Manaslu 2015 Expedition Dispatches

Dispatch #19 - October 2, 2015 - Kathmandu

There have been many summits of Manaslu this fall season and we congratulate those who had the patience to sit it out and see how the latter teams did with fixing the ropes and ladders into camp four.

Several teams decided the risk was too high and I for one, respect the advice from many experienced UIAGM guides present this season with extensive avalanche training. The windswept slopes above camp three left many of these professional climbers with sleepless nights thinking about the safety of their clients and Sherpa support staff. Some of them took decisive actions and canceled their expeditions with the safety of all their climbers in mind. Other guides stayed and followed the tracks of the first teams to reach camp four.

Our expedition is a non-guided expedition and has a single expedition leader to arrange logistics and staff. I was very fortunate as we had nine climbers, who were mostly very experienced and myself, being supported by nine Sherpas. Out of our nine climbers, eight made the decision to stop climbing before the other teams announced their decision to stop climbing. Only one member of our team wanted to continue, and unfortunately, the Sherpas decided it would be too dangerous with this climber’s pace to attempt the top. I apologize to this climber but the Sherpas’ safety is paramount for myself.

Our Sherpa team, along with Sherpas from Himex, worked relentlessly to fix the ropes from base camp to camp two. They then fixed the ropes from camp three to just below camp four where they had the incident with the crevasse fall and the waist deep snow. I thank them for all their hard work, which helped many of the later teams reach the summit. These guys are the true heroes of Himalayan expeditions.

The conditions on Manaslu this fall season were very similar to what the teams experienced on K2 and Broad Peak this summer. Perhaps the unusual hot temperatures at base camp and on the hill as well as the frequent avalanches from the North Peak may be a thing of the future for Manaslu. Out of the eight yearly expeditions I have participated in on Manaslu, I have never experienced it so warm and the mountain so dry. I hope this was just an abnormal year for this beautiful peak.

As I write this blog I am getting phone calls here in Kathmandu about a confirmed fatality on the peak and another climber who was rescued from camp four and helicoptered off the hill from camp three. I send my condolences to the family of the deceased climber and hope the rescued climber makes a full speedy recover from his ordeal.

The mountains are beautiful places to visit and to climb in but we can never take them for granted. I am very grateful to Manaslu for allowing my team members and Sherpas to travel on her flanks unharmed this season. Some may think we decided too soon to go home but I respect the decision of all my members who wanted to leave when they did and the sole member who wanted to stay to possibly make a summit attempt.

Phil Crampton

Dispatch #18 – September 28, 2015 – Base Camp

Our first set of team members are now back in Kathmandu. They descended to Sama Goan yesterday and took a helicopter back to the capital.

The remaining team members have been weighing up their options with a possible summit attempt. The risk of avalanches from wind swept slopes above camp three left all of them concerned, especially one member, who is an UIAGM alpine guide with avalanche risk experience. This combined with no fixed ropes into camp four had the remaining members also decide to abort a summit attempt. They are now in Sama Goan waiting for a flight back to Kathmandu.

This is the first year in eight that we have not successfully reached the summit of Manaslu. Several other teams are following suit and canceling their expeditions with the same concerns as ourselves.

This morning, unexpectedly, the mountain received substantial new snowfall which will hinder the progress of any possible ropes being fixed into camp four. The weather forecasts all agree that the high winds will stay in place until the 30th and the 1st, and then the jet stream will return to the mountain for some considerable time.

We say goodbye to Manaslu with very fond memories of the nice times we have had here, and look forward to our new challenge for the fall climbing season in 2016 with an attempt on Dhaulagiri.

Phil Crampton

Dispatch #17 - September 26, 2015 - Base Camp

We should have been on the summit of Manaslu this morning but things didn't quite work out the way they usually do for us.

