Period: September 2th – October 9th
Participants: François Cazzanelli, Emrik Favre, Francesco Ratti, Marco Camandona, Maurizio Folini and Andreas Steindl.
Autumn 2019 was abnormal for the Himalayas. In Nepal the best seasons for climbing are the post and pre monsoon seasons, autumn and spring. This year, unfortunately, the monsoon remained on the whole chain until late autumn, creating many problems for all expeditions and not just for us.
On 37 days we had only 3 days of beautiful and stable weather, only 72 hours without precipitations. Except for these 3 days, the best days were those where there was an interruption of rainfall and some partial clearings of the sky from evening until late morning. All this has not been entirely negative, in fact, this situation of disrupted time has meant that even at high altitudes the temperatures have never been too rigid and the wind never too strong.
Our expedition had two goals:
- The first one was to attempt the summit of the Pangpoche by opening a new route on the north-west slope in alpine style using the village of Samagoan as a base camp, which is located at an altitude of 3500 meters.
- The second one (but only in order of time) was Manaslu, the eighth highest mountain on earth, with its 8161 m. This mountain immediately stimulated in me the idea of trying a speed climb that in my opinion was a logical evolution of what I did on the Alps in recent years. Before me, Andrzej Bargiel did it on September 25th 2014, climbing and descending (partially downhill on skis) Manaslu in 21 hours and 14 minutes.
Our expedition began with a really bad weather that would accompany us throughout the trek. For the approach we chose the shortest route that with 1 day of jeep and 4 days on foot took us directly to the village of Samagoan, which was going to be our base camp for Pangpoche. Our idea was to first climb the Pangpoche, so as to later exploit the Manaslu acclimatization. We started exploring the Pangpoche immediately, our idea was to open a route on the north side or the one towards Manaslu. After several laps we decided that the north-west ridge would give us a safer approach and therefore it immediately became our goal.
We moved immediately and on a rainy day we brought a part of our gear to the base of the ridge at about 5100 m. Then we went down to the village to rest a couple of days and wait for good weather. Unfortunately, the days went by and the weather didn’t improve and the timing was against us. We took a risky decision: we decided to reverse the program and then to go directly to the Manaslu base camp and start acclimating on the normal route. We didn’t waste any more time, we prepared the gear and on September 13th we were at the base camp; the following day we were already operational and we immediately went up to Camp 2 at 6400 m. On September 15th we reached the 6600 m and descended to the base to rest. On the mountain there was a lot of snow but fortunately on the normal route the conditions were good but it was absolutely unthinkable to try other ways. Within a week we finished our acclimatization touching 7200 m and sleeping at 6800 m. Now we just had to rest and wait for even a window of dry weather. Finally the weather turned on our side and seemed to give us a chance for September 26th. The window would be short but seemed to give us excellent weather conditions: no wind, fairly clear sky and good temperatures from 26th night until 12 am. It was the right time: it was up to us!
Marco, Francesco and Emrik were planning to leave on the 25th morning to go to camp 3 to rest a few hours and at midnight to leave directly for the summit.
Andy and I instead would leave at 9.00 pm from the base camp to reach the summit on the morning of the 26th.
Finally, September 25th arrived: it was a big mental effort to see our friends leaved while we remained at the base camp to wait. During the day a thousand of thoughts tormented me. Was I going to make it? Was it the right choice?
Then finally the evening arrived, we had dinner with my friend Mario Casanova who encouraged us as much as possible; then we finished preparing ourselves. We re-checked another time that we had taken everything, we left the tent and went to the Chorten. We took some rice and threw it in the air as a sign of good luck for the climb and at that moment we realized that the stars were above us. We said goodbye to Mario and we headed towards the tombstone of the Iranian mountaineer Jafar Naseri, which is located in the upper part of the base camp: we decided to start the time from there because it was the only point of reference for the camp.
We shook hands and started the clock and we left! Andy started and I followed him; Mario chased us to take some pictures and videos but after a while I didn’t see anymore his headlamp behind us. We started off great and in an hour we reached Camp 1: we were fine, it was not cold and after all being alone on that mountain was very pleasant. We arrived under the serac called "Eye", we put on the crampons, we drank something and left again. In about 2 hours and 15 minutes we reached Camp 2; the cold began to be felt and we decided to wear heavier clothes. We put on our down pants and the boots for 8000 and left the lighter shoes there. Andy picked up the pace and arrived about 5 minutes before me to Camp 3. We had climbed well compared to our roadmap, we had about 1 hour and 30 minutes of advantage; we put on the high-altitude down clothes and left in the tent of our friends some food for the descent. We arrived quickly to 7000 meters, and there things got complicated: the wind suddenly rose. On the mountain there was a lot of snow so every gust seemed to be inside a storm; but the worst thing was that the track filled with snow. Until that moment, the track was perfect but from then on we had to do it all over again. Sometimes there were 20 cm of fresh snow, sometimes 30 cm and the progression became much more difficult.
