Yesterday we had the traditional Puja ceremony that started already at 8 h. The weather was nice with quite a bit of sun and the ceremony was followed, as usual, with a lot of beer and shots of whiskey. Obviously, the rest of the day not much happened anymore. Today we got up early, with breakfast at 6:30 h, as most of us would try to reach C1. If only to cache supplies for the rest of the expedition. Pemba and I took off a little before 7 h. Pemba had a huge load of supplies with him. We had been told by Mingma the night before that C1 was just over 5400 m. After 2 h we reached that altitude, but it turned out that C1 was actually at 5775 m (there is also a lower camp apparently, but I guess that is not used). I will never say again that Manaslu is “easy” as it was pretty hard. This might partially be psychological as we had to climb 900 m instead of the expected 550 m. In addition, like on Larkya Lake, my left eye, my bad eye, caused a lot of trouble. Double seeing and at a certain moment, apparently a combination of lack of oxygen and tiredness, it just gave up. Pemba, luckily, takes very good care to get me down safely every time. Tomorrow we plan another resting day and afterwards we go up to sleep in C1.
This morning we woke up in a white world: it had snowed quite a bit and the sun was shining! Unfortunately, it’s raining now again. We decided to make a small acclimatisation tour to ‘Crampon Point’, the spot where the ice starts on Manaslu glacier at ~5100 m. As there are no fixed ropes yet and the rocks were frozen, Pemba thought it too dangerous to go further. That was a pity as I wanted to test my brand-new shoes with crampons. I got the La Sportiva G2 (considering if Antonio Moro could climb Gasherbrun with them, I should be able to climb Manaslu with them) but have never worn them. They are very sophisticated and nice. I will try the crampons on one of the icefields around MBC (they are everywhere as we are basically camping next to the end of the Manaslu glacier). As far as planning goes, we expect the start of the rope fixing tomorrow. The Puja ceremony is also planned for tomorrow. Rumour runs that Monday some sort of WiFi will be installed in MBC, which -if true- might allow to upload some nice photos.
This afternoon the sun appeared and for the first time we had a magnificent view on Manaslu… very impressive. With the sun out, everything dried quickly at last. In addition, Mingma had decided that everyone who wanted could take a ‘shower’. I did and it was very nice to poor hot water from a bucket over me with a mug in a specially set up tent. My own tent is leaking quite a bit, so everything on the floor is soaked. They promised I can move to another tent tomorrow. This afternoon, I have strolled around the entire base camp. There are quite a few groups and I estimate that there may be up to 200 climbers. I saw a few familiar faces (it’s a small world) and talked to several people. The mood in MBC seems very good.
Arrived at Manaslu Base Camp in 3 h 15 min from 3526 m to 4833 m. The trail to Base Camp is very steep, but Pemba and I rushed up at almost 500 m/h, taking shortcuts to overtake several barrens of mules carrying our stuff up. The 2 oldest men on our permit (David from USA and me) arrived first. The camp looks great: fantastic view, and nice communal tent where the others are slowly flocking in. Everybody seems thrilled and in a good mood. I was just approached by Dawa, who seems to run this place. He asked me whether I snored, and said he will put me in a tent close to the main tent (the best option). So far, so good ! Luckily we were fast as it raining heavily (the monsoon is not yet over) and we are cosily in the communal tent drinking lots of warm chocolate. Slowly, the 11 other members on our permit that make use of Base Camp logistics arrive. It seems a very nice group. Pemba just told me my tent is ready. Up till now, I always slept in a tiny expedition tent, but now we got a spacious tent with even a little carpet on the floor. Never had such a luxurious sleeping spot on an expedition. In addition, the view is superb as I am in the last tent of the camp. Base Camp logistics seems to be a really good outfitter indeed. We got just served a very nice lunch. It’s good to get acquainted with the group: an Iranian lady, a Macedonian couple, a couple of Americans, very diverse, very nice.
Although our materials have arrived, they are not being transported to MBC yet. It seems that the earliest possibility to transport it will be tomorrow. This implies we stay 2 more days in Samagaon.
Today, Pemba and I hiked up to Pungen to acclimatise. There is a pretty steep path next to a spectacular river/water fall, that we climbed at 400+ m/h, leading to a vast plain at ~ 4050 m.
There were semi-wild horses, yaks and eagles. At the end of the plain there is a monastery and halfway there was a farm. Pemba asked whether they could make us tea, but the ladies were too busy with drying hay.
Instead of tea, she offered us a bowl of fresh yak curd, which was very good. We hiked to the monastery but didn’t find anybody there. The views were superb. On the way back, Pemba bought a liter of curd from the farmers in his Nalgeene bottle. When he wanted to pay, she had no change so we told her to keep it. She refused, we insisted etc. Finally it was accepted, but she then insisted to make us tea. We drank several cups of salty butter tea and then hiked back to the lodge.
Yesterday, we hiked from Samdo to Samagaon (3538 m), only 8 km and mainly downhill, so we arrived within 2 h. Although just a short distance, I couldn’t have done it on the same day that we crossed Larkya La, which was 24 km already with a significant part above 5000 m.
