12th – 13th October. Things start to stack up.

evening1It’s amazing just how quickly things can go pear shaped. At C4 we had made a plan for Ben and Phemba to descend to C2 and Sidi Mama and I would remain at C3 where we would pack up the gear and then I’d try to make a flight off the mountain from near 7000m

The wind had been blowing hard down the mountain all night and spindrift had been blasting the tent ever since midnight … this was actually the least of my problems.

The afternoon before Ben and I were standing at C3, just under a set of seracs. Ben was keen to keep going down and I was keen to get a tent set up and to crawl into my sleeping bag. Ben set off into the late afternoon light but Phemba and Sidi were nowhere to be seen – which was a bit perplexing but I just thought that they were packing up their gear at the tent that they had been borrowing from some of Phemba’s friends the night before.

An hour later I was still wondering where they were.

Sidi finally dropped down to me to tell me the news that Phemba had changed his mind about descending and would instead go down lower tomoro … hmmmm Not such good news. Sidi told me that there was another stove in our tents at C2 so Ben should be able melt water and get some fluid and food into him – we just weren’t sure if he had anyway to light the stove!

I turned on the radio to try and call Ben to see where he was – I stil hadn’t seen him walking into C2 yet but I could have missed him. It was getting dark and I was already exhausted – Ben had been walking on for a while after me and would be even more tired …

"Ben – you there? copy Ben?"

"Hi Mal – when is Phemba coming down? I’m a bit off the track and in some pretty deep snow …"

"Um …. it appears that Phemba is not coming down tonight bro … Can you manage your way back to the track and come back up?"

"%^**($%^^% – I’ll try …."

After that I didn’t have any radio contact with Ben. I had horrible visions of him wandering into a deep crevasse – or simply being too tired to make it back up to C3. Sidi and I had a chat for a while and we made the choice to send him down to look for Ben and continue on down to C2.

for about the next hour I had no radio contact with either Ben or Sidi and I could only see 1 headlamp, slowly making it’s way to the area of C2. I was starting to get quite worried and got geared up again to drop down into the dark to possibly help Sidi when the radio finally crackled into life.

"Mal Dai this is Sidi – Ben Dai and I are now are C2"

whew ……

Ben and Sidi were to share a pretty cold night under 1 sleeping bag and sharing two mattresses in one of our tents at C2. I could finally crawl into my bag for the evening and hope for a lessening of the winds in the morning.

8am – 13th October

I was outside the tent, gearing up to try and make a speedriding descent down the mountain. My pack was pretty heavy – the heaviest I’d ever carried when trying to make a flight.

The wind was reduced but still blowing down the mountain.

Phemba was still somewhere above me and I could see Sidi Mama making his way back up towards C3 – very very very slowly. Sophie had left Basecamp at 4:30 am and was now at the bottom of the mountain waiting to film my landing. Both Ben and Sophie were reporting that the air was still at both 5300m and 6400m.

sf1Where I was it was definitely down the hill … I was exhausted, tired and very very nervous. What would normally take about 5-10 minutes to get ready now took me about an hour. I had to climb back up above my C3 to find a good site for launching that gave me a good ski run with a good run out. I had to carry my wing and ski’s up in one go – dig out a platform for the wing to rest on and then sit my ski’s. Then I had to go back down to get my pack and then come back up.

As I came back up to my chosen launch site Phemba came into view. He was wondering where everybody was and why Sidi hadn’t come back up. I was wondering why he’d changed plans. As my Nepali was not very good and his English wasn’t very good it wasn’t a very fruitful discussion.

I pointed down to Sidi slowly coming back up and to my wing laid out on the snow, Phemba seemed to finally get the idea that I was going try and fly. He kept on going down and eventually got to Sidi Mama, they split the loads and continued on down the mountain. I was sitting waiting for the wind to drop …

sf3Eventually the wind seemed to ease, I was all hooked in and ready to go. I gave a call down to both Ben and Sophie that I was going to launch. Took a deep breath, pointed my ski’s downhill and gave it a go.

The first 2 seconds felt fine. I felt the canopy start to inflate, grab the air and then start to rush up over my head – then nothing, no pressure on my lines, no pressure on my brakes. I could see the shadow of my canopy, looking all mangled above and slight behind me to my right.

