American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Manaslu Attempt

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1989

Manaslu Attempt. Our Manaslu climb was planned for immediately after our failed Makalu winter attempt to take advantage of our excellent acclimatization for an alpine-style try. Pole Andrzej Machnik and I had permission for a direct variant of the original northeast-face route, a long ice-and-snow rib, a kilometer southeast of Naike Col, which ascends from the Manaslu Glacier directly to the snow slopes below the snow apron. While more technically demanding than the original route, this direct line avoids the major avalanche hazards that threaten the other where it traverses below Manaslu’s north peak. Machnik and I left Kathmandu on February 24 and started the approach from Gorkha on the 26th with 15 porters. We arrived in Base Camp in eight days to find two feet of late winter snow at only 3650 meters. Spring had not come yet. On March 7 and 8, we two broke trail from Base Camp to the head of the Manaslu Glacier to establish a safe camp beneath Manaslu’s northeast face. Despite a vertical gain of 1800 meters, we were barely at the elevation of the Everest Base Camp! Our huge loads included equipment for the camp and enough rope to fix the steep, icy rock band beneath the spur we had come to climb. Instead of starting up the delicate mixed section the next day, we retreated to Base Camp in a snowstorm that dumped two feet of powder overnight. Leaving all our gear in the tent before descending, we did not suspect that we would never see it again. The avalanche hazard was critical on the exposed slopes between 4600 and 4200 meters on the descent and we triggered at least three slab avalanches. It snowed nearly continually for the next ten days. Two attempts to cross dangerous slopes between 4200 and 4600 meters were thwarted by extreme avalanche danger. Four sections of our route below 4800 meters were obliterated by avalanche debris. The mountain was a death trap. On March 17, we regained Camp I after twelve hours of miserable post-holing and wading. Not only had all our wands been buried above 4500 meters, but so had the camp. Probing and trenching were in vain, for at least eight feet of snow had fallen in the previous ten days. We were caught by another blizzard as we searched! A gearless bivouac in a hastily dug cave preceded a nine-hour “swim” through the whiteout back to Base Camp on March 18. Having lost most of our technical equipment plus a tent, two sleeping bags, medical kit, etc., and seeing that the mountain would not be safe for several more weeks, we abandoned the climb on March 29.

Andrew Evans

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