Manaslu Expedition Journal
Sept 11th, 2012
I have decided to take up another challenge before leaving Asia, another 8,000 meter peak. The mountain is called Manaslu and is the 8th highest peak in the world. It stands at an altitude of 26,758ft (8,156 meters). Its said that its the forth most dangerous 8,000 meter peak to climb, behind K2, Nanga Parbet and Annapurna.
Manaslu is a very steep, sharp peak that dominates the landscape in northern Nepal. The name Manaslu comes from the Sanskrit word Manasa, translated as "Mountain of the spirit. " Manasa means "Soul" or "Spirit . I would like to dedicate this climb in memory of two beautiful people who are no longer with us, my late brother Derek and my niece Melanie.
I arrived back into Nepal, Kathmandu from Pakistan on August 22nd and started the process of getting myself aligned with another team and getting myself on a climbing permit. The team is made up of six climbers from China, one from Switzerland and myself.
Once the climbing gear was checked and some small repairs done, I drove around Kathmandu and purchased some food that I would require on the expedition.
Happy belated birthday, Florence Weber. I am grateful for our friendship :)
I would like to welcome Finning (Canada), Remax of Fort McMurray , their employees , client's and each and one of you back to Nepal , This is going to be an exciting climb and I hope we can experience it together, so sit back into your favorite chair.
What time is it? Its Himalayan time....
Where the road ends the journey begins
Sept 18th, 2012
My email said "we will be picking you up on September 2nd at 6 am, be packed and ready to go". In the early morning hours of September 1st "4:30 am I slipped from my room at Hotel Tibet as quiet as I could be, tip-toeing down the stairs as if I was a burglar but I was headed for the kitchen looking for some hot water to make a coffee for myself and the night clerk.
Making my way back out to the lobby with two steaming cups of coffee I came face to face with two guys, who I think thought I worked there, they said "we are looking for a guy named Al Hancock", that's me I said. They asked are you ready, ready I said, to go where, they said to Manaslu. It was obvious their was a mistake in dates. They asked how long I would need to get packed, give me a hour I said and with that my day changed.
I left Kathmandu by overland transport " a very old bus with big tires, first we bounced down the pavement with the driver grinding the gears and Nepal music blearing from the speakers , then a quick left and on to a dirt road, chickens flying into the air that the tires of our bus got to close too, missing cows that thought the road was theirs by inches. As the hours passed by the dirt road took on the shape of a path and after a long day we came to a halt, the driver said " land slide and with that we shouldered our backpacks and hiked the last half hour to where we would spend the night, a place called Arughat Bazar. It was a nice place, in the middle of no where and that's where the road ends the journey begins.
Over the next seven days we would hike on a trail that would take us through places with names such as, Keurenipani, Machhakholagaon, Dyang ,Jagat to name a few. Its monsoon time here in Nepal and I have never seen green so vividly green. Hiking up through the valley's and around every turn was a photograph waiting to be taken, be it the landscape or the people of Nepal, there was beauty in every direction and I love being behind the lens of a camera.
In the afternoon on September 7th we arrived at a place called Samagaon where we would spend the next two days resting. The place looked old and ancient , something out of a novel " a place where few westerns have traveled , a place held in time, from a time long ago.
Early in the morning on September 10th as the porters picked up there loads we too shouldered our back packs and as a long caravan , one by one we started our hike that would take us to Manaslu base camp, the sound of the porters singing old Nepal songs was floating in the air , it was magical moment and for me , I was smiling and grateful to be here.
Arriving at Manaslu base camp it was raining , I have never been on a moraine next to a glacier at 15,510ft and it was raining" that's monsoon season for you.
September 11th and 12th would be rest days here at base camp and on the 13th we would climb to an altitude of just above 18,000ft and set up camp one and return that same day back to base camp. It was a day to establish camp one and to let our bodies start to adjust to the new altitude , the art of acclamation.
Sept 25th, 2012
I would like to send out my condolences and prayers to the families of lost love ones on Manaslu, we are all saddened here at base camp by the tragedy of this event.
To the families of loved ones lost I say this, do not beat yourselves up asking the question "why, how could this happen". Instead know that each and every one of us is here because we want to be, we choose this life. To us we are living life to the fullest. Remember your loved ones for their love for adventure, their smiles, their gentle touch, remember they loved you!
Take this kiss upon the brow!
and, in parting from you now.
Thus much let me avow- you are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream,
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day
In a vision , or in none
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
I stand amid the roar of a surf- tormented shore, and I hold within my hand, Grains of the golden sand-how few! Yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep, while I weep - while I weep !
O God ! Can I not grasp them with a tighter clasp ?
O God ! Can I not save one from the pitiless wave
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream
Life is but a dream by Edgar Allan Poe
In Memory to those who lost their lives on Manaslu , 2012
She was there !!
Oct 5th, 2012
After the tragedy on Manaslu on September 23rd most of the teams and different members of different teams went home. The sadness throughout base camp could not only be felt but seen in the faces of the people that I came in contact with. Silence hung in the air, disbelief written on our faces.
I knew the end from the beginning. I knew that I would go up again, as if I were a piece of metal and Manaslu a magnet. The pull was too great, my destiny was not at its base but up on its flanks, as if she (mountain) were a beautiful woman and I the suitor.
In the early morning hours of September 26th I slipped from my warm sleeping bag and into my climbing boots as I made my way up through the moraine and onto the glacier while my team members were just stirring from their sleeping bags. I needed to be by myself for a while, I needed to put things into prospective. Moving up through the glacier I was careful...no mistakes. If I break through a snow bridge (a snow bridge is a layer or layers of snow that cover a Hugh hole over a crevices), chances are it's over for me.