Our team members made the big climb to camp two from base camp on the 23rd. The following day they made the short climb to camp three at an elevation of 6,750 meters. I climbed directly to camp three from base camp to meet the team members as I had to check on several weather forecasts at base camp on the evening of the 23rd.

A very strong Sherpa rope fixing team consisting of two Sherpas each from the Junkies and Himex as well as a sole Sherpa from Mountain Experience started to fix ropes to camp three on the 24th and continued with the task on the 25th. The guys made great progress fixing through the seracs and the blue ice section and then headed for camp four. Unfortunately, this is where things started to go wrong. They encountered waist deep snow, which left them unable to place safe anchors for the fixed rope. Many Sherpas from both the Junkies and Himex were carrying camp four loads and were following the rope fixers when one of these Sherpas fell into a hidden crevasse. The crevasse opened up to 4 meters wide and about 100 meters long, spanning the entire route, basically cutting off the Sherpas ahead of the crevasse. The Sherpa who fell around 10 meters into the slot was extracted, and then the Sherpas had the task of getting back over the crevasse. They found a way but the snowbridge they crossed was unstable to say the least. Whilst traversing the slot to descend, they triggered a small avalanche that did not harm them but gave them a fright. I am glad to say that the Sherpa who fell into the crevasse was not badly injured and made it down safely to base camp. He is now back in Kathmandu.

The following day another team's Sherpas were collecting loads from the high point and were exposed to another slab avalanche which luckily missed harming them.

After the events of the 25th, it was decided for all team members and Sherpas to descend to base camp to assess the situation. Back at base camp on that evening, there was a meeting of all team leaders present to see who would be able to assist the Sherpas from the Junkies and Himex to possibly fix the route to camp four. The Junkies Sherpas have spent more days rope fixing than any other team on the mountain, and have the Himex Sherpas who collaborated with them to thank for all the days they have donated to fixing ropes. The Junkies and Himex have also provided the majority of rope, hardware and ladders between them for all the expeditions present.

The largest team present, Seven Summit Treks, have now offered to fix ropes to camp four as the Sherpas from the Junkies and Himex have given all they can. The waist deep snow on the way to camp four is a concern for wind slab avalanches. To deviate from the normal route around the large crevasse involves a long exposed traverse under overhanging seracs which is not an ideal situation to be in for the team members and Sherpas.

The new group of Sherpas who are now fixing ropes to camp four hope to have this job done by the 28th but we are expecting high winds to be present for several days making the job of technical rope fixing somewhat dangerous. Many teams are now hoping for an October 1st or 2nd summit window, which will mean 100 western climbers and around 60 Sherpas all going for the summit on the same two days. Manaslu has a very narrow summit ridge and it will be impossible for all the climbers to reach the true summit. Many will have to be happy for the fore-summit, also known as the col, which was the summit for many teams in 2008.

Some of our team members have been waying up their options and have decided, with the present conditions on the mountains of slab avalanches happening, the large open crevasse blocking the route, and the uncertainity of the rope fixers completing their job, to descend to Sama Goan where they will take a helicopter back to Kathmandu. Several other teams are now having some members depart their respective expeditions based on the conditions of the mountain and the number of climbers present. Our other team members are going to wait at base camp and see how things work out with establishing the route to camp four and the problematic crevasse blocking the route.

Even before the start of this expedition, the Sherpas and I had decided to climb Dhaulagiri next season instead of Manaslu. This is our eighth year here and we have been successful on all our previous Manaslu expeditions. We wonder if she is being so problematic this season because she feels slighted that we want to visit another beautiful peak next year and not her.

Phil Crampton

Dispatch #16 - September 23, 2015 - Base Camp

There hasn't been too much news to report on apart from checking the various weather forecasts over the past few days. After much speculation, two teams consulted their latest forecasts and decided to make a summit push.