We traced a little by one but anyway we slowed down a lot; we arrived at Camp 4 at 7400 m and we realized that all the advantage we had was vanished and so we were now in line with our original timetable. We decided to do the last part lighter and we left the backpacks to the camp. We climbed a first ramp and we realized that now it was dawning: it was a beautiful moment, finally we saw the top and in the distance also our friends. At that moment, this pushed me a lot and I went in a sort of agonistic trance, I increased my pace and I first reached Emrik and Francesco I had a few words with them, we drank together and I set off again: I wanted to reach Marco, which was 100 m ahead. I reached him, and in the meantime he had taken some pictures of me. I stopped in front of him and at that moment I realized that Andy had slowed his pace. I left with Marco but I continued to turn around to look for Andy, a couple of times I yelled at him to cheer him up, but the distance between us increased. In my head I told myself that he was slowing down because for him it was the first time he was climbing at such high altitudes.
Finally Andy reached Francesco and Emrik; at that moment everything became clearer to me and I reassured myself: I would do the last 500 meters with Marco and he was with Emrik and Francesco now, so he was no longer alone and this relieved me. I reconciled myself and I tried to think for myself: it was not easy to leave behind Andy before, we were two, now everyone had to think for himself and the game changed.
I put myself behind Marco, he had a very good pace, he was very regular and we could do 30/40 steps consecutively, an excellent rhythm at that altitude. We arrived under the last ramp, I passed in front of Marco, I felt good and I forced in a bit to overcome a small group of climbers and Sherpas. Marco remained a little bit back but followed me without big problems. Suddenly I arrived on the final crest, in front of me I found my friend Pemba with two clients, as soon as he saw me he opened the suit and gave me a sip of coke, he belayed the clients and let me pass. It was one of the most intense moments I experienced in the mountains, the gesture of Pemba at 8000 m has immense value. Now I could see the summit. Pemba encouraged me, Marco arrived on the peak and took some photos: I almost did it. In my mind I counted every step, I saw the ridge that slowly ended and suddenly I found myself on a row of Tibetan flags: finally I was on the top!
I had a look at the clock: it was 10 o'clock, it took me 13 hours from the Base Camp to the top. I turned around and looked down and I started taking pictures of Marco and Pemba. When Marco arrived, we hug each other, it was a beautiful moment, our second 8000m together.
Pemba also arrived and we started taking lots of photos. We were euphoric, we drank, we ate and we enjoyed the moment: in total we stayed more than half an hour on the summit. After some time, Marco looked at me and told me “now move your ass and get down!”. We said goodbye and left again, retraced the ridge and returned to the final slope; to save energy I sled down a bit. At about 300 m from the summit I found Andy, Francesco and Emrik, I pushed them and told them that now they were very close and had to hold on and keep going. I asked Andreas how he was and he replied "it is ok now, I am with a companion, go down and don’t worry ". I looked at him, we hugged and I left!
I went down to Camp 4 and from that moment on my feet started to hurt. It seemed to me that I was descending slowly. At Camp 3 I entered the tent of the others, I took my stuff, I drank a little coke and I left. My feet hurt, it seemed to me that time didn’t pass any more. Finally, I arrived at Camp 2. I changed my shoes, ate something, and realized that my feet were going better and that I was going well. I left, in my head I kept telling myself that there was little left and that I had to hold on; sometimes I could also run, so I took courage and went down even faster. It started to rain, I got wet, I had to go down. I arrived at C1 I didn’t stop until the end of the glacier where I removed the crampons, I almost had it done! I was walking fast but paying a lot of attention, I didn't want to fall and hurt myself. I saw the first tents, accelerated and finally arrived at the tombstone and stopped the time: 17 hours and 43 minutes. I left immediately.
I was wet and cold, I arrived at our camp and dived into the kitchen tent, because that was the hottest tent in the whole camp! I went in and everyone looked at me in amazement. They would have thought "what is he doing here already?" They gave me a coffee and I started warming up. At that moment Mario came in and hugged me and asked me "but do you realize what you did?" "Not so much" I replied "now I'm cold and hungry". Meanwhile the cook started cooking potatoes and Tashi, the head of our agency with a case of beers arrived and the party started. I felt better, a lot of Sherpas came and everyone hugged me. We stayed there for about three hours and then suddenly Marco arrived too. We hug each other and then beer again. Around 6.30 pm Andy arrived. We changed our clothes and we ate. Then we waited for Emrik and Francesco to make another toast and eat a beautiful cake with the words "Manaslu summit".
The best thing about this adventure is having it shared with a special group of friends with whom I've always faced everything with a smile!
We were happy but at the same time aware that it was not over yet because the Pangpoche was waiting for us.
To be continued ...
Article by François Cazzanelli, October 2019. Pictures: François Cazzanelli's archive.
François Cazzanelli, born in 1990 and based in Cervinia (Italy), is part of the Grivel team since when he was a child. Mountain guide, mountaineer and member of Società Guide del Cervino since 2012, he collected many extra-European expeditions, from Patagonia to Himalayas, to the unknown massifs of Sichuan, opening many new routes.
Favorite Grivel product: North Machine Carbon ice axes.