After our training day in the snow, we sat it out and waited at base camp for the first window to make our first rotation up to the higher camps. Despite some heavy snow forecast we packed up our gear and decided to head up to Camp 1. Sickness had struck two of our team members, one of which had to descend to Samagaun to recover. Pema had a fever but managed to stay up at base camp without needing to descend to recover. So our team was down to three as we put on our warm layers and 8000-meter boots, walking out headfirst into the rain and wet snow.
There weren’t many teams out that day. In fact, we were the only team climbing up as many headed down. The trek from base camp to Camp 1 begins with about 1-kilometer along the rocky ridge at a steady incline before some light scrambling. Soon after the scramble, the snow begins to cover the rocks, and it’s time to put on the crampons and begin the snowy ascent up amidst the crevasses.
The journey up to Camp 1 is pretty tough due to the vertical kilometer of elevation gain to reach 5,800m. However, this route is not very technical, and only for one small section did we use the Jumar as safety to ascend a sharp little patch. With slow and steady movement in terrible snowstorm conditions, we managed to make it up to Camp 1 within four hours. It’s manageable to do this climb in well under three hours, especially in good weather. Several huge crevasses and ice caves line either side of the route. Due to the large volume of traffic, the path is very clear and seemingly safe although the dramatic ice formations surrounding the route keep you on guard.
I was stoked to make it up to Camp 1. It’s nowhere near the summit but one step closer than base camp. The progress felt good. We hid out in our tents while the snow continued to fall. Our expedition team had a small kitchen tent where we could hide out and hang out but for the next day and a half, the snow would hamper any real movement or activity at Camp 1. I did, however, manage to find a small break in the snowfall to fly the drone for some aerial views of the campsite.
We decided to descend late the next day from Camp 1 due to inclement weather, which would stop us from advancing to Camp 2. The lines hadn’t been fixed yet but we had grabbed some good fitness and acclimatization in our first adventure up into the mountains. Descending just thirty minutes before sunset was an interesting decision but an exciting adventure that had us arriving back to base camp well after dark. We arrived back to our temporary home wet, a little tired but richer for the experience of making it up and down from Camp 1. We took some rest for a day and a half before we would make our next ascent up into the mountains in search of higher camps on our second rotation.
The second rotation had arrived. Our plan was to climb up to Camp 1 and sleep the night before climbing up to Camp 2 and sleeping there also. We would then return to basecamp on the third day. This would be enough acclimatization for our summit push because we were planning to use oxygen during our summit push. Two others in our group would continue on and sleep the night at Camp 3 to help them acclimatize for their attempt to summit without oxygen.
Climbing up to Camp 1 from base camp was a very different scenario on this occasion compared to our first foray up the mountain. The sky was perfectly clear and we were roasting in our 8000m, double-lined boots. It was only a few days ago we had climbed up this same vertical kilometer route in a snowstorm. Things change quickly in the mountains.
The journey up to Camp 1 was much simpler while we weren’t being pummeled by wet snow and we enjoyed an incredible sunset on the way into camp. The last to arrive, we quickly grabbed some dinner and jumped into our tents to hopefully get some sleep for the night.
As the first light breached the mountains and the tents of Camp 1 began to glow, we took in the buzz of the site. Bright-colored mountain clothes and fluorescent tents painted a colorful scene below the wall of white that towered over us. It was time to join the migration of climbers up through the crevasses of the icefields.
The climb from Camp 1 to Camp 2 is approximately a 600m elevation gain and takes around 3-5 hours depending on the climbing traffic and your condition. It’s quite a short distance but involves a number of technical sections, which can often cause a build-up of climbers with lines not uncommon.
I came into this Manaslu expedition with very little mountaineering experience, having climbed only once before on a 7000m peak in Pakistan. However, I have the good physical condition and lots of mountain experience over the last few years in the form of trekking, scrambling, and hiking. It’s possible to get away with little experience and good physical condition but it’s best to have warmed up with all of the technical skills required.
Along the route to Camp 2, we encountered a number of narrow chutes requiring the use of the jumar. Often the grade was incredibly steep even with some short vertical sections albeit. Other than these few technical sections, the main difficulty of the journey from Camp 1 to Camp 2 is the change in altitude and continuous uphill climbing. Many people were moving quite slowly due to the altitude.
I found the climb quite manageable at the slow pace we took but still found my heart rate increasing considerably. Reaching Camp 2 in the late afternoon was a welcome end to the day for me as our team set up the tents and we settled in and dumped our gear.
The final event of the day was the sunset. Camp 2 looks down over Camp 1 and even to base camp. A sea of clouds filled the valleys between the ridges and created an ethereal atmosphere amongst the mountains. Taking your gloves off for photography at 6400m is not recommended and was a lesson learned but I managed to snap some pretty magical shots, including some of the full moons during sunset.
Unlike many, I actually managed to sleep quite well. After passing the 6000m mark, many climbers tend to have difficulty sleeping. I think I banked about nine hours before waking up to watch the sunrise over the mountains on the horizon. I felt privileged to be there and motivated to reach the summit.
After courteously waiting an hour after sunrise for most of the climbers to wake up, I sent the drone up to capture some images of Camp 2 from the sky and they ended up being some of my favorite stills from this expedition. I hoped to continue the consistent shooting as the climbing got tougher, the breathing would become harder and hands would get colder.
Pema woke up with a bout of altitude sickness but we still had a job to do and that was to turn back down the mountain to return to base camp. The two others in our group who were trying to climb without oxygen would sleep up at Camp 3. The journey down was a bit slow as traffic jams again caused some delays. It caused the expedition to feel a little less adventurous at times but that’s how it goes on popular mountains sometimes.
Coming down from Camp 2 was a chance to practice abseiling and descending down some of the steep, snowy slopes that were now beginning to become quite slushy. The entire route down took us three and a half hours although we went very slowly and had a number of delays. I think it may take just three hours to come down from Camp 3 when there is no traffic.
Arriving back at base camp in the early afternoon was a great feeling. We had now completed our second rotation and all things seemed to be going to plan. I was feeling in good health and had no major physical concerns. The plan was to sit tight at base camp and wait for the appropriate weather window, which seemed to be in a few days’ time. This gave us plenty of recovery and a chance to catch up on editing some photos, writing this article, and letting our bodies recover from the altitude before our next venture up to a higher altitude.
To read my full article about the expedition you can click here: CLIMBING MANASLU MOUNTAIN (8163M)