Thoughts and Adventures From Greenlite Heavy Industries

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Manaslu Part 4

Seven days later Brian and I sat in a McDonalds in Fife, Washington talking with Tom Fitzsimmons. Tom was physically big and professionally successful, but he carried himself modestly; my first impression of him was one of soft-spoken kindness. Tom’s climbing resume went back thirty years, and in 1980 he had nearly reached the summit of Mt. Everest via its difficult, and at the time unclimbed, North Face. Tom had also been very successful out of the mountains, and at the time was a member of the Governor Gary Locke’s Cabinet.

It all seemed very flattering, here was a Himalayan veteran seriously talking to me about climbing an eight thousand meter peak. Flattering but not realistic. Tom knew where and when: he wanted to climb Manaslu by its first ascent route in the spring of 2002, and his estimates of time and money: eight weeks and eight thousand dollars, proved surprisingly accurate, but I was disturbed by the short roster of committed team members.

Two months earlier Brian and I sat in the sparse living room of Daniel Mazur, one of America’s pre-eminent high altitude mountaineers, listening to his thoughts on how to assemble a big mountain expedition. Dan’s prediction that our most significant obstacle would be finding enough climbers to form a respectable team had certainly come true for us, and now it appeared that this was also the case for Tom. Like us Tom had a long list of “interested” climbers, but a very short list of “committed” climbers. Committed being defined as someone with desire, money and, most importantly, time.

In addition to himself Tom had only two committed climbers, but he viewed this as a temporary situation, and that soon we would be turning climbers away. This is not at all what I had expected.

Before meeting with Tom I had researched Manaslu. At eight thousand one hundred and sixty three meters (26,782’) above the level of the sea, Manaslu is the world’s eighth highest mountain. The summit was first reached in 1956, a feat that remained unrepeated for fifteen years. As of 1999 one hundred and eighty nine climbers had reached its summit, and over fifty had died trying. Of the fourteen mountains over eight thousand meters only one, Annapurna, boasts a higher death to climber ratio.

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