Manaslu Expedition 2013
“To those men (women) who are born for mountains, the struggle can never end, until their lives end. To them it holds the very quintessence of living – the fiery core, after the lesser parts have been burned away.” – Elizabeth Knowlton
So this blog is longer than the usual but this is the watered-down and very basic version of the expedition!
I had a lot of time to reflect and think out there on anything and everything. I always get hit with the question of “why?” which used to throw me off because to me it made such sense to climb, why wouldn’t you? A climber’s mentality, I guess. One of the reasons I love high altitude climbing is it’s a true test of your character and what lies underneath. Who you really are cannot be hidden and you find out what you’re really made of. Talk and image mean nothing in the mountains. The mountains always keep me humble.
This climb was a much more dangerous and notorious mountain than people realise because it is not as well-known outside the climbing community as Everest. Although, this didn’t really shake me at all. I was surprised with how focused and calm I was.
The journey began with a rough six hour drive from Kathmandu to Arughat Bazar, our first stop before trekking. The first week was solely about trekking up to Manaslu Base Camp. It was my Sherpa, Gyuliak, Sonia, her guide, Buan, our porters, and I. We began trekking through regular dust, rock and dirt trails slowly working our way up through the ridges and valleys. For the first few days it was sticky and humid and I felt like I was back on Kokoda. It was somewhat of a surprise but I should have picked it due to the low altitude we began at. We weren’t even at 1,000m above sea level. This sort of terrain continued, whilst getting steeper, for the next 5/6 days. Until the day before we got to base camp I hadn’t seen Manaslu (besides when heading out of Kathmandu) so getting to Sama Goan Village the night before was exciting. I had clear view of Manaslu and the sunrise in the morning was incredible.
The climb from Sama Goan to Base Camp was harder than I had anticipated. I think in some ways I just wanted to get to base camp, but had to keep my patience as I had done with the trek up. The hill we were trekking never seemed to end with false crest after false crest until finally, Manaslu Base Camp. By the time I got there I was tired but had a rest day to hang around at base camp before climbing.
Soon came my first day of climbing and the goal was spending one night at camp one to acclimatise. We trekked to a place called ‘Crampon Point’ meaning it was time to gear up in crampons (metal spikes that connect to the bottom of boots to grip into the snow and ice) and harness, etc.
Camp one at first was a steady five hours through crevasse area (but not too dangerous) and clipping into fixed lines for safety. I remember being so pumped about where I was and excited by my surroundings. Base Camp was gone and I was in a world of white surrounded by mountains – I felt like I was at home.
The last little climb into camp was steep and good way to finish off the day.
The three rules of mountaineering:
- It’s always further than it looks
- It’s always taller than it looks
- It’s always harder than it looks
“I like to describe Himalayan climbing as a kind of art of suffering.” – Voytek Kurtyka
When we got into camp I was met by another climber from the expedition who was also acclimatising and then my Sherpa boiled snow for water and we ate dinner. I found it easier to snack on things and drink fluids but I also ate noodles, soups, rices, and pastas at the camps. The plan was to get some rest and possibly head up to camp two the next day. When we woke up, the weather was the opposite of what we’d hoped and seeing as we were panning to go through the icefall it was a no go. We headed back down to base camp to rest a few days before the next rotation.
I enjoyed coming back down and it felt easy on the legs in comparison to the day before. I got back to base camp, had a drink, went to my tent and changed into my base camp gear (ugg boots, track pants, t-shirt and a down jacket) and all I could think was I just had my first experience on an 8,000m peak. I had two rest days to eat and sleep and hang out at base camp. The next rotation went much the same on the way to camp one and then came camp two.
From camp one to camp two came the icefall. I have to admit at the very beginning of this day I felt somewhat drained and wasn’t exactly motivated – and yet it ended up being the best day of climbing I’ve ever had. Go figure. Prior to feeling great though I had to focus only one step at a time and not allow myself to be overwhelmed by the thought of being drained. This climb taught me you want to be as physically fit as possible, but ultimately it comes down to your mind. Mind and body have to work together.
There was more steep terrain this time. Part of the motivation came from my Sherpa explaining we had to get through the icefall careful and controlled, but as quickly as possible. It took about six hours total from camp one to camp two. Manaslu is known for avalanches and any extra snowfall adds to that danger. I was also motivated because it was more technical and I was excited. I got to jumar (an ascending device that clips into the rope used as extra safety on steep terrain) for the first time. I also got my first taste of crossing crevasses bridged by aluminium ladders.
As I was only one hour away from camp I came to the top of steep snow hill and rested at the top for less than a minute before clipping into the next line and heading off. A few minutes later a serac (big block of ice) the size of an apartment building less than thirty metres to my right collapsed. It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen.
That night I was at camp two. I wasn’t sick at all but I had no appetite. I still forced fluids and some food into my system for energy. Everything becomes difficult in altitude. Your system doesn’t react like normal due to the low levels of oxygen. That night I slept alright but tossed and turned. I had a small headache but I was surprised how good I felt. I had never felt this good in altitude and I was now above 6,000m. The next day it was back to base camp. In the morning, camp had many exhausted climbers who had attempted the summit but were turned around due to bad weather.