A total of five combined Sherpas from Altitude Junkies, Himex and Mountain Experience are now on their way to camp three and will fix ropes to camp four tomorrow if possible. The respective team members from the above groups are now on their way directly from base camp to camp two. Another team of five European climbers from Germany and Austria will also join the summit push, with everyone hopefully reaching the top on the 26th.

The weather forecasts have been varied so we decided to take a gamble and hope that our forecasts are correct. The teams had planned to depart base camp at 3am this morning but a torrential downpour delayed our depature until 6am. The rain we received at base camp is depositing snow at camp one and below so we feel the route is safe after so many days consolidation and the continuing clear skies.

We decided it was better to give the summit a shot in the next few days, rather than waiting for a perfect forecast that may never come. I will stay at base camp for a couple of days monitoring the new weather forecasts and join the team at camp three or camp four.

Phil Crampton

Dispatch #15 – September 20, 2015 – Base Camp

The weather started off terrible this morning, but then we saw the sun for a few hours before it turned to its usual rain, snow and drizzle for the afternoon hours. Several groups are now completing their camp two rotations and we observed Sherpas from a large team carrying loads to camp three through our scope this morning before they returned to base camp.

The team members all enjoyed a walk to camp one yesterday and today several of them walked down in the directon of Sama Goan to keep up their exercise regime during our bad weather days.

All of base camp is now waiting with baited breath to see if the storm materializes on the 21st and continues through the 22nd. All of the professional weather forecasts are agreeing and saying some form of precipitation is on the way, but we are unsure on actually how much we will receive. The weather forecasts we receive are based on computer models using the available data of the present conditions and try to predict what will happen next. Sometimes is does happen and other times it doesn't.

Phil Crampton

Dispatch #14 – September 19, 2015 – Base Camp

It seems as if we have got a break in the weather. The constant rain and snow at base camp and on the hill was absent for part of the day and possibly for the next couple of days. With this in mind, we took advantage of the fine weather and did a walk to camp one. The Sherpas went ahead to break down all the tents at camp one and store them in the kitchen dome. We have had seven forced rest days at base camp so it was nice to stretch the legs. The Sherpas broke down camp one as we are expecting some considerable snowfall on the 21st.

The route to camp one has fixed ropes in place and is safe from any avalanches from the recent heavy snowfall. I was very surprised to see some climbers from other teams heading to camp two. Yesterday, camp two received waist deep snow and even without one day of consolidation, some climbers have elected to climb under seracs weighted with heavy snow and loaded slopes above camp two.

Hopefully we get another good weather day tomorrow so we can take advantage of it and if possible make another small walk up the hill, as we expect to be base camp bound for a few days with the expected heavy snowfall and the time the slopes need to consolidate before we can safely go above camp two.

Phil Crampton

Dispatch #13 – September 18, 2015 – Base Camp

Groundhog Day #7

We are now entering our seventh day of bad weather at base camp and on the hill. The rain/snow mix at base camp was persistent all day yesterday and continued throughout the night. It has just stopped at 10am and we are actually getting some sunshine for a change.

The teams at camp one are now descending after the dumping of snow last night. Teams at camp two are making a careful descent to base camp. It was reported that there was a foot of snow at 6pm yesterday at the camp and it continued to snow throughout the evening. Some unconfirmed reports are saying there may be as much as two feet of new snow at camp two at an elevation of 6,400 meters. Other unconfirmed reports are stating that there have been slides between camp two and three but this would be normal for such a large snowfall amount. No teams were camped above camp two last night.

We are all monitoring our weather forecasts and hope that this rogue system from the tailend of the monsoon will soon pass. Our experts are tracking a large system that may hit the region on the 21st but it looks as if will head towards the Everest region and not towards us on Manaslu.

With seven days of persistent bad weather, it starts to becam a drain on the patience of the team members. But, those of us who have climbed Manaslu before know that the weather is notorious here and patience pays off for those willing to sit out the storms.

We hope to have some other news to report on in a few days and not just the bad weather and how much snow we are getting.