Over the past days we have essentially hiked a great right-turn around Manaslu, close to the Tibetan border. Occasionally, I had a glance of Manaslu, like in Bhimthang, where you can see the northface of the mountain, and Pemba pointed out where we would build our camps. Here in Samagaon, you can glimse the eastface although the mountain is in the clouds most of the time (it’s very foggy here, if not raining). My acclimatisation seems to go well, apparently the strategy (climbing to 4000+ m and sleeping at ~3700 m twice, followed by climbing to 5100+ m and sleeping at ~3850 m) works well. I had no single sign of altitude sickness or dizziness at 5000+ m and last night my heart rate dropped to 47 bpm while sleeping.
Samagaon is the most northern village in this region and has elecricity and even internet (if the sun shines since it operates on solar energy). Yesterday, our supplies arrived, so I have my own sleeping-bag again ! We intend to stay here for another two days since the logistics for getting the stuff to Manaslu Base Camp (MBC) are still being sorted out.
This morning, I was woken up with a lot of noise at sun rise as sherpas started sorting out the materials for MBC just outside my room. After Tibetan bread and cheese omelet (my favourite breakfast) Pemba and I went for a touristic tour. At the centre of Samagaon a barren of mules was being packed with supplies for MBC I also met Mingma, the sherpa who will be responsible for our logistics. Pemba and I passed a large monastery climbing up to Birendra Tal (tal means lake) from where you can see the track up to MBC. On the way up, Pemba did his first good deed of the day by helping an old lady setting up her flag-pole. On the way down Pemba took me to a shabby house, where we sat in the kitchen. Pemba did his second good deed by re-kindling the fire, after which the lady of the house made us the local specialty: salty butter tea. I could watch the entire process, including the addition of half a handful brown salt. Tibetan salt, Pemba assured me very special! From its looks it contained at least a dozen rare earths, but the salty butter tea actually tasted very good. [It took me several days to convince Pemba that I don’t want sugar in my coffee, nor in my black tea, not even in my lemon tea… he only got it when I pointed out that he puts honey on his Tibetan bread while I put salt on it].
After pizza for lunch, we went on the second touristic trip. We walked down the valley to the next settlement, Shyala, via a couple of suspension bridges over waterfalls. Unfortunately, it rained almost all the time. However, the trip was most certainly worth the effort as we spotted a syala (jakhal)) just outside the old gate of Shyala.
5 sep 2021 – 16:00
Lat: 28.650316 Lon: 84.633286
Today is the longest trek of all: from Bhimthang (3708 m) to Samdo (3878 m) via Larkya La (5143 m). Until yesterday I was alone in Bhimthang but in the afternoon barrens of mules appeared. They carried the Base Camp supplies. Mules cannot be used over ~4000 m and indeed a bit later 2 dozen yaks arrived. At the same time groups of climbers started flocking in. A group of 8 Swiss & Austrians came to my lodge. Their sherpa asked: are you Peter, the fast guy? Apparently I am building a reputation again! It brings one advantage: I can sit with the sherpas in the kitchen around the fire. While the cold restaurant was turned into a Biergarten, I re-enacted in the warm kitchen Van Gogh’s “potato eaters” as there was an enormous pan with potatoes and together with half a dozen sherpas I ate at least a dozen. This morning we got up at 4 am and left for Larkya La at a pretty high speed (>250 m/h up to 5140 m) and arrived as first group at Larke Phedi. A sherpa who just arrived, said: “you very strong, come to kitchen…” After coffee we continued to Larkya La, which turned out to be more of a plain than a pass. After we arrived at 5000 m, I thought we would be at the pass soon, but that was a few km further. The pass has a sign 5106 m, but my (calibrated) watch said 5143 m. I have an altimeter and 2 GPS, so I measured the altitude 3 times in triplicate. Altitudes varied from 5139 to 5145 m, and mean and median were equal, so assuming a Gaussian distribution, I assessed the altitude at 5143 m with a standard deviation < 0.5 m. After a long break we continued, there seemed to be no end to the pass. Altogether we were a couple of hrs above 5000 m.
The good news is that I got no headache or any other sign of high altitude sickness. Finally, we started descending, but our first planned stop, Dharmasal, was deserted. After a short break, Pemba and I rushed down to Samagaun. Samagaun is an actual village and has a nice lodge. Just waiting for Kazi and our luggage, he had the hardest job today. The 5 climbers who are on the same permit as I, arrived as well. The nicest thing about this lodge is that they have a ‘shower’. Drops of hot water, and the first warm water in 5 days…
4 sep 2021 – 11:30
Lat: 28.634245 Lon: 84.470765
Today got up late as we have a lazy day planned to acclimatise. At 8:45 h we left for Ponkar Lake at ~4050 m. Pemba & Kazi, no backpacks, rushed with 500+ (!) m/h up. It took me quite an effort to keep up with them, but my heart rate was still between 115 and 135 so still plenty reserve. It’s a holy lake and both Pemba and Kazi did their religious duties. When we climbed the slope above the hill, I got dizzy… so I must take care tomorrow passing Larkya La at 5106 m. Namgya told me that I should not worry about a little headache as once passed it will go steep down. We will probably leave early tomorrow morning.
