Monday, September 21, 2015

A lot has happened since my last post!

A lot has happened since my last post!  Weather determines the course of mountain expeditions, and on the morning of the 15th, I woke up at 4 to the sound of thunder, flashes of lightening (which I first though was someone shining a flashlight in my tent), and serac fall from the peaks opposite camp.  I continued to listen and eventually my groggy brain registered an unfamiliar sound against my tent.  During my stay at Manaslu base camp I've become adept at recognizing the various sounds of rain hitting my tent's nylon fabric.  There's the soft pitter patter of light rain, and the invasive pelting of hard rain, but this was different.  Like the sound of salt being sprinkled on popcorn.  SNOW!  I frowned and went back to sleep.

Photo:  Lisa White

By late morning, though, analysis of the latest weather forecast determined that there was a small period of good weather on the mountain during which we could spend a few more days acclimatizing above camp 1.  So I hastily packed my backpack and started for camp 1 in the damp, cold rain.
The route to camp 1 has now become familiar, and even with fresh snow the fixed ropes navigated me around crevasses.  I slept better at camp 1 (18,200 feet) than during my first stay and was happy to see partly cloudy skies when I awoke in the morning.  The sun can be brutal in the mountains, zapping my energy and frying my skin.  So, even though I normally curse cloudy weather at home, I was thankful for it today.
The route between camp 1 and 2 is probably the most challenging due to the walls of ice and snow that must be climbed, but this time I knew what to expect.  From camp 1, the route leads up two small hills; at the top of the second are more tents from other expeditions.  From here there is a flattish spot before the route moves up a serac and continues along a flat traverse to the left.  This section is easier on the lungs, but is probably the most dangerous spot on the route as it passes underneath a series of lurking seracs, not a spot to stop for photos!  Next comes the first of five snow/ice walls to climb with the aid of a fixed rope and jumar.  The first one is the most daunting but I timed myself on the steepest part and it only took 10 minutes.  I can do anything for 10 minutes!  After this wall the route meanders for a bit and comes to an intricate section of broken snow and seracs, which is spanned by two sections of aluminum ladders.  One ladder is vertical and climbed normally, the next is horizontal and each wrung must be delicately stepped on, balancing each foot the flat metal bar of my crampon.  Thankfully the ladder was only four feet long, so only a couple of steps were across the wide-open mouth of the crevasse.  The route continued this way ... winding between crevasses and up snow/ice walls of varying steepness until finally the tiny dots of tents at camp 2 (20,500 feet) are visible.

Sunrise at Camp 2
Photo:  Lisa White

After a restless night of sleep thanks to the altitude and a stuffy nose (I'm concerned that some of the stuff coming out of it should be sent to a crime lab for analysis), our small team set out toward camp 3 for more acclimitization.  The weather was thankfully cloudy again and we moved at a slow pace.  We made it probably 1000 feet before the snow became deep and unconsolidated and we returned to camp to relax, melt snow for water, and play cards.
Wet snow continued to fall throughout the day with little accumulation, but that changed overnight.  When I awoke at 6 am, there was probably 15 inches of new, wet snow on the tent.  We decided to descent to base camp, I was thankful that other teams left before us to break the trail and dig out the fixed ropes.
Now the team is back at base camp, we're officially acclimatized, although my lungs still heave in protest when I walk up the hills around camp. The storm predicted to arrive this afternoon has, which will keep us here until probably the 24th, plenty of time to rest, recover, and prepare for a summit attempt.

Some recovery yoga at base camp

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