My Sherpa and I headed back to base camp and I was excited, the icefall! This time I got to rappel/abseil down the same places I had climbed up. Some places it wasn’t as necessary but no matter how tight I held the small rope slipped through my big gloves and it was more precautionary, though other areas it was necessary for sure.
Once I got back down to base camp I did the usual, change gear, clean up my tent, eat, drink and read or write. It also gave me time to clear my head and reflect.
The weather at this point wasn’t looking great but we were hoping for the best and decided to give it a crack. After two more rest days we set back up the mountain. I wanted to know I gave myself every chance to climb. Getting into camp one I couldn’t see much. With a lot of snowfall and poor visibility I was happy to get into camp and have a hot drink. It became clear our summit odds were slim, particularly on a mountain like Manaslu. We decided to wait it out and see how it was looking the next morning. The next day we ended up heading back down as well as the other teams waiting for the same window.
As I was heading back down to base camp I turned around and had one last look back up the mountain and the route I had climbed several times before. Once I got back to base camp I was greeted with a drink and had a rest. Over the next few days I had rest days and we were packing up camp. Then it was time to head back down. I had a few days trekking out the way I had come in rainy weather. Trekking felt so light and easy in comparison to climbing, although my feet by that time felt incredibly sore and weren’t pretty. The hard part was over but I still had some big days of trekking out.
I got down to the last camp before driving the six hours back to Kathmandu and civilisation. I had a conversation with a man who thought I was insane for attempting Manaslu as my first eight-thousander (A peak 8,000m or above) and believe me he wasn’t alone in his opinion.
I flew back into Australia on Thursday last week and I’ve been trying to get settled in back home which has been somewhat difficult. I either feel restless or the complete opposite. I’ve been sorting through the pile of laundry I brought home with me and sorting all my gear. When I first came home it felt kind of foreign. I realise the environment is much the same as when I left, and I’m sure I seem much the same, but internally/mentally a lot has changed. Experiences, especially those that push you, change your outlook and perspective, and that makes a huge difference.
The person I was a year ago or even before I left seems very distant now but that’s partially what the challenge of climbing big peaks is; becoming someone better and growing to be capable of reaching the summit. A lot of people can’t understand the motivation behind what I do. I may seem in over my head or crazy but I have no interest in setting goals that are not challenging me to or forcing me to grow. Whilst there is belief there is also always a partial level of uncertainty and that is what makes me more determined. I want to be tested and this last trip did just that.
I know that feeling of being restless won’t last long seeing as I have less than two months until my next trip and then I won’t have long until Everest. (More info on my upcoming trips within the next week. I’m excited to announce who I’ll be climbing with and other details!)
I’ve done a few easy mobility sessions recently as well as now getting back into training for the next one. This will really be one of my last chances to go through a training routine before the climb. I’ll have some time next year, but not much. At the end of the day it’s about keeping myself healthy, fit and strong and ready. I will be letting my mind, climbing experience and future goals do the rest.
Climbing itself in my opinion is a very individualistic because the mind is what gets you through the adversity, but it would be very wrong to say that this is a one person endeavour. I have been fortunate enough to have some amazing people backing me.
Di Bella Coffee – Phil and the team from Di Bella have been a huge support and helped to make this trip happen. They put on an amazing event weeks before the trip that enabled me to go and have this experience which has been a huge step in the Everest preparation. On top of that Phil Di Bella has been mentoring me throughout the process of organising this trip and from a business perspective how to make it happen. (I’m also now obsessed with Espresso Kick!)
Mountain Designs – I have been using Mountain Designs gear for a long time and they are an awesome Australian-based brand. They found out about my Manaslu adventure and also Everest and sponsored me with all my personal adventure clothing which was amazing and took a lot of stress off prior to the trip. The team from Mountain Designs in Brisbane went through my list with me and were extremely helpful.
OBT Financial – I did a talk in Gatton for OBT Financial Group a while ago and that day they jumped on board and helped me to fund my climbing course to New Zealand and have also donated toward other climbs. Another crucial and supportive component to the Everest journey.
Bella Magazine – I have written some fitness articles for Bella Magazine in the past and the values they represent also mean a lot to me. They’re all about helping girls realise their unique value, beauty and purpose and are inspiring girls and women in a very positive way. They donated and supported my New Zealand course and got that trip off the ground.
Psyborg – Daniel borg from Psyborg was the first person to ever sponsor me and get onboard the Everest campaign. This was right back in 2011 and I am grateful for his belief right from the beginning. He has designed all my logos and websites and done an incredible job.
The Southern Hotel – The Southern Hotel invited me to speak at a function last year and also donated toward my climbing course over in New Zealand, a very critical part of my training.
Infinity Solar – Infinity Solar had also backed me very early on and have had continuous faith, interest and support which I am grateful for. They helped fund Manaslu and also the climbing course I did last year which were both big steps toward Everest.
I’m proud to have all these sponsors on board and be able to represent them back home but also on my climbs. Whilst not on the mountain with me they are equally as important as any other preparation and are as much a part of the climb as I am. That goes also for those individuals who have donated and supported me along the way. We have made all this happen so far bit by bit and one step at a time and it all adds up. I am extremely grateful.
“To walk through life in a comfortable way is not my goal.” – Ueli Steck
“When you live honestly, you can not separate your mind from your body, or your thoughts from your actions.” – Mark Twight