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Working Hard on Manaslu

Two mountaineers navigating a glacier on a Gasherbrum II Expedition

The last week has been a fun one on the world’s eighth tallest peak. Somewhat unsettled weather down in basecamp (rain and snow almost every day) has meant lots of shovelling snow, drying out gear, and conserving solar power for the “essential” purposes of watching DVD’s, nightly dj-ing in the dining tent by various team members on their iPods, and emails to our friends, families, and businesses back at home.

The good news though, is that up until yesterday the storms were dropping little snow high on the mountain, and days were totally climbable with mixed sun and clouds once you were an hour above basecamp. So the team has been quite busy. The Sherpa team deserve first mention here. Every day they have been impressing us with their strength and dedication. Led by Phurba Tashi, the team of 9 sherpas spent the last week fixing lines, carrying loads, and daily being the first out of camp to put the route back in after each night’s snowfall. Thanks to these guys, the route on the mountain is now fully established to 6,900 meters, and HimEx has the highest established camp on the mountain (Camp 3) at this altitude. All of our oxygen, tents, stoves and gas are also at this point (along with fully stocked camps at 5700 meters and 6400 meters) so that when we are acclimatized and the weather allows, we can move very quickly to establish our final camp (at 7450 meters) and then make our push for the summit.
Meanwhile, our team members have also been working hard. And keeping us well entertained! We have a truly international team, from 8 countries of origin, ranging from 28-65 years of age, and with job descriptions varying from manager of a Dubai bar to psychiatrist to mathematician to entrepreneur. With a group like this, there is constant entertainment in the dining tent, and constant battles over the relative quality or lack thereof of each other’s music!

Our team includes: Chris Jones – Ireland, Stephane Louboutin – France, Jan van der Meer – Netherlands, Heike Obermeier – Germany, Bruce Parker – USA, Paul Robinson – Australia (living in USA), Jan Smith – Australia, Jason Smith – Ireland (living in Dubai), Richard Reagan – USA (living in Nepal)

And of course the guides: Russell Brice – New Zealand (living in France), Hiro Kuraoka – Japan, Adrian Ballinger – England (living in USA)

Over two different trips in the last week, this team has slept 3 nights at Camp 1, moved all of their necessary high altitude gear to this camp, and made one push through the challenging terrain between Camps 1 and 2, reaching 6400 meters and getting a chance to finally see the upper mountain close up. The team has shown themselves to be strong and experienced, and seem to enjoy not only the challenging physical side of moving between camps, but also the short technical climbing steps on the route. And these, especially between Camps 1 and 2, are numerous. While the route to Camp 1 is generally about 4 hours of moderate glacier terrain (albeit with lots of crevasses and a few steep steps), the route to Camp 2 is steep and includes two different sections with ladders, lots of 40 degree snow slopes, and a few steps where excellent front-point cramponing technique combined with full trust in the fixed lines is required to overcome short ice walls. This technical nature helps to make the four to six hour climb pass quickly on the way to 6,400 meters!

Since our most recent push to Camp 2, we have spent two days back in basecamp waiting out a storm that might have dropped up to 60 centimetres (2 feet) of snow on the upper mountain. With good weather expected to return tomorrow, we are planning on pushing back up to Camp 2 to sleep and acclimatize, and to see whether it is possible to establish the fixed lines on the steep slopes up to 7,400 meters, site of our final camp.

Stay tuned for the next report from high on Manaslu!

-Adrian Ballinger, Himalayan Experience