Alix, last spring you went on a Mount Manaslu expedition with your colleague Rainer Jäpel from Globetrotter Dresden and the DAV Summit Club. You had to return before you reached the 8,163 meter high summit because of a thunderstorm. What was your most important piece of equipment on that day?
I guess I would not be sitting here if I hadn‘t had my GPS. We couldn’t see anything on our way down but had to find the two fixed rope traverses. We would never have found them without the GPS – it was worth its weight in gold.
What was your protection against the storm and cold?
Here is Alix' complete packing list for the Manaslu expedition.
Your packing list includes a hard shell jacket and pants, known to every outdoor person as protection against wind and rain. Why don’t you wear them at high attitude?
Hard shell clothes protect you perfectly against bad weather. I only wear Gore-Tex clothes up to 6,500 metres though. Higher up it is important to have real insulation, you don’t need one hundred percent waterproofness at such an altitude. The outer fabric of my down suit is pretty waterproof. I leave my hard shell clothes at the mid camp.
The notorious death zone lies between the last camp and the summit. What is in your backpack at that time?
A thermos flask with a hot drink, handkerchiefs, another pair of goggles, a spare pair of gloves, a little bivouac sack and a first aid kit. Some mountaineers don’t take a backpack at all on the last climb. I don’t like putting a bottle in my down suit though. I only put a little camera in my pocket so the batteries won’t cool down. I always have a muesli bar with me that I carry in my down suit as well, so it stays edible.
Why do you bring a spare pair of gloves? They don’t get wet in the cold, do they?
They don’t get wet but they are easy to lose. At Denali in Alaska, I clamped my mittens between my legs while taking a photo. When I got up I totally forgot about them. Of course they flew away immediately. My husband Luis was luckily able to lend me his overmittens. Ever since, I tie my mittens on my wrist. And in addition, there is always another pair of warm gloves in my rucksack.
Nobody likes cold feet. Especially not in the Arctic cold of the eight-thousanders. How do you prevent your feet from freezing?
You use heated insoles? Like any alpin skier who is not used to the cold?
The cheapest model is the best one. Simply connect the wire and put the box with the four AA-batteries with the inner boot. They keep warm the whole day if you use lithium batteries on medium level – rechargeable batteries would flag quickly in the cold. Sometimes I put a heat pack on my toes. There is enough space in the boots for it.
Approaching an eight-thousander is a slow but steady climb. There were four camps on the Manaslu, the high camp at an attitude of 7,400 metres. Is there no sleeping bag for such attitudes or why did you sleep in your down suit?
So, air mattresses do not get damaged when the moisture of your breath freezes inside?
That is what many people say but I have never had a frozen mattress, even though you have to blow the XTherm up hard. Maybe that‘s because the volume of the air reduces in the cold and therefore the mattress is softer in the morning.
What else do you have to be aware of in a high camp?
First of all: always try to keep weight down, for example with oral care chewing gums instead of tooth brush and paste. Secondly, everything that might freeze has to go into the sleeping bag like contact lenses, camera, headlight, and thirdly, the pee bottle.
Why a pee bottle in the tent?
In the high camp, you have to melt snow to gain water. Why do you use a fuel stove? Apparently they don’t work very well in the attitude or the cold…
It is fun to melt snow with the Reactor MSR. Thanks to the large burner and heat exchanger you get the optimal heat for little fuel and therefore you again have little weight. Furthermore, the base of the pot serves as a wind protector. The mixture of butane, isobutane and propane are very efficient in the cold. At night, we kept them in the tent.
Reinhold Messner wouldn’t leave without his Speck Alto Adige (dry cured ham). What did you eat?
During the day, I also eat speck and cheese, as well as dry fruit, energy bars and chocolate. In the lower camps we had a lot of freeze-dried food and muesli. The higher we went the worse the food got – we ate pureed baby food because it is easily digestible. Often you don’t have any appetite and only drink soup because of the liquid.
Your husband Luis and you slept in a single-wall tent. Why didn’t you take an expedition tent with an inner tent?
Before you set foot on the Manaslu you had to walk to the base camp for nine days. How did you carry all your luggage?