Phil Crampton

Dispatch #12 – September 17, 2015 – Base Camp

Every new day at base camp has now started to resemble a scene from the movie, Groundhog Day. We are now entering our sixth day of bad weather at base camp, and although this sounds like a long time, it is not unusual for Manaslu. We are experiencing the tail end of the monsoon with a rogue weather pattern that will last for a few more days.

Several teams are at camp one and two respectively trying to complete their acclimatization programs before making their summit attempts towards the end of the month. We were very fortunate with being one of the first teams in attendance at base camp allowing us to complete several climbs to camp one and spend an evening at camp two in favourable weather conditions. Most teams on the hill at present are having to climb in snowy conditions.

A Sherpa team from another group have asked to fix the ropes from camp three to camp four when the snow conditions allow. This is a generous offer as our Sherpas can now focus on moving all our tents, stoves, gas and oxygen from camp two to the higher camps.

Safety is our main focus on this expedition and we do not allow our members or Sherpas to go higher on the hill during snowfall. In 2008 camp one and camp two recieved two and five meters of snow respectively during a small predicted snow storm. Again in 2012 we received large amounts of snowfall which resutled in an avalanche, so we at the Junkies prefer to sit tight at base camp during any snowfall as it is very hard for the professional weather forecast services to predict an accurate amount of accumulation.

Our team members are keeping active with daily walks up and down the moraine but are not setting foot onto the glacier with the current weather conditions. A few of us may walk down to Sama Goan for the evening to get out of the constant rain and snow we are experiencing. If the weather and snow conditions allow, we can hopefully have the ropes fixed to camp four by the 20th allowing us to make our summit plans.

Phil Crampton

Dispatch #11 – September 16, 2015 – Base Camp

Five of our team members flew back to base camp this morning after spending three enjoyable days and nights in Kathmandu. The stories of the fine weather and multiple restaurant choices have the rest of us very envious although we have been taken care of amazingly by our talented cooks.

With the guys flying direct to base camp from Kathmandu by chopper, this enabled us to resupply the all important steaks, vegetables and wine to keep our sanity over the next several days of forecasted bad weather.

We started today with perfect weather, but now in the afternoon, the conditions have detoriated just like the past four days. We will continue to sit tight at base camp until we believe the weather to improve and the snow conditions to allow some safe climbing.

We have observed several teams ascending to camp two to complete their acclimatization schedules through our scope but visibility was lost very early this monring to continue to folllow their progress. Hopefully, they do not endure too much snow this evening.

Phil Crampton

Dispatch #10 – September 15, 2015 – Base Camp

We awoke this morning to fresh snow on our tents at base camp. The snow stopped at 9am and we believe this was a local storm, the one that saturated Kathmandu yesterday afternoon.

Our new weather forecast predicts some precipitation on the 17th and 18th and with this in mind we have now cancelled our original summit plan of the 21st.

The team members in Kathmandu will return to base camp tomorrow and the team will once again be complete. We will have to sit out some more bad weather before hopefully making the summit attempt pretty much the same day as we have done the past two previous years.

Phil Crampton

Dispatch #9 – September 14, 2015 – Base Camp

The forecast of clouds and precipitation continues at base camp and on the hill for the third day straight. We are unsure of how much snow is falling higher but it has left the Sherpas from various groups unable to make the important load carries to camp two.

Our plan is the same: when the ropes have been fixed into camp four, our Sherpas will carry loads to deposit in anticipation of our summit push.

Phil Crampton

Dispatch #8 – September 13, 2015 – Base Camp

We are now experiencing our second day of bad weather, only the fourth to date since we started the expedition. The Sherpas have already got all our loads into camp two and we will wait now for the snow conditions to allow them to carry from camp two to camp four with oxygen and epi gas.

As we are now in a holding pattern waiting for clear skies for our summit push, our Sherpas have dropped down to Sama Goan for the evening and will make a visit to a monastery to ask for safe passage on our summit push. They will return to base camp tomorrow evening.

