Summit Success on the Manaslu

26 Sep 2017
by Richi Bolt

Because of the weather conditions we threw ourselves into the routine of the base camp which includes activities such as laundry, resting and a good meal three times a day. Finally, the weather forecast promised a time window for a summit attempt. Now, we had to switch from the cozy Base Camp life mode to the summit mode and pack our backpacks. It was very interesting to see the different material tactics that we came across: some had left their warm sleeping bag in camp 3 and they now took the Base-Camp sleeping bag to Camp 1, and therefore, they had a significantly lighter backpack during the ascent from Camp 1 to Camp 3. Others had brought their warm sleeping bag back from Camp 3 to Camp 1, which had the advantage of a warmer night and an easier ascent to Camp 1.
Anyway, the next morning we started our trip from the Base Camp to Camp 1 in bad weather and snowfall. In Camp 1 we moved into the familiar tents and found, as expected, the left behind material.
The next day brought better weather with it and we started our trip towards the icefall and Camp 2. It became immediately apparent, that the 'fixing-team' had changed the route guidance at many places (the 'fixing-team' is funded by all expeditions in order to make the path secure and well maintained).
The objective dangers in the shape of a regular forest of icicles and questionable ladder placements were still there. Additionally, there were many more mountaineers on the route than last time, which meant that at key passages there was considerably more waiting time than usual. During ascents on pre-established routes, such as this one, everybody walks in his/her own tempo so that it often happens that one is walking all alone for several hours, secured by a Sherpa as the last man. Finally, we passed Camp 2 and reached Camp 3. Something that was quite interesting was, that no one felt like this ascent had been easier than the first one, despite the considerably better acclimatization and lighter backpacks.
In contrast to the first time we reached Camp 3, this time there were many more tents by many more expedition groups. During the night a unexpectedly strong wind started to blow. The strong wind also stayed during the next day. Therefore, we had to make the decision in the next morning, we had to decide if we want to put on the down equipment or if the strengthened alpine equipment was enough for the ascent to Camp 4. The decision was quite a difficult one since Camp 3 was in a rather wind-shielded position and the sun was warming us up a bit. However, it became, very shortly after leaving Camp 3, apparent that the warmer down equipment was necessary. The wind became so strong, that footprints of even larger groups were blown away almost immediately and new paths had to be established. Furthermore, even during passages with fixed ropes groups walked so slowly, that no walking rhythm could be found and that resulted in cold almost becoming a problem.
After a long day we finally arrived in Camp 4, where we moved into the tents that had been put up by the Sherpas. The wind has by now become so strong, that the summit attempt of the next day has come into question and Richi in Switzerland had to elicit the weather forecast. Luckily the wind maximum had been reached and the trip to the summit began at 04:30 in the morning. The summit came into view very early on, but the way was to the summit was not short, the opposite is true, the way was very long and very exhausting.
At the end of the day we congratulate Lukas, Christoph, Konrad, Daniel and the expedition leader Richi Bolt as well as the Sherpas Rinshi, Youngster Sonam and our Sirdar Kusang, for successfully reaching the summit of the Manaslu and the save return to the Base Camp after another night in Camp 3, respectively Camp 1. Richi reached the summit at approximately 09:30 and he was, after about 3,500 height metres, back in the Base Camp in time for supper. During the descent one has to collect ones personal belongings that were left behind in the different camps, which means carrying an increasingly heavy backpack down to the Base Camp.
During high altitude mountaineering one intentionally goes outside of the comfort zone and one has to be at peak performance despite heat, cold, humidity, minimal hygiene, food from a gas cooker, scarcity of water, equipment in the sleeping bag, uneven and crammed tents, long and sleepless nights and so on. With increasing height ones personal limit becomes more and more apparent and the participants Silvia, Urs, Klaus, Dominik, Tinu and Martin deserve our respect for coming as far as they did and for respecting their position which meant turning around before it was too late. A rescue attempt in these heights is not something one wants to think about.
In the end, everybody made it back to Base Camp. Now that we all were united again, celebrating what we had achieved was on the right thing to do. During the fondue, the smoking ban in the group tent was lifted and Richi's reminder "to drink a lot" was followed to such a degree that there were some telling faces the next day.
Today we will break down the tents on the Manaslu and we will, together with new impressions and fresh experiences, tackle the journey home.
This adventure will stay with us for a long time.