Manaslu (8163 m) – Nepal – spring 2008
Expedition: Dutch expedition, without extra oxygen. The original goal was Mount Shisha Pangma (8013 m), but right before departure the borders of Tibet were closed.
Climbing team: Henk Wesselius, Niels van Veen, Miriam Knepper, Lakpa Nuru Sherpa, Nuru Gyalzen Sherpa and Katja Staartjes (expedition leader), supported by base camp manager and photographer Menno Boermans
Route: normal route (north-east side)
Result: highest point 7,700 meters (May 13, 2008)
More info: www.manaslu2008.nl
N.B. Six months later was the retry, resulting in the fore summit at 8130 meters (Dutch first): see Manaslu Autumn.
Manaslu – mountain of the soul
Manaslu, locally called ‘Mountain of the Soul’ – is the seventh highest mountain in the world, located in a Buddhist and little-visited part of Nepal. Previous attempts by Dutch climbers were undertaken by Bart Vos (solo in 1999) and an expedition with UIAGM guide Robert Steenmeijer (2003). However, in 1964 a Dutch team climbed a 7100 meter high sub summit of the mountain: the north top (also known as Manaslu II), a spectacular achievement. In 2008, when the team undertook the expedition, this mountain giant had never been successfully climbed before by Dutch climbers.
Katja: “It was more or less a coincidence that we ended up on this mountain in 2008… Climbing an eight-thousander with a small and close-knit Dutch team, that was my dream for years. In March 2008 the time had come: with a 5-member team we were ready for the climb of Shisha Pangma in Tibet. Ten days before departure, however, riots arose in Lhasa (the Olympic games took place in China that summer). Tibet’s borders seemed to be closing, but nothing was certain. What now?”
Plan B is being drawn up for the mountain giant Manaslu (8163 m). The team work like crazy to get to know everything about this mountain in the remaining week and to create an extra website. Once arrived in Nepal, it turns out to be impossible to enter Tibet, so plan B finally becomes reality. This means that everything on the spot had to turn about 180 degrees: not only the climb itself, but also the logistics. The hundreds of kilos of luggage would be transported by truck close to the mountain for Shisha Pangma. The situation is different for Manaslu: 9 days on foot with porters or by helicopter.
Katja: “Besides Henk and myself, our climbing team consisted of experienced climbers Miriam Knepper and Niels van Veen, for whom it would be the first time to 8000+ metres. Photographer Menno Boermans took care of the communication and supports us from the base camp. The idea was to go to Shisha Pangma without further sherpa support. But with suddenly a completely different climb ahead, we decided to seek support from Sherpas with experience on Manaslu. And so our team was expanded with the climbers Lakpa Sherpa and Nuru Sherpa from Phortse, with whom we climbed in equality in terms of tasks.”
“After an acclimatization trek and the necessary improvisation and organizational tests, we arrived well at the 4800 metres high base camp. The following weeks there were the usual climbing rotations, where altitude camps were set up to get used to the increasingly thin air. Everything is actually going pretty well.
With two other teams, we kick off the top attempt on 12 May. We fix 500 meters of rope in the steep wall above 7000 metres, a time-consuming job with a lot of standing still in the cold. It is therefore late in the afternoon when we arrive at 7400 metres, to set up the highest camp. Not ideal as preparation for a top climb, where rest and sufficient drinking beforehand are of vital importance. But that’s not the biggest concern: it turns out the health of one of our team members has become hypothermic. Later that night it turns out to be unfeasible to leave the highest camp to the top as a complete team. In the end we decide to split up: 3 members up, 3 members down. Part of the team at the top would mean top success for the expedition! But at 7700 meters it is decided to turn around. It is not possible to fully focus the energy on the top. What is that high point worth when health is at stake? Reaching the top of an eight thousander is only possible with 100% focus and commitment. And if everything is oké. Unfortunately that is not the case this time. Ultimately, it’s about a safe descent for the entire team.
Very disappointed – but all healthy! – we returned to base camp. We are now over disappointment and cherish the “process” of this expedition; the improvisation to change everything, the impressive climb and the intense team spirit. It was an ultimate test: a team is put to the test even more when it fails to achieve the intended goal. If – without top – it still succeeds to close well together, then that is something to be proud of.”