FIRST A RANGE OF RUGGED, SNOW WHITE PEAKS CAME INTO VIEW OUTSIDE THE PLANE’S LEFT WINDOW. THEN WE GLIDED DOWN BETWEEN GREEN, CLOUD-CUDDLED HILLS. A BLAST OF FRESH AIR GREETED US UPON LANDING. WE WERE IN NEPAL… NAMASTE!
My reason this time for coming to Kathmandu, which I love and where I’d always dreamed of returning, was to climb Mt Manaslu, the world’s eighth tallest peak at 8,163 meters. This mountain, whose name means Mountain of the Spirits in Sanskrit, is one of eight peaks above 8,000 meters in the Nepalese Himalayas.
LAND OF FESTIVALS
We are in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu before the climb. Besides the millennia-old city of Bhaktapur, a Unesco cultural heritage, there are colossal cultural treasures here. Nepal, which is home to upwards of 60 ethnic groups from the Gorkhas famous for their proud soldiers to the mountain peasants known as sherpas, boasts a splendid culture characterized by tolerance. The most colorful time in Kathmandu, where a different festival is celebrated practically every day of the year thanks to the country’s diverse ethnic traditions, is the Dasain Festival, the biggest of them all.
JOURNEY TO THE SUMMIT
Like every climb I’ve made in Nepal, the Mt Manaslu expedition began in Kathmandu where I met my team of Chinese and Nepalese mountaineers. Climbs on 8,000-meter mountains in the Himalayas are subject to permission, and we obtained a special climbing permit from the Nepalese government for Manaslu. Climbs to peaks of 8,000 meters, the cruising altitude of a passenger jetliner, are dangerous and hard on the human body. Atmospheric pressure and oxygen in the air drop to one-third at this altitude, which means, in practical terms, that there is little or no oxygen in the air you’re breathing! Many mountaineers who climb to such altitudes use oxygen tanks. High mountains also pose basic risks such as giant avalanches, strong winds and storms, and excessive cold. What’s more, you have to make perilous ascents on steep, difficult walls of rock and ice. When you consider all these factors, the perils of climbing high peaks like Manaslu are even more apparent. And I was going to climb this mountain without using oxygen!
THE FIRST TURK
A pleasant and beautiful trek brings you to the base of Mt Manaslu. In autumn, the season conducive to climbing, this 10-day trek, which starts in the rain forest and follows the Budhi Gandaki River, ends at the 4,900-meter base camp on the border with Tibet. The real climb starts here. At the end of this trek, on which you tour the Buddhist monasteries and see Tibetan culture firsthand, we arrived in the village of Samagaon. Following a ceremony staged here in a small temple by a Buddhist monk, we started the climb over gigantic glaciers rife with crevasses extending all the way to the foothills of the mountain. To acclimatize our bodies to the altitude, we set up our first camp on the mountain at 6,500 meters. Manaslu is famous for its huge avalanches and we were forced to pass several spots where the risk of avalanche was high. We had to set up four different camps on the mountain, the highest at 7,400 meters. Because of their vast dimensions, 8,000-meter peaks involve logistic difficulties, so climbs like those on Manaslu take more than a month. After consulting the weather report and learning that conditions were suitable for the ascent, our team advanced to its highest camp at 7,400 meters for the final push to the summit. Following an arduous climb in minus 30 degree temperatures we managed to reach the 8,163-meter summit on the morning of September 25. The first Turk to scale Manaslu without using oxygen, I had communed with the Mountain of the Spirits, my tenth eight-thousander. The question now is, when am I going back to Nepal? Because, as everyone always says, “Once is never enough!”