ABORT

sf4The snow wasn’t nice soft powder but variable hard crusts that then gave way to deep powder below. There was also a crevasse below C3 that I didn’t really want to ski into. I got my ski’s sideways underneath me and in a flurry of snow I eventually came to a stop. My wing slammed down in front me fully inflated and with a strong wind blowing hard on the back of my neck.

Just as I’d launched a strong gust must have come rolling down over the col and caught my wing. I was breathing hard, a bit caught up in my lines but happy to have stopped. I called down to Sophie and Ben that I’d had to abort but that I was going to try again.

The next 1.5 hours were spent breaking a trail back to near C3 and carrying all my gear back up to the launch site. By the time I’d got there the wind was slightly stronger down the hill, I was even more exhausted, I was the last person on the mountain above C2, the day was getting older and I was even more nervous ….

Time to call it quits – I simply couldn’t risk having another go. I loaded up all my gear, put my ski’s on my pack (too heavy a pack and too tired to ski down to C2 in the variable snow etc) and started down to C2.

The boys and Ben had packed C2 and after putting more gear onto our back we began our last trip down through the icefall and back to C1. The route was getting pretty bad with crevasses that had been mere step overs the week before now almost 1.5 – 2m wide. We crossed the ladder above the hourglass and looked back at it – it was now almost free from the lower side of the crevasse it was spanning by about 1m. Russell Brice had asked if we (being the last group on the mountain) could take the ladder out behind us. Neither Phemba or Sidi looked all that keen to try and take it out – the ropes were as taut as guitar strings. We were also standing on a very precarious serac, it almost looked like the ladder and ropes here might be holding the whole thing up … Phemba and I had a chat for a bit but he indicated that he thought it was too dangerous to remove and I couldn’t really insist …

From C1 we packed up a series of loads that could be dragged lower and retrieved the next day. I managed to lighten my load enough to get a final ski in from C1 to within 15 minutes walk of basecamp.

Ben, Sidi, Phemba and Norbu (our kitchen boy who’d come up to C1 to help with loads) were about 40 minutes behind. Walking back into Basecamp was pretty emotional – It was great to be able to give Sophie a huge hug, Deb was on hand with hot lemon tea and it was awesome to take off my boots and, for the last time a drop my pack …

Ben wasn’t far behind and got the same lemon tea treatment as did the rest of the boys.

ben lemon tea

We were all off the mountain – 14 days after stepping onto it for the first time. Over the next few days we got BC packed up and stashed away into barrels.

The weather wasn’t quite finished with us though – we’d arrived in a snow storm and on our final day we woke to 10cm of new snow and wind – we were leaving in a snowstorm!

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

Setting up for the summit. 3 days of hard work.

It had been essential that Ben and I had made the effort to reach camp 3 on our first cycle on the mountain. The first summit window had come and gone over the period 4th – 6th October and the winds on the upper mountain were expected to increase over the next few weeks. Our forced climb to C3 had put us in a good position to make a summit push when the next window appeared but we were both pretty damn exhausted.

Initially we had planned to rest for 2-3 days and make a bid for the summit on the 10th of October but the winds were not going to be low enough and Ben was also pretty tired. An extra 2 days rest, and good food at basecamp allowed us to recover our strength and motivation for what was going to be a pretty hard final 4-5 days on the mountain.

We had left all our essential equipment at Camp 2, as we planned to go from basecamp to Camp 2 in one very long day. My ski’s, ski boots and wing were also stashed at Camp 2 although I was doubtful of the winds being low enough for me to make an attempt to fly from the summit.

On the 7th our forecast showed that there was a substantial lowering of the winds from midday on the 11th at the height of camp 4 and that the 12th would have winds on the summit between 15 – 25km. The 13th also looked promising but with a forecast of higher cloud and higher humidity.

We set our sights on the 12th with a possible backup day on the 13th.

9th October

RIMG0593In the early hours of the morning Ben and I got up at 2 am, forced ourselves to eat a big breakfast and left basecamp at 3:30am. It was bitterly cold on the lower mountain as dawn approached and, as the upper mountain came into view, a long plume of snow was clearly visible blasting off the summit ridge. We arrived at C1 by 7 am – a pretty fast 3 1/2 hour trip, and we then settled down to get warm, use our C1 stove to get warm water and food into us and to wait for the day to heat up so we could then make our way up to C2.