Just as the Sherpas have dropped lower, several of our team members dropped down to Sama Goan yesterday for the night to get out of the damp, wet and cold base camp. With the continuing bad weather at base camp they decided to spend a few evenings in Kathmandu to recharge before we make the summit push. These guys will return to base camp in a few days.

Phil Crampton

Dispatch #7 – September 11, 2015 – Base Camp

All the team members and Sherpas are now back in base camp. The team members along with Dorjee Sherpa, Tendi Sherpa, Pasang Nima Sherpa and myself spent the evening at camp two at 6,400 meters. We became slighlty alarmed as it began to snow at 7pm but a quick radio call with Russell Brice calmed our nerves as the snow was part of a small local system that we were experiencing.

We have been planning our camp two rotation based on our weather forecasts from West Coast Weather. True to form, the weather was fine yesterday and this morning. The storm that is potentially going to hit us seems as if will start this afternoon or evening.

The Sherpas and team members will now rest at base camp and then once the snow has stopped we will allow it to consolidate before we venture higher, hopefully on our summit push.

Phil Crampton

Dispatch #6 – September 9, 2015 – Base Camp

Yesterday, Russsell Brice and myself held a meeting with the Sherpa sirdars from the Junkies, Himex and Seven Summits to make a plan for the continuation of the placement of the fixed ropes. This morning, three of the Junkies and two Himex Sherpas left base camp early to finish fixing and establishing the route into camp two. Five Sherpas from Seven Summits carried loads from base camp to camp two to support the fixing Sherpas for the route above camp two.

Our most recent weather forecasts are showing a chance of some significant precipitation starting on the 11th and continuing for a few days. With this in mind we will forego our rest day today and the team members will once again head to camp one this afternoon along with some of our Sherpa staff. Tomorrow they will be joined by more of our Sherpa staff at camp one and climb to camp two and spend the evening. They will descend to base camp in good conditions on the 11th before the possible storm hits.

I will stay at base camp this evening to monitor the weather forecasts and join the team at camp one in the morning along with the Sherpas, who will climb with the team members to camp two.

All of our members will be wearing a personal avalanche transciever and carrying a two-way radio above camp one as do all the Sherpas. From our experience of Manaslu on our previous expeditions, we know that we have to make as much progress as possible when the weather and snow conditions allow, and take rest days when the conditions are less favorable.

Phil Crampton

Dispatch #5– September 8, 2015 – Base Camp

The Sherpas and team members have made quite some progress since our last dispatch. Yesterday, eight of our Sherpas along with five from Himex, fixed the ropes to just below camp two. The route is very different this year and the two lead climbers did a fantastic job of finding the route. All the Sherpas returned to base camp tired after such a long day and today they are taking a well deserved rest day.

Our team members made another climb to camp one yesterday where they spent the night. The climb was cooler than the previous rotation due to the low cloud we were climbing in. They all returned to base camp this morning for breakfast and will take a rest day tomorrow before making our next rotaion on the hill with us spending nights at camp one and camp two respectively.

The weather has been unusually good here at Manaslu for so early on in the season and we hope to take advantage of this and make as much progress as possible with the favorable conditions. Many teams have yet to arrive at base camp and the Sherpas hope to have the ropes fixed to camp three in a few days.

Phil Crampton

Dispatch #4- September 6, 2015 - Base Camp

All the Sherpas and team members are enjoying a well deserved rest day at base camp. The Sherpas made another carry to camp one yesterday and the members follwed them and tagged camp one before returning to base camp for the evening.

The volleyball court is now operational and the Sherpas from the Junkies and Himex are now battling it out for the bragging rights at base camp. We have introduced some younger Sherpas into our crew this season, to help with the rope fixing but also to be on a more level age as the Himex Sherpas, so hopefully we will win a few games from now on.