2 Sep 2021 – 15:45
Lat 28.526602 Lon 84.361868
First stretch, from Karte – just south of Dharapani – via Tilche, where we had lunch, to Gowa, where we will stay overnight. In Tilche, I met Jill, from Thunderbay Canada, who is going to climb Manaslu as well. Jill is one of the fifteen climbers on our permit.
3 Sep 2021 – 13:45
Lat 28.634437 Lon 84.470809
Today 2nd stretch from Gowa to Bhimthang. We go very fast and overtake all other Manaslu teams so far. Jill stayed at Kharka. We passed her later and some others. Ulysses (Argentina), Sahil (UK), Stefan (S Africa), Hueti (Iceland) & Gabor (Hungary). They are all on the same permit as I. Kalchang, their sherpa, asked: Are you professional athlete, you go so fast and move on the rocks like dancer? We go very swiftly indeed and rather effortless. Pemba had another explanation. When we washed us up at a spring, sticking his little finger in the air: “We fast ‘cos all 3 same body, very thin”. We are beyond doubt the skinnyest team on the mountain so far. Bhimthang is nice. It’s located in a bowl of mountains, including Manaslu: if there are no clouds (which doesn’t happen often) you can see the northface of Manaslu. Pemba pointed out the places where we will be building our camps.
Pemba and I hiked along Ponkar glacier to 4050 m to acclimatise. We will stay 2 days in Bhimthang as we go too fast and our logistics team is still behind us. Next stop is Samdo, across Larkya La, a pass at 5106 m. Since that is quite high, acclimatising another day is good. Tomorrow we will hike to a nearby lake.
Yesterday evening, we around 20:30 h at our final destination for today: Karte, just south of Dharapani, the starting point of our trek.
Yesterday morning at 6:30 h Wongmu, Namgya, Pemba, and Kazi – a friend of Pemba who will be our porter. Wongmu took some stuff like my PC with her to keep it at home. We left Kathmandu around 7 h with a 4WD that proved quite essential as the road was pretty bad after the monsoon. It took us 7 hours to reach Besi Sahar, a distance of ~ 180 km. Halfway we had lunch in a small village. We changed car in Besi Sahar since beyond this point you can only use local drivers for economic reasons. Namgya went back and I stepped in the 4WD pick-up truck with Pemba and Kazi, and some other guy stepped also in the car. After a while a whole bunch of people climbed in the back apart from a lady with a baby who squeezed herself in the car. Subsequently, we had the wildest ride I have ever made, scarier than any ride in any attraction park. The only difference being that this one lasted 6 h to cover about 50 km. The road was actually more a dirt track that was washed away in many places. Small landslides were kind of fixed but at the big ones, with huge rocks on the way, we had to walk with our luggage through the mud to another car at the other side of the blocked part. In a kind of estafette we reached Dharapani, driving in the dark during the last 2 h which made it especially exciting…
This morning, I got up at 5:30 h to pack my stuff for today. Having noodles with eggs for breakfast and lots of coffee. Soon we will hike to Gowa, about 800 m higher than Karte.
This morning during breakfast Namgya messaged me that the permits were expected today and that we needed to get a PCR-test. We needed to go to HAMS (Hospital for Advanced Medicine & Surgery), the only hospital that is allowed to test foreigners. It was busy and social distancing seems an alien concept. After filling out a few forms and paying, we get another form and wait in line until we are called, get a test-tube and can walk to the swabbing booth. A lady siting in the booth behind a screen with two holes for her hands, swiftly takes swabs. The results should be ready in 6-8 hours. Pemba took me back to the hotel and we packed stuff that needs to go directly to Manaslu Base Camp.
Late afternoon Namgya called me that he had received the permit and that I needed to come over to finish the bottle of wine he had opened Sunday and that Wongmu would cook some dinner. When Pemba came to fetch me, I asked him to go by the nearby pastry shop to buy a big cake for Namgya’s family to celebrate. Namgya was still very busy arranging stuff when I arrived. Despite it was well more than 10 hours since we were tested, no results from the PCR had arrived. Namgya said that he had tried to reach the hospital but without success. As I suspected that a foreign request might get a bit more attention, I called HAMS and the operator kindly connected me to the COVID-test center. I explained the situation and they mailed our negative results straight away.
The main problem is the route we will follow. Basically, there are two itineraries possible (see: Manaslu 2021 – itinerary). The preferred route follows the western trail but is blocked at several places by landslides. In the end it is decided that the materials for Manaslu Base Camp will be send via the alternative route via the eastern trail, but that we will follow the western trail. So, tomorrow we will drive to Besi Sahar (a ~7 hour drive) and see there what the best options are to continue. If needed, we can go by helicopter across the blocked stretches it seems. Anyway, tomorrow at dawn, we hit the road !