Thoughts and Adventures From Greenlite Heavy Industries

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Manaslu Part 3

“Hey Mike, okay now hear me out, this is just a thought,” Brian was uncharacteristically cautious, which thereby made me more than a little nervous. “What do you think of switching our plans and going to Manaslu?”

“Manaslu!” I responded. “That’s an eight thousand meter peak. A little out of our league don’t ya think.”

As an environmental engineer with the Washington State Department of Ecology Brian orchestrates and oversees the cleanup of toxic waste sites. The head of the Department of Ecology at that time was a fellow climber by the name of Tom Fitzsimons. Brian explained how he had run into Tom at a meeting, and as two climbers often do the pair got to talking about current plans: Brian mentioned Tibet, Tom brought Manaslu.

Tom, knowing Brian to be an experienced and competent mountaineer, proposed a possible merging of the two projects and since Manaslu presented a more challenging and ambitious objective it remained on the table.

Only fourteen summits exceed eight thousand meters; climbers know these as the Eight Thousanders. During the fifties and sixties the rush to put a man on the summit of an eight thousand meter peak reached nationalist levels with France, Germany and Great Briton all racing to plant a flag on a high Himalayan peak. The bodies of some of the most powerful and viciously tenacious humans ever to climb a hill litter these mountains. Climbing legends like Kukuczka, Buhl and Genet all died while descending eight thousand meter peaks, but it was the more recent deaths of Scott Fisher and Alex Lowe that had severely shaken my notions on how to survive in the mountains. Prior to the death of these two men in the high Himalaya (Scott on Everest and Alex on Shisha Pangma) I had believed that through fitness, competence and knowledge you could all but avoid an untimely death in the mountains. Scott and Alex were the best and yet both were snuffed like ants underfoot; their deaths taught me that life in the high mountains is a loaded dice game: yeah you might win on occasion, but play enough and the house invariably wins. How audacious even to contemplate such an intoxicating proposal.
Brian is as diplomatic as he is self-confident and over the course of an hour he managed to convince me that at least we should meet with Tom and hear his ideas. To be honest I felt more than a little blindsided, I had put four months of work into our Tibet trip, work that Brian was proposing that we simply throw away. The blow to my ego, however was a minor concern compared to the knowledge that my friend, Steve Steckmeyer, had, eleven years earlier, buried three of his companions at the base of Manaslu following a catastrophic avalanche.

I didn’t mention the idea to my wife.

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