American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Western Nepal, Janak Himal, Manaslu, Northeast Face, First Solo Ascent

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2001

Manaslu, Northeast Face, First Solo Ascent. I left France on April 10. I diligently prepared my equipment in Kathmandu from the 11th to the 14th, and then, for my first time on a Himalayan expedition, I used a helicopter. This indulgence got me quickly to the village of Sama Gompa (3600m), a half-day’s hike from the Manaslu Base Camp. After a day of rest and bad weather, I set up a base on April 18 along the Manaslu Glacier at around 4800 meters. I made many round trips to the mountain by the standard route, setting up Camp I at ca. 5950 meters and Camp II at 6500 meters. The particularly fickle weather, with almost daily snowfall, hampered my progress. Nonetheless, by April 27 I managed to get as high as 7000 meters and install a cache with three days’ worth of food and bivouac material. My idea looked simple on paper: after a few days of rest down at base camp, I wanted to climb to Camp I, and from there, traverse the glacier to make a direct attack on the northeast face of Manaslu by a new route up a superb column of ice and mixed terrain.

The first attempt on April 29 was quickly canceled because of snow at Camp I. On May 2, I headed back to Camp I. In the middle of the night, I started out to establish my new route. In total blackness, I had all sorts of trouble maintaining my orientation. Around 5600 meters, it became clear that this wouldn’t work due to the snow. After 300 meters of progress, I resigned myself to the obvious. It was suicidal to try to continue in snow of this depth and weight.

Very disappointed, I plodded back down to my tent at Camp I. Out of frustration, I returned to Camp II along the normal route, giving myself a faint feeling of progress. On May 4, I headed straight toward the northeast face via hills of blown snow. I relocated my cache at 7000 meters, and continued upward over increasingly steep slopes. Progress was hampered by the weight of my pack and the terrain, which changed back and forth between hard ice and blown snow. These conditions demanded maximum concentration and constantly thwarted my climbing rhythm.

After mixed climbing, I spent two hours chipping out a small platform for a bivouac site at ca. 7450 meters. The weather had cleared nicely. Following a mid-day and afternoon melting snow to drink and drink some more, a long sleepless night began. On May 5, I leaped from my tent at 4:30 a.m. and moved quickly through the cold. As dawn came, I was at the same level as an army of seracs. I negotiated a delicate passage over bare rock, finding a few lengths of old fixed ropes.

The slope leveled off, and I was on the summit plateau at ca. 7800 meters. I stumbled on the remains of a tent destroyed by the Himalayan winds. A sudden fatigue (laziness?) overcame me, and the path seemed uncertain in the immensity of this final field. Where was the summit? I noticed old tracks, telling me that I had rejoined the standard route. But the tracks ended as suddenly as they had begun.

After a brief final hitch around a rock passage, I saw a piton with flags around it, hooked to a telescoping flagstaff, the vestiges left by those who preceded me. It was 8:45 a.m. I forced myself to take a few more photos, and started downward immediately, toward the bottom, toward life.

Jean-Christophe Lafaille, France

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