Tomorrow, we will climb to camp one again in the late afternoon and spend an evening at camp one before returning to base camp. Eight Sherpas from the Junkies and six from Himex will start to fix the ropes to camp one and hopefully this job will be completed in a few days.

Phil Crampton

Dispatch #3– September 4, 2015 – Base Camp

Our team reached base camp on September 1st as planned and we held our Puja on the 3rd. The Lama, who conducted the ceremony, has now done at least six past Junkies' Manaslu Pujas. The service lasted four hours as we knew it would and have become accustomed to.

With the Puja completed, this now allows the Sherpas to set foot on the mountain and fix ropes on the route as well as establishing our camp one. Eight of our Sherpas and seven from Himex carried ropes, ladders and hardware today, fixed ropes and established the route to camp one. There are many large crevasses enroute and they used 1,700-meters of rope already. Our team members left base camp several hours after the Sherpas and walked to crampon point.

Tomorrow, the Sherpas will carry loads and establish camp one whilst the team members will climb to and tag camp one before we all return to base camp for the evening.

The weather has been the usual Manaslu pattern for the first three days with patches of sun and a lot of rain. However, today has been clear for most of the day and very warm at base camp and on the glacier.

Our team members have already reviewed their personal medical kits as well as practicing with crossing aluminum ladders. We have also reviewed the two-way radio protocol and the proper use of their personal avalanche beacons.

We are hoping that the unusual fine weather continues and this will allow our Sherpas, along with the Sherpas from Himex, to get the technical route to camp two completed in the next several days.

Phil Crampton

Dispatch #2 – August 30, 2015 – Sama Goan

The team assembled in Kathmandu on the 27th with all but one piece of luggage. This issue was resolved the following day and we made it to Sama Goan by private helicopters on the 29th. We were not sure if we would make the Sama helicopter flight as the weather was bad on route, but our patience of waiting at the helipad for better conditions paid off and we managed to sneak in under the clouds around lunchtime.

Our large team of Sherpas have already established base camp and all that is left now is for our several coolers of steaks and lamb, etc. to go to base camp by the local porters to be placed in ice. Our team members gear should arrive by helicopter today and then we will all head to base camp on September 1st.

Da Pasang Sherpa and his kitchen crew are taking care of our needs in Sama Goan and Dorjee Sherpa is also here organizing the final members' loads to go to base camp as well as coordinating with the Sirdar of Himex to get all the fixed ropes, ladders and hardware to be carried to base camp.

Phil Crampton

Dispatch #1 - August 22, 2015 - Kathmandu

Welcome to the expedition dispatches from the Junkies annual Manaslu expedition. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the Junkies Manaslu team members as well as all the other climbers and trekkers heading to Nepal this autumn season for continuing to support Nepal in its hour of need. Nepal will rebuild slowly after the two recent devastating earthquakes and tourists are the backbone of its economy. Everyone in Nepal benefits from the tourist dollars, pounds, euros and other respective currency that passes through its borders and I am honored that our team members continued with their plans to ascend Manaslu.

I would also like to thank all those past, present and future Junkies team members who have donated so generously to the Sherpa fund to rebuild damaged and destroyed homes in the Khumbu. This rebuilding project will start at the conclusion of monsoon season under the directorship of Dawa Gelgen and his staff from the Expedition Himalaya office. When this project starts we will be documenting the progress on our website.

Our large Sherpa crew under the directorship of our sidar, Dorjee Sherpa, are already trekking to Sama Goan with our food loads and will be at base camp in several days.

As usual we are welcoming back many past Junkies climbers for this expedition, some from Everest and some from our Peru expeditions. Our team members are going to start to arrive in Kathmandu over the next few days and we will be taking several private helicopters to Sama Goan on the morning of the 29th, weather permitting

We are looking forward to hopefully another successful season on Manaslu and hope the weather gods are favorable with conditions come late September.

Phil Crampton

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