After a 2 1/2 hour rest, (Ben was pretty shattered – he’d not been able to sleep the night before or eat much food for our alpine start breakfast) we began our last trip up through the icefall and the "hourglass" towards C2.

RIMG0612The hourglass is a 150m high snow slope that has fixed lines on it – it’s moderately steep and is cut by a number of crevasses. It is also avalanche prone and tends to funnel snow down steep runnels. We’d not had any snow now for 3-4 days and conditions were good. There were also a number of other teams making final bids on the mountain and our Sherpa team of Phemba and Sidi Mama were right behind us. It was impressive to see just how much the mountain was moving, crevasses that only 5 days ago had been easy step overs now required a fair bit of thought and determination to cross – the route was definitely beginning to fall out of condition. Once above the hourglass there was still about 250m of height to gain before reaching C2.

We spent the rest of the afternoon organizing gear, resting and drinking water before getting a much needed early night and a good nights sleep at 6400m. It would be our last good sleep for a few days ….

10th October

The journey from C2 to C3 is quite a short climb – only 400m to the col, but the 400m gain is significant in that you are then going to be sleeping at 6800m on a windy col. Almost 700m above us is C4 and the wind is quite strong. The temperature is now getting seriously cold – during the evening the temperature in our tent was -19 degree’s … Not so inspiring. Phemba and Sidi had made plans to try and carry a load of gear to C4 that afternoon, but strong winds and cold temperatures put that plan to rest. I had got a forecast from Sophie that evening and the outlook for an attempt to speedride off the summit looked bleak.

I had carried all my personal equipment plus my ski’s, wing, flying harness AND my climbing boots from C2 whilst wearing my touring boots. The forecast for the next few days was for dropping winds but summit day still hada forecast of up to 25km on the summit and 18km at C4 – it was also blowing a westerly which was exactly the wrong direction for me to make a launch …. I had to make a hard choice. I would need to carry my ski’s on my pack on the way to C4 and I didn’t much like the idea of them acting like sails in the winds that were raking the face leading to C4. I went to sleep that night hoping for a radical change in the forecast …… Sleep didn’t come easy for me at C3 and I was highly jealous of Ben’s consistent easy breathing as he fell asleep that night

11th October

Ben and I were up early to ensure our boots were thawed and we had had enough food and water for the day’s climb ahead. Phemba and Sidi had been unable to make the load carry to C4 the previous day and they had significantly heavy loads. The winds were still very strong and spindrift was blasting the tent, I made the choice to forgo my attempt at a flight from above 8000m and instead would hope for lower winds on our descent.

RIMG0673From 7000m Ben and I used oxygen which greatly assisted our climb to C4. The previous 6 days winds had covered the fixed lines with snow and it was going to be hard going to clear them. The morning had been bitterly cold and we felt that a slightly later start would be warmer as the wind was also forecast to drop slightly. I lead off with Ben behind me and Phemba and Sidi coming up behind us. There were sections of up to 100m of buried fixed line that needed to be cleared and in addition the snow was a hard breakable crust that needed to be stomped through. RIMG0536 The actual climb went up through a series of seracs and eventually onto the ramp, a 400m+ long sloping snow field that ends in hard blue ice as it leads onto the summit plateau and C4 at 7,450m. C4 is a very cold, exposed wind swept place. Remnants of the previous summit window showed old bamboo wands, some broken tents and food scraps. It is a pretty desolate place….

We got our one tent up and the 4 of us (Ben, Phemba, Sidi and I) crowded into it – it was a pretty cramped situation and with the thin air it didn’t look like it was going to be a very fun night’s sleep. The order of the evening was to melt water, drink and try to eat and stay warm. I’d gotten another forecast from Sophie at basecamp and there was still no significant drop in the wind levels for summit day. As the sun set and the temperature dropped we were all feeling a bit apprehensive. The tent was shaking and buckling in the wind, the temperature was already sitting at -25 degree’s as we all tried to settle into comfortable positions for the long night ahead and to wait for the early dawn light when we would be getting ready to make our way towards the summit, another 716m and at least 5 hours above us ….