Sherpas and donkeys carried our main luggage to the base camp. So I only travelled with a light backpack. In it I had a drinking bottle and rain clothes, as well as a spare shirt. In case it gets cold when we take a break I always have a Power Stretch Hoodie and a Primaloft jacket with me. Sun cap, a Buff, a pair of windstopper gloves and a Beanie are compulsory. Often we were at the camp before the Sherpas arrived so we had to wait for our tents.
So the food was probably much better in the base camp than in the high camps…
There was a chef with us who even baked bread. Two kitchen hands took care of the supplies during those four weeks. They brought chicken and fresh vegetables from the valley.
There is a lot of waiting around on an expedition like this. What do you do?
Read. Last year we spent ten days in the base camp at Broad Peak, we were ready but the weather wasn’t. It would be awful for me not to have enough books.
After physical exercise you long for a shower. How does hygiene work in the base camp?
When I happen to take a shower I use the biodegradable body wash from Sea to Summit sparingly because the water runs straight into the snow. Often, cleaning wipes are good enough because you hardly sweat in the cold. When I want to wash my hair I use a bucket of warm water from the camping kitchen.
What happens with the rubbish?
It gets separated in the base camp and returned to the valley. Even the toilet, which takes the form of a barrel with bin liners hung inside.
On top of the mountain you are dressed like polar adventurers, in the base camp like trekkers. Does your wardrobe offer something in between?
Do you need special climbing equipment for an eight-thousander?
Usually not. Near the glacier I wear a harness with the usual equipment attached: carabiners, accessory cord, ice screws and of course crampons and an ice axe. I didn’t wear a helmet in the Manaslu because there is rarely a danger of rock or ice fall. Unlike when in the Alps, on a high altitude tour you clip the jumar onto a static rope.
Your Manaslu packlist combines luxury and minimalism. Did you really bring an inflatable pillow?
Sure. Perfect for the breaks and the evenings in the cold dining tent of the base camp. Expeditions are a little material battle. You are outside for many weeks, you do not want to suffer all the time.
What is it like to pack a normal backpack after such a material battle – just like any other alpinist?
Fantastic. I often get asked if I train for such big tours with an extra heavy backpack. No way! It’s enough when I have to carry the damn thing on an expedition.
Here are more pictures from Mount Manaslu.
More videos from extreme mountain climbing www.4-seasons.tv/extrembergsteiger
The Manaslu (8,163 m) is located in the Mansiri Himal in West Nepal. To the southeast there is the Ganesh Himal and to the Northwest the Annapurna (8,091). The name Manaslu comes from the Sanskrit meaning Mountain of the Spirit. In addition to the main peak, another two peaks rise from the plateau: the east (7,992 m) peak and the north (6,994 m) peak. The mountain was first successfully ascending by a Japanese expedition. It is said to be a bad weather mountain because of many storms and heavy snowfall.
Approaching the mountain up northeast face, the base camp (4800 m) is located at the lateral moraine of the glacier. Camp 1 (5,700 metres) is set in mixed terrain. The route to Camp 2 follows a long glacial ramp and a steep section of ice. Beware of ice falling from séracs. The second camp (6,300 m) is located on a glacial plateau below the north col. The next steps lead along steep snow slopes and a short ice slope to the great plateau. Camp 3 is set up in a protected hollow at 6,900 metres. A fourth camp is situated at 7,400 metres before climbing the exposed ridge to the summit.
Trekking in the Manaslu region
The Manaslu Circuit Trek is one of the great trekking classics in Nepal. It takes two weeks and includes the Larkya-Pass (5,135 m) amongst others.
The trek leads through several types of vegetation and civilisation, still in its most remote and original landscapes. A permit is compulsory. DAV Summit Club offers the route as a guided Lodge-Trek. Information on the tour and the booking: dav-summit-club.de.
Reinhold Messern: »Sturm am Manaslu – Drama auf dem Dach der Welt«, Malik-Verlag, ISBN 978-34 92 40 33 51, Globetrotter Order Number: 16.51.08, 11.95 euros.
21. August 2012, Interview: Julian Rohn