Just before arriving at camp one my eye caught sight of the final ridge and continued up the skyline to the sun. The sun was surrounded by a halo of different colors. Nepalese and Tibetans believe this phenomenon is a good omen, I felt the same.
Looking over the ledge from camp one and in the distance towards the glacier floor I could see the team winding there way through. In a few hours the stoves would be hissing and cups of tea would be drank as conversation continued late into the night.
The morning of the 27th came early and once again I was on the move by myself. From camp one to camp two can be the most dangerous. You have to go vertical and weave through seracs that can dislodge in the blink of the eye. Going through here a man or women is fully aware of the precariousness of his or her life.
Myself and the team would bypass camp two and go all the way to camp three (a very long day). Camp three would be moved from the disaster zone and put up high on the shoulder with the hopes that if another serac or avalanche let go, we would be safer.
The disaster zone is huge with parts of tents all over the place. A boot here, a glove over there, personal belongings everywhere. I left the root and went left into deep snow. A sherpa saw me and he too dropped his back pack and together we roped up. I had lost my down suit and all of my high altitude gear to the avalanche that took so many lives. My mother many years ago gave me a very warm pare of socks, I have only ever used them on summit day. At base camp they are put into a plastic bag and sealed " no moisture , less chance for frost bite to the feet. I had went into the debris field with the far off chance of finding my high altitude down suit. Everyone thought that to go higher than camp three without one was crazy (its just not done) and without my down suit I was putting everything on the line. I knew my chances would be slim in getting to the summit. For hours we searched back and forth in a grid pattern and then my eye caught sight of something familiar. I stopped in disbelief...I could not believe what I was seeing. In the vastness of this harsh landscape was the socks, my summit socks that my mom had given me. She was there, she was with me. She in Canada and me in the Himalayas, my beacon...my strength.
From that moment on something shifted inside of me.
I arrived at camp three several hours ahead of the team, tired and cold, I sat on my back pack. Slowly one by one or in groups of two or more they arrived.
The next morning we climbed together up and over the head wall weaving through more seracs and steep ice. With the day almost be hind us we arrived at camp four.
If I thought camp three was cold then jack frost was playing a sick joke and turned down the temperature, camp four was colder. With tents erected, everyone crawled in for some shelter against the wind. Tonight would be our summit push.
Sept 29th, 2012
1:00 am the stoves were brought to life to melt snow for much needed water. By 3:00 am head touches could be seen as people were outside strapping there crampons to their climbing boots. I had gloves on but they were thin and the cold was already coursing through my body as I struggled with the straps on my crampons. Fear and cold is all I felt. O God, my fingers won't move. I looked down...please move...please. I knew what was happening, I needed to get out the big mittens that a team member who had left the expedition sold me and fast or I would be loosing fingers through frost bite.
Climbing upwards and into the night I longed for the early morning's suns rays. I was cold and tired my hands were still wrapped in the warmth of the big mittens and slowly my fingers without having to force them to move, just moved. Although the pain was intense as the feeling came back, I was grateful they moved, looking at my fingers as the day moved on l could see that their would be no permit damage.
Soon the sun came over the horizon and with her much needed warmth. At around 10:30 Nepalese time on September 29th the team and I stood on the summit of Manaslu.
With photographs taken we descended back to camp four. I was tired when we arrived, not just from the climb but from the cold. The team took down all the tents but one and descended to a lower altitude. It's always best after a summit push to descend as far as you can down the mountain in case bad weather sets in.
For me, I was tired and felt that if safety was a core value then I would stay the night with a Sherpa and descend in the morning.
Darkness crept up the mountain like a thief in the night but he didn't arrive first. As if in a race cold arrived first. The night before on the summit push I had layered my clothes. Several layers of fleece then Gore-Tex, then more layers, then a down jacket (all supplied by Mountain Hardware Canada). Every piece of clothes that I had was on. I had a sleeping bag but no down suite, the Sherpa that was with me had a down suite but no sleeping bag.
We were well over 23,000 ft and our oxygen bottles were empty and we were alone. The temperature dropped faster than a speeding train, cold wrapped its arms around us and tightened its grip as the minutes turned into hours. We tried to sleep but it was too cold, we sat and rocked back and forth to stay warm. A couple of times we brought our little stove in from the vestibule and lit it to stay warm but the fear was "what if we fall asleep and get carbon monoxide poisoning or knock over the stove and burn down the tent in the middle of the night?" By 4:00 am we started the process of melting snow to make some noodles to warm up the inner core of our bodies.
With the tent down and back packs shouldered we started the long decent towards the glacier floor. My mind screamed be safe, be safe...no mistakes...do nothing in haste...
Camp three came into view, there were some tents there but we kept climbing down. I could remember thinking, that's one section done three to go. From three we had to go through the disaster zone again and make our way to camp two. At camp two we took a few minutes to hydrate our bodies and then were moving again. In the last few days on the mountain things had changed a lot from camp two to one, conditions have gotten worse, crevasse have opened up more" three to four feet. Several times I disconnected my ice axe leash from my harness and slipped the leash over my wrist and with the ice axe in hand took a deep breath and exhaled slowly" running, feet leaping into the air, body stretched out like a tiger pouncing onto its prey. As my ice axe slams into the other side" snow flying everywhere, my body jerks upwards, one down, two to go. I don't look back I just keep moving forward . We arrive at camp one but keep moving. Our goal to descend this mountain in one long day. When we arrive at base camp we are greeted with hand shakes and a job well done. Before going to my tent, I make my way over to the puja alter and said thank you.
In the end, one thing I have learned in the mountains is that even Death has a shadow....