RIMG0672

Mal and Ben, are well and truly into their acclimatisation on the mountain. They tagged Camp 2 the day before yesterday and Mal went up again to Camp 2 yesterday to fly back down to Camp 1, just for fun. They’ll be sleeping at Camp 2 tonight and then heading back to base for a couple of days rest before heading back up to tag Camp 3. Meanwhile Sidi Mama (aka the machine who smiles) and Pemba Rinji have been ferrying ridiculous loads and setting up the camps ahead of them.

IMG_1144

Most of the other expedition teams are on their way up in preparation for their push to the summit, making the most of the good weather window. For the last 2 days there has been a pretty constant stream of thermal clad, millet boot wearing, heavy breathing, slow moving climbers rolling past our camp on their way to Camp 1 and beyond.

Meanwhile back at the ranch some exciting base camp news! Today the shower tent was erected and I am now all shiny and new. It comes complete with a solar shower kit so if the sun ever comes out at BC that will be handy. Whilst the weather on the mountain has been mostly clear base camp has an omnipresent layer of plog surrounding it. Makes me want to climb the mountain, until I start walking up a hill….

Hope there are blue skies wherever you are

Soph

Speedfly8000

speedfly8000@gmail.com (for text only emails)

IMG_1138

Leaving Kathmandu -Enroute to Arughat

Now that Ben and Sophie #2 have joined us we were keen to get on the road. Ben landed yesterday and, after the fastest shopping quest in the history of mountaineering, he was kitted out with millet 8000 metre boots, down suit, 2 new sleeping bags, crampons, harness, soft shell pants, new sock, down booties and a few other bits and bobs. Sophie found out at 6pm that we were leaving the next day so she sorted her gear quickly.

RIMG0031So, with barrels loaded and duffel bags stuffed full, we bundled into an old landcruiser at 7:30 am. Less than an hour later we were pulled over on the side of the road with the bonnet up and the tools out. Hydraulic issue with the clutch – luckily our driver had spare parts on hand. Truck all fixed and away we went towards Gorkha. After a while we headed off up a side road and stopped to buy some batteries. Back in the trusty cruiser – oops won’t start! So we all got behind and gave him a push and away we went again, No one really knew how long the trip was going to take to get to Arughat, the end of the road. Somewhere between 8 and 10 hours….

The road quickly turned to rugged 4wd terrain interspersed with some pretty gnarly deep slipping mud ruts. We got stuck a couple of times but the trusty (???) landcruiser made it through until…

RIMG0049A particularly deep and slipping section with a nasty wash out and steep drop into a ravine was the final straw for our driver. He rolled his t-shirt up over his belly and said that’s enough, no further for him. Hmm what now? Sidi Mama (yes that is really his name) got on the phone and announced that they would send another jeep from Aragat to pick us up. "Jeep coming 1/2 an hour – you can walk a little"

We left all our gear in the cruiser and wandered down the road expecting to see a jeep coming our way…1/2 hr walking and another hour sitting by the side of the road and still no jeep. Jeep coming? A couple of phone calls in nepali that we couldn’t understand. No..Truck coming, 1/2 an hour. OK sounds good…another half an hour and no truck. Truck coming? No..Tractor coming and jeep is here to take you to Arughat. OK great.

We loaded ourselves into a super sturdy jeep/truck and headed off down the bumpy road, We passed the tractor which was headed up to get all our gear from where the landcruiser stopped. Despite a few pretty hairy sections on the road we were getting there and could see the lights of Arughat in the distance. Then we got to the river.

Mal – "wow look at the river"

Sophie #1 – are we crossing it?

Sophie # 2 – do you think we’ll make it?

Driver – "look at the truck!" (downstream a little way a truck sideways in the river)

Answer to Sophie # 1 question "yes"

Sophie # 2 question "No, we are not going to make it"

RIMG0084As we started the crossing water started coming up under our feet then over the bonnet and then into the engine and then it all came to a pretty quick halt. Fast flowing river outside – truck rolled over down stream…#$%^E#^ now what? Safety Mal jumped out, discovered it was fast but only knee deep so we all linked up and got the hell out of the river.

20 minute later a big tractor arrived and they hooked up big wire cables and pulled it out..

How long to Arughat? 13 and a 1/2 hours today…time for bed