down the hill – totally in the wrong direction to make a flight attempt.

3:20pm

Ben is choosing to drop down even further to C2 as he feels that he really needs to get lower. I’ve spoken with Sophie and whilst the forecast for the next day has lighter winds they’ll still be blowing the wrong way to be totally comfortable to launch my speed wing. I settle into my tent – totally shattered but hopeful for the opportunity to make a speedriding descent the next day …..

RESIZED 1

4th October

Ben and I are back down at basecamp after 6 days of hard work and effort on the lower mountain. Originally the plan was that we would only be on the mountain for 3 days, spending either 1 or 2 nights at camp 1 and climbing to touch camp 2.

RIMG0414

Instead, after reaching and establishing ourselves at camp 1 we both felt that we would be better served by making an attempt to reach and "touch" camp3. This would then put us in a position to make a summit attempt on our second rotation.

Before leaving basecamp we had arranged food for camps 1 and 2 so we would be ok in that regard for our plan change! Our radio system is also working well – allowing us to communicate with Sophie back in basecamp – the higher we go the better the reception.

RIMG0436The actual route on the mountain varies radically from camp to camp. Basecamp to camp1 is a long slow climb crossing a number of crevasses that are easily negotiated – the sting in the tail is the final 180m or so climb up to Camp 1 at 5700m. Camp 1 to Camp 2 is through the icefall and has numerous steep sections (all using fixed lines) as well as one ladder to cross. Camp 2 is located just above all the seracs on the first really flat section at 6400m. Our first time up there was pretty hard and both of us were breathing fairly heavily and really feeling the altitude. Camp 2 to camp 3 is a pretty easy day (easy is a relative term above 6400m) and gradually climbs up the final headwall to the col. The col is a pretty windy place and many teams have placed their camps just below the col – protected from the wind but also in a position where they can be covered in snow. Right now we have a number of loads of gear buried at the Col awaiting our return.

Our original, optimistic plan was to sleep at C1, touch C2 and then climb the next day to C2 and sleep. After our first touch of C2 we were both totally exhausted so instead we planned a "rest" day at C1. It was a rest day for Ben – but for me it was a day of climbing up above C1 and finding launch sites to make a number of flights to my chosen landing area below C1. The flying was great – the canopy was a little bit slow to inflate and I dropped much more than I would normally flying at lower altitudes but once I was actually in the air the normal glide ratio of the canopy was the same (about 1:3.5). Swooping in above other climbers was great fun – skinning back up to C1 and above was not so much fun!

Speedriding on Manaslu
RIMG0482

I had planned to make a flight from Camp 3 but heavy cloud, occasional snow showers and minute weather windows made making a flight attempt just too risky. Instead, I skied down from C3 to C2. It’s not easy to ski at that altitude with a heavy pack and in flat light. About 1/2 way down the cloud cleared just below C2 to the summit and it made the final few hundred meters of skiing just simply glorious.

There was a weather clearance from C2 to below C1 which would have made a a flight possible but it was getting pretty late and Ben wasn’t the only one who was tired! Sidi MaMa, Ben and I quickly packed up C2, stored all our gear and made it waterproof and started to make our way down the fixed lines to C1 and then continued down baseamp. It was great to Sophie when we got down and it was also great to have a shower (in our new flash shower tent) after 6 days of alternatively sweating, freezing and then sleeping in the same clothes.

Right now we are enjoying one of the finest days that basecamp has seen all season, Ben has been eating, sleeping, reading and then sleeping some more. Soph took the opportunity to drop below basecamp to actually see the view for the fisrt time (it’s always been in cloud) and I went to catch up with Russel and co at the Himex tent to see how the team was getting on with their summit bid.

So now our waiting game for a summit window starts. The wind is forecast to increase from the 7th and doesn’t look like dropping until after the 10th of October so we’ll have the time to rest and recover here in basecamp for a bit.

All the best to ya all

Mal